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The Church (1989)

Scorpion Releasing
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/20/2018

All Ratings out of
Audio: Ĺ

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/14/2018

America is known by some as the land of the second chance. Yes, there are certainly times when we love for someone or something who has seen better days to get an opportunity to return to their former glory. On the other hand, we have the belief that doing something over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. (A saying which is often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein.) Which brings us to The Church. Since this film hit home video in the early 90s, I have seen it several times. And each time I apparently forget that I was disappointed by it the last time that I watched it. But, now that the movie is out on Blu-ray Disc, I've decided to give it a second...or sixth...chance.

The Church opens in medieval times (the period, not the restaurant) where we see a group of knights slaughter a village of suspected heretics. Once the massacre is complete, the body are put in a mass grave and a church is erected on the site. The story then cuts to the present, where we see that the church is now a huge cathedral. Evan (Tomas Arana) arrives at the church for his new job as librarian, where he meets Lisa (Barbara Cupisti). Evan begins to research the history of the cathedral, and a series of events lead to an ancient mechanism locking the church's doors. This tactic wasn't meant to keep people getting into the building. It was designed to keep something evil inside. A demonic force has been released into the church and it quickly begins to turn those trapped inside into monsters.

As noted above, I've seen The Church before and when I think about the film, I remember some of the visuals (more on this in a moment). What I forget about is the film's pacing. Some Italian films could be considered slow burns, but only in the sense that nothing ever really happens. The Church makes the odd decision of attempting to be a slow-burn gothic gore movie. In other words, it takes its own sweet time. The evil buried beneath the church is released around the 41-minute mark. At 63-minutes, the cathedral is sealed shut. Near the 72-minute point, the first real murder takes place. With a running time of 102 minutes, that leaves only 30 minutes for the real action to commence. Sure, several interesting things happen in that time, but The Church is one of those movies which has the unfortunate distinction of ending just when it is getting interesting. The ironic thing here is that The Church was originally meant to be the third film in the "Demons" series. Demons and Demons 2 both have the distinction of being movies which dispense with too much plot and get right to the action. The Church certainly would not have fit into that mold.

So, the pacing is what keeps The Church from being a truly good movie, but there are some things to like about the film. Director Michele Soavi received on-the-job training as an assistant to Dario Argento and then went on to make 1987's Stagefright, one of the best foreign slasher films. From there, he came back to Argento and took the reins on The Church. Iím not sure what killed the Italian film industry, but itís a damn shame that Soavi essentially stopped making feature films in 1994, as he has a great eye for visuals, surpassing his mentor Argento at times. While you may not remember the story or the pace of The Church, many of the images from the film will stick with you, most notably the cross falling into darkness and the thing which emerges at the end. Soavi also makes great use of moving camera, which does somewhat distract from the fact that not much is happening at times.

The Church is certainly a mixed bag. It has a great look and some classic visuals, but the thin story and incomplete feel hurt the film. Still, the movie gets some mileage out of some minor twists, most of which involved the unlikely heroes. The leads are good, with Tomas Arana looking like the Italian Jon Hamm. The Church is not a good place to start for those who arenít familiar with Italian cinema, but thereís just enough here to pique the interest of most viewers and itís interesting to see young Asia Argento in a fairly big role.

The Church does nothing to make me want to get up early on Sunday morning on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Scorpion Releasing. The film has been window-boxed at 1.66:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The opening sequence shows some obvious grain and some defects from the source materials, but following that, things settle down and the rest of the film looks pretty good. The image is sharp and clear, showing good colors. The image is never overly bright or dark and the grain is kept to a minimum. The level of detail is good, as we can make out textures on objects, and the picture is never flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. One instantly noticeable thing about this track is that it avoids sounding overly dubbed, unlike most Italian films. The music never overpowers the dialogue and there are a few noticeable stereo effects.

The Church Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extra features. We begin with an "Interview with Michele Soavi" (20 minutes) which is entitled "The Mystery of the Cathedrals" in which the director reminisces about his introduction to Dario Argento and talks about the production of The Church. There are some specifics here, but I wish that he had given more detail about the ideas for the script and how certain scenes were shot. Also, he mentions deleted scenes, but doesn't describe them. This is followed by an "Interview with Asia Argento" (9 minutes) which is entitled "Lotte". She shares several anecdotes from the making of the film. However, known Asia's role in the #MeToo movement, hearing her stories about being humiliated or uncomfortable on the set now feel a bit awkward. The extras are rounded out by a TRAILER for The Church.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long