Another Nine Nights of Argento #3 – “The Church” (1989)

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Here we go again! For my third annual Halloween trek through horror master Dario Argento‘s frightful filmography, I’m glopping through a gory grab bag of the Giallo madman’s screenplays, TV work, and other obscure treats.

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Michele Soavi‘s The Church is the kind of film that you want so badly to like that it’s maddening when it never comes together. Among the most incomprehensible films in the expanded Argento canon, this unofficial second sequel to Demons attempts to pull off some higher-brow horror than Lamberto Bava‘s “schlock pizza” (Soavi’s term), but if this is Soavi’s idea of high-minded horror, I’ll take another slice of schlock with extra anchovies any day.

The entire premise of this film makes no sense. We open with a band of Teutonic Knights brutally massacring a helpless village of supposed witches and building a church atop their mass grave. The film is clearly positioning us to be on the side of the defenseless villagers and against atrocities committed in the name of God. Yet, in the 20th century, when some underwritten characters (including lil’ 14-year-old Asia Argento) inadvertently unleash the spirits trapped below the church, the villagers are now demonic and homicidal. Which begs the question: were we supposed to be cheering when the Teutonic Knights were beheading all those children? Saovi seems to spend the movie trying to decide if the Crusades were a good thing or not.

Another problem is the structure of the film. It spends nearly an hour setting up the stakes and trapping a horde of irritating people inside the church together, and then aside from a few decent kill scenes, it never delivers any kind of payoff or climax before fading to black. What we do get is a lot of children wining, fashion models bitching, and an elderly woman incessantly describing things as “fab” and “groovy”. The catharsis of seeing these horrible characters butchered by demons never arrives, but a helpful bit of budget-savvy voiceover assures us that everybody died offscreen at the end of the film.

Ironically, the only memorable parts of The Church are the ones that recall the very schlock pizza that Soavi condemns. A guy impales himself on a jackhammer. A girl gets smooshed into clay by an unexpected subway train. And, in the best scene of the film, a giant invisible fish tries to eat a man’s face off. It’s in moments like these that I remember why I was drawn to the work of co-writer Dario Argento to begin with, but sadly this amounts to precious little time in a very long and joyless film.

Next Up: LA SETTA, aka THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER (1991)

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Categories: Dario Argento, Director Spotlight, Features

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