Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Church (La chiesa) (1989)

The Church (La chiesa): written by Nick Alexander, Dario Argento, Fabrizio Bava, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, and Michelle Soavi; directed by Michele Soavi; starring Hugh Quarshie (Father Gus), Tomas Arana (Evan), Feodor Chaliapin (The Bishop), Barbara Cupisti (Lisa), and Asia Argento (Lotte) (1989): So vaguely based on the M.R. James story "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" that I don't view it as an adaptation, The Church is a highly enjoyable though somewhat disjointed piece of melodramatic, religion-soaked Italian horror. 

After a wild 12th-century-set prologue that verges on Monty Python and the Holy Grail territory, we move to the late 1980's and a historic church with a very big secret buried beneath it. As this is a horror movie, that secret will be unearthed. There's some attempt at a slow build in the first 45 minutes or so. That build goes on a bit too long and a bit too slowly. 

Thankfully, the horror that eventually kicks in is lurid and visually shocking. Michele Soavi is a solid director, and he's working in the traditions of Dario Argento (who helped write) and Mario Bava. Terrible things begin to happen, a couple of them pretty much out of left-field (I'm looking at you, subway train!). All hell's a coming. And the movie shifts its narrative focus in the last third to a totally different protagonist than the first two-thirds. This is strangely liberating, and not something I can recall an American or British horror film ever doing, though I'm sure there are precedents.

Overall, The Church is startling and worthwhile despite the early slowness and what one could charitably describe as somewhat indifferent dubbing in the English-language version. Sometimes it visually quotes medieval woodcuts, sometimes it visually quotes Boris Vallejo paintings. It's that sort of over-heated horror-melodrama. The set design, make-up, and sculpture work are all very impressive and very disturbing. Recommended.

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