Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Jim: You know, Ken, it sort of comes with the territory that a lot of the weird-ass media we consume for Bad Movie Diaries is culled from the past. It’s the easiest place to find fun-bad movies that have developed some kind of infamous reputation, after all. Outside of our several forays into A Christmas Prince territory, we’ve never really tackled anything just-released. That is, UNTIL NOW. The VelociPastor seems to have been anointed by snarky internet assholes as 2019’s answer to Sharknado, so it only made sense we jump on the train. Were you excited for the idea of a priest who is also sometimes a dinosaur?
Ken: I wasn’t really going into this with any expectations, Jim, being as I have no particular disposition toward men of the cloth and no position on dinosaurs other than some mild frustration that so many deny or misstate the scientific facts we know about them. I actually thought he was going to be a pastor who FOUGHT velociraptors! When I was a few minutes in and informed my girlfriend that no, he SOMETIMES IS ONE, she responded with the flat “What.” As in, the one that doesn’t even have a question mark after it.
Jim: So she would have been fine with it being a dinosaur-fighting priest, then.
Ken: I feel as if anybody would! Add in some basic platforming and you’d have a best-selling N64 title!
Jim: Did she catch the initial disclaimer that this film was “rated X by an all-Christian jury?”
Ken: No, thank goodness. I would’ve burned quite a bit of goodwill making her sit through this deeply silly, avowedly and purposefully bad movie. Jim, do we know much about the fine folks who brought this feature to us? Have they spoken about what burning passion in their breasts erupted forth to give us The VelociPastor?
Jim: All I really know about this film is that it was made by low-budget feature filmmaker Brendan Steere, and initially existed as a joke trailer, of the sort that were placed in between films in Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. And like those trailers, enough people chuckled at the one for The VelociPastor that it somehow became a low-budget feature, perfect for the VOD era—and available to rent now, in glorious 480p on YouTube.
It’s essentially the kind of film that the guys from Motern Media, who made Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, are also trying to make, except this one is trying to be a little bit more provocative.
Ken: Considering it clocks in at just 70 minutes with the credits, I suppose one can’t really begrudge the effort. In truth, The VelociPastor is competently filmed, staged and edited, is written in a willfully incompetent manner, and that’s totally the point. Why don’t you let our loyal readers know what they’re getting themselves into when they embark upon this sacrilegious story, Jim?
Jim: Okay, so our titular protagonist is Father Doug Jones (yeah, like the guy from The Shape of Water), played with just about the right level of camp and commitment to over-the-top yelling by actor Greg Cohan. He looks kind of like stand-up comedian John Mulaney, if he hit the gym every day for a year and somehow got even more white and pastey. He’s a good pastor, right up until the day he walks out of church to greet his parents and the car they’re standing next to suddenly explodes for no reason, killing them. Although there’s no shortage of blood in this movie, the film chooses to instead play the lack of budget as a joke here, inserting a static image that simply says “VFX: Car on fire” instead of an actual explosion.
Ken: Doug’s got it rough right from the start. His mentor is Father Stewart, played by a guy who looks very much like (blessedly) former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Jim: The guy who plays Father Stewart, apparently named Daniel Steere, has a face that perfectly screams “I am an actor in a terrible movie.”
Hair parted down the middle and everything
Ken: Father Stewart’s mustache tells Doug to go on a spiritual journey, a place which takes him to the part of China that looks an awful lot like the Wisconsin woods. “China IS East!” he says with awe.
Just as he’s finding himself, though, the plot lands with a bloody thump right in front of him. Maybe you should explain the premise here, Jim.
Jim: There’s not a “premise” so much as there is the suggestion of a premise, really. A bleeding woman with an arrow through her chest collapses at his feet, and with her last breath hands him what is apparently supposed to be a dinosaur claw or tooth. She mumbles something about destroying it and then dies. Doug manages to IMMEDIATELY cut himself on the tooth within the next 10 seconds, which begins his process of transformation. Basically, it’s a werewolf movie, except he’s a dinosaur.
Ken: You read that right, folks. Doug was bitten by a radioactive dinosaur tooth and is granted the proportionate strength, speed and scales of a dinosaur, because he is a dinosaur.
Jim: I’ll bet you there’s at least one B-movie out there named Dino-Man.
Ken: I’m sure I saw it on cable at a hotel once. We next join Doug as he wakes up from what he believes was a nightmare, but it’s pretty clear he’s waiting to just hulk out and morph into a dinosaur again at the slightest provocation. Which he does when he encounters a hooker named Carol in a park being menaced by a violent thug.
I want to say one thing about VelociPastor, Jim, and it is that although the subject matter and the violence are meant to be hilariously sleazy, this is not an egregious exploitation film. Rather, it has a streak of forebearance inside it. Weirdly so, really. Carol doesn’t get objectified, really, wouldn’t you agree?
Jim: Hmmm. She’s implied to hook with the best of them, and is pushed around by her fantastically costumed pimp Frankie Mermaid—so named because he is apparently “swimming in bitches”—but yes, it’s not, like, aggressively misogynist. I would assume this is because it was made by decent enough people who were trying to make a bad movie parody, rather than the kind of people who actively objectify women in their bad-on-accident movies. It’s put together in such a way that it seems like they might have hoped to get Syfy or Adult Swim to air it late at night.
No way, you’re saying THIS GUY is playing a pervert in the film?
Ken: This is secondary to the actual raptor-ing going on, of course. I have to say, Jim, that this movie nails the balance between being hilariously low budget and making fun of things that are hilariously low budget. The mugger who attacks Carol finds himself in the jaws of the VelociPastor. This is achieved with extremely close shots of individual parts of his body writhing bloodily and cheesy reaction shots of Carol. At one point, what is clearly a dummy head goes rolling past her unconvincingly.
Jim: This film reminded me of several other things we’ve watched at one point or another. The extreme low budget and blood effects, plus the competent direction (but sometimes bad performances by novice actors) made me think of Thankskilling, while the sense of humor had a dose of Riverbeast in it. The story, on the other hand, really feels like they’ve seen Miami Connection, especially because of something that happens at the very end. Because really, drug-smuggling ninja antagonists? Don’t tell me you didn’t lift that from Miami Connection.
Ken: Ultimately though, I’m disappointed that it didn’t steer more deeply into any of those ideas. The raptor itself doesn’t show up all that often. The exploitation vibe doesn’t feel fully developed—there are totally ways in which they could have made fun of sleazier movies without coming off like they were taking advantage of their actors. I guess the main failing of VelociPastor is that it doesn’t feel like it went nuts ENOUGH.
Jim: A fair point.
Ken: What follows this first true raptor-ing though, is kind of cute. Doug wakes up naked in Carol’s apartment and their initial conversation leads him to believe she’s talking about the fact they slept together when, of course, she’s really wigged out that he is sometimes a dinosaur.
Jim: At which point, he’s mostly disturbed to be told that he’s a dinosaur because “dinosaurs never existed,” rather than because he’s a murderer. I tried to look up whether this is an official tenet of the Catholic faith, but didn’t have much luck.
Ken: It feels like the whole premise here was a riff on one of late comedian Bill Hicks’ best bits, in which he declares he has a “one-word question” for Christians who think the Earth is a mere few thousand years old and that one-word question is “Dinosaurs.”
Jim: I love when they’re getting to know each other and Carol says “I don’t know much about God.” And he replies: “I don’t know much about dinosaurs.”
Ken: Anyway, because Doug doesn’t believe Carol, she takes him back to the scene of the crime (dressed in one of her dresses because of course she hasn’t got any menswear lying around). I think they get attacked. It’s … it’s a little hazy.
Jim: They don’t get attacked at that point, although they do get ambushed by ninjas in bed later. Here they argue about what he should do about his condition, and she eventually convinces him to use his dinosaur powers to kill pimps and criminals, and there’s a montage of him working out and them falling in love, interspersed with very brief, almost subliminal shots of dinosaur jaws biting random guys we’ve never seen before. Presumably they are “bad guys.”
Ken: Yes! Thank you! That actually did recall Dangerous Men to me, again, and the extended sequence where the female lead who isn’t Police Detective just goes about randomly killing her johns.
Jim: True, except there’s no implied rape here, thankfully.
Ken: It’s like when Arnold assures Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies, “They were all bad.”
Jim: At some point, Father Stewart gets suspicious about what Father Doug is up to, and Father Doug spills the beans about his new mission, but not the dinosaur part of it. Father Stewart tells him that God doesn’t want people to die, and Doug unleashes this one on him: “Oh, I think God wants a lot of people dead.”
Ken: This brings us around to another part of the movie that’s a bit toothless, which is the whole religious part. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I wake up in the morning demanding to see Catholicism get dragged, but isn’t a bit more biting satire or commentary sort of warranted here? At no point that I can remember do they take many jabs at religion beyond that one comment Doug makes about dinosaurs not being real. You’re sort of left to fill in the blanks on his wholesome white Christianness.
Jim: The flashbacks with Doug’s dead parents don’t do much to fill that in, except for his memory that he wants to go help people as a priest when they drop him off at, and I quote, “priest college.” We have to remember again that this is a 70-minute “feature film.” Most of that time is just spent with Doug and Carol getting closer together, honestly.
Ken: Sure. Of course that’s not all that’s going on. Doug avenges his parents, for one thing, and we get rid of Frankie Mermaid all in one fell swoop. Maybe you’d like to tell readers about it, Jim. It’s pretty emblematic of how intricately plotted the writing is here.
Jim: Frankie just trundles into the confession box next to Father Doug one Sunday like the bloated, sweating stereotype that he is, and proceeds to confess for every one of his crimes, including the murder of Doug’s parents, although he gives no motive at all. Doug, understandably, becomes enraged and rips out Frankie’s throat with his dinosaur puppet hands. Dinosaur puppet hands, as it turns out, are the VelociPastor’s greatest weapon.
Ken: They’re lethal!
Ken: Frankie isn’t our big bad by a long shot, though. Jim, we are dealing with CHINESE NINJAS. Chinese ninjas who SELL COCAINE. Chinese ninjas who sell cocaine FOR CHRISTIANITY, Jim.
(Note to readers: Ninjas are Japanese.)
Jim: If you’re wondering why we’re only getting to this now, by the way, it’s because the ninjas aren’t really introduced until well past the halfway point of the film. Classic bad movie element there.
Ken: And as before, I must say that the film is as respectful as it could really be with “evil foreigners who are ninjas.” Their leader is a man who is recognizably of Chinese descent and who appears to my novice’s ears to be speaking the words as the subtitles relate them to us—it’s not a Downfall parody or Trevor Noah sneaking in a dig at his audience in Xhosa.
Father Wei Chan
Ken: The fact that they are Chinese and also ninjas is no sillier than Batman Begins, come to think. And the white guys in this clan of cocaine-smuggling ninjas don’t pretend to speak bad Chinese with horrible accents, either.
Jim: I enjoyed toward the end of the film when Father Stewart has been taken captive and is speaking to the Master Ninja, Father Wei Chan, and he’s just speaking English, while Wei Chan is speaking Chinese, and it’s simply implied that they both understand one another. They clearly weren’t about to have the Father Stewart actor attempt any phonetic Chinese.
Ken: Exactly. It’s really the most respectful choice they could’ve made. Is it sad how remarkable I find this after movies like fucking Laser Mission, or, I guess, the existence of Shane Gillis?
Jim: Watching movies like we watch will lower a man’s expectations to the level that practically anything can clear them. I queued this up and was like “Only 70 minutes? It could be a static shot of an empty field, and I’ll still have no problem finishing this.”
Let’s get back to the plot, though. Father Stewart, somewhat concerned that Father Doug has admitted he’s spending his time murdering people with the aid of a prostitute, calls in an exorcist to drive the evil out of Doug. Of course, all this succeeds in doing is unleashing the dinosaur within—that would be an excellent workout slogan, would it not? But not before we get the film’s most delightfully random flashback sequence. Tell the people about Father Stewart’s backstory.
Ken: Oh man, it’s the most out-of-the-way digression in this whole short feature. Father Stewart apparently last consulted this pick-up-artist-lookin’ exorcist after he lived through the horrors of Vietnam. Back then, we find, he looked exactly as he does now but with his hair and mustache conspicuously dyed blonder. Kudos to the actor for committing to all that. In a melodramatic plot point straight out of The Simpsons, his combat buddy gets killed right in front of him. Then, totally out of nowhere, the love of his life comes running toward him from out of the woods. This is still in Vietnam. We know this because his comrades in arms are right there with him, and because she is exploded by a land mine roughly 10 inches from his face.
Anyone have a moist towelette?
Ken: Jim, he is covered in blood. She is in Vietnam for no reason—the characters call this out. I saw this coming, but it still had me vainly stifling laughter in the café where I was watching this.
Jim: It’s very obvious, but very funny. Afterward, he gets about a sentence into talking about his life after the war before it abruptly cuts back to the VelociPastor story in progress, as if they accidentally left the flashback going slightly too long. It’s a well-calculated bit of comedy.
Ken: After Doug goes dino and assaults Father Stewart, the now one-eyed priest awakens in the care of the evil Chinese ninjas. Their diabolical plan is to get everyone addicted to cocaine and then cut the supply off so that their only choice is to go to Christian outreach programs. They are true Christian dominionists, I guess.
Jim: From China, yes.
Ken: Quick note on China, Jim, and no fault of yours if you didn’t know because nobody ever mentions it (except me once): They have the most Christians on Earth and are one of the most rapidly Christianizing countries right now. Hilariously, this somehow is the least unbelievable detail of this movie.
Jim: I did not know this. Anyway, the ninjas kill Father Stewart for some reason. I think they expected him to just enthusiastically sign up and join this evil organization? Regardless, the only thing left to do is for Doug and Carol to go avenge Father Stewart and murder their way through the entire ninja camp. Carol even dons what I believe they thought was some kind of combat catsuit, but it’s basically just an off-the-rack romper jumpsuit.
It gets real Highlander-y, real quick.
Ken: Very stylish! Somehow she’s very good at martial arts, too. I guess that must be one of her extracurriculars at law school. She is using prostitution to fund her multiple advanced degrees, I think we may have failed to mention.
Jim: She’s great at martial arts right up until a guy with a sword walks up to her, and then she just stands there and lets herself be cut down like she’s Obi-Wan in A New Hope.
Ken: She gets better though.
Jim: The ninjas all very considerately stand there and allow her to have a whole “I’m dying. Avenge me, my love!” conversation with Doug before she passes out.
Ken: Afterward the movie throws up a title, as she’s recovering in the hospital, that reads “SHE’S FINE!”
Jim: But now it’s time for the main event, Ken. The shit you came to see. The full-on VelociPastor battle.
Ken: Doug goes crazy over this and raptors all the ninjas to death. One of them is his own forgotten brother, who I think he killed with a sword first. But oh, the raptor-ing, Jim. Several guys in ninja get-ups fighting a guy in an ungainly raptor costume in the middle of a field. It … actually isn’t all that poorly filmed?
Jim: Eh, I dunno on that one. I think a group of high school kids with an iPhone and a dinosaur mascot costume could produce a reasonable facsimile of this, given a Saturday afternoon.
Ken: Arms get ripped out of sockets, blood goes everywhere. It is chaos, dear readers. Or at least as much chaos as can be achieved on maybe, maybe $50 worth of a film budget.
Jim: They needed gasoline to drive out to that empty field; that probably cost something.
Ken: The battle ends when Wei Chan hits the VelociPastor with a poison arrow that turns him back to a human, then makes the perennial villain mistake of gloating. Good thing Doug’s hands are immune and those dino-claws are ready for a FATALITY.
Jim: We then pause, in the middle of ripping the old Chinese man’s head off, to freeze frame on Doug’s bloody face and the quote “Only through the elimination of violence will we finally be able to achieve world peace.” This is attributed to “Gandhi,” but this is where the film’s influences tip their hand, as this is not a real Gandhi quote. It is, however, the quote that appears at the end of Miami Connection. A-HA! They got a little too cheeky on that one.
Ken: Man, I missed that one.
Jim: You can’t slip this shit by me, The VelociPastor. I know my bad, drug-smuggling ninja movies too well, damnit.
Ken: That’s about all she wrote on this one. We tackle so much that’s unintentionally just terrible, so I’m often bemused when faced with a project that is knowingly bad and proudly low-rent. If it sounded like I was hoping for more racism, sexism and disrespect toward sacred institutions, I guess I’ll say I was hoping for more biting satire of said exploitative bigotry. The folks who made The VelociPastor were clearly inspired by such landmark bad films; I just think they weren’t daring enough to really send them up.
Jim: This film is very competent, by our usual standards. We’ve been praising a number of aspects of it—some technical aspects, some of the writing and performances, etc. What I want to ask is: Did anything else in here stand out to you as genuinely “bad on accident”? Because I’ve got a few.
Ken: That’s a tough one. I suppose I can’t think of anything that coded as a true, egregious misstep. I really do think this thing’s (very minor) crimes are all concerned with not going far enough.
Jim: See, to me some of the humor came off as sloppy or lazy. Like the idea that we’d find it hilarious that he’s wearing a dress in one scene. Or the director’s over-use of faux dramatic zooms, which is funny the first time he does it, and then he does it half-a-dozen more times. Or the spotty audio, which goes in and out in terms of the volume of dialog in certain scenes. Or the “excessive laughing” scenes, which seem like he’s trying to reference something like the excessive clapping and cheering in Birdemic. There are a lot of cribbed ideas here.
With that said, I laughed at things like Father Doug drowning his sorrows with a glass of Communion wine. So it has its ups and downs.
Ken: The line about dinosaurs not existing got me pretty good, as did a few other parts. I would recommend this for the specific sort of bad movie night party you enjoy emceeing.
Jim: And of course, I laughed whenever Father Stewart was on screen. He’s like if Droopy Dog grew a Fu Manchu mustache and became a human.
Ken: Or if some mean old crank worked in the George W. Bush administration and then got fired by the Trump administration, yeah.
Dario Argento’s The VelociPastor?
Jim: Still, when all is said and done, “bad on accident” will always be more compelling than “bad on purpose,” I think you’ll agree.
Ken: Oh absolutely. I’m not the sort who often waxes nostalgic about earlier eras of film, but something like this works better in a knowingly campy framework not unlike, say, the ’70s, rather than in a “We are intentionally making a dumb/bad movie” framework.
Jim: I’d also like to point out to the impressionable young children watching The VelociPastor that modern research suggests dinosaurs were likely incapable of roaring and instead would have made chirping and twittering sounds like modern birds. So there you go. Just an informative little nugget for our many child readers, you know.
Ken: And our raptor didn’t have any feathers, either! Disappointing, in our modern times, to have a movie like The VelociPastor ignoring the latest scholarship on the matter.
Jim: Maybe we should get together and shoot a paleontologically accurate spiritual sequel to The VelociPastor next weekend.
Ken: We could get Colin Trevorrow to direct! We’re fans of his work, after all. Until next time, Jim.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.