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CampBlood Gay Horror Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist Paul Schrader 2005

God-Awful

Easily the worst film I’ve seen since The Phantom of the Opera (and that’s saying a hell of a lot, considering the garbage that’s been thrown at us this year – did anyone else have to suffer through Guess Who?), Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist is nonetheless an instant camp classic due to the fact that the film is at least 32 flavors of pure wrong. Literally every choice made in the creation of this stinker was a bad one – photography, score, acting, writing, and special effects suck equally and at intensities that should by all rights have blanched my hair to the roots. But oddly, I kind of enjoyed watching the melee, in the same way I enjoy watching specials about real-life shark attacks: sucks to be you, but fun to be me.

Dominion starts out promisingly enough in 1944, with a young Father Merrin (Stellan Starsgard, typically humorless) facing a moral dilemma at the hands of a Nazi commander (which would explain the “humorless” part, I guess). Innocent people die, and it’s not entirely pretty. Cut to 3 years later, where Merrin has run off to Kenya to exchange his personal demons for more social ones – namely, our good friend Pazuzu. Aided by a staggeringly ineffectual young twink – I mean, priest – Father Francis (Gabriel Mann – who has apparently been in hundreds of films I’ve seen although I can’t recall him from a single one) and an awkwardly attractive lady doctor/priestbait, Rachel (Clara Bellar), Merrin wards off Pazuzu as he possesses the body of a local cripple and basically makes a mess of everything in the neighborhood. The British Military gets involved (which is never a good thing – who has that much tea?!), and fertility issues in the local tribe come to a head (or, rather, a maggot-covered stillborn – same thing).

Now, I could see how at first glance these elements might seem positively delightful. Maggoty babies? Starched Brits? Demons? Huzzah! But remember, kids – Mandingo probably looked good on paper, too. The execution is the real problem here: any legitimate discussion of the nature of evil in man is turned into a farce by the amateurish and floridly misguided production. We’re supposed to be in Africa (which oddly looks like a leftover set from The Scorpion King, despite the fact that it was shot on a leftover set from… something Italian), but it’s more like Artificica, a magical land where every uttered line of dialogue sounds inane, every special effect looks like it was done by a 10-year-old, and even the makeup is poorly-applied (seriously – the character Cheche’s face is 2 shades darker than his neck – blend, girl!). This is a universe where international pop sensations from Thailand are cast as crippled African beggars (uh, WHAT?) and CGI hyenas roam the countryside, looking for heavy-handed Christian imagery to feed on. In short, this is Buzz country.

When on a dig in the nearby desert, Fathers Merrin and Francis uncover what is apparently an entire church, which appears to have been intentionally buried almost immediately after it was completed (hmmm… I wonder what that could mean…). When they open the doors (revealing a sparkling, sandless structure – are those Pella windows?) and check out the contents (a sarcophagus, giant statues of armed angels pointing their spears at a point in the center of the structure, murals of Lucifer’s descent into hell), they are still not intelligent enough to count their losses and leave well enough alone. Unfortunately, in another sweeping move of poor judgement, whoever built the church directly over the underground temple in order to keep a demon from escaping neglected to lock the door to the basement, so the curious idiots are able to stroll right on into the cursed place and free the demon from his prison easy as pie. Wow – what a waste of a whole church, huh? Maybe next time stuff his fiery ass in a lock-box and tuck him under your bed – might save some time and energy.

Meanwhile, local beggar/cripple/pass-around-party-bottom Cheche (international pop sensation Billy Crawford, who is apparently the most famous person in the world despite my never having heard of him) has had some sort of attack near the uncovered church (uh, wonder why…) and Merrin takes him to Rachel’s hospital for treatment. Luckily, there’s never anyone else injured or sick, and Rachel is the only staff – I say luckily because it saved the production some cash on extras. Anyway, poor Cheche has open sores and a few gamey limbs, so Rachel sets about helping him. Oddly, though, his wounds – including his baby-arm – start to heal at an accelerated rate. Hmm… wonder if it might have anything to do with our cracking open that pit of despair and infinite evil right next to the little bugger. No matter – baptize the bitch!

Yes, following a few hilariously un-scary episodes where Cheche speaks in a decidedly more masculine voice (in Queen’s English, no less) and burns at the touch of a crucifix, the priestlies decide it would be best to baptize him. Although, oddly, Cheche would rather be baptized in the newly excavated church, as he believes that is where Father Merrin lives (um, okay…), and our heroes stupidly go along with the plan, unwittingly allowing Pazuzu direct access to his Filofax and all his favorite CDs, at which point he completely queens out and starts knocking everyone off of guest lists at all of Kenya’s hottest clubs. Or something. At this point things actually became so completely batshit insane that I stopped trying to understand them – all I know is, for some reason the possessed Cheche lets Rachel and Francis nearly duck his head in a baptismal font about 8 times (why he would submit to this is utterly beyond me), and the next thing you know Francis is flying across the room in a slow-motion composite shot that looks like a dramatic recreation from Daredevil, as performed by the brothers of the Emmaus Bible College. It’s jaw-droppingly bad. I mean, good.

Father Francis runs off into the desert to get his exorcism kit (considering he’s openly suspected Cheche of either being possessed or being an international pop sensation for days now, wouldn’t you think that he might have brought that along to the baptism at the site of all that is unholy?) and is later found strung up to a rock with arrows in him like a leftover prop from a Derek Jarman film. Sadly, he’s not dead. This “echoes” an earlier incident where two greedy British soldiers were crucified and beheaded (again, off-screen and hilariously presented) in the church after trying to loot it. So while we do get a little blood here and there, it is all so gracelessly presented that it’s impossible not to laugh – seriously, you’d think that it was intentional comedy (it’s certainly funnier than anything from, say, Christmas with the Kranks).

The real awesomeness occurs when Merrin goes into the den of evil to save Rachel and has a dance-off with Pazuzu, who has transformed magically from wretched mantis-man to a glowing, glitter-drenched hairless cabana boy in a diaper who levitates and lounges on rocks like so many overstuffed daybeds. I’m so not even kidding. Remember in the original Exorcist, how the demon basically ripped poor Regan to shreds and nearly killed her through possessing her body? Well, this is a kindler, gentler Pazuzu: instead of vomit and rot and stench of a thousand open graves, we get some bronzer and a good chiropractor. Seriously – it’s like an Extreme Makeover with mildly demonic overtones. In our rapidly accelerating (and wildly careening) climax, we’re treated to the most inexplicable near-spaceship-landing in the history of cinema (oh, it’s not a spaceship that’s lighting up the night sky like something from Taken? Then what the fuck is it?), a top-notch mascara freak-out for Rachel (she wanders through the village bathed in green light, racooning out like Courtney Love, slashing at her own throat with a knife), and the least cinematic climax ever, with Cheche and Merrin literally facing off in an underlit corner in the stone temple. It could only have been shot worse if they had turned the camera AWAY from the actors – I seriously have no idea what the fuck they were thinking.

After Pazuzu is vanquished (um, not nearly as interesting as it sounds), we visit Cheche (back to being the cripple we know and love – no more acrobatics and body glitter for this cat!), who is learning English, helping make beds, and genuinely enjoying his renewed status as the campus bitch and newfound role as a colonized indentured-servant-in-training. Seriously, are we really supposed to feel like this is a happy ending for this guy? I mean, ten minutes ago we witnessed him go through the hottest Extreme Makeover in history, and now we’re supposed to be relieved that our luminous yet demonically-charged little swan is better off as an ugly, stuttering duckling? Fuck that. I’d much rather see our Little Buddha flouncing around like Jaye Davidson in Stargate than folding military corners in the 4077. The scenes where Cheche has his bitch on are simply FABULOUS – I haven’t seen camp this high since Showgirls. Sadly, though, it all must come to an end, much like a cough-syrup high or a really good chocolate chip cookie. And similarly, afterward you’re left feeling, tired, a little sticky and sadly unfulfilled. Such is the hangover of deliriously bad cinema.

I cannot stress enough, people – this movie is H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. It has the worst CGI I have ever seen, hands down – if you thought that hyenas in the Renny Harlin version were bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! These fuckers don’t even move and you can nearly count the pixels. The acting is so earnest it nearly made stigmata spontaneously pop up on my palms, and the staging is so… well, stagey that everything plays out like a soap opera, not a feature film. And what’s with the fucking cinematography? I’d heard about the rifts between Paul Schrader and the usually-brilliant Vittorio Storaro (not to mention the animosity between Schrader and scripter Caleb Carr), but this is just unacceptable – cutting off your nose to spite your face is one thing, but lopping your entire head off is quite another. I’ve seen episodes of Andromeda that look better. When Schrader does actually move the camera or try to take advantage of what little landscape there might be in Kenya-on-Roma, it looks forced and ridiculous. Starsgard is the only actor who makes it out alive (and anyone who can walk away from scenes where he essentially has to yell at the air with oatmeal on his face is a trooper), mostly because he seems embarrassed to be there in the first place and plays the entire film angry and vaguely constipated. The doe-eyed earnestness of the other actors is just darling in the face of such cataclysmically bad filmmaking. Never has career suicide been so much fun!

Anyway, I should stop there and simply say that Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist is the most awesomely bad movie I’ve seen in years, and while it is a complete disaster on literally every level, it’s a crime to miss it. Soaked in camp, garish beauty, and whoopingly bad choices, this may be on my top bottom ten for the year – take a good hearty swig of Robotussin, nestle into your seat, and enjoy the disaster.

Rating (out of 5): NONE