The Church (1989)

Other than putting a swanky country club and housing development on top of an ancient Indian burial ground, is there anything more obviously asking for supernatural disaster than building a cathedral over the mass grave of heaps of murdered witches?

Sure, you think you took every precaution like having the architect design it so that if the seal keeping the demons inside was ever broken there was a self destruct button that could collapse the church on top of everything. You even went the extra mile and killed the architect and buried him in the church just to make sure no one would ever know what was really going on. But can you really plan for some teenage kid finding a secret way in and out of the church when she wants to sneak out to go dancing after her bedtime and thereby putting all of creation at risk for a full scale demon invasion?

The Church begins promisingly enough with your standard Middle-Ages prologue wherein a bunch of knights are riding around killing witches, killing the witches’ kids, burning stuff, spearing folks, crushing heads, and having a mass burial. Even the freaking pets are murdered!

Though the ingredients are obviously there for an enjoyable bit of witch-hunting, things seem a bit tight in the budget area. You get the sense that these guys are riding around the same little bit of set over and over and that there’s just two buildings and a bunch of hay. There’s an overwhelming feeling of smallness to the sequence and I find it difficult to believe that the woods in the 1500s were that cramped.

Once the film shifts to the present day though, you quickly appreciate the straight forward drama that a good old fashioned witch round up and slaughter had because what follows is something that resembles the giant mass of poop-covered humanity that rises up from the bowels of the church once the demons are finally unleashed.

The church is full of characters you never care a wit about such as Lisa, the girl who is restoring some of the creepy murals in the church and Evan, the greedy librarian who gets his hands on an ancient parchment and instantaneously decides that it must hold the key to where the contents of the Ark of the Covenant are.

It’s while Evan is making out in bed with Lisa (nothing hotter than a church hookup I always say!) that inspiration suddenly strikes and he interrupts his love making to solve the riddle on the parchment. Of course! He just has to find the statue with the seven eyes!

Duh! That’s the elephant-headed thing that’s down in the basement of the church that is really the seal that is holding in all the demons from hell! You don’t think Evan is going to undo that seal like it was some easy church girl’s pants do you?

Once the seal is popped, strange things begin to happen in the church. Strange things like Evan trying to look up the dress of a clearly underage Lotte (Asia Argento), trying to rape Lisa, and weirdest of all, Father Gus accidentally causing the bishop to fall off the church straight onto a iron spike!

Gus figures out the secret of the church, but would we really care if the church collapsed if it only housed Father Gus, Evan, Lisa, and Asia Argento? Well, what if we abruptly added a bunch of other nondescript (except for their irritatingly obvious cannon fodder status) folks like the old sight-seeing couple, the people there on a photo shoot, the class on a field trip, and the two people whose motorcycle broke down (because if your motorcycle breaks down in Rome the only place to get it fixed is at the old haunted church)?

To pad out a movie that desperately needs tightening up, we have to watch a couple of death scenes involving these recently trapped people. Among the highlights is the old lady using her elderly husband’s head to ring the church bell and a lady getting smashed by a subway. Don’t even bother to try and figure out how she wondered into the bowels of the church only to end up in a subway tunnel.

The church ultimately collapses so the demons can’t escape, except there is a way to escape after all, but only Lotte knows it. So the legions of hell can cause people to do all sorts of crazy, unspeakable things, but they can’t figure out how Lotte can come and go at will? Truly, these are the sorts of demons who weren’t cool enough for Demons and Demons 2 which The Church was originally supposed to be a sequel to. (The Church lacks the over-the-top action and violence which made those two films fun, if mindless, gore fests, attempting instead for sophistication and symbolism, while only achieving pretentiousness and confusion.)

The Church‘s pacing can be summed up as a slow buildup to random nonsense as the first hour of the movie focuses on the church staff who are a singularly unpleasant lot engaged in singularly uninteresting things while the last bit of the movie felt like director Michele Soavi just tossed up on screen with little explanation whatever occult imagery came into his head whether it be a demon humping a woman, a bunch of candles, or a nude Lisa having a red symbol painted on her. Just for good measure he also had Lotte explain the history of the church to Gus via some reincarnation flashback she had of what happened in the 1500s! And for double good measure, uses Lotte to tack on one of those tacky endings where we aren’t really sure the threat is over.

It’s no surprise after the unfocused slog that was The Church Soavi made two more horror films (The Sect and Dellamorte Dellamore) before disappearing into that Italian exploitation director’s witness protection program known as Italian TV.

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