THE CHURCH is the second film by young director Michele Soavi, who began his career as an actor and segued into directing with the help of mentor Dario Argento, often referred to as the "Italian Hitchcock." Like Soavi's first film, DELIRIA, THE CHURCH owes much to Argento's work--which
includes such films as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, SUSPIRIA and OPERA--both good and bad.
During the 12th century, a band of holy Templar knights discovers a coven of devil worshippers living in a small village. Horrified, they slaughter the town's inhabitants and bury their bodies in a pit, then erect a cathedral on the site. Flash forward to the present, when that same church is
undergoing extensive renovation. Evald (Thomas Arana) has been hired to catalogue the library. Lovely Lisa (Barbara Cupisti) is restoring a hellish fresco that adorns the back wall. Workmen are drilling in the basement. While poking around in the cellar, Lisa uncovers an ancient parchment and
gives it to Evald, who learns that a hidden "stone with seven eyes" contains some sort of secret. He finds the stone and unleashes the unquiet spirits of the murdered devil worshippers. Evald is possessed, and passes his affliction to the sacristan, who in turn infects others. The following day,
the only door to the cathedral suddenly, inexplicably swings shut, trapping a cross section of modern-day humanity inside. This includes a squabbling young couple, a group of students led by a ferocious schoolmarm and a photographer's entourage, dressed in high-fashion wedding gear. One by one,
they become possessed and turn into hideous demons. The church has a secret, as pious Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie) discovers: it was built by an alchemist, who was later tortured to death and his body entombed within the walls. The only hope of containing the evil lies literally within his
corpse--it holds the secret to bringing the church down in ruins and again entombing the demons that will otherwise overrun the world. Father Gus enlists the aid of the sacristan's young daughter, Lotte (Asia Argento), who is familiar with the church's hidden tunnels and chambers, and toqether
they destroy the church. Only Lotte escapes alive.
Not only did Dario Argento produce THE CHURCH and co-write the screenplay with Soavi and frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini, it also features the participation of several other individuals who have worked extensively with Argento, including editor Franco Fraticelli, special effects artist
Sergio Stivaletti and musicians Keith Emerson, Simon Boswell and Goblin.
On the plus side, THE CHURCH is visually arresting. Lushly photographed and sumptuously lit, it makes the most of the beauty of the gothic church where most of the action takes place and creates a genuinely eerie atmosphere as the demonic influence spreads among the people trapped within its
walls. Certain images, including that of a huge cross embedded in the floor of the church's basement suddenly dropping into an abyss of blue light, and Evald tearing out his own beating heart, are impossible to forget. Though violent, it's never sadistic and doesn't dwell on the particulars of
physical torment--unlike many contemporary horror films, THE CHURCH isn't designed as a gross-out. Over all, the production values are far higher than one would expect from a similar film produced in the United States.
On the down side, THE CHURCH's story is very weak, really little more than an excuse to justify a welter of special effects by Stivaletti. In addition, those effects are more than a little reminiscent of those he created for Lamberto Bava's DEMONS and its sequel DEMONS 2, also produced by
Argento. The dialogue is stilted, a situation not helped by the dubbing that's de rigueur in Italian genre pictures destined for export. In all, THE CHURCH is aimed squarely at fans of European horror films, and while they'll certainly find enough elements to please them, others are unlikely to be
converted. (Violence, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: THE CHURCH is the second film by young director Michele Soavi, who began his career as an actor and segued into directing with the help of mentor Dario Argento, often referred to as the "Italian Hitchcock." Like Soavi's first film, DELIRIA, THE CHURCH owes… (more)