THE CHURCH Blu-ray Review – Heavy On The Atmosphere, Light On The Demons

Starring Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Giovanni Lombardo Radiche, Asia Argento

Directed by Michele Soavi

Distributed by Scorpion Releasing


Although occasionally credited as Demons 3, there is virtually nothing connecting Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) to Lamberto Bava’s two-film series that consists of Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986). Just as with the tenuous La Casa series, the Italians tried to make their own Demons Cinematic Universe by ascribing sequel titles to a further five films past Bava’s initial two entries. As with Demons 3, these are in name only. Soavi wanted his film to stand on its own – and it does, unfortunately just not as a particularly great one. The intention here was to craft something more serious than either of Bava’s freewheelin’ demon rompers and the result is a movie that takes itself a little too seriously. There are moments of shock and “whoa, cool!” FX work but most of the time The Church plays things too close to the vest, refusing to unleash a torrent of terror the first act seems to be setting up.

In a prologue, white knights massacre an entire village of suspected devil worshipers, who are believed to be led by a witch. The bodies are buried en masse in a huge grave and covered with earth. A church is built over the site in an effort to contain the evil buried beneath. Cut to present day, when a parchment is found in the ruins under the church. Evan (Tomas Arana), the new librarian, is able to decode the parchment and it leads him to a seal in the floor, which he promptly breaks. With the gateway holding back the evil dead now open, spirits are free to roam about the grounds and terrorize churchgoers. Unfortunately for them, the only door to the church has just been sealed as a safeguard against letting the demons loose upon the world. The dozen-or-so people trapped within now face a long, frightful night as these malevolent spirits psychologically and physically torment them.

The real highlights here come from the cinematography, score, and – to an extent – the FX work, which is often good but not quite great. Director of photography Renato Tafuri’s camerawork employs many inventive shots, using POV and creative angles to sell the action of these spiteful spirits making a comeback. Once these apparitions manifest into something tangible, it’s often as some kind of Lovecraftian creature only the victims can see in their minds; like the guy who is attacked by a mutant fish that emerges from a bowl of holy water but when seen by someone else it appears as though the man is mutilating himself. Most other victims are tricked into this method of death; one is made to impale himself with a jackhammer (and it’s an ugly way to go), while another leaps off the church tower and is impaled on a spike. The creature FX leaves a little to be desired – some of the work looks too rubbery on screen – but the human deaths are expectedly gory and invoke some visceral feelings.

Scoring comes courtesy of “Keith Emerson and The Goblins”, which is really a murderer’s row consisting of Emerson, Goblin, Philip Glass, and Fabio Pignatelli. Given that impressive roster it’s no wonder the soundtrack is easily one of the film’s strongest aspects. It’s full of the high energy Goblin always brings to a film, along with their signature melding of sounds both analog and electronic. I love the use of organ (very fitting) and frequent percussion, imbuing the film with the excitement it lacks from a storytelling perspective. Emerson adds additional prog rock sensibilities while Glass is, assumedly, responsible for adding an ethereal air and a touch of classical sound. Scoring is often a clear highpoint in many Italian horror films and this is no exception.

Soavi manages to achieve so much in terms of camerawork and atmosphere that it truly feels deflating that the film never quite takes off. It’s nearly an hour into the picture before hell starts to really break loose, and by then most viewers might be wondering when the ante will be upped. Spoiler alert: it isn’t. The finale gets wild and apocalyptic, what with a mass of writhing, slime-coated bodies breaking free from the subterranean depths and all, providing the film with its only true burst of maniacal mayhem. I have no problem with films that take their time to tell a story, and maybe my expectations were misaligned given the barely-there connection to the Demons universe – perhaps another viewing will help me see the events in a better light – but all I can go off of are initial thoughts. The Church makes a valiant effort to be taken more seriously than its adopted brethren but it ultimately falls a little short by not giving the audience a bit more of what they want.

Very little fault can be found in the new 2K scan of the negative, because the resulting 1.66:1 1080p image is a stunner. Colors are bold and vibrant, with the frequent use of red & blue hues pouring off the screen with aplomb. Film grain moves organically, appearing smooth and filmic at all times with few exceptions. The fine detail apparent in skin and clothing textures is exquisite; so lifelike and genuine. Close-ups are used often and they reveal such minute details it could be easy to forget this is a film lensed in 1989. Expect to see few instances of dirt or white flecks on the picture; this is a fantastic restoration and it handily blows every previous home video edition out of the water.

I was a little less impressed with the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. The Church was dubbed in post, as so many Italian horror pictures are, so the lack of an “original” language track isn’t so jarring, but to my ears it sounded as though the voices were pitching a little high in the register, almost like the old DVD days when a PAL disc had the audio sped up by 4%. It’s not going to be noticed by most, but those with a keen ear might pick it up. Either way, it sounds very dub-y so variations in tone and inflection are to be expected. The Emerson/Goblin score has punch thanks to the lossless audio, sounding so good you’ll wish there was even more of it to be heard. There are no subtitles included.

The disc is light on extras, including just two interviews – one with Michele Soavi, the other with Asia Argento – both of which are presented in Italian with English subtitles.

Trailers are also included for The Church, The Sect, Sleepless, Opera, Etoile, and The Card Player.

Special Features:

  • NEW VIDEO INTERVIEW with Asia Argento
  • NEW VIDEO INTERVIEW with director Michele Soavi
  • Original theatrical trailers
  • Language: Original English audio track

The post THE CHURCH Blu-ray Review – Heavy On The Atmosphere, Light On The Demons appeared first on Dread Central.

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