Thursday, October 24, 2019

Shapeshifters Week 4: The VelociPastor

The VelociPastor (2019)
You might have noticed that this month (admittedly with a nod to Halloween) we're featuring shapeshifters. October could have easily been werewolves month instead; we had plenty of werewolf films available and viewed. The double feature at the beginning of the month (The Curse of the Werewolf with Howling VI: The Freaks) could have been split into two posts. Movie Churches could have been All Werewolf/All October, but when I read about The VelociPastor, I knew I had to write about it. So "shapeshifters" instead of just werewolves.

The VelociPastor is in the grand tradition of such films as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Transylvania 6-5000, and Saturday the 14th. Okay, maybe it’s not a “grand” tradition, but certainly a tradition; low budget spoofs of horror with meta perspectives. These films walk a fine line between mocking bad filmmaking and being bad filmmaking. (But let me note here, AotKT is one of my all-time favorite filmgoing experiences.) This film does have more profane language and gratuitous violence than its predecessors.

Dismiss any thought that this film intends to be a serious exploration of the interplay between a modern man’s psyche with his primordial roots. One of our first clues that the film is going in another direction is the opening title card that reads, “Rated X by an all Christain jury.” A few moments into the film, our hero, Doug the Priest, looks across the street to see his parents die in a fiery explosion. Instead of seeing an actual explosion, we see a title card reading, “VFX: Car on Fire.” (Perhaps the film had some budget issues?)

Before we get onto our evaluation of the clergy and church in the film, a quick plot summary: Rev. Doug Jones (Greg Cohan) is shaken in his faith by the death of his parents. His mentor, Father Stewart (Daniel Steere) advises him to travel to China (I suspect the China scenes might not have been actually filmed in China, but rather in some very American-looking woods), 

While in China, Doug is cut by a mystic totem (it looks like a tooth). He then has what he thinks are dreams, but are actual incidents of transformation into a “dragon warrior” (or a short T-Rex).  Doug returns to the good old U. S. of A. and continues to his transformations. Carol (Alyssa Kempinski), a hooker with a heart of gold, recruits him to fight crime on the streets, but soon he must also fight a Ninja Drug Cabal that has come from China to the United States. (It seems a missed marketing opportunity that this film wasn't titled -- or even subtitled -- The VelociPastor vs. the Ninjas.)

Now that you know the plot, we need to get down to what's most important here at Movie Churches:  the ecclesiology of this Dino Epic.

The film begins with Pastor Doug in the pulpit. We can see him in the pulpit, but we can't see anything of the interior of the church (I assume because there wasn't room in the budget for extras in the pews).  

Doug is concluding his sermon, “This is the greatest lesson we can learn from the Book of Job. Though we all suffer, it is the righteous that will persevere, and to believe in God may be the greatest gift any of us can have.”

Arguably, that is a lesson from the Book of Job, but certainly not the greatest lesson. And if the righteous indeed persevere, Pastor Doug soon proves he's not righteous. When, moments later, he faces suffering, he immediately doubts God.  

I’m sure many viewers would be anxious to get on to the dinosaur and ninjas, but you, as a reader of this blog, would probably prefer we take a moment at this point to discuss the order of service. Doug and Stewart seem to be Roman Catholic priests in what's always referred to as "the Church." I'm guessing they're Catholic because they wear clerical collars and talk about their vows of chastity

However, the service seems to conclude with the end of the sermon. That's a very Protestant thing; Roman Catholic Mass concludes with the Eucharist, optionally followed by a song. It never ends right after the sermon.

Though Doug and Stewart seem to be Catholic, the church they serve doesn’t seem to be. The sign above the building reads “The Tenth Street Church of Christ.” The Church of Christ is a Protestant denomination. (Actually, several denominational factions use the name in one form or another, but none are Roman Catholic, and they all allow their clergy to marry.) Also “Tenth Street” is not the kind of descriptor likely to be found in the name of Catholic Churches which are more likely to mention attributes of God or Saints.

So what kind of clergyman is Pastor Doug? We never see him caring for congregants, though we do, at one point, see him passing a homeless man who's asking for money. In fairness, Doug is overcome with a sudden bout of dinosaur “hunger,” but he passes the man without a word of concern. Carol the prostitute, on the other hand, gives the man money. 

Those who work with the impoverished often recommend against giving away money, but couldn’t Doug at least have stopped to talk and pray with the man? This encounter by itself would really harm his Movie Churches Steeple rating. 

But then there’s the matter of killing people. In the park at night, Carol is assaulted by a mugger. Suddenly a dinosaur appears and eats the robber. Next thing we know, Doug is waking up, naked, in Carol’s bed. He's afraid he slept with Carol and seems relieved to learn that he had only turned into a dinosaur and killed a man. (Later in the film, Carol helps Doug in breaking his vow of chastity.)

Carol is impressed with Doug as a homicidal reptile and urges him to go on killing bad people. She tells him he will be performing a greater service than he ever did in the church. Since we never see Doug ever doing anything in God’s service or helping others, it’s hard to argue against her case. But Doug doesn’t seem to have any thoughts or arguments against vigilante justice, not even Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19 where Scripture declares vengeance is God’s and shouldn’t be taken into our own hands. (Doug’s grasp of the Word is not that great; at one point he refers to a verse from the 32nd chapter of Matthew. Matthew only has 28 chapters.)

In one of the only scenes where we see Father Doug serving a “congregant,” we see Frankie Mermaid (Fernando Pacheco De Castro), a pimp, come to Doug in the confessional. Frankie happily gives a long list of sins, including tossing a baby into a river. When he confesses killing Doug’s parents, Doug goes all T-Rex and slices the pimp’s throat. Call me judgmental if you will, but I don’t think priests should kill people in the confessional booth.

And how does the Church come across in the film? I’m giving a major spoiler here, but…

The Ninja Drug Cabal is run by The Church! (In the film it seems there is only one church, undivided by theological squabbles or struggles for authority. Just one big, kind of Catholic, kind of Protestant, not at all Orthodox entity.) I didn’t ever quite understand their plan, which had something to do with hooking everyone on drugs, and then cutting off the supply so people will turn to God. Drug addicts are quite creative in finding other sources to numb their pain, but that’s what those Church Ninjas seem to be doing.

I’m giving Pastor Doug and this very odd church our lowest church rating of One Steeple.

I’d like to add a note here to the film’s writer and director, Brendan Steere. Since we’ve interacted on Twitter, there is a chance he’ll read this post, which is a new thing for me. When I wrote about The Apostle, I never thought of Robert Duvall reading what I wrote about the film. I had an even greater degree of certainty that Charles Laughton never read what I wrote about The Night of the Hunter. 

If you are reading this, Mr. Steere, I’d just like to note that the low rating is for the church and clergy in the film, not the film itself. The film itself was a kick.

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