The Church (1989): Some of That Old, Old,Old Time Religion

Hey folks, I’m finally back to talk about a movie, and what better way to kick back off than with another thrilling installment of Once Upon a Time in Italy. I’ve been told by lots of folks that when they need to get reinvigorated they go to church. Now, I’m not a church going fellow, but when it comes to Michelle Sovai’s 1989 film La chiesa or The Church, I’m a member of the congregation for sure. Of the two Sovai films that I’ve seen, Stage Fright and Cemetery Man, I thought the prior was middling and the latter a work of a master. So I was genuinely excited to see one of the films he made between the two, but before I pass judgment on this one, let me tell you a little of what it’s about.

Back in the Middle Ages, the Teutonic knights, who were supposed to protect travelers to the Holy Land, decided to take their job very seriously. They went around and killed and pillaged anywhere that they thought might house witches or Satan worshipers. After one particularly nasty slaughter, in order to contain the evil, the Knights constructed a special church over the presumed heretic’s burial ground. They even had the architect build in a failsafe system should the evil ever get out. That’s a good thing because in the present day the greedy new librarian, Evan (Tomas Arana), has managed to break open the seal thinking it will be full of Middle Ages treasure. Instead, the spirits of the vengeful dead pour out to punish the inhabitants of the church. With the Church sealed up by the fail-safe, it is left to visiting priest Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie) and a young girl named Lotte (Asia Argento) to defeat the angry demons.

Speaking of demons, The Church was originally intended to be Demons 3, a follow up to the Lamburto Bava's two films. Instead, Sovai wanted to take the film in another direction and away from what he called “schlock pizza cinema”. The script seems almost to have been written by committee with eight writers credited including Lamburto Bava, Sovai, Dario Argento, and Demons scribe Franco Ferrini. Sovai intended his film to address the issues of religious oppression, the lingering impact of the Nazis, and other deeper issues. The problem is with a miasma of ideas floating around and scenes like a fellow jack hammering himself to death those larger ideas take a backseat to good old fashioned Italian horror. Now I’m not saying that is a bad thing. Anyone who watches Italian horror can tell you that narrative is not the strong suit, but it was frustrating to be able to tell that the director had something to say that was so obfuscated by the film itself to render it nearly incomprehensible.

Thankfully, missing the deeper meaning of Sovai’s film will not hinder your enjoyment of the flick. The director creates a great atmosphere, and Gothic churches are creepy to begin with so he had a head start. There are many moments of great imagery, and the special effects are actually quite good. There’s a monster makeup scene in the film that looks nearly flawless, and for a late ‘80’s Italian film, that’s saying something. One place it did come up short was in the musical department where tunes by Goblin and Keith Emerson both sounded like re-hashes of better, older material. The Church also features a partial score by Phillip Glass, the avant-garde composer, but even those compositions brought little to the film.

Instead The Church relies on Sovai’s eye and some solid acting. The best acting in the picture comes from Hugh Quarshie, an actor many will be familiar with from his work on 1990’s Nightbreed and in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Quarshie’s performance was very intense, but he seemed likable. The only time I thought it had gotten a little out of hand was in one scene where the poor fellow was dripping so much sweat that I thought he was going to start his on eco-system. Tomas Arana, who went on to appear in Gladiator, was a despicable little fop, and that’s exactly what he was intended to be. Asia Argento, daughter of Dario, also turns in what might be her best performance as the young girl Lotte. I’ve never seen her in anything else I particularly liked though, but in her recent films, Asia's looks make up for her acting chops. The Church also features Italy’s whipping boy, Giovanni Lamburto Radice as a Priest, and it probably goes without saying that he gets it and gets it good

The Church was not quite the answer to my prayers, but if they passed around the collection plate, I would surely throw in a couple of bucks for the effort. Perhaps with a repeated viewing the message of the film might become clearer, but if not at least there’s still demonic things humping chicks and a girl who rips her own face off, so it won’t be a total loss. As far as Sovai’s films go, this one is right in the middle chronologically and ratings wise of the other films I’ve reviewed. If you’re looking for his best work, then check out Cemetery Man, but if you’ve seen that and enjoy Sovai’s stylish camera work and solid effects, then you should pull up a pew and have a seat with The Church.

Bugg Rating


  1. This movie has grown on me with each viewing, I dont know what it is, but I like it a lot more every time I see it.

    I love the visuals, the demons, the make up effects, and the overall weird vibe the movie has.

    Soavi should have made more horror films, he was well on his way to becoming one of the greats! I mean..Stage Fright, what an awesome movie!

  2. I haven't seen The Church since I was a kid, but I remember liking it, though I liked just about anything horror related as a kid. I do own it and have been wanting to revisit it again...thankfully my expectations will not be too high.

  3. simon zinc trumpet-harrisApril 28, 2010 at 4:40 AM

    Lightning Bug, i disagree, "THE CHURCH" is a much better film than "CEMETARY MAN" which i`ve always regarded as one of the most ludicrously over-rated horror films of all time.

  4. Give me this over Della Morte Della More anyday. God knows I hate that film.


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