Sunday, August 29, 2021

Black Mass, After a Fashion

Films: The Church (La Chiesa)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Readers who have been here long enough and seen enough reviews of Italian horror movies know what my issue is with the style. If you’re new here, it’s this: Italian horror movies are long on style and short on coherence. They typically don’t really follow any sort of plan. The vast majority of them appear to be several scenes that the writer and/or director really wanted to include, and then something approaching a plot was pieced together so that all of those scenes could appear in whatever the movie turned out to be. The Church (or La Chiesa in the original Italian) was written in part by often plot-free director Dario Argento, so I didn’t have a lot of hopes for it. Imagine my surprise when The Church turned out to have an actual coherent plot with a legitimate third act.

We’re going to start in the past, where a group of knights destroys an entire village alleged to be populated by devil worshippers. All of the bodies are dumped into a single pit, and as one of the bodies starts to move again, they are buried, and a huge cathedral is built over the site in the hopes of keeping the evil at bay. See, that’s a plot hook that makes a certain amount of sense! Amazing!

The plot, or at least the next steps of the plot, are not going to be that hard to figure out. We move to the modern day with the church still standing. Evan (Tomas Arana) is the new librarian at the church. When he enters, he meets Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), who is doing some renovation work on the various frescoes. We’re also introduced to the curmudgeonly bishop (Feodor Chaliapin Jr.), Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie), the church’s sacristan (John Karlsen), and the sacristan’s daughter Lotte (Asia Argento).

So let’s get this plot moving. Lisa finds a parchment during some time spent in the catacombs. Evan, in his role as librarian, starts researching it and discovers a sort of code on it. This leads him to the catacombs where, eventually, he’s going to uncover the burial spot of the people from the destroyed town. And, of course, all hell breaks loose. People start having hallucinations and we’re going to get a few of those Italian horror movie moments that the movie was partly created to show—like Evan, demonic possessed, literally tearing his own heart out. Another moment like this involves the sacristan admitting to Father Gus that he’s been possessed and then disemboweling himself with a jackhammer. Like I said, there’s always an element of “I want this to happen in a scene” to virtually all Italian horror.

What we also learn is that the church is essentially a huge booby trap. It was created specifically so that it could be easily destroyed if it needed to be because the demons started coming back. And, the demons are going to start coming back, because of course they are, this being a horror movie. To up the stakes, this is going to happen while there are a bunch of people in the church visiting, including a couple taking wedding pictures, an old couple, and a group of young students with their teacher. Mass carnage ensues, with people scratching off their own faces, decapitating each other and using the heads to ring the church bells and more.

The plot is tenuous in a lot of places, but it’s so surprising that it actually exists in this movie. Plots seem so rare for Italian horror that I was staggered there was an actual through line that really worked. Much of the second and part of the third act devolves into creative ways for demon-possessed people to kill other people in the church, admittedly, but at least the reason it’s happening is consistent with the rest of the film. I’m honestly shocked.

Of course, this being Italian horror, there’s at least a little nudity and a sex sequence very much akin to the one from Rosemary’s Baby. There are also a few disturbing visuals in places, including what can only be described as the giant head of Satan formed from the writhing bodies of animated corpses. But again, it all makes sense in terms of the story that we’ve been given.

I don’t know that The Church is a great movie, or even a very good one. But it has a story and it more or less stick to it, and for that I’m going to end up liking it more than it probably deserves.

Why to watch The Church: It has an actual plot. No, really!
Why not to watch: What it makes up in plot it loses in typical Italian horror blood.


  1. I'm glad there's some Dario Argento films on Tubi as I hope to check some out in October. I'm sure this is better than some of his recent films.

  2. Argento only wrote this one, or wrote part of it. Michele Soavi is behind the camera, and he's done some really interesting stuff.