Occultist, The (1988)

Somewhere in New York City, men and women in strategically ripped clothing thrash around to the sound of beating drums. A witch doctor dances and waves around a bundle of sticks and mutters in tongues. A couple strips naked and goes at it. A young girl gets her throat slashed. A young dude gets his heart cut out. Meanwhile, a man flanked by khaki-clad cronies looks across the river. He shakes his head in disgust. “They’ll be at it all night.”

New York City’s hottest club is Voodoo!

Barney is a hapless nerd trying to close a deal on a security system—the “barking doorbell,” which is exactly what it sounds like. My neighbors’ dog barks all day, but now that I think about it, maybe they just get a lot of visitors. Barney’s deal falls through for many reasons, the main one being that barking doorbells won’t prevent voodoo-practicing murderers from entering your manse. Barney is crestfallen. He had taken over his father’s security company just a few months ago, and now it’s failing. Sometimes when I walk the streets of New York, I find the most unusual businesses. There’s a store that only sells rubber stamps, a museum of “contemporary artifacts” that’s inside an elevator shaft, and a shop that sells raccoon penises and Venus flytraps. But I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I’ve never seen a store that sells barking doorbells.

But there’s hope for Barney. He gets offered a high-profile gig that could save his company. All he has to do is protect a fascist president of a Caribbean island and his unpleasant wife. Her jewelry is worth enough money to feed half the people of their country (or just feed one person really, really well). The job seems easy enough, right? Nope. A group of violent rebels are staging a coup and planning an assassination. Barney can’t protect the president alone. That’s where Waldo Warren comes in—a tough-as-nails mercenary with a brittle wit and yellow-belt karate skills. He has some other tricks up his sleeve, including a knife that shoots its blade. This gadget may sound incredible, but before you go out and buy one, just know it has a very serious design flaw—you can only use it once. But don’t worry; Waldo also has a shoe gun, which is exactly what it sounds like. You can probably buy that somewhere in New York City.

Together Barney and Waldo protect the president at a fundraising gala, but quickly they get sucked into a dark world of political espionage, voodoo, and complicated mother-daughter relationships. There are booby traps, mistaken deaths, spiritual possessions, and an obligatory scene where a witch doctor walks over hot coals.

Director Tim Kincaid has had a long career in both gutter trash and gay porn. This is a filmmaker who gave us Mutant Hunt, Robot Holocaust, and Riot on 42nd Street, as well as a series centered on a men’s room that I presume sees a lot of action. The Occultist doesn’t have any of the goopy practical effects and gay subtext of Breeders, but it is ambitious in a different way. This film has no shortage of ideas and it tries to be many things—a political thriller, a James Bond-style action movie, a family drama, and a voodoo horror film. The plot is convoluted and nearly inscrutable, but I was still able to enjoy its explosion of ideas, plot twists, and non sequiturs. There’s plenty of fun in this movie—gun-slinging rebels who crash a party, a business partner with a savage comb-over, and a wide range of tacky Hawaiian shirts plucked from Magnum P.I.’s wardrobe. The fight sequences were clearly choreographed by a nine-year-old, but that doesn’t matter because Waldo shoots bullets from his fingertips. This goes unexplained, as does the bullets he shoots from “below the belt.” I’m talking about his Johnson here. The man has a cock-gun. The Occultist does slog at some points; much of the lengthy dialogue is unnecessary. But then a woman explodes into a pile of appendages, and that is very necessary.

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