(Michele Soavi, 1989)
We open on a fantastic medieval sequence wherein a group of crusaders massacre a village full of witches. The bodies are interred in a mass grave, and a church is built over the site.
We then fast forward to the church in the late 80's, where we are introduced to a variety of characters. There's Evan, the new librarian. Lisa is there restoring a large fresco that depicts Hell. There's the Sacristan and his family. A young Asia Argento plays both their daughter Lotte and a witch killed in the opening. There's also the bishop, Father Gus, and the reverend.
Work with a jackhammer in the cellar of the church has caused large cracks in the walls. While investigating the cracks, Lisa discovers an ancient parchment inside. It piques Evans interest, so he goes to the cellar. A giant cross embedded in the floor falls away, revealing a bottomless black abyss below. Evan is soon possessed, and proceeds to infect (or at least creep out) the rest of the cast.
We are then introduced to an ENTIRELY NEW CAST who are in the church. This time there's a dotty old couple, a teacher and some students, a bridal photographer and his models, and a young couple. Another jackhammer incident in the cellar (a much gorier one, haw!) sets off the church's self-containment mechanism by means of gears, levers, and pulleys. It seems the crusaders knew how to plan ahead! The rest of the film follows each character's attempt to escape possession by varied means, and the inevitable destruction of the church.
The only complaint I have with The Church is the (given) corny dialogue. Everything else about it is right on. To start with, Soavi has created some of the most beautiful and memorable images I've seen, and this film is choc full of them. He used paintings by the great masters and medieval religious art as references for the look of the film, and it paid off. We even catch fleeting glimpses of demons right out the fresco in the church. The creature effects, though a little dated, are still fantastic. Forever stuck with me is the image of Evan as a large winged devil caressing one of the girls and gliding backwards in complete silence. The film may be a little slow at times, but builds beautifully to one of the most awe-inspiring effects: a massive, horned beast made of corpses rising out of the bowels of the church!
Michele Soavi's second directorial effort is one of the best examples of Italian horror. It embodies all that is great within that realm: fantastic imagery with artful flourishes, a soundtrack by Goblin, Keith Emerson, and Philip Glass, and gore galore. Though it was originally intended to be a third entry in the Demons series, Soavi took the film in a completely different direction. Highly recommended.
8 months ago