The Tomb of Terror – The Believers (1987)

As a whole, The Believers is pretty good. The plot plays out in a typical police procedural fashion interspersed with horrific scenes of supernatural vengeance. The late director John Schlesinger had made many great films before this, and one of them, Marathon Man, was an excellent suspense piece. Unfortunately, neither he nor writer Mark Frost (who co-created Twin Peaks with David Lynch) is able to make everything come together. The mystery is engaging, but once we see who’s behind the evil in the city, we’re left with more questions than answers. The story also can’t support being both a drama about a shattered family mending itself and a horror film. The most effective sequences end up being the horror set pieces. In these scenes, we see things that you won’t see in the average horror story. These include a man trying to cut the snakes out of his belly or a large boil growing on a woman’s face and eventually hatching spiders. One strange thing throughout the film is the little bits of business that start off many scenes. As we arrive at the site of a child sacrifice, a random cop is seen fixing his hair in a mirror. Later, we are treated to a different random telling a hookup story to his friends that is interrupted by a phone call from Cal. I appreciate a director adding touches to scenes to make them different, but these add nothing to the film and are more of a distraction.

The actors all do a good job with what they are given. Martin Sheen is obviously no slouch, and he does his Martin Sheen thing to great effect. Young Harley Cross has the hard job of being a kid in a movie. He’s not instantly grating like many kids can be on film, but he definitely wasn’t a precursor to Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense). The most effective performance comes from Jimmy Smits as the cop who knows too much about the evil cult. Smits really sells the terror and this is probably the best I’ve ever seen from the actor. Malick Bowens  is very good as the villain of the piece, the witch doctor Palo. He uses his unique looks and presence to make you squirm whenever he’s on camera. One fun thing about the film is that it features a mini-Scarface (1983) reunion, with Robert Loggia and Harris Yulin both playing supporting roles.

At the end of the day, I liked more than what I didn’t in The Believers. The way it told a horror story by using the outline of a police procedural was new and interesting. Unfortunately, when we got to the big reveal, I felt like I had been cheated. There was no way the cult we are presented with at the end of the film could’ve had their hands in as many pies as they did. Maybe I’m too hard on films about cults, but it’s much easier for me to believe a lone psycho than a large group of them from all corners of the Earth. If you can look past these plot holes, then you can sit back and enjoy some effective horror set pieces in a film that is very different from many of its 80s contemporaries.

Final Grade: B-

DVD Releases:

The Believers was released on DVD back in 2002 by MGM. The disc features a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer and good sound. There are no extras to speak of except for two trailers. The teaser trailer that is included is an effective piece that sets up the mood of the film perfectly.

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John is the co-host of The Macguffin Podcast, lover of 80s teen and horror films, and an independent filmmaker.

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