It's been a while since a cheesy, low-budget gore flick has made its way to theater screens, and if Mike Mendez's THE CONVENT is any indication, it looks likely that things won't be changing any time soon. THE CONVENT was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, supposedly to rave reviews, yet has lingered without a distributor for over a year now.
Inspired by the EVIL DEAD movies and, heavily, the NIGHT OF THE DEMONS series, THE CONVENT concerns a bunch of kids trapped in an abandoned house and forced to fend for their lives from a growing horde of demons. While the premise isn't exactly groundbreaking, it really isn't supposed to be. This is intended to be a great big belly laugh of a horror film, meant to be seen by a theater full of kids having a good time. Given its trouble finding a distributor, however, the film looks unlikely to ever be seen the way it was meant to be. That's a shame, actually, because seeing a movie like THE CONVENT with a big group of people in a theater and watching it at home on a bootleg video are two completely different experiences, with the former obviously being the more ideal choice, and the latter being the sad truth. As a result of NOT being seen in its ideal environment, THE CONVENT tends to suffer from a lot of detriments that wouldn't necessarily seem so glaring if viewed in an auditorium with a bunch of hollering kids all there to have a good time.
Like its s inspirations, THE CONVENT isn't exactly an award-worthy film in terms of acting or character development. % of the cast in the film is put there simply to be demon-fodder, a fact that is quite clear the minute they open their mouths and begin spouting bad dialogue. That's not to say that they're aren't any decent performances, but the cast overall falls short of authenticity throughout much of the film; a fact that doesn't necessarily hinder the movie too much, but somewhat furthers the notion that THE CONVENT is a straight-up B-grade horror movie. The script by Chaton Anderson (who has a role in the film as one of the devil worshiping vixens) is over-the-top with 'witty' banter for the kids to say. Some of the moments come across very well, proving quite humorous, while others feel forced and trite, but in the context of the film it all seems rather appropriate. In a theater full of excited horror fans, none of this would really matter, because THE CONVENT delivers on other multiple levels.
One of those levels, of course, is the gore, and there's plenty of it in THE CONVENT. Heads are cut off, demons are blown apart with shotgun blasts. The blood flows, and it flows well. Evidently in an attempt to stay closer to an R-rating, many of the effects in the film are interestingly designed to glow under black lights, making all of the blood and grue less realistic and more cartoon-like and exaggerated, like a demon massacre at a rave party. This works better at some points than others, but overall it's a really nice, original effect. The lack of any computer effects (the demon eyes glow thanks to black-light sensitive contact lenses, etc.) lends to the film, as well, reinforcing the low-budget feel.
Also rather amusing is the tongue-in-cheek attention Mendez and Anderson give to the religious aspect of the film, peppering the film with lots of riffs on Catholicism and the ever-important element of virginity. As one character mentions, 'These demon things always involve virgins.' The film treats this concept very playfully, with some amusing results. Additionally, Scream queen Adrienne Barbeau (SWAMP THING, CREEPSHOW) has a lot of fun with her role as a machine-gun-toting ex-nun (though even this element seems rather similar to the Rambo-esque nun of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS ), keeping THE CONVENT's campy atmosphere intact and preventing the film from taking itself too seriously. If there's one thing that can definitely be said for Mendez and Anderson, it's that they knew exactly what type of movie they wanted to make, and they did it.
How much you enjoy THE CONVENT greatly depends on the circumstances in which you see it, and how much of a low-budget horror fan you are. Casual fans of the genre or those seeing the flick alone on a video (as I was forced to do) might find it a bit trite and boring, as well as quite derivative (especially of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS). The film, however, would really work much better in a theater environment (especially a midnight screening or a drive-in), where the focus would be on all of the gory fun to be had from the film, and not on its shortcomings.