“THE CHURCH”— Home for the Ultimate Evil

“THE CHURCH”

Home for the Ultimate Evil

Amos Lassen

Teutonic Knights eradicate and bury an entire village because a cross-shaped stigmata is discovered on the bottom of a young girl’s foot. Director Michele Soavi’s use of cross imagery suggests the pervasiveness of the Christian threat to paganism. Once the village is buried and the site is branded with a huge cross, Soavi reveals the floor of a modern-day church. The camera travels backward from the church’s basement to its exterior and this chillingly suggests that a dormant holy-place-within-a-holy-place is waiting to be discovered.

Soavi subjects churchgoers to awesome hallucinations. In one scene, an old woman and her husband bang on a church bell. The next time the spectator sees the couple, the old woman is using her husband’s severed head to hit the bell. Soavi’s horror is terrifyingly suggestive, so much so that its difficult to determine what is real and what is the product of subconscious sexual desire and altered consciousness.

This supernatural gothic horror film was based on a story by Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini. The muddled narrative looks good and tells its dubious story with conviction, but drags when it becomes too talky trying to explain its ridiculous narrative. It opens in the 12th century during the Crusades. A military religious order of Germanic Knights Templar is dispatched to a village a priest (Gianfranci Degrassi) accuses of being Satanists. They are all massacred and buried in a pit in a mass grave. They keep the sinners underground, as an alchemist architect (John Richardson) is forced to build a gothic cathedral over the site to keep the evil spirits from the world. His reward for building a church that will keep out the evil spirits is that he’s slain and is the only one allowed to be buried in the church.

In modern times, a new librarian, Evan (Tomas Arana ), comes to the cathedral as a cataloger of its books and flirts with fresco restorer Lisa (Barbara Cupisti). When she locates a strange manuscript buried in the wall, Evan follows the clues in the manuscript down into the catacombs and opens a panel. He discovers the church’s dark secret and becomes possessed. Something he touched locks the one church door and unleashes the demons from below. This traps him inside the church with no way out.

When the Bishop (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.), who realizes what’s happening, commits suicide, it’s up to the young black priest, Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), to try to save as many lives as he can before the newly possessed start killing all those in the church.

Soavi’s astonishing visual sense gives us some of the most breathtaking sweeping camera work we will ever see. The film has been restored to its original color palette and is a feast for the eyes.

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