An old Gothic cathedral, built over a mass grave, develops strange powers which trap a number of people inside with ghosts from a 12th Century massacre seeking to resurrect an ancient demon from the bowels of the Earth.
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A church is built during medieval times on top of a pile of dead bodies that were considered possessed. Hundreds of years later a young librarian unleashes the evil within, by removing a rock in the catacombs. Series of events occur meanwhile, everybody just does not seem to be the same. Father Gus is the only one not possessed, he must save the city from becoming a pandemonium, he must find the ancient secret of the church so it can crumble to pieces. Written by
Director Michele Soavi gained worldwide recognition with his 1994 masterpiece "Dellamorte Dellamore"; however, he had been mastering his craft under the guidance of horror master Dario Argento for years before that hit. "La Chiesa" was his second feature length effort as director and he displays his craft with a visually stunning Gothic movie about possessions on the vein of Lamberto Bava's "Demoni" (In fact, it was conceived as the series third chapter), but with Soavi's visual style all over it.
"La Chiesa" or "The Church", is a tale of an unholy supernatural evil contained under a Gothic Cathedral. Centuries ago, a group of Templar Knights brutally killed a town accused of being devil-worshipers; in order to keep the evil down they built a cathedral and sealed it. Now, in the present, a greedy librarian named Evan (Tomas Arana) breaks the seal and frees the forces of evil. The Church starts a self-protection devise that serves to trap the evil, but it also traps a lot of innocent people who become the target of the demons who begin to posses them.
The movie is a visual Tour-De-Force where Soavi experiments with his outstanding camera-work creating haunting atmospheres of supernatural beauty. Complete with a terrific score with music not only by horror veterans Goblin but also by Prog rock virtuoso Keith Emerson and the remarkable composer Philip Glass. Their music works perfectly with the movie and completes the wonderful composition that Soavi creates.
The Gothic Church is a character itself and Soavi gives it life and uses the location with great skill. The lighting and special effects are used with great care in order to increase the Gothic atmosphere of the film. Despite this, the story is a bit weak and the surrealist scenes Soavi intends to use to increase the atmosphere actually decrease the coherence of his plot, making it to drag a bit with scenes that seem to serve no purpose. This sadly becomes a major flaw in an otherwise flawless film.
The acting is very good, although the English dubbing is kind of average. Tom Arana and Hugh Quarshie are very good in the lead roles, and Barbara Cupisti makes a great romantic interest. However, two members of the cast remarkably steal the show. Feodor Chaliapin Jr. gives a great interpretation as the head Bishop of the Church, giving a haunting performance as an old man with many secrets. The true star is young Asia Argento as Lotte, the teenage daughter of the sacristan who prefers to be at discos than working at the church. Her character may be small, but she shows her great talent and certainly shows why is she now the great actress she is today.
As written above, the strangely constructed plot is a major turn off, as the last third of the film becomes very strange and a bit disappointing considering that the previous two thirds are a terrific haunting film. Still, Michele Soavi's technique is always perfect and his visual perfection is never disappointing. It is no wonder why with a better script he crafted a masterpiece with "Dellamorte Dellamore".
"La Chiesa" may not be a perfect film, but it is a very good experience and a good introduction to modern Euro-horror. It is a shame that Soavi has decided to stay on TV films because his stylish art seems to have no limits when correctly developed. Fans of Italian horror will be pleased with "The Church". 7/10
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