Centuries ago, the Teutonic Knights massacred a German village full of witches and warlocks, dumped their bodies into a mass grave and built a church on top of it. Fast-forward to the modern day: a hapless librarian accidentally opens the crypt’s seal and unleashes the evil forces within. Hilarity ensues.

The Church was originally conceived as the second sequel to Demons, but when Lamberto Bava declined to return to direct the third installment in the series, producer Dario Argento hired Michele Soavi (who played the closest thing the first film has to a central antagonist, and who would go on to direct Cemetery Man) to helm it instead. Soavi agreed, but insisted on stripping the story of its direct connections to Demons and its sequel, on the grounds that the earlier films were “pizza schlock” and he wished to produce a more “sophisticated” film.

Let me be blunt: he failed.

If anything, The Church is barren of the elements that made its loose predecessors, if not exactly good, at least fun to watch. The gore quotient is ramped down (although present), the makeup and effects fail to make an impression, the cinematography is lackluster and there’s an annoying lack of arresting, or even memorable, images. (It states volumes that the most striking visual in the entire movie is ripped off from a Boris Vallejo painting.) I should also mention the atrocious dubbed voice-acting, which includes an elderly couple played as if they were Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The bold and flamboyant ’80s-rock is largely jettisoned (except for a couple of contributions from Goblin, who are still inexplicably credited as “the Goblins”) in favor of an excruciatingly grating score by prog-rock fixture Keith Emerson and minimalist composer Philip Glass. None of the performances are particularly memorable. The cast unanimously falls flat–with the lone exception of Dario Argento’s adorably plucky 14-year-old daughter Asia. Hugh Quarshie (of Highlander, Nightbreed, and The Phantom Menace) and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka John Morghen (of Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Ferox and City Of The Living Dead) are particularly wasted.

Meanwhile, Argento, Soavi and a phalanx of screenwriters both credited and uncredited (including Demons and Demons 2 co-scribes Bava, Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sachetti) have invented entirely new ways to render their exceptionally bare-bones plot (monsters trap a bunch of humans in a building, possess their bodies by scratching them, then lay waste to the neighborhood) incoherent. Despite featuring a ten-minute-long prologue delineating the backstory in detail, I’m still not sure who the monsters were or why they were doing what they were doing. Characters drop in and out of the plot seemingly at random (Quarshie, ostensibly the film’s star, does very little until the beginning of the third act). Characterization is particularly weak, with the dramatis personae behaving in incredibly bizarre ways. (One character commits suicide by somehow forcing a jackhammer into his stomach. First problem: the way it’s depicted, it should be impossible. Second problem: even if it were possible, it should be extremely difficult, and I would have to think that there are many more convenient ways to kill oneself at hand, even in a church.) Even when I could follow the story, I didn’t give much of a damn about it.

Soavi’s direction is, to put it mildly, a gigantic fucking mess. Clumsy editing results in a character being gruesomely murdered in front of a dozen or more people, who don’t seem to have any reaction to it whatsoever. The church’s architecture is difficult to make sense of–it’s like he shot in several different interior locations but didn’t put much effort to making them all seem like the same place. The exterior footage is bland and generic. And a scene in the middle of the film, in which one character seems to be lusting after Asia Argento’s character, is particularly exploitative, with several attempts to get upskirt shots. (Then again, that could be her father’s influence at work.)

I’m hardly a fan or apologist for Demons and Demons 2, but I’ll give them this: they’re at least moderately entertaining flicks that have continued to stick with me long after I watched them. On the other hand, I’m having trouble remembering most of the salient bits of The Church, which I watched about a week and a half before writing this. Of all the sins this film commits, its failure to make much of an impression (of any sort) on me is the worst.

My rating: 3 of 10.

102 minutes; in Italian, with dialog dubbed in English. Directed by Michele Soavi. Starring Tomas Arana, Feodor Chaliapin, Hugh Quarshie, Barbara Cupisti, Antonella Vitale, Asia Argento.


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