La chiesa

Synopsis: You Haven’t Got a Prayer.

In medieval Europe, crusading knights massacre a village full of suspected devil worshippers and build a large gothic church above the cursed remains. It is now present day, and this elaborate cathedral still stands. But when its sealed crypt is accidentally reopened, a group of people trapped inside the church become possessed by the fury of the damned. Can the blood of the innocent survive this unholy communion or will the ultimate demonic evil be unleashed upon the world?

The Church was co-written and produced by maestro Dario Argento (Suspiria) and sealed the reputation of director Michele Soavi (Stagefright, Cemetery Man) as the new master of Italian horror. Originally known as Demons 3, this visually stunning shocker co-stars Tomas Arana (Gladiator) and Asia Argento, features a remarkable score by Goblin and Keith Emerson.
La chiesa 7.25

eyelights: the mood. the location. the style.
eyesores: the nonsensical ending.

‘La chiesa’ (a.k.a.’The Church’) is the official sequel to ‘Dèmoni‘ and ‘Dèmoni 2‘. There are a number of other films that have been released as the purported sequel, but this Michele Soavi film is the only one based on a script by Dario Argento and that was actually intended to complete the series.

Frankly, I held out very little hope for it.

After watching the lacklustre gorefests that were the first two (which have pretty much sealed my opinion of filmmaker Lamberto Bava), I expected another cheesy romp that focused primarily on sating gorehounds, foregoing any attempt at creating mood and delivering a decent story.

Boy, was I wrong!

‘La chiesa’ is by no means a masterpiece, but it’s a pretty decent horror film, all things considered. Actually, I enjoyed enough of it, despite its flaws, to be intrigued my Michele Soavi’s career. I am planning on seeking the few films that he’s made thus far.

What I find interesting about Soavi is that, like Lamberto Bava, he fell under Dario Argento’s wing and sharpened his fangs as assistant director to the Italian horror icon. Even though I’m not a big fan of Argento, it’s fascinating to me to see how much influence he’s had.

Soavi has only made a few films, deciding to take a long hiatus to take care of his family instead. That’s something, given the success he was having. He’s since returned to make a few TV movies, but steered clear of the horror genre. To me, these things alone earn the man respect – he wasn’t just a horror hack.

And ‘La chiesa’ is hardly a hack job anyway. I already knew, from what I’d read, that it was considered better than the first two film in the series, but I hardly suspected that it would be monumentally superior; I figured that its quality would be quite subjective indeed, given the genre.

But Soavi apparently adapted the original script to suit his needs, which may explain its quality. It also sheds light on why the film barely resembles its predecessors – the only commonalities being that evil spirits possess people and that the building they’re trapped in becomes inescapable (in this case, because the doors magically seal themselves!).

Beyond this, however, there’s not much connective tissue between this and the ‘Dèmoni’ films. And that’s a good thing. This is a more mature work that focuses on simmering terror, as it gradually builds the tension over the course of an hour before opening the gates of Hell on its unsuspecting victims.

Of course, it helps that the ‘La chiesa’ was filmed in an actual cathedral, not on a set, because there’s nothing quite as atmospheric as a centuries old building of this scale. Plus which the architecture and décor alone help getting in the right mood for a tale of demonic possessions and mass slaughter.

The script, despite its frequent fumbles, allows for the story to develop casually. I appreciated this because motion pictures rarely do this anymore, unless they’re drama. And, since the ‘Dèmoni’ films were relatively (for the mid-’80s) frenetic, it was a sweet surprise to get something more akin to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ than the 2004 remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’.

Sadly, there are some plot holes and lapses in logic along the way – which is surprising in light of all the time the film takes to develop. But much of it takes place after the first hour, when the demonic spirits are let loose in the cathedral. At that point, the overall pace of ‘La chiesa’ gains momentum, so it’s not unnatural for details to get forgotten – it’s unfortunate and not unavoidable, but also not uncommon.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

The largest gaps are in the last quarter of an hour, when Asia Argento and one of the priests are seen leaving the cathedral. We never actually see what happens after that moment but, inexplicably, the priest is back in the cathedral as though he never left… and tries to save the day. No explanation is given as to what happened between those two sequences.

And then there are the last few frames of ‘La chiesa’, which imply that the cathedral’s destruction took place in the near past and that the priests failed to destroy the evil that lay beneath the building. We also discover that the underground portal is now out in the open, amongst the ruins, and that Asia Argento has likely been possessed by something malevolent – as suggested by her actions and the satisfied grin on her face in that last shot.

By not explaining what happened in that moment between Asia Argento leaving and the priest returning, it strips the legitimacy and potency out of everything that ensues. The problem is that we see the outcome, but we have no inkling as to why it happened, if it could have been avoided, what the consequences are, …etc. Further to that, we don’t even know why Argento’s character is possessed and how she escaped when all the other spirits were destroyed/returned to their supernatural prison.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

I have to give a big shout out to the motion picture score, courtesy of Goblin (credited here as “The Goblins”), who have scored many of Dario Argento’s early films, and Keith Emerson, of ELP fame. Some of the tracks were composed by Philip Glass, and the combination of the three composers together makes for a delicious prog-rock synthesizer soundscape that, while discrepant in some scenes (like the medieval setting of the first sequence), is quite enjoyable; I’d buy the CD without hesitation.

Which is all to say that I’m quite pleased with ‘La chiesa’, all things considered. I forced myself to buy it strictly because I wanted to complete the trilogy, and it was well worth it – not only have I been exposed to a pretty good horror film, but I now have a new filmmaker to explore and a wicked soundtrack to exhume (it only exists on import and who knows if it’s still in print!).

Seriously, that’s more than what one can typically expect from most motion pictures. It may be an imperfect motion picture, but it was memorable in many ways – so I have no doubt that I’ll return to ‘La chiesa’ someday.

Story: 6.5
Acting: 5.0
Production: 7.0

Chills: 7.0
Gore: 5.0
Violence: 5.0

Date of viewing: October 16, 2012

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