Scroll movie listings on Amazon and you’ll find dozens of micro-budget genre movies with ridiculous titles based on puns like Llamageddon, Lavalantula, Zombeaversand Tsunambee. Often aided by garish and wildly inaccurate covers, the titles are enough to draw in curious audiences, especially those connoisseurs of trashy cinema always on the lookout for the next unsung disaster. But more often than not, all that awaits viewers is an absurd disappointment. Even the relatively large public Sharknado movies are rarely as fun as their titles.
So no one can be blamed for marching right past writer-director Brendan Steere’s 2018 film The VelociPasteur, whose portmanteau title has a bit of an absurd quality to it but which otherwise feels right at home alongside other exploitation quickies. Certainly, The VelociPastor is not a work of misunderstood genius, or even a piece of fascinating alien art like Bedroom Where Birdemia. Steere is really too good at creating something as inexplicable as a Tommy Wiseau or James Nguyen movie, but he’s also too shrewd and smart to just produce a generic B-movie and give it a catchy title.
The VelociPastor turn it limitations into virtues, playfully dispatching its own subgenre while ticking its boxes. There is a high conceptual setup that makes almost no sense. There are gruesome deaths and chaotic combat. There’s a sexy love interest and an ending that openly teases a sequel. But Steere approaches these elements with clever humor and stylistic flair, even if his meager resources forced him to reuse locations and kept him from getting into compelling costumes and special effects.
The jokes start before the movie even starts, as a title card claims The VelociPastor was “rated X by an all-Christian jury” in a nod to the kind of deceptively shocking marketing tactics used to sell drive-thru movies 50 years ago. Obviously, The VelociPastor isn’t actually X-rated – or rated at all, as there was clearly no room in the budget for the MPAA submission fee.
Steere sets up expectations for the awkwardness to come, and the opening scene delivers, as priest (not pastor) Doug Jones (Gregory James Cohan) walks out of his church after a sermon to witness the murder of his parents. in a car explosion. Except an exploding car isn’t in the movie’s budget, so Steere just uses an on-screen title that reads “VFX: Burning Car.”
At the moment, you know what you’re getting into, and everyone on board will get exactly what they’re hoping for. As Doug cries and gets drunk on communion wine, his mentor, Father Stewart (Daniel Steere, the director’s father) advises him to escape his troubles by traveling as far away as possible. In the next scene, Doug appears to be driving in China, with old-school rear-projection effects in the background.
Steere doesn’t even try to pretend that China isn’t just a local park, which later serves as the location for an actual local park, and then Vietnam again in a random flashback sequence for Father Stewart. In “China”, Doug encounters a dying woman who passes him an ancient talisman shaped like a dinosaur’s tooth, which cuts off her hand and imbues it with the power of what she calls the “dragon warrior”. Back home, Doug has disturbing visions, blinks lizard eyes, and continues to talk about his hunger.
A night, these visions involve taking down a mugger who tries to assault Carol (Alyssa Kempinski), a remarkably resourceful prostitute struggling to attend both medical school and law school. Doug wakes up the next morning naked in Carol’s bed, and as he broods over a discussion he thinks is about the two of them having sex, she reveals that she’s actually talking about “the time when you turned into a dinosaur and ate someone”.
The talisman transformed Doug into a kind of were-dinosaur, though his dinosaur form looks more like a tyrannosaur than the velociraptor the title implies. Already disillusioned with the church, Doug doesn’t take much conviction from Carol to start using his powers to fight evil, starting as an over-the-top stereotypical pimp. “I think God wants a lot of people to die,” he says when Father Stewart raises religious objections, and Father Stewart has little to complain about when Doug’s main adversary turns out to be a church supported ninja clan.
Steere piles on madness, always with an ironic sense of humor. It helps that Cohan and Kempinski play their roles straight and give surprisingly touching performances, especially in the budding romance between Doug and Carol. A sex scene is remarkably tender, like something out of an art movie with its multiple split screens and color-coded mood lighting. It is then followed by ninja fights, in case there is concern that Steere takes himself or his film too seriously.
It is not a question of overselling a film partially inspired by a autocorrect error over Steere’s phone, and features a monster costume that looks suspiciously like a summer camp arts and crafts class. The VelociPastor delivers exactly what it promises. Like Samuel L. Jackson says famous on Snakes on a planeanother B-movie that sold entirely on its gloriously dumb title, “People either want to see this movie or they don’t.”