❉ Gloriously batshit, gore-soaked, schlocky fun… And that’s before we even get to the big muddy fuck-pile monster.
As Italian as Michelangelo burning through Rome on a Lambretta whilst chomping on gnocchi, and very nearly as ridiculously joyous as that sounds, ‘The Church’ is a mixed bag of severed body parts.
In 1989, director Michael Soavi turned to the supernatural for his next gore-soaked grisly outing, coming off the back off his superb and often overlooked owl-headed slasher, ‘Stagefright’.
In fact, as a nod to his afore-mentioned thriller, Soavi has a live owl observe the opening action, as if approving everything that ensues with a wide-eyed sagely hoot. (I bet owls are notoriously difficult on set. “Alright, I’ve done my part – where’s my fucking mouse? Look, we had a deal here.”)
Anyway, the plot: a bunch of ardently violent Teutonic knights in ye olden Germany tore a suspected witch village a new one, massacring everything in sight and burying the corpses, before marking the mass grave with a giant cross. Oh religious zealots, what are you like!
Cut to the “modern day”, and a church now sits atop the spot. Some ill-advised excavation proves to be the unholy undoing of absolutely everything in the vicinity, and it all goes a bit, well, Italian horror…
And so finally given the release treatment it deserves, courtesy of exploitation distribution gods Shameless, ‘The Church’ comes gracefully to shiny disc in a lavishly restored 2k restoration that’ll have your telly bragging to his mates about how goddamn great he looks.
Skimping on the extras somewhat – a director’s interview is all we’re treated to – all that effort has presumably been ploughed into the visuals. But heck, what visuals they are.
Let loose in a black magic playground, Soavi and his team of scriptwriters concoct an aesthetically inventive smorgasbord of the strange and ghastly, as the inhabitants of the titular holy building fall prey to some deeply weird shit. A man pulls out his own heart. Another drives some railings through a victim’s throat. A woman sees herself as an aged hag in a mirror and starts to claw at her skin, peeling great fleshy, bloody chunks.
And that’s all before we even get to the big muddy fuck-pile monster.
With some exquisitely-staged and impressively audacious deaths, ‘The Church’ boasts a sumptuous flair typical of its country’s genre heritage. In fact, just skimming through the credits reads like a Who’s Who of Italian Horror – Argento, Bava, Ferrini, Barbara Cupisti, and the ever-dependable presence of thumb-faced perennial, Giovanni Lombardo Radice.
Alright, the haunting score is largely by prog legend and distinctly non-Italian Keith Emerson (with a little help from Philip Glass), but there’s some Goblin there too, their inclusion presumably now some sort of national obligation.
As Italian as Michelangelo burning through Rome on a Lambretta whilst chomping on gnocchi, and very nearly as ridiculously joyous as that sounds, ‘The Church’ is a mixed bag of severed body parts. With more than a hint of Lamberto Bava’s gloriously batshit ‘Demon’ series at its core (it was originally conceived as the second sequel), that sadly proves to be some of the film’s undoing.
Pulling in far too many plot directions (no doubt a result of its multitude of scriptwriters) it suffers from jarring genre shifts that schism uncomfortably. From the brutal swagger of its opening gothic to the comedy husband and wife and all the way down to the disco dance floor, the inconsistency weighs down on the proceedings, whereas something like ‘Demons’ positively revels in that kind of frenetic jumble and chaos.
Its ending also feels rushed and kind of out of nowhere, with some cobblers about an architect failing to paper over the cathedral-sized plot cracks appearing literally on screen.
That said, ‘The Church’ is still a breezy but baffling 97 minutes of wonk-eyed entertainment and schlocky fun. And frankly, the whole thing’s worth it just to watch a herd of horses play an impromptu game of five-a-side with a hag’s freshly decapitated bonce.
It’s also startling to see fellow Brit Hugh Quarshie somehow bring a welcome sense of class and gravitas to proceedings. As a future ‘Holby City’ regular, surviving intact the lunacy of this film tested not only his strengths as an actor, but the resilience of his career.
So by all means take a pew in this solidly second-tier spaghetti horror. Ignore the shaky foundations and the vestry that goes nowhere; drink from the font and succumb to the dizzying artistry therein. Recommended.
❉ The complete & uncut HD remaster of ‘The Church’ was released on Blu-ray on 21 November 2016 by Shameless Screen Entertainment, RRP £12.99
❉ Freelancer and copywriter Miles Hamer writes regularly for SCREAM Magazine, Comic Heroes, Horrorville, and SFX/Total Film specials.