With a title like The VelociPastor, you know what you’re gonna get, right? Something wacky, with terrible CGI, and nothing resembling a plot. And yet, in the case of this, the second feature from writer-director Brendan Steere, its title is kind of misleading — not because the film isn’t completely nuts; obviously it is — ’cause it’s genuinely…great. I say this without a shred of hyperbole: The VelociPastor is one of my favorite films of 2019.
Oh good, you’re still here. So, the premise, naturally, surrounds a holy man who becomes part-priest, part-dinosaur. This happens via a quick sojourn to China (clearly not China at all, but a random forest somewhere in the continental U.S — the film was shot in NYC) and a prop from Jurassic Park, or rather, Carnosaur since the budget isn’t exactly at Spielbergian levels. They do manage to include a little snatch of the JP theme at one point though, which is surprisingly lovely.
The charismatic Greg Cohan is our pastor, Doug Jones (respect) who, after having a crisis of faith, goes traveling and comes back half dino/half man. After saving Carol, a hooker with a heart of gold (a luminous Alyssa Kempinski) from some bad types, Doug decides to use his powers for good and goes about ridding the city of evil-doers alongside his new friend/burgeoning love interest. There’s also a shadowy cabal of ninja drug dealers and Doug’s superior clergyman, the well-meaning Father Stewart (Daniel Steere) to contend with. Much madness ensues.
What sets The VelociPastor apart from the likes of Shark Exorcist, which boasted some brilliant conceptual art and a bang-on marketing campaign but was more good concept in search of a decent movie than anything else, is its considerable heart. This isn’t a self-satisfied, Sharknado-esque exercise in bad taste on purpose, with a load of meaningless celeb cameos to boot. It’s a genuinely funny and heartfelt story about a good man whose faith is tested (“Dinosaurs never existed!” he tells Carol at one point).
The performances are strong, the script is sharp, and it’s fully aware of its own ridiculousness (“Rated X by an all-Christian jury” a title card proclaims at the outset) but The VelociPastor is so incredibly charming and flits by so quickly, clocking in at just 75 minutes, that it’s impossible to resist. Cohan is a hugely likeable screen presence and his chemistry with Kempinski is keenly felt, so their romance never feels tacked on (“I don’t know much about God,” she tells him, to which Doug responds, in all sincerity, “I don’t know much about dinosaurs”).
There’s even a surprisingly sweet sex scene that, in direct contrast with similarly themed, less well-meaning, Troma movies, does not take place with Doug as a dinosaur. The joke hit rate is insanely high throughout, with just one reference to pedo priests cleverly deployed to ensure the film doesn’t rely on obvious, bad taste comedy. There are bits about dudes trying to do evil laughs and a pimp called Frankie Mermaid (“Cause I’m swimming in bitches”) but nothing is overplayed and nothing overstays its welcome. There’s absolutely no meanness to The VelociPastor whatsoever.
In keeping with the grand grindhouse tradition (the movie began life as a fake trailer, made by the director as a film school project, that went viral) the movie wears its complete lack of budget on its sleeve. The priest outfits look like pull-away stripper gear, while the aforementioned forest gets plenty of use standing in for China, Vietnam, and later just a regular ol’ fight location. VFX shots are missing on purpose, too, which again makes the thing impossible to hate.
As for the dino itself, well, let’s just say a dodgy costume beats dodgy CGI any day. Anybody who settles down for a good low-budget creature feature with a feeling of dread for when the monster actually shows up can rest easy; the raptor of the title is in now way convincing (actually, er, it’s a T-Rex) but that’s part of the appeal. The final battle, in particular, is a hilariously brilliant use of the rubbish costume that encompasses everything that’s so wonderful about this insane little movie (Carol also gets a chance to fight, using her shoes among other things, which is always great to see).
The half-transformation, which sees Doug don yellow contacts and dino claws, is very cleverly done while the gore is top-notch and impressively practical throughout. There’s plenty of orangey-red bloody sprays and splatters, not to mention a truly great dummy kill that manages to be both utterly unconvincing and yet boasts a level of detail that confirms it’s fully intentional.
The VelociPastor is one of a kind, more than living up to its wacky title and awe-inspiring poster art. The movie it most called to mind for me was Wolfcop and its hugely underrated sequel, Another Wolfcop. Both those flicks and this one understand that you cannot sell a crazy concept with insanity alone, nor without a degree of well-earned humor and heart. It takes guts to fully commit to something and this fully commits.
With a banging punk rock soundtrack, killer SFX, a brilliantly terrible costume and a whole gaggle of believable, funny characters, The VelociPastor stakes a claim for itself as one of very few fake grindhouse trailers you’ll actually be glad were made into full-length features. The ending suggests a sequel, which I for one will be first in line to see. It gives me great pleasure to say this; The VelociPastor is one of the best horror movies of the year.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Brendan Steere
Writer(s): Brendan Steere
Stars: Greg Cohan, Alyssa Kempinski, Daniel Steere, Fernando Pacheco De Castro
Release date: Aug 13, 2019 (DVD and Digital), Sept 16, 2019 (Blu-ray)
Studio/Production Company: Hollow Tree Films
Language: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean
Run Time: 75 minutes