I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
and I pretend to pray
- The Mamas and the Papas
Italian horror movies can be a beautiful exercise in style over substance. One of my favorite movies, for example, Suspiria, is the perfect example of this. However, The Church doesn't quite know how to handle style and/or substance. It's a mess. A pretty mess. But a mess indeed.
The movie begins with some Templar Knights destroying a village and all the people within because they're "evil". Then they decide to build a Church over the dead bodies because, surely, no harm can come of that. Cut to modern times where we meet Evan, a suspiciously good-looking librarian on his first day of work at the Church. Evan is quickly greeted by Lisa - a suspiciously good-looking art restorer whose working on the Church. They have sex right away because that's what two suspiciously good-looking people in movies do to show they are suddenly in love.
But screw them, because this story isn't about them. In fact, I really couldn't even find the plot of the movie, even after two viewings. The problem with The Church is, it doesn't really know what it is. Heck, it can't even decide on a main character as Evan and Lisa are quickly thrown away after Evan is demonically possessed by...em..something when some seal is broken somewhere. Then we go into a totally different plot and the movie launches into Demons territory as a group of stereotypes of people we didn't know about and didn't care about are suddenly locked in the Church. They include: a school field trip group, a model who is vain about her face (guess what happens to her), an old woman and an old man, a biker couple, young Lotte - the daughter of the Church secretary, and Father Gus - a handsome guy who probably should have been the main character all along. Like Demons, weird things happen to them and most of them die but it's all of no import. No, really. No. Import. I mean it. At one point, the teacher is impaled against the stuck Church door, run through with spikes, and nobody blinks an eye. Heck, the characters can't be bothered to scream, why should I care? You would have thought a couple of her students might have had issue with this but maybe they were just happy to get out of that pop quiz.
And then there's the "Rosemary rip-off." Early on in the film, Lisa has a dream with musical cues taken almost directly from Rosemary's Baby complete with ticking clock. I noticed the similarity right away. But the MAIN rip-off happens when halfway through the film, she is raped by the devil. It is EXACTLY like Rosemary's Baby - people around her chanting, red stuff being painted on her body. The camera focuses on her eyes and the devil's - and yes he looks like the one in Rosemary's Baby. They even cover her face with a black cloth once she starts to scream - just like in that other movie. But why is she being raped? Does it have anything to do with the Church? Nope. Just another scene that's totally of no import. Like you have to ask.
The acting is a mixed bag, not that great due to some unfortunate dubbing but Father Gus and Lotte (a young Asia Argento) are the only ones who truly shine. In fact, Asia really steals every scene she's in. She's that good - even with the dubbed over voice, her facial expressions show every thought and emotion a young girl would have. The music is quite good too, very well done and it fits the movie well. But the star of the show has to be the set designs. The Church itself is beautiful - full of strong Italian design and gothic architecture. In fact, I found myself paying more attention to the background than what the actors were doing. Trust me, it's the only way to truly enjoy the film.
It's not totally unentertaining - but it does kind of drag and nothing makes sense. It's a mess but as I said, it's a pretty one. However, your mileage may vary.
Favorite Moments (may contain spoilers):
- Demon Evan tauting poor Lotte with a truly awful dubbing that has to be heard to be believed. "Did your TUMMY hurt?" Truly awful, but funny.
- It's Rosemary's Baby! Nope, sorry, it's just The Church. Continue your rape scene. Don't let me disrupt the unholy union.
- The old woman ringing the Church's bell with her husband's head. He had it coming.
- Biker babe's face inexplicably turning to sand when she's smashing into a oncoming train.
- One of Asia Argento's first movies. Her father, Dario served as producer of the film.
- Director Michele Soavi has an uncredited role as a policeman who shows up at Lisa's house.
- The catchy theme music was written by movie music veteran Phillip Glass but was performed by Italian horror movie darlings Goblins.
- The scene of the naked biker girl being carried off by the winged serpent was taken from a famous Boris Vallejo painting seen here.
- If you get a Demons vibe from the movie, it was intentional. Initally the movie was supposed to be Demons 3 but several writers later the concept was changed.