The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE CHURCH (1989) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THE CHURCH (1989)

Evil is unleashed in a church built on the site of a massacre.

Review by Jason Abbey (@abbeyjason)

Directed by: Michele Soavi

Starring: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Feodor Chaliapin Jr, Barbara Cupisti, Asia Argento

Although the lesser of Soavi's four horrors, there is still much to savour here. The script may be conflicted, building a new narrative from old elements and never quite escaping the original's shadow, but there is always something of interest to keep things bubbling along.

A welcome 2K restoration now presented in its longest available version, along with the recent Stage Fright release and The Sect still to come from Shameless, it’s nice to see the neglected Michele Soavi getting some love in HD.

Originally planned as a sequel to Demons 2, Soavi took over the reins after original director Lambert Bava fell out with producer Dario Argento. Soavi took over, altered the script considerably and turned it into a second cousin, removing the titular demons and transforming it into a cursed church spiritual revenge horror with a surrealist bent.

The film opens in medieval Germany with a powerhouse prologue in which a village of suspected witches is massacred by a band of Teutonic knights. The spartan and effective music of Philip Glass and some striking POV shots put you straight in the action. The gore may be fake bouncy, bouncy rubber heads and the bloodletting relatively restrained, but its evocation of holocaust imagery as the victims are thrown in the pit and buried makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Covering the bodies and demanding a church be built over the dead heretics (as you do), the film moves to more familiar modern day dress. The Church now has a new librarian (Tomas Arana), who after some uncomfortable flirting with 14-year-old Lotter (Asia Argento) gets his groove on with Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), the friendly and willing archivist before inevitably unleashing the evil buried under the titular edifice.

The influence of Demons can be felt most here - a group of people trapped in a cursed environment with no perceivable way out and gradually offed in the imaginative visual ways that are key to the enjoyment of Italian horror cinema. Unlike Bava's balls to the wall approach, which requires maximum carnage and maximum noise with a soupcon of Go West on the soundtrack, Soavi has a more classical approach. Even in the restored version the gore is relatively sedate, the build-up slow and deliberate before the surrealist pay off, the look more imitative of Polanski and the biblical iconography of renaissance art. If all that sounds a little too high minded, Soavi is also not above having a groovy pensioner strike the church bells with her husband's severed head or having someone pancaked by an escapee from the circle line.

Like the best of Italian horror, it all resolutely makes no sense. Why build a church on dead bodies in the first place? Why do the ostensibly innocent victims of a massacre now seem to be a malevolent force attacking innocent women and children? Why does Dario insist on inflicting cruelty to his daughter, and should we call social services?

Evan the Librarian would seem to be the hero of the piece but then he gets possessed, and the hitherto inert Father Gus may get top billing but doesn’t seem to do much until the climax, apart from enjoy recreational archery. Lotter may just be the most interesting character in the film, a possible reincarnation of the massacred peasants who, given her age, may be in more danger from members of the clergy than the curse unleashed.

Soavi has not had the greatest of horror careers after Dellamorte Dellamore, which is a shame. He should have been the natural heir to Argento's crown, having both the visual panache and musical pacing that is a signature of the maestro's best work. Although the lesser of his four horrors, there is still much to savour here. The script may be conflicted, building a new narrative from old elements and never quite escaping the original's shadow, but there is always something of interest to keep things bubbling along. Ditching composer Keith Emerson and using Glass for the key moments also lends it a richer and classier feel. Glass is a natural for this kind of cinema, as his haunting score for the peerless Candyman shows.

The film itself has never looked better. As it was shot in English, the Italian version is non-essential but worth having. A very welcome and worthy addition to the ongoing renaissance of gelato flavoured cinema restored in High Definition.

Not exactly festooned with extras, this includes both English and Italian language versions, a Shameless trailer reel, and of main interest a half hour interview in English with director Michele Soavi talking about how The Church was spawned from an initial entry in the Demons franchise and his working relationship with Dario Argento, the influences of Hitchcock and Polanski and the soundtrack and the prominent use of Philip Glass in the final score. Interesting and informative, but the film is the main draw in this release.

The Church is on blu-ray and DVD November 28th from Shameless Screen Entertainment.