01st Dec2016

‘The Church’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Hugh Quarshie, Asia Argento, Feodor Chaliapin, Jr., Giovanni Lombardo Radice | Written by Dario Argento, Michele Soavi, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, Lamberto Bava, Fabrizio Bava | Directed by Michele Soavi

the-church-rev-cover

It has been a LONG time since I last watched Michele Soavi’s The Church - the last time I saw it was a rare TV screening on Bravo if memory serves… It’s not like I’m not a fan of the film, after all – thanks to the heavy promotion of the film in The Darkside magazine – I first saw the film on the very day it hit VHS here in the UK… I actually “pre-ordered” my rental of the film at my local, now long defunct, video store and fell in love with the glorious religious iconography and the overall otherworldy, eerie, look of the film – from the prologue, to the [literal] heart-wrenching scene featuring Tomas Arana, to the frankly horrific ram-headed demon (as pictured on the fab new Blu-ray artwork), to THAT ginormous human/head monstrosity at the end of the film, everything about The Church appealed to me.

That first viewing, which so inspired my love of Soavi’s film, was back when I was 16 and just discovering Italian horror, mainly of the censored BBFC-friendly variety – again thanks to Allan Bryce’s long-running horror magazine. It’s now some 23 years later (the film wasn’t released in the UK until 1993, despite being filmed in 1989) and whilst the new Shameless Blu-ray release of the film was an essential purchase for the collection, one burning question remained in the back of my mind: would The Church live up to my fond memories of it?

In a word (or two). Hell yes!

It helps that Shameless’ presentation of The Church is second-to-none. A pristine print; clean, crisp audio – allowing the score to really shine; and a fantastic 25 minute interview with director Michele Soavi are just three reasons why this release of an underrated Italian genre classic is a MUST BUY. And yes, in case you’re wondering, rewatching the film now, 20-odd years later, this truly can be considered a classic of Italian horror – there’s still nothing quite like it.

For those unfamiliar with The Church, the film opens with a prologue featuring a group of Teutonic Knights massacring and burying a village of supposed witches, before vowing to build a church over the mass grave to hold in the “evil” that the so-called witches embodied. Cut to modern day and the church is welcoming a new librarian, played by Tomas Arana, who is there to catalogue the church’s huge library of books. However at the same time there is construction taking place, which uncovers the crypt beneath the building. A crypt which the inquisitive librarian opens… and unleashes hell, literally! With the church filled with visitors and sealed shut thanks to the original architects plan to keep the evil spirits from escaping into the world, it’s left up to the only man unaffected by the freed demons, Father Gus (played by Britain’s very own Hugh Quarshie), to stop the demons from escaping the church.

Originally conceived as the third film the the Demons series, which you can see from the set-up of having a group of strangers come together in an enclosed space (in this case the titular church) and all hell breaking loose! However the film stands alone from its brethren by virtue of its prologue and overtly religious themes – of course it also doesn’t reference anythnig that has come before, nor does it feature the grotesque monster make-up that marked Lamberto Bava’s film. Soavi’s film may be more gothic horror than out an out gorefest a la Bava, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see the connection. It is there, thematically, but in all other aspects The Church is very much its own beast (pardon the pun).

It’s interesting to note that despite the polished nature of the finished product, The Church was beset by production problems – some of which I was not aware of until watching the Soavi interview on this new Blu-ray. An unfinished script and no ending for the film are just a couple of the problems which plagued Soavi from the get-go. It’s only now obvious, after watching the extras on this Blu-ray release, why there are just so many names credited with writing this terror tale!

A perfect film in a perfect package, Shameless’ Blu-ray of The Church is not only the first ever 2K HD restoration of the film, but this is also the longest version ever released. Out now in a limited, numbered edition – with only 3000 copies available – make sure you get yours asap!

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