The Church (1989)

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“An old Gothic cathedral, built over a mass grave, develops strange powers which trap a number of people inside with ghosts from a 12th Century massacre seeking to resurrect an ancient demon from the bowels of the Earth.” — IMDb

To say this movie is a mind fuck would be the understatement of… well, if not the century, at least a long freaking time. The Church (or, its Italian title, La Chiesa) was intended to be the third in the Dèmoni series, but there’s really no direct link, and director Michele Soavi himself insists that the film stand on its own two feet. It was Soavi’s second directorial effort, and he worked alongside Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, and Lamberto and Fabrizio Bava during the writing process.

It opens up with Teutonic Knights in medieval Germany slaughtering a village full of supposed witches and building a church upon their mass grave to prevent the demons from rising up. The slaughtering scene, set to Philip Glass, is easily a highlight of the whole movie. We then switch gears to the more present day, as we meet Evan (Tomas Arana), the newly hired librarian, and Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), the archaeologist who is studying the catacombs below the church. Admittedly, the dialogue and acting from both are… stiff. To say the least. One of Arana’s first lines — “what a divine fresco!” — really sets the stage. But just power through it, it’s worth it. (Until you get to the two of them sharing one of the most awkward and cringe-worthy on-screen kisses I’ve ever seen. Then just shut your eyes for a few seconds.)

But then we get into the discovery of the crypt itself and once people start becoming possessed, the real fun begins. Evan tries to call Lisa in a very disturbing scene that starts with him sputtering and choking into the phone and ends with him pulling his own heart out (set to Philip Glass, once again). Then Lisa is being stalked by this horse-creature and she makes the ballsiest escape ever by just swan diving through her window.

“The evil within these walls is worse than any plague.”

The little scenes in the church itself just get more and more psychotic, from the strangely sexual scene between two young boys to the old hippie lady who winds up banging on the church bell with her husband’s severed head to the naked woman embraced by the winged demon (based directly on this painting by Boris Vallejo, which I now want hung in my home) — you feel like you’re in some kind of fever dream as you’re watching, not sure anymore what is reality and what is complete fantasy.

The standout though, for sure, is the sacristan’s daughter, Lotte (played by a young Asia Argento, Dario Argento’s daughter). She was only 14 at the time and she gives an impressive performance as the curious but preoccupied girl flitting in and out of the church, and her most crucial part in the awesome and mysterious ending.

A solid and exciting film, absolutely.

Rating: 7/10 | Director: Michele Soavi | Writer: Michele Soavi, Dario Argento, Fabrizio Bava, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti | Music: Philip Glass, Goblin, Keith Emerson, Fabio Pignatelli | Starring: Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Hugh Quarshie, Asia Argento

 

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