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Movies Mike Bracken Review by
Mike Bracken
The Church
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THE CHURCH aka La Chiesa: Tiger -1989
Cinematografica / ADC Films
Rating: USA: Unrated (
also available in a cut R rated version)

Perhaps the greatest disservice that can be done to Michele Soavi's (CEMETERY MAN, THE SECT, and STAGEFRIGHT) super cool 1988 horror film THE CHURCH is to refer to it as DEMONS 3. Sure, the first DEMONS flick is great, and the second is, well . . . not bad, but this film is something entirely different from its predecessors. Where the first two Lamberto Bava-helmed films relied on gore, action, and frenetic pacing, Soavi's film takes a much more atmospheric approach - with some interesting results.

In the beginning, a group of Teutonic Knights destroy a village of witches, burying their remains and building a large gothic church on the gravesite to hold the evil in. Jump to the present day, where the cathedral still stands. A new librarian arrives (Tomas Arana: THE SECT) and meets a woman doing restoration work within the church (Barbara Cupisti: NEW YORK RIPPER, OPERA, STAGEFRIGHT). After workers find cracks in the building's foundation, the two discover an ancient scroll, telling of the church's secret - and setting in motion events that will unleash an ancient evil.

Like DEMONS and DEMONS 2, THE CHURCH features a disparate group of individuals trapped inside a closed location while all among their number gradually turn into flesh-eating monsters. Here, we've got everyone from the aforementioned librarian and restorationist to several priests (Hugh Quarshie: NIGHTBREED. John Morghen: THE GATES OF HELL, CANNIBAL FEROX. and Feodor Chaliapin Jr.: INFERNO), a group of school children, a biker and his girlfriend (the biker is none other than director Soavi), some senior citizens, the Sacristan, his wife, and his daughter (played by Asia Argento: STENDHAL SYNDROME, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) as well as a photographer and some models. Unlike the other two Demons films, THE CHURCH lets the evil spread in a more insidious fashion, gradually overtaking the building's denizens instead of having a head on onslaught of the undead.

The benefit of this approach is that Soavi is actually able to build some suspense throughout the film instead of having it rise to a crescendo early on, then spending the rest of the movie shooting a hack and slash gorefest.

The film's visuals are Soavi's most stunning prior to 1994's CEMETERY MAN. Early on, we're treated to a long pullback shot from the church's basement, rising up through the building, focusing on a cowled statue's face, then backing out through the giant front doors. In another segment, a large cross embedded in the floor falls into an abyss beneath, spiraling downward into the darkness, the opening then illuminated in an ominous blue light. These are just a few of the tricks Soavi has up his sleeve. The church itself offers Soavi a virtual camera playground, which he uses to full effect. He utilizes many low-angle shots in order to make the cathedral appear even bigger and more imposing than it really is, then counters them by pulling us into dark, tight, corners made all the more claustrophobic by his tight shots.

The story itself seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to M. R. James' "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas". That ghost story featured a church, a monster in a bag, a stone monster face with seven eyes, and the Depositum Custodi inscription that's featured in the film. Still, there's enough here from writers Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini (DEMONS 1 & 2, PHENOMENA, TERROR AT THE OPERA) to make it not only original, but also interesting.

Renato Agostini turns in some decent FX work on this, his only horror film. Gore here is pretty minimal, with an impalement, a woman smashed by a subway car, and a few other goodies. The real standout here though is a demon creature shown in the later parts of the film. It's fairly convincing looking, and probably the best FX piece in the movie.

Goblin and Keith Emerson share the scoring duties, turning in a great score that actually adds to the film's heavy gothic atmosphere. This time out, they play several Philip Glass compositions, which are absolutely fantastic (Glass himself would provide the score for one of the 90's better genre offerings, CANDYMAN). The music is haunting and effective, but not as overtly "in your face" as prior Goblin offerings (SUSPIRIA, TENEBRE, and PHENOMENA).

THE CHURCH ultimately stands as a very good film made by a director poised on the verge of greatness. It's a pseudo-sequel that actually manages to equal the series' progenitor while moving in a new direction at the same time. Finely crafted and genuinely atmospheric, it's proof that you can have gore and mood exist in the same film. This one's well worth the effort of tracking down (especially if you can nab a copy of the 102 minute unrated version) and for that, it gets 4 shriek girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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