|The Church (1989)|
|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 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.
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.
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!! *
*: Lesson learned: never have more than one kid Extra in your Horror movie.