Any movie that opens with monk-on-monk beheadings and moves to brood sacrifices should have the makings of a premium, or at least highly entertaining, religious-conspiracy-theory slasher flick. Sadly, it only foreshadows the movie’s own break from the church of cinema and its tragic fall from taste.
The first thing you’ll notice about Prime Evil is how supremely bad the movie is. It’s like an anti-suspension of disbelief, in that you’re somehow willing to accept the deeply flawed narrative, but just can’t believe in the artistic choices. Not to mention the dialogue and acting is so bad (see: “Don’t you wanna get poked?!” or my personal favorite “cut the crap, fart breath!”) that it becomes easier to buy into the idea of an ancient satanic cult than it does to see any semblance of real, human interactions and emotions.
The premise is this: a 14th-century satanic cult rises out of the horrors of the bubonic plague gains power as the leaders slay pious men of God unwilling to convert to the dark side. Though always hidden under the front of true and faithful Christianity, the cult continues to operate underground in old churches up to present day (late 80s). George Parkman, aged (but allegedly youthful) cult member wants to renew his whopping 13-year window of immortality and power by sacrificing his virginal granddaughter Alexandra to Satan. After having sacrificed his daughter and the his son, his past 26 years of satanic power are coming to a close and it’s time stake a knife through his naked granddaughter if he has any hope of remaining in power and wresting control of the cult from the extremely lecherous and creepy “Father” Thomas Seaton. Alexandra’s life depends on the pluck of one daredevil nun, who tries to defeat the cult from within. Will Alexandra resist the “allure” of the unsettling Father Seaton? Will the nun’s spy tactics work? Will you make it through the dialogue to ever find out?
There are plenty of other flat and unconvincing characters who hang around until there’s an excuse for a topless scene (which, considering it’s a sexploitation movie, you actually have to a kind of long time and then the payoff is kind of sad since the boobs are juxtaposed with what looks like a demon made with paper mache and a dragon/pig nose), but they’re almost not worth mentioning except that they’re the ultimate examples of how unconvincing the movie is.
Take Alexandra’s latest social work case who, despite being a drug-addled hooker whose pimp just got arrested, gets offered a job as a paralegal on Wall Street because people were “impressed” by her resume. What body of work they’re referring to is… unclear. Or how Alexandra doesn’t hear her mother’s blood-curdling cries for help as she gets waterboarded with a bottle of cheap liquor because Alexandra’s casually chatting on the phone with her boyfriend. Or how no one questions that the mother died choking on her own vomit when she never vomited. Or how the virginal and grossly-abused child pornography victim Alexandra would be attracted to the slimy priest who’s opening pick-up line is about the evil history of her family and who kisses her at her mother’s funeral. Or how, satanic powers aside, Alexandra doesn’t seem to react to any of this. Or quick and easy it is to kill a demon who grants immortality to others every 13 years.
The biggest plot hole of all though is that Grandad George Parkman is obsessed with “ruling all man and eternity” but as far as we know, Alexandra is his only living relative, seeing as he’s killed off basically everyone else in the family tree. So he’s got like 13 years.
But you could still overlook these plot holes if the actors would sell it to you a little. They try? But what they’re mostly selling is boobs. Prime Evil was directed by Roberta Findlay, cult-status queen of sexploitation and pornos. Best known for co-directing movies like “Snuff” with her then husband Michael, Roberta and hubby carved out their own fleshy place in cinema in the 1960s with movies like Body of a Female, Take Me Naked, Snuff, and Shriek of the Mutilated. Prime Evil is one of her last stabs at the horror and “action” genre, before bowing out of film for a while.
She probably should have just stuck to porn, though. The synth-backed action sequences are shot with an excess of awkwardly-cropped tight shots, so that you can’t see the physical action and one starts to think its an intentional attempt to conceal a larger problem of awkward physical movement and inadequate stunts. So when the resident hit man/psycho of the movie attacks the evil priest with the pace of a thawing glacier, suffice it to say that confidence in his assassin abilities are undermined. Then there’s the grossly anti-climactic and near-effortless slaying of the ancient demon and the movie’s attempt at an “ominous” ending, where we see Thomas Seaton shopping around for church real estate. Sure, it shows that the cult could rise again. But really? A movie about demon cults and they close on lease discussions?
The best horror movies reveal something about our societal values by perverting them in a way that makes us realize what we care most deeply about or take to be true. Simple beliefs like “children should be innocent, and while they’re sometimes troublemakers, they are usually not the literal spawn of Satan” or “blood sacrifices or even general abuse of one’s family is bad.” Prime Evil manages, in its sheer terribleness, to make us realize what we appreciate in film and art by perverting our basest expectation of dialogue and action. The characters are so unbelievable and the acting so poor, that in the end we wish less for swift justice than for swift and merciless editing. You find yourself praying that there is some higher director, some angel of acting to save us from the movie’s Prime Evil.
Kristen Bialik is a writer, teacher and graduate student of Journalism and Mass Communication. In her spare time, she's a baker of pies and maker of stories.