Soavi’s cinema: The Church (1989)
Michele Soavi, heir apparent to the ‘soon-to-falter’ Dario Argento, was one of most talented directors working in the italian horror genre during the late 1980s. Soavi’s contribution here is one of the more visually stunning films of the era. Not so subtle in terms of subtext, the film is literally about a church built on the roots of a heinous crime.
From a gregarious opening sequence depicting the slaying of a village – supposedly of devil worshippers – by the teutonic knights, the aesthetic is sublime. Soavi shoots some of this through the viewpoint of the cross-shaped visors in the knights’ helmets. After this disquieting beginning to proceedings – which involves a horse trampling a baby stored safely away in a basket – Soavi carries out a fantastic tracking shot from the basement of the church which houses the tomb of the villagers right through to the modern interior and exterior of the church. This shot transposes us straight from the middle ages to the present day (well, 1989 Germany to be exact).
Thematically similar to Michael Mann’s oft-forgotten The Keep (1983) with a touch of Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987), Soavi disregards plot coherence and leads us through a succession of gothic alchemy. The scene in which the cathedral’s ‘security device’ turns on to entomb those inside looks like something of a nightmarish version of The Goonies (1985) and there’s a real coup-de-grace moment as the mount of the undead rises up through the floor of the church during the finale.
Whilst originally intended as the third film in the “Demoni” series, Soavi neglects the gore-infused zombie chaos of those films and relies on the power of the suggestive through hallucinations experienced by the ‘possessed’. The end result being the film is much the better for it. As in Soavi’s earlier Stagefright: Aquarius (1987), the score pays in spades. Controversially, a very young Asia Argento has a pivota role – slain in the village – but apparently re-incarnated as the daughter of the cathedral’s sacristan. Soavi implies that she is some kind of eternal witness to the demonic acts of humanity.
This film showcases just why we hold the Italian filmmakers in such a high regard. It all makes so little sense (“the secret is buried in the architect’s mouth!” – eh?) but it’s gorgeous cinema.