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Anchor Bay presents
The Church (La Chiesa) (1988)

"God!! Why have you done this?"
- Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: May 03, 2002

Stars: Tomas Arana, Feodor Chaliapin, Hugh Quarshie
Other Stars: Asia Argento, Barbara Cupisti
Director: Michele Soavi

Manufacturer: Grace & Wilde
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong violence and gore, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:41m:42s
Release Date: February 19, 2002
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B-B+ C-

DVD Review

The Church (La Chiesa), marked the second feature outing for director Michele Soavi, who for many years had been involved in the works of director Dario Argento. Whether he was an actor, a writer, a stuntman, or an assistant, Soavi had quite a ride as Argento's pupil, and on his own, he's proven himself as, if nothing else, an interesting talent. The Church follows a very safe pathway in that it was written with Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini, and is basically a third Demons film. In most of Europe, it was even marketed as Demons 3, and the label fits. I've often believed that the almost generic, basic setup of the Demons films should be required filmmaking for any director wanting to try stylish, fast-paced horror. Like a rite of passage, it's such a great concept to test the attitude and mettle of a filmmaker.

For those unfamiliar with the Demon movies, the plot is fairly simple; a group of people (innocent bystanders) are stuck in a single location while, all around them, some kind of ancient prophecy about a coming of monsters comes true and everyone has to battle their way out. It may sound silly, but it works. The Church basically follows the same pattern, but offers a surprising amount of depth and increased visual intensity. Michele Soavi is a child of classic Italian horror and it shows, but he differentiates himself from the pack. The core story here is about a modern day cathedral, built on the mass-grave of hundreds people killed in a slaughter by the Teutonic Knights, an ancient order that often used extremely brutal techniques to rid the world of perceived evil. As the film gets underway, we learn the church is undergoing an extensive renovation. During the renovation, some interesting and unusual artifacts are discovered and the new church librarian, Evan (Tomas Arana) becomes obsessed with the theory that the church holds a secret, trapped behind layers.

As Evan unfolds the mystery, he unwittingly unleashes the evil of the people who were killed on this spot so long ago, and they possess him. Slowly, the evil begins to penetrate the church and its inhabitants, as well as many of its visitors. On a particularly busy day, an accident unlocks an old mechanism that seals the church up tight, with no escape while the evil seeps out and turns worshippers and tourists into its servants. Surprisingly, only a young girl (played by Dario Argento's daughter, Asia) knows how to escape, making her one of the few people capable of resisting the evil. Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), meanwhile, tries to piece together the puzzle stop the malevolence from eventually seeping out beyond the walls of the church.

The Church is actually a surprising film in that, unlike it's spiritual predecessors, it isn't totally focused on violence and action. It's also very visual, with some impressive concepts and gorgeous cinematography for most of the important scenes. The plot will surprise no one; it's basically the same kind of thing that many Italian horror movies have been doing for years. Michele Soavi does seem to take the time, though, to develop things a bit better and improve on the characters. Another interesting element is the soundtrack by Goblin and Keith Emerson, with some works by Philip Glass include as well. All the parts form into basically an impressive effort from Soavi that fits into the whole Argento/Bava scene well, but contains distinctions that make it his own.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although a bit grainy and obviously aged, the image is still miles beyond previous VHS versions (although the South Gate Entertainment version was pretty definitive in its time). The anamorphic transfer has given the film noticeable depth and everything seems upgraded, from the colors, to the dark photography which seems more natural now. There are no issues with compression artifacts or pixelization, and the source print's own, small flaws (scratches, speckles) are about the most extreme downside.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English (EX)yes

Audio Transfer Review: The disc features a new Dolby 5.1 sound mix, which accompanies the film well, but doesn't go overboard with pointless surround activity or exaggerated sound effects. It simply boosts The Church with a more immersive front soundstage with broader frequency range and a more theatrical feel. There are occasional, good surround channel effects, but they're generally subdued. It's a good track that gives this film some spice, but nothing much beyond what it's always sounded like.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Michele Soavi biography
Extras Review: The only extras are a bio of Michele Soavi and the original trailer for the film. As usual for Anchor Bay, though, the presentation really captures the essence of the movie, and fans should be pleased. The keepcase insert features a cardstock rendition of the original South Gate Entertainment VHS cover, whereas the DVD cover is more faithful to the Italian artwork. There are plenty of chapter stops and the menus are animated and designed well.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

As Anchor Bay's newest addition to the "Dario Argento Collection," The Church (La Chiesa) is a worthy one, paying good respect to these Italian classics. The majority of Michele Soavi's work has been in television and he hasn't made a feature film in about 6 years, which is too bad, since his last film, DellaMorte, DellAmore (poorly marketed as a Demons 4) was one of the greatest films to come out of the new Italian scene. If he eventually comes back to horror, I'm confident it will at least be worth a look, and the key to his breakout as a solo talent lies here in The Church.


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