The Confessional
U.K. | 1976
Directed by Pete Walker
Anthony Sharp
Susan Penhaligon
Stephanie Beacham
| 100 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Shriek Show
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    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
A deranged priest (Anthony Sharp) takes it upon himself to punish his parishioners for their moral transgressions...
    Before he left the film industry to pursue a life in real estate, Pete Walker carved a niche for himself as Britain's resident shock specialist. Embracing controversy far more openly that the films Hammer were producing in the 1970s all of which look positively staid in comparison to Walker's output his movies often got by on sheer enthusiasm, though his competence as a stylist grew steadily as he made more films. The Confessional (AKA House Of Mortal Sin) is possibly his best work, though it has never attained the same notoriety or cult appeal of, say, Frightmare or House of Whipcord.
    Forever looking to offend polite British sensibilities, Walker here turns his eye towards the Catholic Church. The idea of a killer priest was certainly nothing new in the international film scene Lucio Fulci had already tackled this topic in Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), with other gialli following suit but it was something unusual for a British film. The expectant controversy never arrived, however; as grim and nihilistic as the film is (and the ending is enough to make your blood freeze) it simply failed to raise the hackles as Walker had hoped. Why this proved to be the case is open to speculation, but the film delivers on the promise of the director's earlier works. As in Frightmare, Walker gets a lot of mileage out of contrasting extremes in Frightmare it was darling old Sheila Keith darning socks one moment, and going ballistic with a power drill the next; here the emphasis is on the seemingly proper and upright priest who uses the instruments of his profession as murder weapons, whether it be using rosary beads to strangle a woman, or poisoned communion wafers to kill another. The explicit use of religious paraphernalia as weapons of destruction was something Walker and screenwriter David McGillivray showed some audacity in using not even the shocking gialli of the period had dared to be so on the nose, as it were.
    In terms of its execution, the film is a marked improvement on Walker's previous films. Looked at as a complete body of work, his films, without exception, builds on one another some are less effective on the whole than others, but the technical smoothness of execution gets better and better with every film. Peter Jessup's cinematography is still a bit on the bland side, but the use of drab English locales makes for a nice contrast with the sensationalist subject matter. The pacing is far better than usual for Walker there's very little padding, and scenes move smoothly from one to the next. The shock scenes are handled with as much gusto as ever, but compared to Frightmare and Whipcord, in particular, the film is relatively restrained when it comes to gore. Even so, some of the sequences manage to be legitimately unsettling, notably the infamous death-by-poisoned-communion-wafer scene.
    The cast is also more consistently satisfying than usual for the director. The majority of the roles are well-cast and performed. While the mind toys happily with the idea of Peter Cushing playing the demented priest (he turned the role down because of prior commitments), Anthony Sharp does a fine job in his place. Sharp, an accomplished character actor commonly used in snooty bureaucratic roles in bigger films (he's likely best remembered for his role as the Minister in A Clockwork Orange), strikes just the right balance of gravity and lunacy. He also manages to make the character somewhat sympathetic, thus lending the film a touch of pathos to accompany the shocks. The supporting cast includes a juicy role for Walker staple Sheila Keith, impressive as the priest's doting housekeeper, and a pair of appealing damsels in distress in the form of Susan Penhaligon (The Land That Time Forgot) and Stephanie Beacham (Dracula A.D. 1972). While none of the other characters are as well developed as Sharp's, the actors do a commendable job and help to keep the film interesting throughout.
    Though Walker never shows tremendous style or creativity as a director, The Confessional is good enough to make one regret that he didn't stick with it longer his grasp of technique continued to grow in his remaining films, and his gleeful rejection of 'good taste' made his films stand out amid the more stoic British horrors of the period.

Shriek Show's release of The Confessional, as part of their Pete Walker Collection, is in fact identical to the Anchor Bay U.K. release. SS have opted to use the more familiar U.S. title in favor of the on-screen title House of Mortal Sin, but it's otherwise the same as the AB release, bearing in mind the obvious downgrading to NTSC from PAL. The 1.85/16x9 transfer looks OK, nothing more. The source print is a little battered, albeit fully uncut, but the image looks a bit softer than the AB release. On the whole, however, it's an acceptable way of seeing the film and the transfer is never hard to watch. Audio tracks include the original mono, as well as a remixed 5.1 track ported over from the AB release. As with most of the AB 5.1 remixes, the track is a gratuitous addition that adds nothing to the film. The original mono track is preferable, though it is a little soft and has some instances of background noise.
    Extras are where the release really shines SS has ported over the audio commentary with Walker and author Jonathan Rigby, as well as the documentaries Courting Controversy: An Insider's Look at the Films of Pete Walker and Sheila Keith: A Nice Old Lady? The commentary is a good one, with only a little bit of dead air Walker comes off as a likable down-to-earth individual, and Rigby does a good job of prompting him for information. The documentaries are fascinating and well-produced, featuring ample comments from many of Walker's key collaborators. Walker's final film, The House of the Long Shadows (a still-unavailable-on-DVD campfest starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine) gets only passing mention due to rights issues, but the Walker piece gives a good sense of his short-lived directorial career, and the Keith segment is a fun tribute to the late actress. Talent bios and production notes, a theatrical trailer and trailers for other titles in the Walker collection (including The Flesh and Blood Show, a title not included in the AB Walker set) round out the package.