31 Days of Hell: The Eigtheenth Angel (1997) - Reviewed

David Seltzer was already a prolific screenwriter in the 1970s such as The Hellstrom Chronicle and King, Queen, Knave before creating what would become The Omen devil-horror franchise, effectively boosting his career and landing him eventual directing jobs including the hit 1986 film Lucas.  Sadly, he struck a rut in 1992 with his failed WWII drama Shining Through with Michael Douglas and Michelle Pheiffer and he didn’t work on another project until 1997 when he tried to restart his career once more with, you guessed it…devil-horror.

Teaming up with occasional director William Bindley, Seltzer indulged again in the demonic and occult underworld though decidedly with far weaker results than the one which launched him in the first place.  Originally slated for theaters, the film ultimately premiered on the small screen with Starz before resurfacing on video store shelves.  Though there isn’t much to write home about here, what we do get with the otherwise mediocre and tired The Eighteenth Angel, however, are some interesting performances, lovely locations echoing the international scenic beauty of Don’t Look Now and some truly strange plot contrivances (human cloning?) which tread a fine line between science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Starring Christopher McDonald in a non-villainous role for once, we meet up with the Stanton family who with his daughter Lucy (Rachael Leigh Cook) are in the throes of grieving the loss of her mother who perished shortly after meeting with Etruscan priest Father Simeon (industry veteran Maximilian Schell).  When promises of a modeling career come Lucy’s way, however, in the far reaches of Rome near the Etruscan areas, the grieving duo relocate to the region for the opportunity.  Unbeknownst to them, however, is a secret Satanic plot to gather together eighteen perfect human beings for the coming of the Antichrist with the mysterious Father Simeon as the chief instigator of the plot.

Rachael Leigh Cook, fresh off of modeling herself, is a bit rusty in the acting department but has the strengths of McDonald and Schell to keep the proceedings interesting.  Being used to McDonald as an adversary in movies like Darkman, Happy Gilmore and Requiem for a Dream, seeing him as the leading man pitted against the forces of darkness took some getting used to but he pulled the task off admirably.  Maximilian Schell plays the dramatic role of the villainous priest straight though part of me was hoping he would ham it up ala Ernest Borgnine’s Satan worshipper in The Devil’s Rain.

Where it falters is entirely on screenwriter Seltzer who clearly wants to make another occult horror thriller but overloads his script with enough silly plot contrivances to derail the whole thing.  The film also has an uneven rhythm with some sequences feeling hurried and the finale is most certainly anticlimactic.  That said, there’s bountiful scenery to take in of the Roman countryside, shot with finesse by Beetlejuice cinematographer Thomas E. Ackerman.  It’s a nice film to look at for the most part with some moments of unexpected gore including facial transplanting and mutant rodents, but overall this would be among my last picks to throw into the bottom of the devil-horror pile.

--Andrew Kotwicki