In this unholy sanctuary you haven't got a prayer...
Year of Release: 1989
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 102 minutes (1:42)
Director: Michele Soavi
Hugh Quarshie ... Father Gus
Tomas Arana ... Evan
Feodor Chaliapin Jr. ... The Bishop
Barbara Cupisti ... Lisa
Giovanni Lombardo Radice ... Reverend
Asia Argento ... Lotte
Roberto Caruso ... Freddie
Roberto Corbiletto ... Hermann, the Sacristan
Alina De Simone ... Lotte's Mother
Michele Soavi ... 1st Policeman at Lisa's House (uncredited)
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, the movie that reminds us that the only thing more offensive than dancing on someone's grave, is building on it. Bonus points if you build a dance studio. Alanis Morissette loves this movie, it's ironic. Well, to be more specific, most of the scenarios in "Ironic" are not actually ironic, if you understand the real definition. However, the scenarios in the movie are very much on par with the scenarios in her song. They're not so much ironic as they are amusing instances of bad luck. But "ironic" just sounds so much better as a title than; "well that fuggin' figures." Sorry, figgers. You'd probably like some exposition and/or proof. Well, in the movie, after a bunch of Templars massacre a pack of devil worshipers, they order a church built on top of the corpse heap. Ya know, to keep the world safe from the evil. The short is, it doesn't work and the holy men all end up with demons inside 'em. Not ironic, but then, neither is Ironic. But she thinks those things are ironic and thus also thinks this plot is ironic, and thus likes it. As you can see, my reasoning here is sound, so lets move on to the "things we've learned" segment. First, not only is wearing a bucket on your head with nothing but a cross cut out of it fashionable, but it also provides optimal visual range in battle. Nobody's getting the drop on these guys, they have the broad visual range of a 6x4 inch "t" to see through. Not to mention a steel shield to protect their ears from any aural indicators. You don't fuck with these guys. Second, even in movies with religious themes, blessings never do squat. I'm sure you've noticed, priests bless buildings, people, objects, and not 5 minutes later the house conjures up a swarm of flies an the priest is suffocating, or the person that received the blessing gets sliced up into Oscar Meyer lunchmeat. An don't bother citing The Exorcist, nothing the priests did, other than resorting to physical violence, ever worked. Seems like maybe the holy men have their hand signals wrong, or maybe they've got a lisp and aren't enunciating correctly an putting curses on these nouns by mistake (people, places, things). And third, you don't spike the ball on Satan. You just don't do it. If you win a victory, stay humble. Killing his flunkies he may let slide, there's plenty more where they came from, after all. You don't build a god damn church on the corpses of his followers. That just gets him good an riled an pretty quick you've got what is quite literally, a God damned church.
But while we're on the subject, I'd like to discuss religion and one of the things I find wrong with all of them, particularly the religions that've splintered off from larger ones. I know, there's lots of religious movies an you probably figured I might go there with this one, but the movie has such a great example of the point I'd like to make that I'm willing to be predictable. One of my countless problems with religions in general is they tend to ignore the parts that they don't like and accentuate the parts they approve of. There's a lot of pretty screwed up stuff in all the sacred texts, be it the Christian Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Quran, or the Tanakh. Well, the Jedi Bible is actually pretty clean, but the bigger ones have a lot of problems. Anyway, the whole idea behind these books is that they're a big deal. The whole religion is based around these ideals and concepts. Unless of course, something specific might shine an unfavorable light on it. Then they either feign ignorance or give you the ole "it's not meant to be taken literally" excuse. So "thou shalt not kill" wasn't meant to be literal? Oh no, *that* part is meant to be literal, just not that other thing. Now wait a minute, either it's literal or metaphorical, not both. But if it were both, is there an index somewhere that got lost? A guide, perhaps, for us to know which parts are literal and which aren't? This seems kinda important; was God breathing down the writers' necks about meeting their deadline an that part had to be sacrificed to complete them on time? Okay by now you're probably figuring I'm just slandering religion cause I'm a heathen an you'd like for me to just shut the Hell up an present my evidence as to why it's a big deal that they pick and choose which parts to pay heed. Fine. In the movie, there's a large stone in the church that essentially translates to "those devil worshipers we slaughtered some time ago are eventually gonna come back, and Heaven help the poor bastards that happen to be riding the pulpit at that particular moment." This isn't some new development, this stone has been in the church for a real long time, these guys just ignored it. Sure, they kept the stone slab around, but it was just a prop to create a nice Godly atmosphere, they never even read the stupid thing until they were in dire straights an it was too late. Bottom line, either hold true to your convictions, or visit the strip club. Cause choosing to follow the parts you like and ignoring the rest is an exercise in self-deception, for no better reason than to feel good about yourself.
The movie begins in medieval Europe with a bunch of guys with buckets on their heads riding horses that look to have been stolen from the KKK, searching for a pack of Satan's groupies so they can butcher 'em real good an score big points with God. Their creepy Gollum-esque guide brings them to a cave where he believes the cultists are hiding out. He's not entirely sure until he checks a big boulder out front that conveniently has "666" carved into it, and once he's sure he's got the address right, he sends in the knights. They'd already busted in on no less than three medieval Tupperware parties today before they started bothering to make sure they were in the right place, so this is quite a victory. The knights are stand up guys that like to grab girls by their faces an squeeze 'em til their cheekbones make noises like Rice Krispies when the milk achieves splash down, so we feel pretty confident that we're watching devout men performing God's will. However, it turns out Gollum was telling the truth about the inhabitants, and once Lancelot spots the stigmata on the girl's foot, the rest of the cultists get this look on their faces like a group of miners whose canary just keeled over, an they start running for the exit. Lancelot tells his cronies to start crackin' skulls an pretty quick the Templars are playin' polo with the cultists' severed heads. Once that's finished, they load up all the bodies an toss 'em in a big hole an Gollum tells 'em they'd better bury 'em real quick like before they start getting back up an start tryin' to invade shopping malls. So Gollum blesses the site, which does little to keep the corpses' hands from reaching for daylight, and orders a church be built on the site so God can keep an eye on these dirty buggers. Fast forward several centuries to the present day an whaddya know, the church is finished an creepy enough to be worthy of the Catholics, an then some. About that time, the church's new librarian (seems like they meant scholar, or historian or something, but it translated to librarian) checks in with Bishop Crankypants. Crankypants looks about like a morph effect that was changing from the Cryptkeeper into Malcomb McDowell an got stuck half way, an sounds a lot like Dr. Zaius. Crankypants is mad cause the librarian (Evan) stopped to hit on the woman that paints the scary murals on the wall, an cause his Geritol just isn't getting the job done anymore. Elsewhere, in the catacombs beneath the church (yeah I dunno, I thought they built it over solid ground earlier), the lady that paints the scary pictures (Lisa) is watchin' some guys jackhammer a big crack until they start hearing noises like maybe Smaug is in a chamber down below 'em an she figures that's probably about far enough an makes 'em stop.
So on her way back to her finger paintins, she notices a scab on the wall an starts pickin' at it until she finds a secret compartment that contains a bit of parchment that got stolen from the set of The Evil Dead. But with Bruce Campbell unavailable, she decides to show the parchment to Evan instead, only Evan's kind of a chunkhead an he can't tell shin from shinola, so he has to hide it from Crankypants until he can get a translator that can read Duriac. Later that evening, Evan takes Lisa home to repay her for letting him look at her parchment, but he can't stay focused on her jigglers an has to get up to rotate a maple syrup dispenser around the parchment until he figures out what it says. By now Lisa's getting downright offended that he'd rather play with the moldy old paper than her jumblies an she tells 'em he'd better get back on the clock or she's gonna tell Crankypants he's gay. Back at the church, the sacristan's daughter (Lotte) is sneaking back in through the super secret path in the catacombs that only she knows about, only her dad catches her an gives her a raft of shit about being a nasty ho for wanting to have a life. By this point things are startin' to get weird. The women keep hearing horses runnin' around in the cathedral an Father Gus is seein' bucket headed Klansmen while he's tryin' to practice his archery. Crankypants seems to know there's something goin' on too but he just spends his time in his study with a protractor doin' his trigonometry homework on the wheel of the Zodiac an isn't much help. Then Evan heads down into the catacombs an starts foolin' around with a mean lookin' door knocker that somebody built into the floor instead of the wall an once he pries it up a blue light an fog start pouring out like there's a Spencer's Gifts down there. He pulls a burlap sack outta the hole an pretty quick arms come out an start stranglin' him like there's about four or five instances of Homer Simpson inside until he wakes up an realizes he's been stranglin' himself the whole time. Quit chokin' yourself, quit chokin' yourself. Then Lotte sneaks by with her father not far behind an Evan has to bust Lotte's dad in the chops for gettin' too nosy an then he follows Lotte out an drunk dials Lisa.
Well, that's how it looks an sounds anyway, cause a demon's got Evan by the brain banana an pretty quick he shows up at her house an turns into the Jersey Devil an starts makin' scary faces at her through her living room window til she has to call the cops an Superman her way outta her bedroom window. Fortunately, in Italy the cops generally arrive on the scene within 30 seconds or so an she's safe. The next morning, Lisa comes to see Evan, only now he just sits at the typewriter repeating "all work an no play makes Evan go demon" an he's a lot more rapey than she remembers. So once Lisa runs off to think about what this means for their relationship, Lotte shows up an Evan starts flirting with the idea of gutting her an eatin' her intestines like Lil Smokies. You really feel for the guy, he's run off two women in two minutes, women just don't understand him. He's a complicated man. Lotte's able to reach her father, only now he's got sweaty demon face an his reflection looks a lot like the guy on the cans of deviled ham an she's gotta beat cheeks outta there as well. As she bolts out the door, she blows through a group of hitherto unseen people doing a bridal fashion shoot, who then obtain permission to do some shooting inside the church. (Real subtle way to increase the upcoming body count, isn't it?) Then Lotte's dad jumps in the confessional an tells Father Gus he's got a demon/the music in him an runs down into the catacombs where he confuses an inverted, running jackhammer for a football that's been fumbled. Then his corpse starts seepin' Ragu Thick an Chunky all over until it drips down onto a mechanism that suddenly triggers an locks the whole place up tighter than Tipper Gore's rectum. Elsewhere, Crankypants is reading a stone slab that translates to... well, we're boned. Seems this incident was foretold on this... this slab here an... has this thing always been here? This really should have been brought to someone's attention I'm thinkin'. God damnit people, he's only one man. He can't do EVERYTHING. Back in the main chamber, the bride in the fashion shoot's got her gown stuck in the front door, there's kids runnin' around virtually unsupervised as part of some field trip or something that never really receives any exposition, an the groom can't seem to get the Murloc that's latched itself on his face to come off. Only nobody else can see the Murloc, an Father Gus is starting to get the picture. Hasn't got a clue what he's gonna do about it, but he's starting to get it.
I realize this looks like a mess, but that's what this movie does, stuff happens, then more stuff happens, then they bring in more people cause there wasn't enough stuff happening, bear with me.
Then we've got a couple other people that came in as part of the bridal shoot, an one of them is all the sudden nekkid an getting fondled by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But then when her boyfriend takes a closer look she's not, an she tells 'em they've gotta find a way outta here. Then the teacher supervising the kids loses her glasses an little Timmy picks 'em up an hides 'em from her like a fucking asshole an leads her around by the hand until Lotte's dad (who's looking pretty spry after just getting jackhammered harder than Annabel Chong) springs to life an grabs a chunk of the wrought iron gates that pretty much every church keeps near its pulpit, (ya know, so all the groupies don't mob the priest who's the religious equivalent of a rock star) an impales her like a meatball on a fork. Then the eccentric old couple that came in with the procession or that was already there, (fuck I dunno, why do we need all these people?!) head upstairs so they can ring the bell. God I hope that's not a euphemism. Meanwhile, back over to Lotte, whose character we're actually familiar with and care about to some degree. She's at some weird Italian disco rave when she gets this look on her face like her Metamucil just kicked in an has to get home real real fast. Then Father Gus catches up with Crankypants an tries desperately to figure out what's goin' on (Amen, Father, help us out here). Crankypants tells Gus that the mechanism that triggered is essentially a really complicated quarantine, cause when the Ragu Thick an Chunky struck it, that was the signal that some bad shit was about to go down. The mechanism was designed to keep the evil, that has escaped, from leaving the church. Crankypants also says there's a self destruct mechanism that'll make the whole place implode on itself as well, only he won't tell Father Gus where it is an the Padre accidentally rolls Crankypants down the stairs onto a conveniently placed pike while he tries to wrestle the parchment away from him. Now the Padre has sad face. Sad, confused face. Meanwhile, in the bell tower, it seems like we were denied a critical sequence of events, cause when we get back up to the senile old couple, Nana's got Pop Pop's head, sans body, an she's using it to ring in the new year. Then, down in the catacombs, the younger couple that left looking for a way out earlier bust their way through the cracks that were being jackhammered early on, only to have the female of the pair fall into the hole an get splattered by an oncoming subway train. Obviously, I mean, who didn't see that coming? It was either that or a purple unicorn climbs outta the hole an grants them three wishes.
There's still a bit more, but I've wrapped up all the loose ends I released earlier an I'm gonna cut it here, cause, lets face it: we know all these body count characters that conveniently showed up with 15 minutes left aren't important, and I never reveal the ending anyway. The gist is this, considering how the movie started out with Evan and Lisa as the main characters, then transitioned to Lotte, then transitioned to Father Gus, a great deal of time and keystrokes are needed to keep their stories straight. God damn movie doesn't know what it wants, the director's goin' at it like a 10 year old kid on a sugar high. Bottom line: Father Gus best figure something out, cause everybody except Lotte has gone demon at this point.
Okay, as you've no doubt realized by now, this movie's got way too much shit going on. It doesn't spend any time with character development, which is rather typical of low budget Italian horror movies. But the thing is, this movie actually has a budget, and a pretty decent one. It's like they transitioned from the low budget stuff where you don't need things like character development, and just filled the extra time with more events. It's not that I didn't like the movie, but it's just so damn manic. There's really no slowing down at any point for us to absorb the significance of what's just happened, it's right on into the next sequence. And the next, and the next. There's no stopping for reflection on anything an when it's all over, you dunno what the fuck you just saw. I think a big problem is all the body count fodder that was brought in at the end of the movie. Arana and Cupisti's characters just get shelved for about 10+ minutes even though they'd previously been the focus. An it's to introduce a bunch of characters that're only here to pad the body count. Now don't get me wrong, body count is fine, if that's what you set out to do from the get go. The Friday the 13th formula works well for that, have one or two characters trickle in periodically, then dispatch them quickly. Here they just bring in a god damn army of previously unseen people an hit the switch on the blender. But up to that point, it wasn't a body count movie. It had a story, and it was moving at a reasonable pace. A little fast, but really not anything you'd begrudge. Then it completely switches gears an most of the events that happened prior become irrelevant. Seriously, I took 8 pages worth of notes on this movie. It's usually 5 or 6. An you don't dare leave anything out or anyone reading the review gets confused in an instant. It's not like other movies where you've got scenes with normal, mundane activities that you really needn't comment on. Everything after the first half hour is certifiably insanity. It really seems to me like they gave a group of guys that weren't used to having a budget cart blanche an they made a low budget style movie, that lacks the majority of the things that make it clear it's a low budget movie. I guess what it comes down to is the writing, and the pacing. I feel like it's just too fast and has crippling ADD.
So I know that's a lot of complaining. I think the real problem is that it disappointments me a bit. This is still a decent movie, but if they cut out all the extras at the end an focused on the characters we've been familiarized with up to that point, it's a good movie. Maybe in the high 70s. They over complicated it, that's the best way I can describe it. Anyhow, lets break it down. The overall plot is pretty good. Holier than thou Templars slaughter a pack of demon possessed cultists, get Satan's hackles up, an a few centuries later when he gets around to it, churchie heads go holy rollin'. No problems here. The acting is superb, particularly for the kind of Italian movies I'm used to seeing. As is customary, here are the relevant actors and the reasons why: Hugh Quarshie (Highlander, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Nightbreed), Feodor Chaliapin Jr. (Inferno), Barbara Cupisti (Cemetery Man, The Hell's Gate, StageFright, The New York Ripper, Opera), Antonella Vitale (Opera), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Cannibal Ferox, City of the Living Dead, The Omen remake, StageFright, House on the Edge of the Park, Cannibal Apocalypse), Asia Argento (Land of the Dead, Phantom of the Opera remake, Trauma, Demons 2), Gianfranco De Grassi (Night Train Murders), John Karlsen (Frankenstein Unbound, She Beast, Curse of the Vampire), Micaela Pignatelli (The Last Shark, The Card Player) Patrizia Punzo (Cemetery Man), John Richardson (Black Sunday, One Million Years B.C., Torso, Frankenstein 80). That's a pretty impressive group, though in this particular movie the only one that really stands out is Chaliapin as Crankypants. He's great. And of course behind the camera you've got Dario Argento producing, probably the most talented and most famous of all the Italian horror players. Which is really saying something, cause there's a lot of great ones. So the cast and crew is well accredited to be sure.
The shooting locations are fantastic. The church, the catacombs, and the forest sequence near the beginning are all great. The exteriors were shot in Germany, while the interiors were all done in Italy. The church provides a great deal of atmosphere, as well as points for its overall score. The soundtrack is hit or miss. Italian soundtracks always seem to have three or four tracks which are just noise and really overpower the scenes in which they play. And there's definitely some of that here. I'd describe some of it as what you'd expect to spew forth if the Nintendo soundtrack to Castlevania raped carnival music. But it has some good atmospheric music as well. It's got Philip Glass and Goblin on the same movie soundtrack, which is... strange to say the least. The special effects, for the most part are pretty good. Although I think they show the guy in the Jersey Devil suit a little too long and from unflattering angles near the end that didn't do kind things for its score. Although the shot of just the face during the sequence where it's peeking in at Barbara Cupisti looks great, and really freaky. Made me think of the Wing Gremlin in the Twilight Zone movie. It's really just that one lengthy scene near the end where the Jersey Devil is plowing Barbara Cupisti that wasn't well executed, everything else was great. The jackhammer effect was well done, as were the severed heads for the opening sequence. Good stuff. The dubbing was also really well done. So basically very little wrong with all the stuff I normally comment on, versus what I feel to be a really bad decision near the end of the movie. That definitely hurts, but I'll try to score it without letting my disappointment factor in. Fans of Italian horror should love this, and if you're just getting into Italian stuff, or thinking about it, this is a pretty good movie to ease into it with. It's stylish and more or less well-executed, with high production values.