The Church (Arrow Recommends)

The Church (Arrow Recommends)
8 10

"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT: An army of Teutonic Knights plow through a village filled with Satanists, whack everybody and then build a church on top of their remains (that’s one way to go about it). Cut to present day – some pretty boy Librarian (Tomas Arana) shows up at the church to translate some of its texts, he of course unwillingly breaks the seal that kept the evilllllll (in Dr. Loomis drawl) in and before you can spell horny demons out to f*ck you up – folks get possessed and all hell breaks loose in… DA CHURCH! Dum, dum dum!

"MY GOD! What's going on here? " – Father Gus

LOWDOWN: A crucial chapter in my horror movie education was Italian genre cinema with old school Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava being my corner stones. Once I discovered those cats, it opened me up to an all-new macabre world! I got to discover horror beyond what North America was pimping and it sent me on my way to see as much foreign horror as I could. One artist that left a severe mark on me and then pretty much vanished from the scene (due stepping out to care for his sick son) was Dario Argento protege Michele Soavi. His flick STAGE FRIGHT floored me  in terms of its crazy gore and stand out aesthetics. It actually changed the way I looked at movies. And the one that put him on the map DELLAMORTE, DELLAMORE aka CEMETARY MAN (loosely based on the Dylan Dog comic BTW) is to this day a favorite of mine.

But between the two were THE CHURCH and THE SECT. I saw the latter once (it starred Jamie Lee Curtis sister Kelly) and I can’t remember one scene from it or if I dug it or not (i.e. I’ll see it again), but the former – yeah that one stuck to me like a stalker on Sandra Bullock. THE CHURCH (GET IT HERE) was initially gonna be the second DEMONS sequel (demons in a theater, Demons in a apartment building and now a church) but Soavi insisted in doing it as a stand alone (the film did get distributed in some territories as DEMONS 3 none the less) because he felt that the DEMONS films were and I quote “Pizza Shlock” (which they are and nothing wrong with that) and he yearned to do something more elevated (nothing wrong with that either).  So he had all of the references to the Demons franchise removed (in fact 8 screenwriters wound up working on this, including Dario Argento and an un-credited Lamberto Bava) and he went for he gold! Did he nab it? Yes and no.

Upon re-visiting THE CHURCH with a way more mature understanding of cinema than I had when I first tapped it in 1989 – I gotta say it, it wound up being one hell of a fascinating sit down for the right and wrong reasons. It was clear to me that they had grand ambitions but they either didn’t have the coin or the time (or both) to do it 100% right so they made due with what they had. The result is a compelling exercise in Gothic style over substance that saw its shortcoming make the ride even more compelling than it should have been. On the upside, Soavi was on fire here once again visually. And the fact that his main setting was a dread filled Gothic church (which was an engrossing character all in itself) was definitely a huge plus. Fanboy note: They shot the film at Matthias Church in Budapest. Next time I'm in Budapest, I will check it out!

The long tracking shots within the church, the sweeping steady camera work, the zany angles, the poetic/artsy shots that looked like paintings come to life and the excessive M.O. that comes with the old school Italian style of horror filmmaking (all about that awesome overlong car POV shot – loved it) were all here and in spades! I can’t count the amount of times my jaw dropped in terms of the audacity and the uniqueness of the shots before me (all about them within the Knight helmet POV shots…damn, am gonna steal that one some day soon). Nobody did it like the Italians when it came to horror – nobody! FACT! Another asset the film slammed on the table was its unorthodox structure. No 3 acts storytelling here, I think the set up took 2 acts and the thing kicked into full gear during the last act. Didn’t bother me none, in fact, it was refreshing to clock a film that broke some of the rules.

And it didn’t stop there! Some of the imagery was beyond freaking weird (Was that a monkey? A demon? Or both?), twisted (that sculpture made of bodies), with lots of it inspired by existing macabre art (for example The Gargoyle design/positioning was lifted from a 17th century painting). The horror delights were sometimes unintentionally comical (huge fish coming out of holy water bowl) and at other times unsettling (that demonic being revealed at the end was one for the books – shit that was nuts). Add to all that bucket loads of gore that went from repulsive to cheap-jack, a moody/unnerving score by Keith Emerson and  Goblin (with some Phillip Glass tossed in there for good measure), potent symbolism galore, sweet nods to other horror films (I caught Rosemary's Baby and The Keep), eye popping production design (all about that cross carved in the ground), deviant tendencies and an appealing main cast (Barbara Cupisti, Tomas Arana and a young Asia Argento, showcasing her hefty acting chops even back then) and you get a TOTALLY OUT THERE horror curiosity item that any self respecting horror fiend should at least tackle once.

Which brings me to the films flaws. Lots of the dialogue was cheesy, some of the acting hammy and the "demon fodder" characters introduced late in the film were grating - but I was able to live with all of that. Then there was the all over the place narrative which only upped my fascination with the movie this time around for some reason. Look, if there’s one thing the Italians were not known for back then in horror was a smooth story progression. Here it looked like they lacked coverage hence the chain of events didn’t always make sense to me (I’m also an imbecile so that may have something to do with it as well). Like some dame getting impaled to the front door of the church yet nobody blinks or gives a shit. Or that one dude who gets jack hammered to death but comes back “good as new”. Ummm… okay.  Or what about the lack of clarity in terms of how people get possessed and who is in fact possessed – me no comprende cabrone, but I just rolled with it and still managed to have a blast.

Again, in this particular case the WTF moments no matter the reason HOW they happened, added to the story’s unpredictable nature and definitely kept me on my toes. Funny how shit goes, cause the last time I saw the the film eons ago, I remember being annoyed by that.  In closing, if you’ve never seen THE CHURCH, I mucho recommend you watch it on a rainy night with a couple in ya, that’s how I took it on this time around and it went down smoother than a cream pie at 5AM in the morning. Your move!



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