In 1973 filmmaker William Friedkin inspired a new category of horror with his ground breaking film, ‘The Exorcist’. After that the arcane religious ceremony has been the basis of movies running the gamut from exceptional examples of cinema to the remnants of the grind house era of the seventies. While Mr. Friedkin’s work represents the high water mark the flick under examination here, ‘The Cloth’ lies way down on the other end of the spectrum. The actual procedure is mentioned in the Bible siting Jesus Christ as the first exorcist so the modern church has some difficulty in completely abolishing the rite, a situation exacerbated by the ongoing proliferation of movies. Naturally the now famous flag ship of the genre remains the best crafted and example of great movie regardless of its category but the use of demonic possession as another easy horror trope to exploit in order to elicit a quick viscerally orienteered fright. I have often mused that my generation possesses a higher level tolerance for flicks of the exploitative nature. Even with a background of enjoying films made with miniscule budgets and less than well-honed talent but regrettably that has its limits; a point I encountered while viewing ‘The Cloth’.
The movie begins with the standard "I cast thee out demon" scene featuring the requisite list of characters; an older priest in charge, the younger priest assisting and the young woman hosting the invasive evil. There is a lot of holy water being toss around, the girl writhing in agony and the priests toss about psychokinetically by the demon attempting to retain its control. Some may have had their interest sparked in this flick by a very recognizable name on the poster art; Danny Trejo. Although he has been associated with rather successful horror franchises his participation here is minimal; show up, make a couple of invocations and get killed. I’m certain segment of the estimated $4 million budget when to his cameo here. At least his agent managed to make his screen time brief. One thing that might provide an indication of what’s to come is Trejo, currently the most notable Latino actor is burdened with having to portray an Irish Priest, Father Connely. It just appears that a different archetype intended and they never got around to adjusting the ethnic foundation of the role.
In some way this familiar scene the story moves into the central theme to provide some motivation going forward. It turns out that the Catholic Church has a covert unit that has been dealing with the issue of demonic possession for centuries. Their base of operations is located deep below a cathedral with a set of portals akin to take on ‘Get Smart’ attempting to blend the ancient with the high tech. This pretty much represents the main problem with the fundamental construction of the movie; it has problems deciding which era it is in and sticking to it with a degree of conviction. We first met Father Johnson (Steven Brand) responded to the killing of Father Connely by pulling out a pistol sized crossbow and with a glow of blue light shoots the demonic creature blowing him into rather small chunks and gooey slime. If the inconsistent dedication to a time hasn’t occurred to you by now; hold on. It’s about to smash directly in your face. As a means to introduce the audience to this mélange the main protagonist is brought in, Jason (Kyler Willett). He’s a handsome man, without a discernible sense of purpose or direction. He is predictably dubious when approached by a trusted member of the organization, Father Diekmen (Lassiter Holmes). This brings us to the next item on the checklist, the indoctrination. Diekman brings Jason down into the lair explaining that the Cloth is a holy order commissioned ages ago to combat the eternal problem of demonic possesses. In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of reported cases and they infer from this the demon forces are waxing in strength and preparing for something big, you might say apocalyptic. Once in the inner sanctum of the Cloth Jason is introduced to two members of the team although they are laymen. First there is Laurel (Perla Rodriguez) the beautiful bookworm who has sworn off the worldly pursuits to better focus on her function as the order’s archivist. Her days are filled with endless hours of researching ancient texts and apocryphal manuscripts in hopes of gleaning information that will disclose the objectives, methods and, hopefully, weaknesses, of the incarnation of evil, Beelzebub or his minion demon, Castalia.
When Jason wonders how this research can possible be of any direct use in stooping a satanic plot to enslave humanity Diekmen brings him to a very odd young man, Helix (Cameron White). His workshop is brimming with ancient appearing weapons hybridized with advanced modern technology. One anachronistic is guns that reassemble themselves; they look like prototype for the ‘Judge Dred’ flicks. After a demonstration of their destructive potential Diekmen arms himself with one of the meaner looking guns handing a pitifully small version to Jason; playing out the same bit from the first ‘Men in Black’ movie only back then it was original. The head of the order is played by another actor that has proven worthy of better jobs, Eric Roberts as Father Tollman. As with Trejo what you see on the posters or in a trailer is pretty much the extent of his role. Armed with their fancy weapons as agents of God Jason and Diekmen go hunting demons; unfortunately their holy Q, quartermaster, couldn’t arm them with a cohesive script.
The box cover art is the obligatory young woman garbed in a nightgown posed in a back breaking pose with the face of Danny Trejo hovering overhead. I imagine he is thinking that his fee for this will tide him over until the Machete sequel is ready for release. In any case I can usually get into a poorly drawn movie on nostalgia by this one pushed my limits.