The Church Blu-ray Review
Written by Ryan Noble
Blu-ray released by Shameless Entertainment
Directed by Michele Soavi
Written by Nick Alexander, Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini
1989, 102 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 31st October 2016
Hugh Quarshie as Father Gus
Tomas Arana as Evan
Feodor Chaliapin Jr. as The Bishop
Barbara Cupisti as Lisa
Asia Argento as Lotte
Today, I'm reviewing The Church, a film that was written and produced by Dario Argento - thought to be the Hitchcock of Italy - and directed by Michele Soavi - thought to be his successor. Thanks to Shameless Screen Entertainment, The Church is now available for the first time on Blu-ray, remastered and distributed worldwide.
Shameless has taken extra care in remastering The Church, and even opens the film with a paragraph stating:
“This Shameless presentation of Michele Soavi's THE CHURCH is complete and uncut. Made from a 2k transfer of the original negative, the film was restored respecting its original colour palette and the formidable craftsmanship of director Soavi and his team. Similarly, THE CHURCH is presented in its original Stereo sound as originally created by its makers.
Like a prestigious wine kept in a dark cellar for a number of years, it will blow your mind with its original, unadulterated, qualities. Savour Soavi, back from the past...”
Once this true quality is understood, the film begins. Surprisingly, it begins in the Middle Ages, where witch hunts and brutal slaughters set the foundation for the rest of the film, quite literally. Before long, and with a graceful, swooping transition, we are brought into the modern day. It is here where the story truly takes place, and also where it is soon discarded in favour of extravagant architecture and gore.
Something more consistent throughout The Church is the soundtrack, which is a pretty psychedelic affair that is sometimes at odds with the scenes it is playing over, but is always funky enough to make up for it. The soundtrack carries one scene to the next with a mix of Gothic and electro combinations that work together better than you'd think, composed by Keith Emerson, Philip Glass, and Goblin – a band whom Argento favoured for many films he directed or produced. I can see why.
An aspect of the film that is much less consistent is the characters. Tomas Arana as Evan, Barbara Cupisti as Lisa and Argento's very own daughter, Asia as Lotte, begin the film and set the scene nicely, along with a well-played supporting cast of Bishops and Reverends. It just doesn't last long enough for my liking. Though they're all interesting in their own right, and an attempt at character and relationship building is made in the first 45 minutes or so, these characters seem to disappear into the background in favour of another group of people visiting the church when the supernatural elements of the film take hold. These new characters suffer the consequences of the actions made by the previous group, yet they rarely connect beyond a few passing words.
Then, before you know it, Father Gus, played by Hugh Quarsie, is the protagonist, alongside Lotte. Her role actually remains quite consistent throughout the film, although the deeper meaning behind her true purpose is never fully explored.
Having said all of that, narrative and the characters aren't really the focus of Italian horror, or so I'm told. These films are looking to create visually impressive scenes filled with dramatic orchestras and even more dramatic gore. The Church most definitely delivers on all of the above - a spiked railing through the neck in the middle of a towering church springs to mind - and when switching over to this mindset, I enjoyed what the film was aiming to do.
I can't say I've watched much Italian horror before, despite spending most of my waking moments consuming horror in some form, and if I were to base it on The Church's storytelling alone, I probably wouldn't come rushing back for more. However, Italian horror requires a different mindset for appreciation.
Though I found the character development and overall narrative lacking, this is not the main concern of Italian auteurs like Argento and Soavi. They want to create a film that evokes horror and awe through their unique style, orchestral soundtracks, and copious amounts of gore. In that sense, they achieve their goals. Seeing the film through their eyes, I'm intrigued. I want to see more. Understand more. Could there be any better place to start than with Argento and Soavi? I doubt it. Give it a try, and maybe you'll find an appreciation for a different kind of horror, too. I know I did.
Video and Audio:
Shameless has restored the video and audio with an apparent respect, made from a 2K transfer of the original negative and, as mentioned earlier, respecting the original colour palette. The film transitions to Blu-ray well with its Gothic setting and the bright reds of gorier moments, while still retaining its 80s feel. This is also true of the audio, presented in its original stereo, yet not sounding at all dated. On occasion, the dialogue seems slightly out of sync with the lips of the speaker, but it does little to distract from the overall experience of the film since viewers are watching with other aspects at the forefront on their minds. A high-quality restoration that even Argento and Soavi would appreciate, I'm sure.
I appreciate the care that Shameless has clearly taken in bringing The Church to a wider audience, having cut no corners whatsoever. The Blu-ray remaster includes:
• 2K restoration
• Longest cut
• English cut
• Italian cut with English subtitles (for the first time ever)
• Collector's reversible sleeve, with La Chiesa original cover
• Trailer reels
• An enthusiastic 25-min interview with Michele Soavi, discussing how The Church came to be, how certain scenes were filmed or changed, and conversations he had with Argento during filming.