Like any of cult hero Michele Soavi‘s movies, 1989’s “The Church” (La Chiesa) is an energetic, unapologetically weird Italian horror film offering over-the-top set pieces, hyperkinetic camera work, paper-thin characters who exist only to be dispatched in numerous, gruesome ways, absurd dialogue dubbing, and a brooding, synth-soaked score from Goblin and Phillip Glass. Originally conceived as a third and final film in the “Demons” series, Dario Argento protege Soavi took control of the project after the exit of Lamberto Bava, wishing to take things in a more serious direction with his filmmaking after the gloriously goofy Demons films and his own Stage Fright (one of out all-time favourite Giallos) were released previously. Unfortunately, while “The Church” is worth a watch for Horror fans, it never reaches the levels of total, amusement park madness that his other films have, but if you’re still with it when a Lovecraftian fish monster explodes from a cistern of holy water and eats a bridegroom’s face, you’ll happily enjoy this unique flip of the Demons formula as part of your 31 Days Of Horror.
We open with a scene of Teutonic Knights slaughtering an entire village of apparent Satanists in a pulpy, very “Monty Python” style intro sequence. Here, Soavi’s inventive framing (he is Terry Gilliam’s go-to 2nd Unit Director for good reason) and gleeful love of gore kick things off with a great energy, establishing our location, the titular Church itself, built on a pile of writhing, undead Satanic zombies, and a few unfortunate horses for good measure, with the hopes of locking their evil away forever. Heads roll, peasants are run through with pikes, and we’re quickly dropped into the present day with a classic, unending one-take shot through the now massive church. We meet our American visitor, Evan (a standard plot device in pretty much every Italian horror film) who, of course, notices things aren’t quite right with the bishop, the violent frescoes, and “The Church” itself, which has no graveyard and a mysterious cavern beneath it’s forbidding basement.
The inexplicably gorgeous restoration expert Lisa (Barbara Cupisti) who’s been working in the church restoring the violent, demonic artwork adorning its walls, discovers a mysterious manuscript foretelling the end of the world, and after some genre-standard and unexplained sexing, our librarian Even decides its time to see what’s going on in the basement, and sneaks off to pry open the tomb by removing the seven eyed satanic goat head locking the demons below. In a scene right out of Exorcist III, he’s attacked by dozens of hands emerging from the crypt in a terrifying vision, one of many he begins to suffer as the demons take control of his mind. There’s some fun stuff here, especially when he rips out and eats his own heart, but the energy wanes in the set up to the films extended final act, especially with the dead-eyed “performance” from Argento’s daughter, Asia, and Star Wars own Hugh Quarshie as Father Gus, the eventual “final priest” left to battle Evan’s monstrous transformation…. who spends a lot of time doing nothing much at all in a clumsy detective sub-plot the film never really needs.
However by the 3rd act, the origins of Demons‘ script begin to show through, as various side-characters get trapped in “The Church“‘s clockwork security system (explained in a great, gore soaked flashback to the inquisitions) and, of course, picked off one by one from the spreading Demon infection as our initial protagonist gets fully on the side of the demons, resurrecting previously killed priests and transforming into a giant, horny, goat monster. This is prime Giallo time, where you can turn off your critical thinking and enjoy the ride, as Sovai’s takes us through some fun jump scares, creative kills and impressive camera work towards the films conclusion.
If this is enough to get your interest piqued, then you’ll likely love “The Church” as a flawed, but fun, take on the Satanic apocalypse trope through the eyes of a genre legend. There’s more than enough monsters and mayhem here to keep most horror fans attention, and like all of Soavi’s films, his love of movie making is always on display even through the film’s clumsy construction. While definitely not perfect, “The Church” is indeed a rare find, difficult to classify but never boring, and a worthy addition to the library of any Argento fans. Watch the trailer below, and find it on Amazon Prime’s pretty amazing collection of B-movie horror.