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With the lack of quality horror films becoming more and more apparent, fans of the genre (and those looking to get into it) are left with nothing to lose by checking out the obscure titles found on the shelves of the non-chain video stores. Every once in a while, there is a surprise contained within. Such a surprise is the 2000 movie The Convent.

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Directed by Mike Mendez (whose previous effort, Killers, is very hard to find but worth the search), The Convent is an exercise in excess and situational comedy. Far too often horror movies enter the realm of comedy unintentionally. As a small film, with a pea-sized budget, The Convent wraps itself, and enjoys, a cloak of playfulness.

The movie opens in the 1950’s as a young woman decides to set nuns and priests aflame… just before laying a shotgun through them. It’s an intro that needs to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, as far as visual flare is concerned, this scene is never topped, although Mendez tries very hard. We fast-forward to the present and meet a group of college kids heading to the long abandoned convent to spray paint fraternity letters. The mix of characters is so over the top you can’t help but love them. Not a single role is taken 100% seriously and it’s obvious that this movie is going to be fun.

Our college friends make it to the convent. Unfortunately, two dope-smoking cops bust them. I want nothing more than to go into detail about this scene, but it would ruin a surprise cameo that is beyond hilarious. As the group’s bad luck continues, they realize they have left their entire bag of weed at the convent and must return. From here, gore galore and hilarity ensues as gay satan worshipers start bringing demons to life.

The characters, played to good effect by unknown actors, are blatant stereotypes and have been cited in some other reviews as downright annoying.  “Lighten up,” I say.  This movie pokes fun at everything that it tries to accomplish.  Horror movies as of late have become TOO self-aware, satirizing the genre that most of them cannot adequately embrace.  When those types of movies try to play a serious deck of cards with a few jokers thrown in, they most often fail miserably.  The Convent, though, understands itself to be nothing more than a big “HA HA” and, therefore, does not suffer from the embarrassment of failed attempts at pure horror.

The plot is simple enough and the movie is very funny and the gore (for those, like I, that are interested) is plentiful. We get a simply wonderful cameo from Adrienne Barbeau (whose performance in John Carpenter’s The Fog is treasured by countless horror fans) and, generally, decent production values given the budget. My only complaint is that the movie is too short and some of the jokes are, admittedly, horrible.  Pop culture references, though, are hidden for those with a keen ear and make for added replay value.

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Most Internet sites have completely false information about this DVD. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Unfortunately, the quality of this picture is less than stellar and suffers from often subdued colors and severe softness. The fluorescent glow of the zombies, though, does come across effectively.  In fact, this picture is EXACTLY the same as the VHS copy (except for the aspect ratio).  With the lackluster quality of the picture and the fact that the entire movie takes place at night, there are a few scenes that are, ultimately, very hard to see.  This is forgiven, though, as it is a low budget horror comedy and never loses its sense of humor, even when hidden in shadows.

The DD 5.1 audio track is sufficient, although it doesn’t offer anything worth buying a system for. The rear channels are underused, but do run at decent levels when necessary, mostly during action scenes where the sound does impress.  The best sound comes from the soundtrack in the opening scene.  It is rich and lively and makes surprisingly good use of a good sound system.  Dialogue is almost universally at acceptable levels, although the occasional punch line is missed due to improper sound level adjustments.  Overall (and I know I say this over and over again) for a low budget horror flick, this is pretty good stuff.  The audio comes in English and French with English, and Spanish subtitles.

The extras may be sparse, but for a small release we do get some good stuff. The commentary track (with Director, Writer and Stars) is entertaining and informative, full of very interesting information about the production of the film. There were two glaring problems, though. First, Chaton Anderson (who not only stars as the blond, large-breasted Satan worshiper but also WROTE the movie) is barely audible and has frequent microphone trouble. Secondly, there is a point in the movie where, one way or another, the audio commentary gets out of synch with the movie. It is distracting trying to figure out what exactly is going on, but those who have seen the movie more than once will be able to keep up with, and enjoy, the commentary.

Secondly, we get a short “behind the scenes” featurette. Far from a professional documentary, this short video really conveys the independent nature of the production. The actors all seem to love what they are doing in this film and the director seems very laid back and open about his production. It won’t win any awards, but this is a very fun and (unlike most big-budget movies’ behind the scenes features) thoroughly entertaining.

Finally, we have an inventive feature called “Gore On Demand”. This feature allows the viewer to jump to any gore scene. What is even better, though, is that these aren’t exactly the final production scenes. We are allowed to witness the production of the scenes and, in some cases, the parts they had to cut out for one reason or another.  This is paired with some very slim deleted scenes that are too small and uninteresting to really mention.

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With a creative blend of comedy and gore, The Convent should easily find its way into many genre fans collections. I am very tough on horror movies as I have seen the greatness they can posses and have been let down dozens of times recently. This movie was highly underrated and undersold. Although there seems to be mass confusion about the actual content and set-up of the DVD it ends up being a decent genre disc.  The Convent never tries to be serious and is a welcome breather for the horror fan looking for something besides the standard cheap-special effect, lackluster performance fare.