The Believers [1987]

As it usually happens, after watching a couple of movies about the occult, I got intrigued and had to check them all out. Well, at least the better ones and The Believers is definitely one of them. It features an amazing opening sequence that will leave you speechless. Showcasing how you build the atmosphere and how to engage the viewer, it’s one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen. That being said, you should know that the rest of the movie is not that good. This is an average eighties thriller that feels a bit pretentious and the slower pace demands some effort.

It focuses on its characters, developing them slowly and meticulously, drawing you further into the story. Martin Sheen was phenomenal here with his above all honest and compelling performance that grounded the movie and gave it much needed believability. As a bonus for all NYPD Blue fans we also have young Jimmy Smits in a familiar role. The Believers is based on the novel The Religion by Nicholas Conde and this is the source of a bit disjointed storytelling. However, the suspenseful atmosphere and mystery surrounding the events from the beginning of the movie should keep your attention.

The city of New York is a place where strange things are happening. A series of ritualistic murders of young children sent shockwaves through the streets of a city with an already bad reputation. Psychologist Cal Jamison is new here and right away he catches this big case. Soon, he finds himself involved more than he would ever want. Especially since he has a very young son…

I already mentioned the jarring opening sequence, something that I doubt would make its way into a 21st century movie. But I also have to mention a couple of really graphic scenes that are quite disturbing. Especially the ones with dead animals. Other than that, it’s a straight-up thriller with a lot of mystery and twists so characteristic of that era. I stumbled upon The Believers after watching The Serpent and The Rainbow, another underrated eighties flick. And while we’re talking about voodoo movies I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Angel Heart. Although Rosemary’s Baby is the most similar movie to this one.

Still, there are quite a few great modern movies about the occult like The Ritual, Kill List, The VVitch, and The Ninth Gate. That’s quite a nice list of movies you can check out if you liked this one. Finally, it’s funny how all those nice Christian folks were so afraid of Voodoo and Santeria all the while the clergy was raping their children. And insidiously covering it up afterward, shuffling priests around and whatnot. And these things really happened, unlike the Satanic Panic of the eighties that saw a lot of innocent people falsely charged and convicted. The Believers has that vibe of a frightened white mans movie offering another peek into that time.

Director: John Schlesinger

Writers: Nicholas Conde, Mark Frost

Cast: Martin Sheen, Helen Shaver, Malick Bowens, Robert Loggia, Elizabeth Wilson, Harris Yulin, Harley Cross

Fun Facts: The Believers was shown to have influenced the cult established by Adolfo Constanzo and supported by Sara Aldrete in Matamoros, Mexico. The cult was based on Palo Mayombe, an Afro-Cuban religion similar to Santería. However, Constanzo was also studying voodoo and hoodoo.


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