Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Church aka La Chiesa (Michele Soavi, 1989)

Only Michele Soavi has ever come close to matching the breathtaking awe of a hyper-stylized Argento set piece. Soavi and Argento are no strangers to perfunctory storytelling, but while a Soavi tableaux may be considerably less colorful than Argento’s stained glass cinema, the man possesses a singular attentiveness for the poetry of signs and symbols. Though sometimes referred to as Demons 3, La Chiesa (The Church) is too visually breathtaking to be treated as another entry in Lamberto Bava’s schlocky Demons series. The Teutonic Knights eradicate and bury an entire village because a cross-shaped stigmata is discovered on the bottom of a young girl’s foot. Soavi’s egregious use of cross imagery fascinatingly suggests the pervasiveness of the Christian threat to paganism. Once the village is buried and the site is branded with a huge cross, Soavi pulls back to reveal the floor of a modern-day church. The camera travels backward from the church’s basement to its exterior, exiting through cavernous passageways and, most astoundingly, the face of a stone statue. Set to Philip Glass’s hypnotic “Floe,” this backward movement chillingly suggests that a dormant holy-place-within-a-holy-place is itching to be discovered. Lamberto Bava hastily ensnares his victims within thoroughly modern edifices (in Demons a movie theater, in Demons 2 an apartment complex), wasting no time unleashing his hungry zombies, but Soavi strikes a more delicate balance, sensually incorporating a victim (and her bridesmaid’s veil) into the entrapment ritual before subjecting churchgoers to awesome hallucinations (including one genuinely pedo-pervy interlude between two grade school boys that Michael Jackson probably has on a loop somewhere in one of Neverland Ranch’s back rooms). The film’s pacing is evocatively screwy—Soavi, though, doesn’t seem to care. In one scene, an old woman and her husband bang on a church bell. The next time the spectator sees the couple, the old woman is using her husband’s severed head to hit the bell. Soavi’s horror is terrifyingly suggestive, so much so that its difficult to determine what is real and what is the product of subconscious sexual desire and altered consciousness. There’s plenty of schmaltz to go around but there is no denying the dreaminess of Soavi’s stream-of-conscious horror show. --Slant