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September 5th, 2008 by unkle lancifer · 11 Comments

What is up with COMMUNION, the 1989 CHRISTOPHER WALKEN movie based on WHITLEY STRIEBER‘s best seller about alien abduction? A thread on IMDb’s discussion board for the film entitled “Worth seeing for one scene” currently has 91 responses. Somebody hit a nerve. The scene in question takes place early in the film where WALKEN, as STRIEBER, wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders aloud if there is another presence in the room. His suspicion is validated in the form of a half obscured, dark-eyed alien face staring back at him. Many who had watched the film as children claim that this scene still remains the scariest that they have ever witnessed, some revealing that it still haunts them even to this very day. It is undeniably eerie, but its real strength lies in the fact that it strikes a familiar, recognizable cord. Who amongst us, especially as children, has not awoken in the dark with just such a feeling? Squinting our eyes, trying to make out shapes, perhaps not being too comforted by what we imagine we see lurking in the shadows.

The fact that the scene occurs early on before the movie itself has had time to lose the audience’s faith in what it’s selling only adds to its other worldly power. For COMMUNION is such a bizarre, I should say “experience” rather than film that many viewers certainly WILL be throwing in the towel and jumping off this runaway train before the end credits roll. I myself could never put my glowing E.T. finger on whether the movie is an out-and-out hilarious disaster of epic proportions or a well calculated assault on human consciousness. When you consider that director PHILIPPE MORA is also responsible for THE HOWLING 2: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF signs point to the former, but yet I’m still undecided. True, MORA does the unthinkable by allowing WALKEN free reign to riff and improvise as he sees fit. As endlessly fascinating as this is, and WALKEN is never more lovable than he is in this picture, the unleashing of the Mad Hatter tends to work as a reality vacuum throughout the film. Was this his intention? MORA must be aware of what he’s creating, there is nary a shot in the film that does not have some sort of unsettling malevolent object hiding in the corner and there’s a willful use of disjointed angles and discomforting close-ups throughout.

Exposing WALKEN‘s brilliant lunacy is not difficult, but MORA is somehow able to make the usually dignified LINDSAY CROUSE seem equally certifiable. Are the maddening improvisations between the two stars meant to add realism or abolish it? Trust me, if I started quoting the strange interactions between the two, we’d be here all day. By film’s end, they’re looking straight at the camera and babbling abstractions like drunk relatives whose car keys need to be taken away. The audience has three choices, dismiss the entire affair as trash, begin jolting down the dialogue and form a ROCKY HORROR type cult complete with sold out midnight showings, or simply succumb to this surreal, dimension-shattering celluloid DMT trip. I do believe if you allow it, this film, like the alien invaders who occupy it, will “break you.” (Perhaps COMMUNION is the dreamer and you are the dream). I am prepared to back up that assertion with photographic evidence. Do the below un-doctored pictures look like they came from a film that is NOT capable of pushing sensitive souls over the edge?

Whether the film is “good” or “bad” to me, finally, is a non-issue. COMMUNION obviously exists on more than one plane at once, it’s a floor wax AND a delicious desert topping. It’s a jack in the box with YOUR face on it, a clockwork banana peel, a hoot owl in spats dancing the Bossa nova while singing WHITE CHRISTMAS and delivering an unwanted anal probe as a shadow passes over the moon. It doesn’t make rational sense, and why should it? Neither does that presence that wakes you up in the middle of the night and stares at you from across the room…

Several films have been made about aliens and their abductees, but COMMUNION plows its own private psychological terrain, ultimately owing more to KEN RUSSELL than STEPHEN SPIELBERG. It’s nuts, it’s eccentric, and it’s far too freaky to ever garner mainstream appeal (then again, that was probably once the consensus about WALKEN). Ironically, once you realize it is an internal rather than external journey, the universe it presents you with expands greatly. The aliens may look like strung marionettes and CROUSE‘s hypnosis session a discarded MAD TV skit, but no matter how hard I’m laughing throughout, I’m always left wonderfully dazed and confused. Another director could have possibly made a more distinguished film out of this material, but really what fun would that be? Besides, if the response on IMDb is any indication, COMMUNION succeeded with flying colors in at least one scene. I may hate myself in the morning, but go ahead, count me in amongst the permanently altered believers.

Note: Just like every film ever made, COMMUNION is even better in Spanish.

Tags: Repeat Offenders

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 RogerNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 1:24 am

    Aaaaaaahhh!!  COMMUNION!!!!  Aaaaaaahhh!!!!
    I was gonna just leave it at that, but I’ll continue.
    What a great deconstruction of a most mysterious, ill-fated, thought provoking, and scary-ass movie.  Thanks UL.   

    I’m also unsure if this movie was a successful interpretation of the original W. Streiber book, whether it came together at ALL as was intended, or was just a clusterf**k.  But what a movie!  

    For one, Walken came in like he did in Dead Zone and ratcheted it up three notches.  Then, the movie’s journey of sanity gut-checks as one deals with events that question earthly reality make for a chillingly scary ride.  

    Oh! And I was one of the entries on that traumatized  IMDB string you mentioned, cuz the ONE thing I will ALWAYS never be able to shake from this movie is the grey comin’ around the corner in the dark room at Walken.  Aaaaaaah!!!

  • 2 sbdNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Re: The first clip,


    Re: The second clip,


    Now I think I HAVE to see this movie and thank Rosie Grier I didn’t see it when it first came out – from what you’ve just posted, Unkle, it probably would’ve sent me into an uncontrollable depression spiral at that time.  Damn, I mean…damn!

  • 3 Jeff AllardNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 7:38 am

    Great write-up! This is one of those films I’ve always had a curiousity about but have never taken the time to watch. It seems like the kind of far-out freak-fest that would never get made today.

  • 4 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 9:17 am

    When I was a teenager I used to watch my older sisters kids for her and one day she came home from work and said “I just read this book and I thought of YOU the whole time I read it” (She knew I liked weird stuff and scary stuff) and with that she handed me COMMUNION. I read it and it totally freaked me out. Now I would spend days in the apartment with two toddlers wondering if today would be the day “the greys” broke into the place and made me their b!tch!

    Then coincidentally THE MOVIE played on cable a few weeks later while I was babysitting and like an idiot I tryed to watch it. I really don’t think I made it to the end (I can’t tell you ANYTHING about this movie other than it had Christopher Walken in it: My mind has blocked everything out as a Defence Mechanism).

    To this day when I’m alone in my house I can’t help but think about COMMUNION and “the greys”.

    But there was always one thing that BOTHERED me….

    All these people who claim “the greys” came into their house at night? How did they get IN? Are a lot of stupid people leaving their windows open or WHAT?

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 10:52 am

    There is a longer version of the film with some extra scenes that was shown on television. Walken’s boogie with the blues in that spanish clip is from that cut…

    One thing that strikes me, and I’ve noticed this in many other films too, is the decorating taste of the psychiatrist. If you were in the psychiatric profession and particularly if you worked out of your home, why on earth would you surround your poor patients with disquieting, mind f*ck art pieces? Frances Sternhagen has a giant painting of a figure apparently falling through space dominating her home. Usually it’s an M.C Escher or such thing. It seems pretty sadistic to me. Is there a class in med school on how to pick out the most disturbing pieces that will make your patients feel even more crazy then when they walked in?

    Another thing I’ve noticed is this, in the JOHN SAYLES film PASSION FISH (92) there is an actress that complains about the humiliating aspects of auditioning for parts. As an example she recounts having to say the line ” I never asked for the anal probe.” over and over again. That line is almost verbatim to a line uttered in the group therapy session in COMMUNION. I am convinced this was the movie that she was auditioning for!

  • 6 FoxNo Gravatar // Sep 5, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Is that Zardoz’s head next to Walken in the eigth picture down, second column.  Please don’t tell me the just had sex!  What the hell is this weird ass movie that I’m gonna have to rent now!?!? Thanks a lot Kindertrauma!

  • 7 sbdNo Gravatar // Sep 6, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Our hosts need to consider doing a write-up of THE UFO INCIDENT as well.  My own bits of trauma from the movie are really too short to do my own review – James Earl Jones’ absolutely terrified screaming during the playback of his hypnosis session, the eyes of those damn greys, and Estelle Parsons recounting the aliens testing her for pregnancy by sticking a needle in her navel (aagh! – no, don’t DO that!)  But I’m sure Unkle L could do it justice.

  • 8 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Sep 6, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Everytime I visit this page my computer freezes up on that Christopher Walken “COWBELL” picture and it looks like a Christopher Walken Phone Sex Ad to me! How great would THAT be???? Put Christopher Walken on The List right next to Tim Curry as Weird Celebrities I Want To Have Sex With!
    Sure, he may not be very aesthetically  pretty – but TELL me that boy doesn’t look like he’d be a real freak in the sack!!!

  • 9 micksterNo Gravatar // Sep 6, 2008 at 11:44 am

    I remember seeing this weird ass movie in August of 1990. Does anyone else remember when The Movie Channel did not repeat a movie during the month of August? I stayed at my older sister’s house for about a week in August of 1990 and watched a strange assortment of films including: Communion, American Gothic, The Watchers, 976-EVIL, The Supernaturals, and others that I can’t remember the name. That was fun since my parents still had not sprung for cable at our house.

  • 10 Pax RomanoNo Gravatar // Sep 7, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    I remember seeing this movie and not thinking much of it.  However, I read the book shortly thereafter and it pretty much blew my mind.  I remember thinking that either Whitley Strieber was the greatest spinner of fantastic tales of all time, or HOLY SHIT, this all really happened.

    I was living in a small house deep in the woods of South Jersey during this time, and many was the night when I got up , checked the locks, and listened for the pitter patter of little alien feet .

  • 11 AngelaNo Gravatar // Feb 22, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Now this movie f**ked me up pretty bad when I was little. We’d rented it at my gramma’s house (which was in the middle of nowhere) and I remember wanting to leave the room so badly but that would mean being alone in a room with an enormous window. So, no. I was thinking about watching it the other day with my niece and nephew but couldn’t bring myself to do it. There’s just something about this movie. Sure both CLOSE ENCOUNTERS & FIRE IN THE SKY scared me as a young thing but never brought the disturbance of this flim. I can watch those other two now just fine but this one…even those screenshots have me glancing around…

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