The Church (1988)
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DVD
Anchor Bay (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 ennhanced). English DD EX, English Dolby DD 2.0. 102 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Michele Soavi
Starring: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Feodor Chaliapin Jr, Barbara Cupisti, Antonella Vitale, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Asia Argento, Roberto Caruso, Roberto Corbiletto, Alina De Simone, Olivia Cupisti, Gianfranco de Grass
Screenplay: Nick Alexander (dialogue: English version), Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini, Michele Soavi.
Tagline: In this unholy sanctuary you haven't got a prayer
Country: Italy
AKA: La Chiesa, Cathedral of Demons, Demon Cathedral, In the Land of the Demons
La Chiesa/The Church actually began life as Demoni 3, but ultimately appeared as a film in its own right rather, as talented helmer Michele Soavi began life as a Dario Argento protégé and has since gone on to emerge from the auspice of the gialli-master and forge an oeuvre of his own. To use baseball parlance, Soavi is 5 from 5 if we discount made-for-TV rubbish, having gone out to bat five times and hit a homer every time with Il Mondo dell'orrore di Dario Argento, Deliria (Stagefright), La Chiesa, La Setta and Dellamorte Dellamore.

Soavi's third picture opens as a band of the Teutonic knights, the cruel sect of legend also known as Knights Templar (see de Ossorio's Le Noche del Terror Ciego et al) massacre a village full of suspected devil worshippers. Subsequently, an imposing gothic church is built above the pit into which the remains are slung and life goes on. Cue the present day and a series of events sees a disparate group of people trapped within this Cathedral of evil when the sealed crypt of the architect is breached, and a centuries-old mechanism designed to prevent the escape of the demonic pestilence seals up the church and unleashes a secret closely guarded by the religious order since the middle ages. Can the innocent survive this unholy communion or will they become the damned? Will the demonic evil residing therein be set free to wreak havoc upon the world?

Employing a similar scenario to that employed by prior Argento protégé Lamberto Bava's on his pic Demoni (Demons), that of a race against time within a sealed environment and encroaching demonic evil, Soavi crafts a visually stunning, atmospheric picture onto a fairly run-of-the-mill linear plot, utilizing sumptuous gothic imagery amidst the titular environment. All of this is brought to life handsomely by the director's roving camera. Soavi throws in some startling demonic metaphors, some less impressive rubber-monster demons and plays with his favoured water and key motifs in engaging fashion. La Chiesa climaxes with a wonderfully stark coda that ties everything up superbly, a bleak gesture of the fact that evil will always prevail, whatever sacrifices are made for the sake of good. La Chiesa, co-written and produced by maestro Dario Argento is a merely competently acted, capably written picture made superb by wonderfully atmospheric direction from Michele Soavi, the remarkable, moody score by Goblin and Keith Emerson, intriguing subtle historical referencing and fabulous set-design make this one of the best Italian horror films outside the classic era.
Video
Anchor Bay's DVD presents The Church in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, correctly framed at 1.85:1. The image looks very impressive indeed, Anchor Bay has restored the film from its original elements, and a pristine source print shows no real signs of age. This movie could've been made yesterday, I have never seen the film looking this sharp. Colours are rich, natural looking and are well-balanced, blacks and whites especially sharp. Shadow delineation, important in a visually darker picture like The Church, gradation and flesh tones are flawless. I didn't see any flaws, artefacting or edge-enhancement in a virtual reference quality print. Beautiful, breathtaking.
Audio
Anchor Bay's disc includes a Dolby Digital Surround EX track and a Dolby 2.0 Surround option. The Dolby Digital Surround EX really shines, a vibrant aural experience, especially impressive in accentuating the excellent music score from Goblin, Keith Emerson and Simon Boswell. Dialogue is crisp and clear, surround speakers used nicely if sparingly (outside music placement), ambient sounds effectively placed, the 'echoy' quality of the setting beautifully composed, and a nice soundstage constructed across the front three speakers. No problems are evident, and though the film doesn't exactly rock aurally, Anchor Bay has done a fine job with it.
Extra Features
Anchor Bay's disc is a severe disappointment in the supplements department. All we get here are a Soavi talent file, the same one from the Stagefright, disc as well as the film's theatrical trailer. The trailer is an effective, wordless preview and the Soavi biography covers his work with Argento, Terry Gilliam (Baron Munchausen) and his directorial efforts to date. A bit thin.
The Verdict
The Church is a worthy addition to any collection, especially Soavi admirers such as my self. Beautifully presented by Anchor Bay, though rather anorexic as regards extras. Superbit by Anchor Bay anyone?
Movie Score
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