Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Church (Michele Soavi, 1989)

You're raging ball of adorableness named Asia Argento, you're fourteen, no, wait, you're fifteen, yeah, fifteen years old, and you have a choice: Either you can hang out in a moldy Gothic church with your equally moldy parents, or go clubbing in striped tights. Damn, that's a tough one. Just kidding. The correct answer is: Clubbing. Okay, before I continue, I'm curious: When do you think Asia Argento is going to turn eighteen? The only reason I ask is that I wanna be able to monitor the amount of creepiness I put out there when talking about a teenage Asia Argento prancing about in Michele Soavi's The Church, the supernatural follow up to his amazing debut, Stage Fright, the best slasher film ever to feature a chainsaw-wielding maniac wearing a giant owl head. You see, I don't want to come off as a creep. Yet, I don't want to stifle my true self, either. That's not to say that my true self is a creep. On the contrary, I just don't want to be hamstrung by the square values of others. So, without further ado, I do solemnly swear that Asia Argento's innate cuteness will not be ignored over the course of this review. That being said, I also promise that I will not cross the imaginary line that dictates what is appropriate and what is inappropriate when waxing about the smoothness of Asia's soon to be sexy knees. Hey, isn't Asia Argento related to director Dario Argento, who is credited as one of the screenwriters on this movie? Good idea. Let's talk about that. Yeah, she is related to him. She's the daughter of director Dario Argento and actress Daria Nicolodi (Delirium: Photo of Gioia). Isn't that nepotism? I guess. But even at such a young age, it's clear that Asia has talent. How can you tell? Well, for one thing, you can see it in her eyes. While most actresses are devoid of anything close to resembling a personality, Asia Argento's aura is literally oozing five buckets worth of charm-aligned spunk at any given moment.
It's a good thing Asia's got spunk, because it would seem that Barbara Cupisti forgot to bring any of her precious spunk; the same spunk that served her so well in the giant owl head movie. Sure, her character can jump through a window without getting as much as a scratch, but what kind of final girl allows herself to be violated by a sexually active goat demon on a concrete slab in the basement of a Gothic cathedral that is about to collapse? I'll tell you what kind, the kind that don't make wisecracks right before they perform the coup de grâce on the film's primary antagonist. Besides, there's no-one to crack wise to in The Church, as the evil in this film doesn't even have a physical body.
Supposedly going all the way back to the days when the Teutonic Knights ruled Europe with a spiky-gloved fist, the malevolent force in this film has been patiently waiting to return to the land of the living. Opening with a group of said knights galloping through the forest, we're quickly sucked into their bloody, evil-vanquishing world. Ordered to murder the entire population of a small medieval village (don't be fooled by their big grey eyes), the knights (their helmets adorned with cross-shaped eye-slits) make short work of the peasants (stabbing and slicing their way through everyone in sight). After the slaughter has finished, we're whisked away to a large makeshift burial pit, where a mass grave is being prepared.
When some of the dead bodies start to twitch, a dude wearing a robe begins to freak out. It would seem that the peasants are in fact in league with the Devil. In order to placate their revenge, the ground is blessed and a church is built on top of their burial pit. And not just any church, a large, Gothic-style cathedral; the kind that will someday attract Hungarian tourists.
Oh, and before the ground is blessed (a large cross is placed on top of the burial mound), a knight comes across a survivor wearing a wicker mask. When the knight removes the survivor's mask, it turns out to be a young girl. And not only that, the young girl is played by none other than Asia Argento. I don't know about you, but I sure hope this isn't the extent of Asia's role in The Church, 'cause it's implied that the knight stabs her with a spear.
Anyway, flash-forward to modern times, well, sort they're of modern, it's the late 1980s, and we get a first hand look at the church; it has pews, priests, a yuppie librarian, frescoes, and an elderly bishop. In other words, it's your avenge place of worship. However, we know something sinister rumbling underneath its so-called hallowed ground. Actually, I have a feeling the bishop (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.) knows about the rumblings as well, as he looks like he's hiding something. Or maybe that's just his normal demeanour; after all, he is old as fuck.
A sense of relief washes over me, as the next thing we see is Asia Argento's Lotte watching Evan (Tomas Aranas) the church's new librarian, arrive for his first day on the job. Spotting her hiding behind a desk, Evan introduces himself to Lotte, the daughter of Hermann (Roberto Corbiletto), the church's sacristan. Of course, the bishop interrupts them, and proceeds to scold Evan for being late. While the bishop is giving a lame ass sermon, we're also introduced to the church's reverend (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), and Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), the woman who's in charge of restoring the church's many frescoes.
Since Lotte is a tad on the young side, Evan hits on Lisa instead; he even pretends to care about the cracks she's trying to fill. Now, you would think the film is going to be chiefly about Evan and Lisa, and the relationship that develops between them as they attempt to decipher an ancient parchment. If you think that, you're partially right, as the film does follow their quest solve the church's many mysteries. But the film is nowhere near being that cut and dry.
Take, for instance, the scenes where Lotte sneaks out of the church at night, utilizing a secret passage that only she knows about, in order to go clubbing. They give us some great insight into what it must feel like to be a girl on the verge of womanhood. You know how I'm always saying how if I could come back as anyone, I would wanna come back as Mischa Barton when she was a teenager? Well, I think I'm ready to move on and openly declare that I now want to be an adolescent Asia Argento. Call me an unctuous blob of fatty acid, but I think I could accomplish so much more as an underage Asian Argento than I ever could as a juvenile Miss Mischa Barton. At least that's the vibe I picked up as I watched Asia saunter down the street in her skimpy, new wave-friendly black dress.
They may not show where she's going in that skimpy, new wave-friendly black dress (on top of being skimpy, it's shoulderless, too), but you can tell that teenage Asia Argento totally means business.
You know who doesn't like Asia Argento's skimpy, new wave-friendly black dress? Her sacristan father, that's who. In fact, he actually slaps her after he smells booze and cigarette smoke on her. Wait a minute, he slapped her? I know, what an asshole. Well, what do you expect from a sacristan?
While Lisa is busy reading Fulcanelli, Evan's making some serious inroads with the ancient parchment. All he has do to is find the "stone with seven eyes" and he should be well on his way. Oh, and how many of you thought Evan's attempt to get Lisa to read Fulcanelli was just a ploy to distract her? I wonder. Well, don't wonder for too long, because Evan's already started to snoop around in the church's eerie labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and caverns.
The jump scare that accompanies the snooping scene where Evan kneels in front of the stone with the seven eyes caused me to do just that, jump while slightly scared. I don't know, I guess I didn't expect the bag he finds to contain what it contained. The "jump scare," while an important horror ingredient, nothing gets my motor running more than a well-executed music cue. And The Church has the mother of all music cues. Clearly shaken by "the bag incident," Evan is struggling to come to grips with what has happened to him. His speech is slurred and his appearance dishevelled, Evan reaches into his chest and pulls out his heart. As he's lifting his still beating heart aloft in triumph (the sky has since turned blood red), Martin Goldray's version of Philip Glass' "Floe" begins to percolate on the soundtrack. The camera suddenly begins to zoom through streets with a lightening speed. A point-of-view tour of the city after dark set to the music of Philip Glass, it doesn't get anymore awesome than this. Or does it?
What could possibly be more awesome than a super-fast tour of an European city set to the music of Philip Glass? Don't look now, but Asia Argento is wearing striped tights. All right, try to remain calm. Yeah, but, she's wearing...I know what she's wearing. Just relax for a second. What you need to do is take a deep breath. Okay, I'm good. Are you sure? Yeah, let's do this. In the long, storied history of striped tights in movies, never has a pair of striped tights caused so much inner turmoil within the fetish community. Appearing briefly for a only few seconds (I know, what a gyp), Asia Argento's striped tights in The Church are on par with Samantha Mathis' striped tights in Pump Up the Volume. Holy crap! I can't believe you just went there. Oh, I went there. You realize that Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume is the gold standard in which all instances where striped tights are worn in movies are judged. Yeah, I'm well aware of the legacy of Samantha Mathis' striped tights. It's just that I was blown away by the fact that Asia Argento and Samantha Mathis were both wearing striped tights at around the same time (both movies were filmed in 1988-89).
I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but while you were going on about striped tights, Lisa was attacked by a sexually active goat demon. Yeah, so what? I guess you have a point. Either way, don't expect find any sympathy from Evan. Why not? Well, for one thing, he's probably the sexually active goat demon in question. Besides, check out the dress Asia Argento is currently wearing. Aww, c'mon, man. You just did a whole bit about her, what was it? Oh, yeah, her "skimpy, new wave-friendly black dress, and, not to mention, her black and white striped tights. I know, but this dress is made from a print that features a map of Europe. Really? Yeah, the shoulder is covered with the Balkans. You heard right, the Balkans! How fucking chic is that? Okay, I'll admit. That's pretty fucking chic.
What the Hell? Evan is scoping Asia's, I mean, Lotte's legs in the church's library while she's painting his fingernails and listening to music on something called a "walkman." I know he's since turned into a sexually active goat demon and all, and scoping adolescent Asia Argento gams is par for the course for sexually active goat demons. But show some respect, Evan. She's only fifteen. Sure, she'll be eighteen in three years, two, if you pretend she's sixteen, one, if you, well, you get the idea. But still, try to muster a little self-control. Oh, and you know how I knew Evan had been removed from his gourd? He stopped brushing his floppy bangs out of his face. Lax bang management is one of the tell tale signs that someone has become possessed by a sexually active goat demon (look it up).
Since no-one wants to watch a bunch of priests being harrowed by an unseen entity lurking underneath a Gothic cathedral, a group of children on a school trip, a pair of bickering bikers, an elderly couple (who bicker just as much as the bickering bikers do), and the members of a bridal photo shoot, including a "bridal model" (Antonella Vitale), are added to the mix to give the film's insane finale an added kick in the pants. Trapped inside the church (the cathedral has a built-in security system), these people slowly become the focus of the movie as the characters of Evan, Lisa, and even Lotte, to a certain degree, take a backseat to these frightened newcomers. That being said, we do get to finally see Asia Argento in a nightclub setting during this period in the film; I can't tell you how pleased I was by this brief yet important scene. At any rate, as the temple of flesh (a tower made out of human bodies) began to rise from the depths of Hell, it dawned on me that this film is yet another glorious example of unchecked Italian insanity. I mean, you just can't find this level of crazy anywhere else. Don't believe me? A character at one point commits suicide with a jack hammer. 'Nuff said.
What do you mean that's not enough said? Okay, fine. A veiled public service announcement on the dangers of church-going, The Church is the film to watch for all your teenage Asia Argento needs.

video uploaded by GNIKDER


  1. You should check out Demons 2 with Asia, although it has a metal soundtrack. Maybe it'll finally turn you metal.

    In my review of The Church, I noted that the bit with the demon grabbing the naked girl's ass is taken from a Boris Vallejo painting. There might be other stuff like that in there that I might notice if I watched it again.

  2. Are you sure Demons 2 is the one with the metal soundtrack; it looks pretty gothy/new wavey from where I'm standing (The Smiths, Gene Loves Jezabel, by Fields of the Nephilim, The Cult). Music classifications aside, thanks for the reminder. I think it's time for a Demons-fest.

    What do you mean, "turn" me metal? I'm currently trippin' Jack Daniels as we speak. And, I must say, it rules. All that shit rules. ;)

    Yeah, I noticed that you noticed that (re: the Boris Vallejo demon hug painting). I wish I could notice stuff like that. But alas, I am a dumbass. ;)

  3. You know what, I'm thinking of the Demons I soundtrack: Accept, Saxon, Pretty Maids. My bad. Even so, that's even more of an endorsement for Demons 2.

    Ultimate metal mantra: drink, fuck, and kill, and repeat. You're a third of the way there!

    I had an awesome Boris print book before I saw the movie. He's pretty metal too now that I think about it.

  4. After watching this movie, I got the Philip Glass soundtrack; great stuff!

  5. @Mr. Duke: Demons 2 should be hitting my face any second now.

    I'm going to jump Rob Halford's bones.

    And after that, I'm going order me some zebra-print bedsheets from Sears.

    @Digital Orc: Buying The Church soundtrack after watching The Church is the correct course of action

  6. I've been meaning to watch this for about ten years now. I think I should finally get around to tracking down a copy.

  7. 10 years is along time to wait to get your teenage Asia Argento on. Ewww, that sounds dirty. ;)

  8. Well, I finally got a copy of this. Will let you know what I think (if I ever get a chance to watch it. School work has been nuts).

  9. Last night while working at the call center I must have read at least a dozen of your reviews, my favourite being the Cemetery Man one. Your reviews of Michele Soavi films are genuinely inspired. Tonight is my last time at this goddamn miserable job as I’m off to pursue more exciting activities. But I will keep on visiting The House of Self-Indulgence which has become my second home since I discovered it last week. Your reviews are more than just recounting of film plots, they are veritable feasts of exuberance! My compliments

  10. Thanks for reading, Alex B. I appreciate the cavalcade of positive feedback.