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Priest Vampires Summer Movie Body Count

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Week 2 for EW’s 2011 Summer Movie Body Count continues with Priest, starring Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, and Cam Gigandet. Click here for a reminder of our extremely precise definition for what counts as a death, and how we’re counting them. And since we’re going to be talking about deaths here, the requisite spoiler alert should almost go without saying, but we’ll say it anyhow: SPOILER ALERT!

There is no conceivable reason for a movie like Priest to be rated PG-13. The film brings together many different genres (Catholic horror, dystopian sci-fi, blood-soaked revisionist western, kung fu action, Matrix rip-off) that all have a long history of hard-R badassery. Mashing those genres together into a PG-13 film is roughly comparable to taking the twenty most vulgar death metal songs in music history and trimming them into a Kids Bop album. Except that sounds like fun, whereas Priest is terrible. However, the film does force us Body Counters to ask a semi-existential question: If a film’s primary antagonists are faceless, mindless creatures who resemble less handsome clones of the X-Files Fluke Man, should their deaths be counted in the eternal Summer Death Ledger? By which I mean: Do totally disgusting vampires have a soul?

Our friends at the MPAA would probably say “no,” considering that Priest features all manner of anti-vampire brutality that would almost certainly have garnered the film an R-rating if the victims were even partially human. Twenty-eight faceless vampires are slain in Priest, and the vast majority of them are literally torn apart. Even more striking, 10 of their human slaves — referred to as “familiars” — also bite the dust in relatively graphic ways. At my screening for Priest, the only death that provoked any reaction more profound than a burp came late in the film, when a horde of six familiars are attacking Maggie Q.

Because the heroes of Priest are essentially superhuman androids impervious to pain or interesting human emotion, the heroine managed to kill all six of her attackers with a kind of refined grappling hook. Now, I cannot explain exactly how this happened, but when it came time to kill the final attacker, she somehow wrapped her hook around him several times, and pulled him off his motorcycle. While he was flying through the air, Maggie Q flicked her wrists, and the guy’s body literally turned into red freaking dust.

Now, I’m pretty sure that if Priest featured, say, a climactic sequence in which an adorable teenaged vampire like Rob Pattinson suddenly turned into a floating mass of gore and bone-parts during an attack by religious nutcases, the film would be stamped with an NC-17 rating and sealed inside of a Indiana Jones bunker. You heard it here first people: The MPAA, already well-known for their curious argument that Frost Giant genocide makes for good all-ages entertainment, is prejudiced against ugly vampires.

After a weekend spent watching old Ingmar Bergman films and reading the comment boards on assorted Vampire Diaries fansites, we here at Body Count HQ have concluded that the vampires of Priest do, in fact, have a soul, and thus, shall be counted in the total Body Count tally. We have also decided to honor Priest‘s gutless choice to begin with an extended blood orgy animated prologue, in which 17 humans are torn apart by attacking vampires.

Anyone who expected Priest to turn into a full-on gorefest after that opening was probably underwhelmed. Most of the actual straight-ahead human deaths were bloodless or offscreen, biding time until the exciting unrated DVD release that no one will care about in about three months. One priest died in the film’s opening attack, although the camera cut away from her agony so quickly that she might have just tripped and injured her ankle. A frontier mother was killed by vampires, but her death was only seen through floorboards and without any of the usual squelching sound effects. Three guards were shot by Paul Bettany, all as unmemorable as a prequel stormtrooper. During the massacre of a town called Jericho, we only witnessed five attacks that could be considered fatal. (It was pretty nifty when Karl Urban punched a hole in a priest’s chest, but you know if Priest were rated R he would’ve pulled out the guy’s intestines and munched on his still-beating heart.)

I wrestled with including the final death in the ultimate Body Count. Priest is one of those strange films that seems to exist purely as a vehicle for launching a sequel no one will ever care about. Given that we never see an actual body, it is hard to credit the fiery death of Karl Urban’s uber-vamp as a genuine fatality. However, given the film’s toxic box office take over the weekend, it seems unlikely that we will ever be treated to Urban’s surprise return in Priest II: Revelations. So we’ll throw him in the pile of ambiguously dead PG-13 bots, bringing Priest‘s total death count to a whopping 67.

There were no fatalities reported from our correspondents in the theater playing Bridesmaids next door, which brings the Summer Movie Body Count after two weeks to a whopping 155. Come back next week to debate whether mermaids have souls, but for right now, fill out the poll below and let us know: What’s your favorite death of the summer so far? Did anything in Priest measure up to Thor’s seven-with-one-blow Frost Giant-icide?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich