The Church (1989)

a.k.a. - La chiesa (ITA)

Dario Argento presents Michele Soavi's gory but inconsistently written horror. Anchor Bay US R0 DVD.

The Film

In Medieval Europe, Teutonic Knights massacre a village accused of witchcraft, they bury the bodies and are ordered to build a church on the site. In a contemporary European city the librarian Evan (Tomas Arana) arrives at the Cathedral where he meets Lisa (Barbara Cupisti) who is working on restoration. She discovers an ancient text in the church vaults and Evan discovers that it refers to something buired under the building. Exploring the crypts, Evan releases the demons from their pit - he becomes possessed and attacks the church sacristan. The next morning, the sacristan has become convinced he is the angel of death and kills himself on a pneumatic drill, disturbing an ancient mechanism that seals the only door to the chapel and leaves a number of people trapped inside as demons start to possess them...

Originally planned by Dario Argento as a sequel to his earlier production Demons (1985), The Church was taken over by Argento protege Michele Soavi after the director of the first two films, Lamberto Bava, was dropped under orders of the financial backers - his name being overly associated with second-rate horror pictures (or he left the project as he did not want to work with Argento again, depending on which source you read). Soavi made re-writes to the script removing direct references to the existing Demons mythology and the first half of the film seems to be entirely his work. The historical opening provides a brief but effective background to the hauntings and the scenes in the modern church build up some decent characterisation while developing a creepy atmosphere, building up to a superb surreal climax at the half-way point.

Unfortunately the second half of the film is an entirely different affair. The film enters Demons territory as a random selection of paper-thin characters get trapped in the church while the demons attack and possess people. This section of the film seems to be almost completely unrelated to the first, the main characters Lisa and Evan almost disappear, while the minor character Father Gus suddenly becomes the hero. Even in the low standards set by the Demons films, this sequence fails, there is none of the zombie-movie style tension over the infection of the survivors that made the first two films enjoyable and time flow seems to be completely confused, not helped by the fact that all the characters are in a single room and the script seems uncertain what to do with them all, meaning that they seem to appear and disappear at random. The film drags along to a rather predictable finish, a few ideas such as a black mass could have added some interest, but seem randomly thrown in and the sequence never comes close to matching the first half.

Soavi gives a good turn in the director's chair, he does not go in for the all-out Bava/Argento styled coloured lighting of the Demons films but does employ a couple of very impressive Argento styled flying camera shots and the film as a whole has a very slick feel to it that is normally missing in Italian horor films. Soavi does make a couple of clever tributes - a brief shot (shown below) pays tribute to Peruvian fantasy artist Boris Vallejo while a Philip Glass track (Floe) is used to accompany Evan's possession in a sped-up sequence that resembles Koyaanisqatsi (1983). The gory effects are well done although a few of the demons look very cheesy and the film never employs the incredibly elaborate demon effects of the original films. A typically strong Goblin soundtrack gives the film a good backing throughout, without the overuse of heavy rock that plagued some of Argento's films from the same era.

The film does benefit from a solid cast, Tomas Arana and genre regular Barbara Cupisti are well cast as the lead characters in the first half of the film, Arana in particular is very convincing as an obsessive librarian and his transformation when possessed is well played. British actor Hugh Quarshie makes for a good hero in the second half although it is a pity that he is not given enough screentime in the opening to really build his character. A veteran of over sixty years of cinema, Feodor Chaliapin Jr. is perfectly cast as the Bishop while in contrast Dario Argento's fourteen year-old daughter Asia makes one of her first film appearances in a key role. Unfortunately the film is let down somewhat by a rather poor selection of minor actors who appear in the second half as the trapped victims, although the script gives them little to do and they do suffer from very poor dubbing, particularly the children.

The Church is ultimately a disappointing film, made more-so by the quality of the first half. Were it a mere Demons clone throughout, it would doubtless provide similarly trashy enjoyment as those films. However the first half shows some real quality, in acting, directing and writing that the film just throws away in its insipid second half. Generally enjoyable but just rather frustrating - of interest to Euro-cult horror fans.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Hugh Quarshie - a British actor best known today as Ric Griffin in UK TV series Holby City.
Tomas Arana - appeared in Gladiator (2000) and was Lazarus in Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
Giovanni Lombardo Radice - in many horror films including City of the Living Dead (1980) as Bob.
Barbara Cupisti - appeared in Fulci's New York Ripper (1982) and Argento's Opera (1987).
and a young Asia Argento, daughter of director Dario Argento and star of Land of the Dead (2005).
Directed by anyone interesting? Michele Soavi - made his start appearing in and assisting with several Argento projects including the original Demons (1985), later directing his own films Stagefright (1987) and Cemetery Man (1994).
Who else was involved? Producer Dario Argento is best known for his elaborate grand guignol horror films including Inferno (1980).
Any gore or violence? Several well done gory effects
Any sex or nudity? Some brief, light female nudity.
Who is it for? Of interest to Italian horror fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is good throughout.
Audio English - stereo and 5.1 remix - both sound fine with the music coming through clearly. The dubbing is surprisingly poor for a film of its era.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original trailer. Contains no dialogue, heavy spoilers. (2m 05s)
  • On-screen Soavi biography.
Region Region 1 (USA) - NTSC
Other regions? This disc was released with the same specs by Blue Underground in the US. Available in Italy from Cecchi Gori with Italian and English audio but no English subtitles for the Italian track.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut (as per the unrated US cut). The print used is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - July 2005 & October 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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