Unholy Holy Men

The religious types who are more 'son of a…!' than 'preacher man'

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With Red State coming out this week, wherein the strongest scenes feature Michael Parks’ fundamentalist (emphasis on “mentalist”) Abin Cooper, we thought that now might be a good time to look back at some holy men who are less than shiny examples of goodness, charity and the rest of the virtues. Hold on to your hymnals, people , because these are some bad bishops, prattish priests and vile vicars…

Film:** Dragnet (1987)

Actor: **Christopher Plummer

To all outward appearances, Reverend Whirley is a model citizen – hanging with the Police Commissioner and providing a voice of reason and moderation on television. But he has another, much darker side. When he’s not smiling gently and making bad jokes with the police head, he’s leading the P.A.G.A.N. movement, the People Against Goodness And Normalcy (sic). He’s kidnapping virgins, and giant snakes from the zoo, and feeding one to the other (virgin to snake; not vice versa, that’d be weird). He’s encouraging his followers to wear goatskin leggings and take hallucinogenics at illegal countryside raves – and then lying about it to police detective Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd) and Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks). No more tea for this vicar; he’s off to jail!

Film:** Ladyhawke (1985)

Actor: **John Wood

We can’t claim to have read it, but we’re pretty sure that the medieval Catholic Church’s handbook on Being A Good Priest didn’t include a section on using the forces of darkness to curse your enemies. In fact, we’d venture a guess that such practices were actively frowned upon by the church, leading as they did to witch-ducking and other such unsavoury practices. So the Bishop of Aquila, a patrician figure who curses a beautiful woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) when she dares reject him in favour of the Captain of the Guard (Rutger Hauer). Never mind that bishops aren’t supposed to be sex-pests; turning him into a wolf by night and her into a hawk by day is just not cricket. Hooray for the healing power of Matthew Broderick, a fat old priest and a total eclipse of the sun for sorting things out.

Film:** The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Actor: **Robert Mitchum

Sometimes, you’ll hear about a really cool preacher who had a dangerous past but who has turned into a fine, upstanding member of the community, ready to empathise with and assist all comers to overcome their own demons. Tattoos on a preacher should not, therefore, immediately lead one to conclude that he’s a sociopath. Then again, there’s Harry Powell, a serial killing sunnuvabitch who targets women and children in his pursuit of a prison cell-mate’s stash. Marrying a vulnerable widow to get at the cash is one thing; threatening her kids is quite something else – and leaving those children orphans is worst of all. We get why he has “hate” tattooed across the knuckles of one hand, but he seems to have missed the point of the “love” on the other.

Film:** The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Actor: **Alfred Molina

The times, they are a-changing – however little the Catholic Church wants to admit it. So reactionary bar-stewards like Molina’s Aringarosa, who engaged in murderous attempts to cover up evidence that could shake the church to its patriarchal foundations and usher in a new age of sanity, are not to be encouraged. Through the film’s ri-donk-ulous plot, Aringarosa pulls the strings of mad monk Silas (Paul Bettany) and sends him out to kill elderly nuns, elderly academics and anyone else who might leak the big secret at the heart of the film – which the hero, lest we forget, discovers and then apparently covers up anyway. Brilliant.

Film:** Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984)

Actor: **Amrish Puri

Here’s one key to establishing a successful, thriving religious community that won’t be crushed by the British army: don’t engage in human sacrifice and/or kidnap children to turn them into zombie slaves. We know, we know: we’re being terribly restrictive, but really, practices like these led the Thuggee cult to be thoroughly stamped out by the British in the 19th century and – according to this version of history at least – again in the early 20th. Another clue that you might be doing something wrong is if you’re working underground, and there’s lava around. If you’re throwing human hearts into said lava, you’re pretty much beyond redemption. Next time, consider having a coffee morning or tombola instead; far less risky.

Film: The Name Of The Rose (1986)

Actor: Feodor Chaliapin Jr

Ah, medieval religion and its cover-ups of anything that goes against Church orthodoxy. Between Crusades, burnings at the stake, Inquisitions, it’s a wonder they even found time to ruthlessly quash any leftovers from ancient pagan civilsations – but then there’s The Name Of The Rose, wherein a mad monk (another of those) poisons the pages of Aristotle’s volume of Comedies rather than risk its genius coming to light and enlivening the Middle Ages with its hilarious LOLs. And then he burns the tome when Sean Connery’s William of Baskerville trails the problem to its source. Yes, he’s not only a killer; he’s a vandal of ancient and priceless artefacts. Are there no limits to which these people won’t stoop?

Film: Licence To Kill (1989)

Actor: Wayne Newton

We couldn’t possibly make it through this list without including at least one televangelist, and this one is a perfect embodiment of the grotesque stereotype of the on-air shuckster. Not only is he smarmy and charming and aggressively religious in his broadcasts, but he’s also using his business for nefarious ends. No, for once it’s not paying for rentboys or supporting a second family across state lines, but laundering drug money for supremo Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). Thank goodness James Bond is there to unravel the illicit scheme and restore order to the system. And for once, the preacher man isn’t the worst person around; Sanchez is far nastier.

Film: Goya’s Ghosts (2006)

Actor: Javier Bardem

We sometimes wish this film had been played like a pantomime, just so we could have booed and hissed to our hearts’ content at Bardem’s odious Brother Lorenzo. A rather vain but upcoming clergyman in Inquistatorial Spain, his interest is piqued by the beautiful young Inés (Natalie Portman), who he sees accused of secret Judaism and imprisoned and tortured by the Inquisition. He visits her, rapes her, and then – subjected to torture himself – confesses to being a monkey and tries to get her free (although not before raping her again). Chucked out of the Church – for the false confession, not the rape – he joins Napoleon’s army and invades Spain years later. Basically, whichever way you look at it, he’s not a nice man.

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