31 Days of Halloween — Day 1: The Vatican Tapes (2015) — by Dr. Shock

31 Days of Halloween - The Vatican Tapes 2015

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

The state of modern horror is such that when I first heard about 2015’s “The Vatican Tapes,” I assumed it was going to be yet another found footage-style exorcism film. Well, I was wrong.

Aside from a handful of CCTV shots and the occasional webcam, “The Vatican Tapes” offers a straightforward narrative and is not “found footage” in the least. And while the movie does feature a few standard clichés (jumpy video, demon faces that pop up out of the blue, out-of-body experiences, etc.), director Mark Neveldine and screenwriters Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin also mix things up a bit on their way to a climax that, quite frankly, was much bolder than I was expecting. But are its unique qualities enough to make “The Vatican Tapes” a film I’d happily recommend to horror fans?

No, I don’t believe they are.

On the surface, Angela Holmes (Olivia Taylor Dudley) seems like an average girl. She loves her father, military officer Roger Holmes (Dougray Scott), as well as her live-in boyfriend Peter (John Patrick Amedori), and, if the turnout at her surprise birthday party is any indication, she has plenty of friends.

But soon after the party, Angela’s life is turned upside-down; a simple cut on her finger (suffered while slicing her birthday cake) becomes infected, and she’s checked into a nearby hospital for the night.

But this is only the beginning, and when Angela’s state of mind deteriorates rapidly, Father Lozano (Michael Peña), a Catholic priest, believes she may actually be possessed by a demon. To help Angela, the Vatican sends Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson) to perform an exorcism, but neither he nor Angela’s nearest and dearest will be prepared for what happens once the ceremony begins.

Overall, the film’s cast does a fine job. Olivia Taylor Dudley is likable as the victimized Angela, who is host to something she has no hope of understanding, but what truly impressed me was the actress’s ability to explore her character’s darker side (we get a sense of this early on when Angela, while recovering in the hospital, takes an unauthorized stroll through the nursery).

Unlike other exorcism films, Angela’s transformation from lovable daughter and girlfriend to out-of-control psychotic is quite subtle, and there are times we’re not convinced she’s possessed at all, making those moments when the evil does rear its ugly head all the more unsettling.

Also good is Michael Peña as the priest who befriends Angela and her family; and Peter Andersson as Cardinal Matthias Bruun, the Vatican representative sent to perform the exorcism (we learn that Father Bruun himself was possessed at an early age, yet this first-hand knowledge of demonic forces doesn’t give him much of an advantage over the being that’s invaded Angela).

“The Vatican Tapes” also boasts some memorable scenes, including a very intense car crash (which was done practically, and not via CGI) and Angela’s above mentioned trip to the nursery (I cringed when she picked up a newborn baby, mostly because I wasn’t sure what she was going to do with it).

And while the exorcism scene itself isn’t anything special, the finale certainly threw me for a loop, and I found myself wishing that the movie ran a bit longer than it did (I really wanted to see how the Vatican’s “Warriors of God” would have responded to what transpired at the end).

But while “The Vatican Tapes” does have its strong points, it came up short in one important area: It wasn’t scary. Yes, there are moments that will make you jump, but for the most part I was more intrigued by what was going on than I was frightened (and this is coming from someone who is usually susceptible to exorcism movies; I wore a rosary around my neck for three months after watching “The Exorcist” for the first time).

“The Vatican Tapes” is well-made and quite clever; it is a good film. But if it’s a terrifying experience you’re after, I don’t think you’ll find it here.

—Dr. Shock

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12 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 1: The Vatican Tapes (2015) — by Dr. Shock

  1. DAY ONE: “Gerald’s Game”

    Gerald’s Game is now streaming on Netflix. The latest in the current trend in Stephen King revivals, this taut thriller gets itself a first time adaptation from genre director Michael Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) and is a riveting suspense ride. The story begins when a married couple, Jessie (Carla Cugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), try to add a little spark to their marriage when they visit their house on the like. Gerald, in an attempt to kink things up, brings in a pair of handcuffs- but Jesse isn’t all that into it. The resulting argument ends with a sudden heart attack on poor Gerald and Jesse is trapped with both hands cuffed to the bed. Hilarity ensues. No, not really… a desperate Jesse is forced to survive the weekend in hopes of someone’s arrival, but events quickly spiral out of control as she loses her grip on her sanity.

    Carla Cugino plays the lead, and delivers a performance with multiple levels. At times helpless, desperate, and afraid we are forced to watch her find an inner strength and debate herself at turns with the apparitions of her mind. Memories are revealed and deep pain is dragged out so that our heroine can find the inner strength to overcome her demons.

    There are some changes from the book but only in that it streamlined the narrative a bit more cleanly for film. All of the truly gory bits remain intact. Highly recommended for fans of tense slow burns, though the tension never really lets up throughout the grueling ordeal.

    8.5 out of 10 and a huge recommend.


    Day 01 – John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

    I’ve watched John Carpenter’s The Thing several times over the years. I imagine I originally saw it as a young teenager after buying the movie on VHS. While I certainly didn’t dislike the film, I also wasn’t blown away. Looking back, I suppose it has to do with the fact that it’s a bit of a slow moving film and it wasn’t able to stand up to all of the slashers that I was watching in abundance at the time. The older I get and the additional times I watch the film, the more I appreciate it. In some ways, I’d say my feelings of The Thing is comparable to the general public’s opinion of The Thing when it originally came out and was deemed a disappointment to where it is now praised as an all time horror classic today.

    What makes the plot of an alien infiltrating a small secluded Antarctic research team so effective is the fantastic cabin fever showcase. I’ve only watched the 2011 The Thing last year, but where that film especially failed is that the characters had only just came together, meaning tensions weren’t already at a fever pitch prior to the alien assimilating beginning to raise the paranoia. Throughout Carpenter’s The Thing, every character comes across as being utterly miserable being stuck in this station with these same people. There’s frequent arguments and Clark is even shot to death, without being The Thing, all because the characters weren’t able to be calm enough to handle this situation in the best possible way. The Thing is an example of a film that tells us one thing and then ensures to show us that this is true through the actions of the characters. It’s easy to claim tensions are high, but unless you show characters sniping at each other, it’s an ineffective story.

    The best known highlight of The Thing would be the practical special effects. FX creator, Rob Bottin, and company made one fantastic FX piece after another. Just coming up with a favorite effect is difficult for me to do. The chest opening up and cutting off the arms of Copper is the most well known shot of the film. I loved the effects with the solo head, whether on its own or as part of the spider creature, is another highlight. The early effect scene with The Thing in the dog enclosure started the film off on a great note and let the audience know that they were watching an amazing monster based movie. If there is one effect that I’m not crazy about, it’s late in the film where some stop motion takes place. Although the actual creature looked great, the stop motion took away from the realism some. Still, for a film with so many great creature designs, I can forgive a movie that were slightly hindered by limitations of their time.

    Perhaps it’s because I haven’t over watched the film, but I’m always surprised at the order of the kills. It’s certainly nice to be able to watch a movie and have a certain freshness to it with each view. The soundtrack is yet another highlight of the film. It adds to the atmosphere and the tension of it all. There’s also the fun of trying to interpret the ending. Is The Thing still alive? Is She Thing Childs, MacReady, or both? There’s a lot of evidence that points to Childs being The Thing due to the irregular fogging of his breath (It’s often credited as not having any fogging, but there are a couple of times where little fogging does happen), Childs wearing a new jacket (Since clothes get ripped when The Thing takes over), and how MacReady may have tricked Childs into drinking a bottle of booze that had been replaced with gasoline for molotov cocktails. Personally, I tend to look at it more as if neither man are The Thing. They will end up dying from the cold, but due to all of the fires, The Thing might be killed as well. It’s a fairly bleak ending, but I suppose you could say every possible ending is dark as well. Whether The Thing is one of these guys or not, I can’t imagine either guy surviving. They went through so much to try and live and then later to keep The Thing from being able to assimilate the entire world at the expense of their own lives, but did they actually succeed? Chances are no. In those final moments, I’m left wondering what MacReady must be thinking about before he freezes to death. Does he feel like a failure? Is he thinking about how he murdered Clark? Maybe he’s worrying about The Thing will do if it can gain access to the greater population?

    Overall, John Carpenter’s The Thing has become a horror classic. With its special effects and dark paranoia running wild throughout, it’s one of the absolute must see horror movies from the 80’s. By now, I’d imagine everyone has seen it, but if you haven’t go out of your way to watch it this Halloween season. Perhaps a controversial opinion, but I’d also say that The Thing marks the end of Carpenter’s A-Period, with the quality of his movies dropping off after this point.

    Rating: 10/10

  3. I have also been inspired by HMP to attempt my own 31 days of Halloween and I started today with The Shining. I’m not confident enough to give a review of this masterpiece but I love it more each time I watch. I look forward to catching up with some of your recommendations from 2016 throughout this month 🐑🐱 Claire

    • So cool! Share with us, Claire. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Or if you don’t want to write reviews, at least stop in here and let us know what you’ve been watching, each day.

  4. I found The Vatican Tapes to be a decent enough film. It would fall somewhere in that 5.5-6 score. Olivia Taylor Dudley is one of those actresses that I hope catches a bigger break at some point; she’s definitely got something there. I too remember thinking it was going to be found footage; I feel like maybe they hinted at that approach in the trailer.

  5. I love the 31 days of october…I I will list all of mine with grades at the end of the challenge..I only go with movies I have never seen before.I will start tonight with 1983’s Sole Survivor. Hopefully it is decent.

  6. I considered starting with Gerald’s Game and I plan on revisiting Split, Get Out, and The Devil’s Candy, this month, but I ended up going with a classic for Day 1: The Prince of Darkness. So happy I did. And the Scream! Factory BluRay has a beautiful transfer and some great features. Highly recommended. 9/10. Buy it!

  7. Day 1: The Blob (1958)

    The concept of a blob monster seems impossible to pull off, but this film makes it work. The fear of the blob comes from the mystery of the monster itself. The residents in this small Pennsylvania town have never encountered something like this and have no idea how to stop it. The alien goo starts small but grows as it devours everything that comes in contact with it. The blob is not a monster from which you can run or hide, the blob must be stopped or it could devour all of humanity.

    This film has all of the charming elements of a 50’s teen monster movie. There are teens dating, cars racing, and grumpy grownups but the deadly alien threat is taken seriously. There’s great acting, great special effects and a hit song by Burt Bacharach! The Blob is a classic must-see monster movie. 10/10

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