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Default Church, The



Reviewer: Paff
Review Date: March 11, 2002

Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 2/9/2002
MSRP: $19.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



In director Michele Soavi's debut Stagefright, he did not try to capitalize on the reputation of his more famous mentors, Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava. The same can not be said for his second film, 1988's The Church. This film was written and produced by Dario, and is a follow-up to the successful Demons films directed by Lamberto. The collaboration resulted in a gorgeous film that doesn't make a bit of sense. It's still a lot of fun though. Services at The Church are about to begin, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

The Story

inline Image The film opens during Medieval times, where a crusading army happens upon a small village. When they find that one of the villagers carries the "mark of the Devil" they set about to destroy all inhabitants. The population of the village is buried in a mass grave, and the knights declare that a cathedral is built upon the site, to keep the evil sealed forever. Right.

After that prologue, we see The Church in modern times, under renovation. Evan (Tomas Arana) arrives to take over the job of librarian. He meets Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), an artist, and Lotte (Asia Argento), young daughter of the Sacristan (Roberto Corbiletto). Evan and Lisa discover parchments that may lead to the buried secrets of The Church, and soon begin an archaeological dig. Evan discovers the abyss below The Church, but opening the tomb unleashes the demons that have been imprisoned for so long.

inline Image It's here that the movie takes a 90-degree turn and loses all coherency. Evan, Lisa, and Lotte are practically dropped as characters. Lotte will be back, but that's probably because she's portrayed by the producer's daughter. Instead, we get a whole host of new characters like Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), a schoolteacher and her students, an elderly couple, a model and her entourage, and a young biker couple. They all get locked in The Church as demons infect the group one by one. It's up to Father Gus and his knowledge of Alchemy and architecture to end the night of horrors.

inline Image The Church sure starts out good enough, but somewhere along the way it takes a major detour and never comes back. As mentioned above, the characters of Evan and Lisa, who dominate the plot for a good 45 minutes, are basically dropped from the narrative. They do return for a bizarre sex scene inspired by Rosemary's Baby, but that's about it. It's unfortunate too, because the opening half of the movie is quite well done, but then it degenerates into an incoherent mix of Argento's Inferno and Bava's Demons films.

inline Image The second half of the film suffers from poor characters and even more bad dubbing (but plenty of violence!). At least in the Demons films, we had some time to get to know most of the people who would soon turn into horrible demons. Here, Soavi tries to squeeze an entire Demons-type film into a mere 45 minutes. Since the script was a collaborative effort, it's really hard to say who's at fault. It's almost as if you can see the clashes of ideas right on screen. Someone wanted to make a fast-paced Demons sequel, someone else wanted a haunted house (or church in this case) movie. Rather than combine their ideas, it looks like everyone just wrote his own section of the script, and the disjointed result is The Church.

inline Image But despite the major narrative lapse, The Church is a fun movie that's absolutely gorgeous at times. Soavi uses the camera tricks only hinted at in Stagefright, and uses them well. The first scene that takes place in present day is an amazing camera crawl from the seal of the tomb to the front door of The Church. There are several (perhaps too many) of these moving camera shots, but at least it distracts from the many plot holes. The lighting, the scenery, and camera angles are simply stunning.

inline Image The Church is not considered Soavi's finest work. That distinction is almost unanimously awarded to DellaMorte DellaMore. But I think The Church at least had the potential to be a horror classic. If only they had fine-tuned the script a little more, this might have been the most anticipated DVD release of the year. Unfortunately though, only the most ardent of Soavi's and Italian horror fans will see this. It's still a fun Friday-night movie, and it's probably a blast to watch with a bunch of friends. (Some beer might enhance the enjoyment factor as well…). It sure can't hurt to have this in your collection.

Image Quality

inline Image This is one of those top-notch transfers we expect from Anchor Bay. Their other Soavi release, Stagefright, doesn't look anywhere near this good, which leads me to believe they had access to better film elements for The Church. The Church had higher production values as well, also lending to the great image on this DVD. The presentation is anamorphic and widescreen, 1:85:1. Colors are incredibly lush and vibrant, and the dark scenes are amazingly clear. I loved the blue lighting in the scene where Evan opens the tomb (Chapter 10). Since this film is so visual (and the plot is nowhere to be found), it was imperative that the look of this DVD get the most attention, and Anchor Bay did not disappoint.

Sound

Anchor Bay also did a remixed Dolby Digital EX soundtrack for The Church, just as with Stagefright. Unlike Stagefright however, the dubbing of this film is not as well done, but it's at least passable. It's a fairly straightforward mix, with few gimmicks and unnatural surround effects. The biggest workout of your sound system might be the "Bumper-Cam" sequence (Chapter 12) as we take a high-speed tour through winding European streets and tunnels. Other than that, it's mostly your center speaker doing all the work, with the mains providing the music by Goblin and Keith Emerson (and written by Phillip Glass). A less flashy Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is included as well. Overall, the sound presentation is unremarkable but more than adequate.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Not to keep comparing The Church with Stagefright, but the DVDs came out the same day, so there is some validity to viewing the features of the discs side-by-side. The extra features on The Church are limited to a theatrical trailer and the Michele Soavi bio that appears on both discs. The trailer is a little strange, since there is no dialogue where there was obviously dialogue in the film. Perhaps the trailer was generic and allowed for dubbing of any language. Again, no input from the reclusive Soavi, Argento, or anyone else involved with the film. That's too bad since it's quite apparent that a great deal of work was put into this film, and I'd be happy with just one of the interviews that are so common on Anchor Bay discs.

Final Thoughts

If you can overlook some of the largest plot holes and dropped narratives ever put on screen, you just might enjoy The Church quite a bit. Don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy Soavi's amazing visuals. Anchor Bay has recognized the strengths of this movie and produced a DVD that really does it justice. Soavi is clearly an extremely talented filmmaker and I have to admit I enjoyed this film almost as much as . It may not rank up there with the best works of Argento, Fulci, and Bava, but this edition of The Church does belong in every Italian horror fan's library.

Rating

Movie - B
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - C


Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 42 minutes
  • Unrated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • Dolby Digital Surround EX
  • Dolby Digital 2.0

Supplements
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Michele Soavi Bio

Other Pictures

 

 

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