This is the final film of this latest batch of Dario Argento/Michele Soavi flicks, and it’s one I remember from the good ol’ days of Fangoria. As I mentioned in the review of Opera (1987) I’m not a fan of giallos, or for that matter Italian horror (Italian horror/scifi… that’s another story), so most of these films I read about in Fangoria didn’t retain well in my memory other than vaguely connecting a title with either Argento or Soavi, but Soavi’s The Church, when I first came upon it in the magazine, made a connection. I looked it up in Fang’s index and they only reviewed the VHS, Gorezone were the ones that actually devoted an article to it, so how I came upon it in Fang is kind of a headscratcher. When I think of this movie what pops up first in my memory is the poster, so I’m guessing I saw that first in Fang, and it made an impression because it reminded me of the poster for The Keep (1983). The next thing I think of is that scene near the end of the movie where this, I don’t know what the fuck it is, this slimy mish-mash of bodies that rises from the floor (see poster above). I remember seeing that in the magazine and thinking, oh, I might need to see this now.
I never did though.
I didn’t end up seeing it until it ran on TCM late night last year. I recorded it on DVD-R and checked it out the following night and frankly didn’t care much for it, which begs the question why am I reviewing it now? I have this theory, well, not really a theory since I’ve already proven it, but when I heard Scorpion was bluing it, I thought, I’m going to give this movie another shot, because there have been a few flicks I’ve seen in the past where the presentation was lackluster that I ended up liking once I saw them in pristine HD. Rewatching a movie on a DVD-R, especially one that’s widescreen but not anamorphic, where you have to zoom in, doesn’t give you the best viewing experience, and for reasons I cannot fully explain seeing that same movie in HD has a tendency to change my opinion. So, seeing The Church on blu-ray last night did change my opinion, somewhat, not totally, but enough where I can imagine having the desire to watch it again in the future and if I deem a movie re-watchable then it most definitely makes my collection.
Thankfully this Soavi spooker wasn’t as nonsensical and boring as I thought The Sect was, which actually went a long way in making me like it, plus the visuals presented me with more eye candy than The Sect did. How it could not, when it takes place in an ancient cathedral with secrets. But what I couldn’t figure out was the origin of the evil . . .
Let me explain.
The movie has a prologue that starts out in the Middle Ages where a troop of Teutonic Knights finds where these villagers are hiding out, discovers one of them has the mark of the Devil on her foot (a slashed-in-skin cross?), and the proceeds to massacre every one of them in the nearby village. They throw their bodies in this pit, where one of the victims manages to come alive for a short time to pull one of the knight’s horse into the pit with them. The Knights are so freaked out they don’t give a shit about the struggling horse and quickly bury it and the bodies under tons of earth, slap a giant cross on the ground and demand a church be built on this ‘dead pit’ thinking it’ll somehow purify what they did. There was a survivor, though, well, not a long term one, thirteen year old Asia Argento plays a villager who escapes the Knight’s wrath until a duck gives away her hiding spot in the woods. She’s then chased down and speared.
Later on we’ll get a history lesson from Librarian Evan (Tomas Arana), who’s come to this Church in modern times to catalog their books, as he tells love interest and Church restorationist, Lisa (Barbara Cripisti/Soavi’s then girlfriend), about how evil the Teutonic Knights were, and how Hitler based his Squad on them. Hearing that I naturally assumed then the villagers they slaughtered in the prologue were innocents. This assumption was also bolstered by a scene in the final act where we get a flashback of the Knights torturing the architect of this Cathedral and he’s accusing them of mistaking pestilence and alchemy for the Devil’s work, insinuating the villagers weren’t in league with Lucifer, but just had some disease, or something. So, with that in mind, I didn’t understand where the evil that plagues the church came from. It’s clearly connected to the prologue and the unearthing of that cross in the caves underneath the church. My next theory was, maybe, the dead villagers, and that horse (disembodied sounds of a horse “attack” a couple of the characters), are seeking revenge from beyond the grave, but most of this “revenge” goes way beyond simply getting even, it goes into the demonic. Can a wronged soul be that angry?! To say, ‘you know what, fuck this shit, I’m gonna employ demonic tactics here!’ I suppose it’s possible, but to fully understand the nature of the Evil, I think, it makes more sense to assume those villagers in the prologue weren’t innocents, but actually Satanists like the Knights thought they were. But as we all know Evil never stays dormant for long, Evan finds the cross, and a seven-eyed seal of a goat embedded in it “uncorks the bottle” and unwittingly lets Evil into the world again.
Full article from Gorezone 16. Click photos to enlarge and read.
Back to this architect for a moment, he was part of that village in the prologue but was spared so he could build the church, and he built it in such a way that it could be brought down in an instant by activating this “hidden switch,” and he did that in case the “evil” ever got out. Asia Argento’s prologue character is reincarnated in the present, she goes by the name of Lotte and her purpose is to be a witness to everything as best as I can figure. She’s the only character that survives in the end. The “evil” in this acts like a contagion. Evan is the first to get possessed and when Lotte’s douchebag father comes down to the “basement” to look for her, he discovers Evan who punches him in the face. Now he’s possessed and later on will try to accost Lotte, Evan tries to kill her at one point and this seems to the extent of her encounters with the evil, despite racing back into the church at the end when all hell’s breaking loose, probably to see if she could rescue her parents.
The real triggering event occurs in the final act, when Lotte’s father goes down to the basement level and commits suicide by jackhammer over the cross on the floor. Now that takes commitment, and a rather high maintenance suicide too, but he pulls it off by starting it up and basically lying on it and getting impaled. The jackhammer touches the cross and activates this system the architect put in place. There are a group of people in the church now and the door shuts and locks. Lotte’s father is briefly resurrected to randomly impale a woman before dropping out of the movie entirely after that. This demonic possession starts driving everyone mad, some hallucinate; a giant fish attacks one person, another sees his girlfriend embraced by a winged devil (a most effective visual), a kid’s friend turns into a double of him as he goes to sleep, and Lisa ends up having sex with a demon on a slab in a ceremony “downstairs” surrounded by the remaining possessed.
If you’ve seen Nightbreed (1990), you’ll recognize actor Hugh Quarshie, he was Detective Joyce, and he’s playing Father Gus here. He’s the one that steps up to be the hero and discovers how to stop the evil by collapsing the building. He dies in the collapse, of course. There’s an epilogue of Lotte visiting the collapsed ruins and finding the seal. This is how Evan got possessed, by opening the seal; she does the same, peers in and smiles. Smooth move, kid . . . great, here we go all over again!
Blue Underground released The Church on DVD back in 2007, but this is the first time it’s been released on blu courtesy of Scorpion Releasing. There’ll be two versions, a single disc one you can buy wherever discs are sold (i.e. Amazon), and a 2-disc Deluxe Edition (w/slipcover) from Ronin Flix that’ll have a ton of extras. There was also additional restoration done to the transfer, so you’ll also get an even better looking picture! Street date hasn’t been announced yet for this version.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.66:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (stereo)—no subtitles
Transfer looked fantastic and the audio was great too! On the back of the case for some reason two aspect ratios are listed 1.78:1 and underneath that 1.66:1. The movie is actually in 1.66:1.
Extras included . . .
- Interview With Star Asia Argento (8:36)
- Interview With Director/Producer Michele Soavi (19:48)