Release Date(s)1989 (July 3, 2018)
Studio(s)Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica/TriStar Pictures (Scorpion Releasing)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C+
After the success of Demons and Demons 2, Lamberto Bava wanted to make a third film in the Demoni series. Dario Argento, who had produced those previous two films, wasn’t keen on a follow-up. Though a script had been written, the project eventually morphed into a slightly more sophisticated horror film with Michele Soavi (The Sect, Cemetery Man) at the helm. The result was The Church (aka La Chiesa), a film with style to spare, but a story not that easy to follow.
During medieval times, a group of knights led by an obsessive order of priests hunt down a band of witches and devil-worshippers, killing them and building a large cathedral over their mass grave. Many years later, the church is under restoration, and with the arrival of the new librarian, a sleeping evil is waiting to be set loose. The librarian discovers the hidden underground secret of the church, but is quickly possessed, infecting everyone that he comes into contact with. The church soon becomes a breeding ground for demons, with few souls able to make it out alive.
Despite the strong visuals and a few memorable moments, The Church is a mess when it comes to its plotting. Random events seem to occur with little to no setup, which one might argue is the direct effect of demonic possession and witchcraft, but in this case, it makes for a confusing narrative. The film also feels like it’s struggling with trying not to veer into more traditional horror territory, as if it has an identity crisis of sorts. There are a couple of extreme death scenes, including an impractical use of a jackhammer (impractical meaning not useful for its intended purpose, but very effective otherwise). These scenes, and others like it, feel out of place in a film attempting to set itself apart from other works featuring the same type of intense carnage.
The Church also features a very young Asia Argento in a key role. She would go on to star in a number of projects, including many Italian horror films, but here she feels underutilized. The English dub doesn’t aid the film either. As with many dubs, some of the vocal performances can be poor, even comical. On the other hand, The Church is brimming with ideas, but none of them coalescing into a comprehensible story, meaning that the anticipatory showstopping outcome (which oddly enough is evocative of Society’s breathtakingly disgusting finale) falls a bit flat.
The Church comes to Blu-ray sporting a new 2K scan of the original negative featuring “45 hours of color correction” and a “max bitrate.” As promised, it’s a wonderful presentation after being mostly seen on VHS and DVD for many years in the US. Grain management is well attenuated, revealing a high level of fine detail on many of the church interiors and exteriors, as well as facial textures, clothing, and special effects make-up jobs. The color palette offers a variety of hues, though the film does tend to lean towards the darkness for much of its running time. As such, blacks are deep while brightness and contrast levels are ideal. Minor speckling is all that’s leftover, and the image is entirely stable. It’s doubtful that it could look much better.
The audio is included in English 2.0 DTS-HD and Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional English subtitles for both tracks. Apparently the English track is a downmix of a 5.1 track from the Anchor Bay DVD release of the film and is missing a couple of sound effects and bits of dialogue. Besides the aforementioned questionable dubbing itself, the quality of the track itself is fine, but doesn’t offer much in terms of dynamics. The sound effects and score have definite presence, and the dialogue seems a bit more natural than the Italian track. It sounds canned with little to no dimension, though ambient activity crops up a bit more than on the English track. Both tracks are otherwise free of leftover damage, such as hiss, crackle, distortion, and drop-outs.
The following extras are included on this 2-Disc release:
- Audio Commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and Barbara Cupisti
- The Mystery of the Cathedrals (HD – 19:47)
- Alchemical Possession with Dario Argento (HD – 12:42)
- Lotte (HD – 8:35)
- Interview with Tomas Arana (HD – 26:21)
- Interview with Barbara Cupisti (HD – 24:43)
- Father Giovanni (HD – 14:27)
- Building The Church (HD – 20:46)
- Demons 3 (HD – 13:18)
- Holy Ground (HD – 10:02)
The audio commentary with film historian Nathaniel Thompson and actress Barbara Cupisti is quite lively as the two discuss the film while watching it, with Thompson asking questions occasionally, but mostly serving as host to a lighthearted discussion. The cast and crew in the interviews, which includes director Michele Soavi, producer Dario Argento, actors Asia Argento, Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Giovanni Radice, set designer Massimo Geleng, screenwriter Franco Ferrini, and make-up artist Franco Casagni, talk about their careers, working with Michele Soavi, and share their memories of the making of the film. It’s worth noting that the Shameless Entertainment DVD and 84 Entertainment Blu-ray from overseas offered a few additional extras on their releases, including a different interview with Michele Soavi, a couple of trailers, various still galleries, and the film’s soundtrack. In addition to this release, there’s also a single disc version available as well, minus the collectible slipcover and second disc of extras.
In terms of Italian horror as a whole, The Church is not at the front of the pack, instead falling somewhere in the middle. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it offers enough visual flair and horrific moments to make the experience worth it. Scorpion Releasing’s Blu-ray offers a mostly satisfying A/V experience, though the audio could have used a bit more attention. Otherwise, it’s a fine release.
– Tim Salmons