Only one film has the guts and resolve to take a hard look at the scandal of pedophelia and subsequent cover up that ran amuck in the Catholic Church. Richard Griffins latest, Flesh for the Inferno, takes a hard look at the lives ruined by the selfish crimes of debaucherous clergymen.
Oh, you thought we were going to discuss Spotlight? We don’t really do prestige films around these parts.
Flesh begins with a flashback. A quartet of nuns confronting a corrupt priest with evidence of him abusing one of the students at the parochial school he runs. Confronted with the option of turning himself in or being exposed by the sisters, the kiddie toucher chooses what’s behind door number three, gunning down the eldest of the nuns before holing the three remaining women up behind a brick wall in a nice nod to Edgar Allen Poe’s classic The Cask of Amontillado. The sisters renounce a God that would protect such an evil creature, pledging themselves to Satan in order to exact revenge in the afterlife.
Flashing forward to the present day, the school now sits abandoned and in disrepair. A local youth group has volunteered to begin the cleanup ahead of renovations and rebuilding in order to reopen the school once again. After a brief introduction of our cast, which includes a would be lothario, a Jesus freak, a possibly closeted gay student who may just love both show tunes and women, an academic overachiever and a teen couple that drape themselves all over one another at every possible chance, the film kicks into high gear with the vengeful spirit of the nuns taking the kids out one by one in bloody fashion.
For Flesh, Griffin has teamed up once again with scriptwriter Michael Varrati. The duo are responsible for one of Griffins best recent films, The Sins of Dracula. That film provided a comic riff on the Satanic Panic trend of the late 70s and 80s while aping the weird vibe of Hammer studios in the 1970s.
This time around, Griffin and company offer up their riff on the strange, dreamlike vibe of Italian horror, specifically the works of Argento and Fulci. Proportionately, Griffin’s body of work leans heavier on planting tongue firmly in cheek with explorations in the sillier aspects of genre films. Inferno is a much different film, and it has a number of set pieces that are flat out creepy and disturbing. Italian horror has long traversed into surreal, nightmarish territory that disturbs the audience by keeping them off balance, and that’s the vibe Griffin goes for with Inferno. Even less visceral moments, such as Michael Thurber’s chaperone character runs out of and back into the same room over and over again offers a feeling of vertigo new to Griffin’s work. As always, the effects are on a shoestring budget, but aside from a couple of digital squibs the work done by John Dusek is standout. One scene of note where a reanimated corpse “floats” down a hall and repeatedly smashes its face into a glass door until it resembles raw hamburger might be the most disturbing and greatest moment in any of Griffin’s films.
Attribute the film’s darker tone to the heady subject matter. The scandal that is pedophile Catholic priests and subsequent coverup at both the local level in dioceses along with the Vatican still feels like a wound rubbed raw for many. It’s both difficult and in poor taste to make light of this situation, and Varrati’s script points a heavy finger at the hubris of priests that used their position of influence to cause irreparable harm as well as the system that allows them to commit these acts without fear.
Over the years Griffin’s accumulated a steady troupe of players, and the comfort and trust built over multiple films is on full display here. Monica Saviolakis, Tiffany Lee Ferris and the stunning Samantha Acampora all return to the fold as the vengeance seeking Sisters. Jamie Lyn Bagley adds wonderful comic relief as a closeted Jesus freak and Anna Rizzo offers up a steady performance as Kat, the lynchpin teen the film revolves around. Along with Sarah Nicklin’s comedic turn as a hooker with a penchant for daytime soaps, the true standout of the film is Sean Leser as Hasley. Hasley acts as the custodial guardian of the long abandoned parochial school, and he’s alternately sardonic and withholding, hinting at a darker history that’s not exposed to the final few moments of the film.
Nearly twenty feature films into his run as a modern day Roger Corman, Griffin keeps getting better as a filmmaker. Flesh For The Inferno acts as a darker counterbalance to his previous, satirical pokes at religious themed horror The Disco Exorcist and Nun of That. Coming this February, the film finds its way to cable VOD and other platforms, and should find its way into the hearts of those who love gory, dark horror with a bit of an edge.