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Author Topic: Chiesa / The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)  (Read 3139 times)


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Chiesa / The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)
« on: 12 Dec 2008 - 08:24 »

After a prologue in which Teutonic knights slaughter a village of people believed to have been infected with the mark of the devil, a cathedral is erected over the mass grave.  Centuries later, scholar Evan (Tomas Arana, THE SECT) takes the position of librarian at the cathedral and starts to look into the church's past (he points out that the only tomb in the church is that of the builder) when restoration expert Lisa (director Soavi's wife Barbara Cupisti) finds a parchment which Evan believes will uncover the church's secrets.  Staying after everyone else leaves, Evan discovers in the catacombs the large metal cross embedded in the floor over the site of the mass grave.  He removes the "stone with seven eyes" from the cross.  In doing so, he cuts his wrist and experiences a hallucination.  That night Lisa is nearly attacked by an unseen assailant.  The next day, Evan goes Jack Torrence (tapping away 6's over and over again on his typewriter) and the Sacristan (who scuffled with Evan the night before) also starts acting strangely.  He commits suicide by jackhammer, causing a tremor beneath the cathedral that starts off an ancient safety system that causes the only doors to the cathedral to close, trapping the people inside with the unleashed demons.  Inside, Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie, NIGHTBREED) tries to discover a way out through the cryptic clues of the Bishop (Feodor Chaliapin, INFERNO).  Stuck outside is the Sacristan's daughter Lotte (Asia Argento) who knows the only other way in and out of the church through the catacombs.

An unofficial DEMONS film initially supposed to be directed by Lamberto Bava, THE CHURCH was Michele Soavi's first film for producer Dario Argento (after working for him as an assistant director and second unit director) following his directorial debut STAGE FRIGHT.  THE NAME OF THE ROSE is a noted influence on the film as is M.R. James' "Treasure of Abbott Thomas" (which had been adapted for BBC's "Ghost Story for Christmas") but one can also see the influence of THE KEEP as well as Argento's INFERNO and its preoccupation with the secret meanings built into ancient buildings by alchemy-practicing architects (that film's alchemist as well as Avati's Paolo Zeder apparently derive from the real life Fulcanelli whose "Mystery of the Cathedrals" figures prominently in this film).   That said, the plot is muddled (stemming partly from the rewriting of the original script - apparently supposed to be DEMONS ON A PLANE - and the cutting of twenty minutes by Argento), even the main characters are thinly drawn (Evan is set up as the protagonist but once he's possessed and disappears for part of the film, the heroic duties are divided haphazardly between the Bishop, Father Gus, Lisa, and Lotte).  A visually striking scene of Father Gus at archery practice makes little sense in itself and even less sense when its recalled later on as apparently a visual clue.  What works is Renato Tafuri's mobile cinematography, gorgeous naturalistic lighting (the only saturated color lighting is the blue emanating from the pit) and his and Soavi's interesting framing and mise-en-scene.  In one shot, Lisa steps out of the cathedral after a supernatural auditory hallucination and quick-eyed viewers will notice Giovanni Lombardo Radice's cleric peering around the door in the background.  The hooded figure seated in the pews in the periphery of many shots also makes an appearance in the background cafe window when the freshly possessed Evan tries to call Lisa from a payphone.

Although Sergio Stivaletti and Franco Casagni worked on the film's make-up effects and animatronics, the demons of THE CHURCH are largely unseen.  The demononic frescos evaporating from the walls is much more effective than what we do see of the demons (a Boris Vallejo recreation, an immoble demon fish, and the goat-horned devil which looks like some of its depictions in paintings but doesn't really transition to 3 dimensions realistically).  For the most part, the demonic phenomena takes the form of possession of the various people trapped in the church (a disaster movie collection of sterotypes: bickering biker couple, senile comic relief couple, a bunch of schoolkids and their frazzled teacher, a fashion photographer, her crew, a vain male model, and a diva model (Argento's girlfriend at the time Antonella Vitale who is referred to in the Italian version as "La Principessa") who gets pinned to the doors when her dress gets tangled in the grinding gear-works.  The gore is proficient but seems largely gratuitous.  Some of the more "effective" effects are achieved simply: a focus shift transforms Vitale's reflection from herself into a wrinkled crone, two characters - one confronted by an offscreen sight - are simply covered by a piece of black material by visible human hands as the camera pushes in on them.  The score is made up of original organ cues by Keith Emerson (less complex than his work on INFERNO) and synth cues by Goblin's Fabio Pignatelli (including a cover of Philip Glass' "Floe") and some original songs: "The Wire Blaze" by The Definitive Gaze heard on a car radio, Simon Boswell's vocal "Imagination" which pops up in the Boswell-scored LORD OF ILLUSIONS as well as one of the "Brivido Giallo" films he scored, and the amusing dance club song "Go to Hell" by Zooming on the Zoo.

The four copies of this film all offer differing experiences.  I first caught up with the film on Southgate's unrated early nineties tape release.  It was partially letterboxed with the hard matte skirting up and down from shot to shot.  Anchor Bay's DVD was a much improved presentation (reissued by Blue Underground) even if the remixed 5.1 and 2.0 surround mixes (the film was originally released in mono) were not particularly directional.  Cecchi Gori's earlier DVD release sported a comparable (though to my eyes slightly superior) 16:9 transfer as well as much more aggressive 5.1 English and Italian tracks and a fierce Italian DTS track.  Unfortunately, the PAL speedup is very evident when auditing the English track.  The most recent copy I picked up was a Japanese tape I got cheaply (now the only Japanese DEMONS tape I don't have is the original).  The tape was letterboxed with its detailed Hi-Fi mono soundtrack.  The most interesting aspect of this release is the sepia tinting of the prologue which was not reproduced on either of the DVD releases (nor the Southgate tape if I remember correctly).  Strangely, the sepia tint comes in rather abruptly right after the director's credit which is jarring.  The sepia tint has been mentioned in reviews so I assume that's how its supposed to look.  However, on tape, the tinting makes the image look a bit dupey.  Do any other releases have this tinting?

Peter Neal

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Re: Chiesa / The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)
« Reply #1 on: 16 Dec 2008 - 16:30 »

I'd so very much love to see a worthy SE release of this, but as there's little hope of that I'll eventually have to import from the States...which I'm not too crazy about when it comes to Euro genre films- but that's just me. :-*
My UK VHS still works...
I like the ending, which was lensed at the ruins of a church in my town of birth, Hamburg! ::)

Yes, the male lead is pretty bleak and the plot uneven, but Soavi has a unique style (which works better in the flicks which weren't produced by Argento).

I'd very much love to see him returning to feature films.


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Re: Chiesa / The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)
« Reply #2 on: 17 Dec 2008 - 06:50 »

Love his work.

One of his latest flicks was showing at a cinema here in Paris around a year ago. It looked 100miles from his usual work, can't remember what it was though!!
Dig that groove baby.

R-T-C Tim

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Re: Chiesa / The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)
« Reply #3 on: 24 Jan 2009 - 17:37 »

I always felt that the movie was in two very different parts, almost as though written by two different writers. The Medieval opening is very good and the first part of the Church story builds up some good characters and tension, but then when it becomes almost a disaster movie in the second half it really loses its way - too many random characters are introduced and Father Gus seems to become the lead character from nowhere. My full review of The Church.

My absolute favourite sequence has to be that set to the Philip Glass score of Evan becoming possessed, but the scene of Lisa's house being haunted is also very good and genuinely scary.

Interesting to read about the Sepia tinted opening - I might have to fiddle with my DVD player to see if I can recreate this with the old AB disc. Sounds very similar to the opening of The Beyond (1981).
Mondo Esoterica - Cult film and DVD reviews from Karl May to Bruno Mattei
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