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The Believers (1987)

Police psychiatrist Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen), barely recovered from the accidental electrocution of his wife, is called in by cop McTaggart (Robert Loggia) to help an undercover man who's freaked out while delving into a case that involves ritual child murder. Jamison becomes aware that the killings are connected with a dark form of Santeria, a voodoo-like religion practiced mainly among New York's black and Hispanic population. Despite McTaggart's declaration that 'cuttin' up chickens ain't my idea of a religion', Jamison learns to respect the wholesome ethnic practitioners of Santeria, like the maid who is always casting protective spells over his son and girlfriend, but discovers that a cadre of evil worshippers would like him to cut his own (admittedly irritating) brat up to help them achieve their ends.

The Believers is well-acted by a line-up of strong supporting players, and competently directed by Schelsinger in his Marathon Man commercial thriller style, but it's also a touch empty. while the film plays lip service to the apparently beneficial effects (unless you happen to be a chicken) of real-life Santeria, it does as a melodrama have to concentrate on the nastiness of its villains. Therefore, more than a trace of racism creeps in whenever the good guys have to deal with non-Christian beliefs. Furthermore, the plot is all-too clearly the 101st retread of Rosemary's Baby, as a coven of high-placed New York sorcerers try to get a parent to sacrifice a child for evil.

However, individual sequences work very well, particularly when something horrible is happening: spiders erupt from a zit on Helen Shaver's cheek (ugh), an autopsy reveals live snakes wriggling in a victim's guts (ech), Loggia is consumed more subtly by an unspeakable but unspecified spell, and the finale involves a good one-on-one confrontation between our hero and the witch doctor in the traditionally vast deserted warehouse where the sacrificing goes on.

First Published In: City Limits (issue unknown)

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