"A demented, sex-obsessed priest insists on hearing in the confession box the intimate details of a girl's love life. A tape recording made of her confession leads to blackmail, to murder and ultimately to days of terror for the young girl as she tries to evade the priest's deadly madness and what turns out to be a nightmare holocaust of killings ...
This powerful shocker from producer/director Pete Walker ranks as one of the most terrifying films of recent years. Sex and perversion of religious ritual are the interweaving themes in this macabre story; incense burners, rosaries and Communion wafers figure among the instruments of profanity.
Anthony Sharp plays the priest, Susan Penhaligon his intended victim; Stephanie Beacham, Norman Eshley and Sheila Keith appear in features roles."
Unless you’re watching, say, THE EXORCIST (1973), if a priest appears in a horror film (especially if it’s a giallo!) then you can be pretty sure he’ll be stalking sinners with a bloody great knife with a crucifix shaped handle. Naturally, as a (very) lapsed Catholic, I’m a sucker for killer priests!
Pete Walker's THE CONFESSIONAL MURDERS revolves around Jenny Welch (Susan Penhaligon), a slightly ditzy girl-around-town. She’s currently having trouble with her boyfriend, Terry (Stewart Bevan), and spills her heart when she bumps into an old friend, Bernard (Norman Eshley) – who, much to her surprise, has entered the Catholic Church as a curate. Jenny lives with her sister, Vanessa (Stephanie Beacham), above her craft shop. When she returns home she finds Terry packing his bags to leave her. Despite pleading with him, he goes. Distraught, Jenny goes to find Bernard at his church, but is surprised to find a vaguely sinister Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp) taking her confession instead. Meldrum seems especially interested in her sex life (and little does she know that he’s secretly taping her), an upset Jenny tells him that she has recently had an abortion before leaving in such a hurry that she drops her keys.
Jenny has inadvertently set off a chain of events beyond her control. In THE CONFESSIONAL MURDERS, despite a few giallo trappings (the killer’s black leather gloves for one), there is never any mystery as to who the killer is. Perhaps looking for her, Meldrum lets himself into Jenny’s apartment. He finds her ex-boyfriend there, Robert (John Yule), and, in an especially suspenseful sequence, attacks him by throwing a pot of boiling coffee in his face. Jenny finds John on her return, he is taken to hospital but is unable to identify his attacker. Meldrum phones Jenny and plays her confession down the phone, telling her he plans to blackmail her.
Jenny’s spirits are briefly buoyed when Terry returns. She tells him what has been happening, and he vows to tackle Meldrum. However, when he does, the priest beats him to death with a handy incense ball, before burying him in an empty plot in the graveyard (mass was never this exciting!). Now with Terry out of the way, neither Bernard nor Vanessa believe Jenny that Meldrum is after her, believing the priest’s plausible explanation that she’s simply paranoid. The only other person who believed her was the mother of a girl who was driven to suicide by Meldrum’s persecution – and he offs her with a poisoned communion wafer!
With THE CONFESSIONAL MURDERS Walker was certain he was onto a sure-fire, controversial winner. However, surprisingly, on its original release it failed to cause the kind of tabloid outrage that greeted his previous films, the superior HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and FRIGHTMARE (both 1974), despite planting a story that they had used real human blood in the film. The fact that Catholic church also failed to condemn the film didn’t exactly fan the flames of controversy either.
Despite it’s lack of success at the box office, Walker’s film is a mostly successful exercise in sensationalist 70’s British horror, and makes a great companion piece to that other home-grown religious proto-slasher, BEWARE THE BRETHREN (aka THE FIEND) (1971). Walker and screen-writer David McGillivray took great delight in taking pot-shots at the clergy. In THE CONFESSIONAL MURDERS the church is a place of repression; grey, joyless and full of shadows. Yep, pretty much how I remember it! Walker presents the complete opposites in the priesthood: Bernard is a new, liberal man of the church, whereas Meldrum is driven by his desire to stamp out the permissive society, a hatred born of his own repression. Meldrum lives with his invalid mother (Hilda Barry), and her sinister carer, Miss Brabazon (Sheila Keith). Keith is given less to do here than either of the two earlier Walker films she so enlivened, but she still strikes an imposing, gothic figure with her shock of white hair and glasses with one of the lenses blacked out. She coldly torments Meldrum’s mother (who had previously scuppered her love affair with Meldrum by forcing him into the church), who, whilst aware that her son is insane, is unable to communicate this.
With THE CONFESSIONAL MURDERS Walker drives the action forward with that hoary old trick: the heroine that no one believes, but it works a treat here. And, of course, those that don’t believe her get their eventual comeuppances at the hands of the homicidal padre. Walker finishes the film with a typically downbeat ending (and I’m a big fan of these), which neatly mirrors a similar denouement in the same year’s BLACK CHRISTMAS.
female:5 / male:2
1) Female throws herself from bedroom window
2) Male has face bashed in with repeated blows from a incense ball
3) Male found dead (method unseen)
4) Female killed with poisoned communion wafer
5) Female strangled with rosary beads
6) Female killed with poisoned communion wafer
7) Female found with throat cut