Church, The


Oct 31, 2011

Written by – Prof. Aglaophotis

The Church (1989)
Director: Michele Soavi
Writers: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, M.R. James and Michele Soavi
Starring: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana and Feodor Chaliapin Jr.

The Plot: Our story opens in Germany in the 1600’s where Teutonic knights are lead to a small village supposedly housing devil worshippers led by a carrier of demons influencing them. The knights quickly descend on the villagers, murdering men, women, children and animals left and right. Once the onslaught has finished, a Christian leader in charge of the knights orders all of the villagers, now all infected by an unleashed demonic force, to be buried. Their burial ground is sanctified by having a large gothic church constructed over the corpses thus sealing the demons along with the bodies.

A century passes and the church is a fully functional public cathedral. Because the church is so old, a young historian named Lisa (Barbra Cupisti) is working on restoring the ancient details of the church’s interior, while the church’s new librarian Evan (Tomas Arana) walks in and is slowly introduced to almost everyone residing there, including the rebellious young Lotte (Asia Argento). Evan soon gets involved in the secrets of the cathedral once Lisa finds a parchment hidden in the decrepit under halls of the church, telling of a secret sealed away in the deteriorating basement. After finding and opening the seal, Evan unleashes the contamination of dormant damnation and the church doors eventually close up, sealing a large number of civilians inside. It’s now up to Lotte and the diligent father Gus (Hugh Quarshie) to figure out what is going on, how to stop the demons in the church from leaving their confines and how to survive in the process.

The Review
I really wish visionary Michele Soavi would get back into film making. Like many Italian Horror movie directors, the guy is gifted at art direction, talented behind the camera and was never afraid to throw in some shocking gore effects. Though The Church is more an Art House film, chock full of metaphors and unique cinematography, it’s still a neat horror film to behold even with its succinct gory-moments and occasionally odd continuity problems.

The movie has a lot of build-up to it. After the first frenetic opening, we get a long introduction to our main characters in several unique ways. The characters of Evan and Lisa are introduced in pretty straight forward scenes, but Father Gus’ introduction as a character is very poetic and is completely visual: it’s an interesting premonitory instance and as strange as the scene is, it manages to say something about the character and what he’s lead to do. It’s funny, because for most of film there’s no real central protagonist or villain in the movie, and despite having so many primary characters with their own little traits, a fair amount of them were simply background characters.

Much of the film carries Michele Soavi’s direction on its shoulders; every little scene is filmed in such a way that it captures a very particular detail of the setting or facial expression. Even the tightest zoom on the smallest object is brought to great importance in the context of the story. Needless to say, the cinematography is top notch here.

The characters themselves though are pretty well acted. For the first part of the movie Tomas Arana is just a little stiff and ambiguous for the part (which would make a decent scientist role), but he makes up for it and shows some great range after about forty minutes into the movie. Hugh Quarshie is surprisingly good as the movie’s belated protagonist, and shows a lot of strength and conviction in the part. Asia Argento wasn’t too bad in it either as she plays a fun, rebellious little character, though she’s not given as emotional a role as she was in Trauma. Barabra Cupisti was pretty cool in the movie, too; her later scenes where she is stuck in the church are somewhat otherworldly and dreamlike and she handles the entranced motions very well.

I think the only thing that bugs me about any character is Evan’s sudden and irrational jump into antagonism. I’m not too bothered by his whole “I don’t want to look at old books for the rest of my life” excuse (a complaint I’ve heard before in movie discussions), but he finds the secret behind the parchment all in the same night he hooks up with Barbara Cupisti! If I had to choose between a vague treasure hunt or Barbara Cupisti, I’d choose the latter in a heart beat!!

The soundtrack was composed by The Goblins, Philip Glass and Keith Emerson (Tarkus!!) and it gives The Church its ghostly, overpowering personality. With fantastic synth notes and organ keys, the soundtrack will grab you right from the opening credits sequence. The music notes carry a lot of fantasy which gives the movie more audible power and presence; I don’t know why, but it reminds me of what would happen if the soundtrack to Labyrinth was adapted to a Horror movie. While brief, the soundtrack does have some eighties pop-rock by Zooming on the Zoo and Simon Boswell (this time, only one song), but they fit the scenes pretty well; it isn’t like the Iron Maiden track used in Phenomena.

The gore effects are pretty good, though nothing on the same level as Tom Savini. There’s plenty of blood shed, but nothing you’d expect out of a Lucio Fulci movie. The best this movie does is a very violent and rather shocking suicide. When the movie tries to handle something as big as, say a head explosion, it has the splatter effect but due to the lacking budget it looks too silly to really absorb the gravity of the death.

The movie has its share of weak editing choices. Early in the movie a demonic hand appears from nowhere and pulls a horse and its rider into the pit of bodies. Due to the hand disappearing in several shots, and being nowhere near the actual bodies, it makes for a very awkward moment. The scene is made worse when we never actually see the horse, or rider, get held down by the demonic undead. There’s also this rather ridiculous scene with Cupisti’s character where she ineffectually calls the police, dives through a window and within seconds the police are there… It couldn’t have been concerned neighbors, huh? Plus, the dubbing is average at best, especially when the field trip kids arrive: each of their voices is either dull or flat, but when their emotions are excited or in pain then their voices are whiny and broken, despite still sounding bored.

It’s interesting to note that one original title for this movie is Demons 3 as an attempt at a third Demons movie. Indeed the film does contain recognizable elements from the first Demons movie, such as the two lovers trying to escape confinement by taking a hidden/separate path only to meet a harrowing demise (it’s interesting to note that the women from both movies have poofy hair). There’s also that sliver of drool slowly rolling down the mirror shot, though this time the drool is like a tear… from a painting… which serves as a hallucinogenic self-reflection of time and vanity… and silly old woman effects. It also carries the theme of a group of European folks trapped in a large building trying to survive a demonic infestation. However, unlike Demons 1 and 2, there’s not that much struggle going on. You’d think we would see more demons infecting people in separate groups like the bridal photographers, the field trip kids, Father Gus or Lisa, but instead everyone just kind of sits back and goes crazy.

This leads me into one of the biggest problems I had with The Church: a lack of urgency. You see, once the demon infestation starts running rampant, and people start dying, the movie grinds to a NECK SNAPPING halt as it cuts to the field trip kids acting weird/annoying or the old couple being crotchety. It takes forever to cut back to Lisa, Gus, the bikers or even the bridal model, all of which liven the whole situation up. Hell, we don’t even see what happens to Giovanni Radice’s character! Someone just throws a black cloak over his face and he disappears from the movie completely! They really should’ve edited the scenes with the field trip kids better. We get several shots of one slick-haired kid running around surrounded by cigarette smoke taking his teacher’s glasses when they fall off, and there’s no reason why. There’s this genuinely boring scene of two kids in the church huddling over each other while one of them cries; The scene runs on for about a minute, but it’s so out of place and useless I just wanted one of the kids to explode on a molecular level and end the stupid, dead-end scene all ready!! *

The Conclusion
This may sound like the recommendation from a pure film snob, but you’d be doing yourself some Horror movie injustice if you don’t check this movie out. The Church is a very well shot, religiously disturbing and moody Horror film with plenty of build-up, decent effects and a creepy Goblin score. In the annals of Italian Horror films, The Church holds its own as a strange and eerie movie of ambitious proportions; if you can look past its notable flaws, you’re focusing on a great movie! Besides, it is better than Demons 3: The Ogre

*: Lesson learned: never have more than one kid Extra in your Horror movie.

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