(director: John Schlesinger; screenwriters: Mark Frost/novel “The Religion” by Nicholas Conde; cinematographer: Robby Muller; editor: Peter Honess; music: J. Peter Robinson; cast: Martin Sheen (Cal Jamison), Harley Cross (Chris Jamison), Helen Shaver (Jessica Hallowell), Richard Masur (Marty Wertheimer), Robert Loggia (Lieutenant Sean Mctaggert), Elizabeth Wilson (Kate Maslow), Lee Richardson (Dennis Maslow), Carla Pinza (Carmen Ruiz), Harris Yulin (Donald Calder), Raul Davia (Oscar Sezine), Jimmy Smits (Joe Lopez), Malick Bowens (Palo), Janet-Laine Green (Lisa Jamison); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producers: John Schlesinger/Beverly Cambe/Michael Childes; Orion; 1987)

A gloomy muddled sacrificial child cult thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A gloomy muddled sacrificial child cult thriller that sets a schlocky paranoid mood. It’s based on the occult mystery novel, “The Religion,” by Nicholas Conde and is inanely written by Mark Frost. Respected director John Schlesinger(“Sunday, Bloody Sunday”/”Midnight Cowboy”) seems to be telling us he’s slumming with such lurid pseudo-voodoo material and never gets full value out of the pulp story. Its tagline is God can’t save you, the Church can’t save you. They get right inside your body you can’t stop them.”

In Minneapolis, the housewife Lisa (Janet-Laine Green) gets electrocuted because of a faulty coffee-maker, in front of her 7-year-old son Chris (Harley Cross) and her loving psychologist hubby Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen). The widower relocates to Manhattan with his son and works again as a police psychologist.

Cal interviews an hysterical Latino cop, Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits), who is overcome by the bloody ritual killing of a child found in a movie theater and that his shield was stolen. Before carted off to Bellevue he fearfully tells the shrink he’s on the wanted list of the religious fanatics called Santeria (a real cult misrepresented here as into evil curses and child sacrifices). The practice of this superstitious ancient religion are rooted in the African-Caribbean communities with a slave history (in NYC that would be El Barrio). Soon after blabbing to the shrink, the cop goes bonkers in a Cuban diner and because of great pain from a belly full of snakes stabs himself to death.

When the curious Cal researches Santeria through a local author (Raul Davia), he uncovers the involvement in a local drug help program, with religious cult connections, a devil-worshipper local millionaire philanthropist (Harris Yulin). Cal’s prying into the affairs of the cultists puts him, his police ally Lt. Sean McTaggert (Robert Loggia), his new girlfriend Jessica (Helen Shaver) and his son in danger. The voodoo curses are dished out by this maniacal looking black man, the shaman/devil figure, (Malick Bowens), whose curses infect Jessica with a facial boil that spiders emerge from and it paralyses the police officer. Meanwhile father and son must stave off the evil-doers to live happily ever after.

There are cheap movie scares throughout the B film with a Hollywood A list of artists. What’s missing is a believable story and one without the need for loud bongo drums to let you know Satan is in the neighborhood.