Michele Soavi once served as an assistant director to Dario Argento, working with the master on some of his best films like Tenebre, Phenomena, and Opera, before moving on to directing his own minor masterpiece with the popular slasher film Stagefright (aka Deliria). Argento, however, returned to the fray with The Church (aka La Chiesa), serving as co-writer and producer, and the pair delivers a highly entertaining gothic tale that balances modern horror with centuries old theological hysteria.
The Church begins with a crusading band of Teutonic Knights wiping out a village suspected of being infected with an otherworldly contagion that causes those inflicted to become demonic servents of evil. The villagers are disposed of in a mass grave and sealed within the Earth to be hidden beneath a huge Gothic cathedral.
The story leaps to the present day and the Cathedral's new librarian Evan (Arana) and restoration specialist Lisa (Cupisti) research some old parchments that Lisa had found in the church's basement. The documents become an obsession for Evan, and soon they are experiencing hallucinations both visual and aureal. When Evan discovers a long hidden entrance to the church's sub-
basement, he releases the long dormant contagion and the cathedral responds by trapping all those inside rather than allow the demonic plague to reach the outside world.
The Church was intended to serve as sequal to the popular Demons films that Soavi had also worked on, but took on a life of it's own when the project began
production. There are many allusions to the other films in that series, as when The Bishop (Chaliapin Jr.) informs Father Gus (Quarshie) that this latest outbreak
is not the first. The Church can almost be seen as a sort of prequel to the Demons films, but all comparisons end there. Instead, Soavi's film feels more like John Carpenter's intensely terrifying Prince of Darkness, which also dealt with the church serving as a guardian against evil. While Demons was a quick paced monster movie, The Church is a much more deliberate and cerebral film;
a true gothic masterwork.
This Anchor Bay release is part of the companies Dario Argento collection, but unfortunately, much like there release of Soavi's Stagefright, this is a no frills affair with only a trailer and bio of the director. As a matter of fact, the trailer itself is not much of an extra considering that it is devoid of dialogue where it was obviously intended. Apparently there was some mix-up and the sound-
track that accompanies the trailer was not the original. The saving grace of the package, besides the fact that it is an excellent film, is Anchor Bay's very nice audio and video presentation. The film looks wonderful with only a couple of noticible artifacts present in the transfer, and the Dolby Digital sound is flawless.
While this isn't the bells and whistles affair that this film deserves, it is a joy to be able to finally own the film on DVD. Sharp eyes will notice many frequent Argento and Soavi collaborators from Stagefright's Cupisti, Inferno's Chaliapin, and, of course, the cute-as-a-button-turned-megahot-superstar Asia Argento. Also look out for Cannibal Ferox's Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka John Morghen) as the Reverend!