The Church (1989)

Italian horror movies from the 1980s were often a clusterfuck of what-the-fuck plot points and nightmare-inducing hallucinations. The Church is a perfect example; it’s not gory the way many of its contemporaries are, but it’s freaking bizarre. Scenes feel out of place, connections in time are tenuous, and good luck figuring out what is real and what is probably just some kind of allegory or something, because holy shit I have no idea what I’m looking at right here.

In Germany back in the days of yore, a bunch of knights murder a whole village, stick the corpses in a mass grave, and build a church on it while a young Asia Argento runs around with a basket for a face mask. Cut to the modern day, and a librarian named Evan shows up, flirts with an art restorer named Lisa, and royally sucks at his job. The bishop isn’t nice, and the priests are all hit or miss, but Evan and Lisa hit it off…until Evan starts hanging out in the catacombs. Damn librarians, always mucking up a perfectly good catacomb. Evan then makes the worst of it by opening up some kind of portal to Hell or something and becoming a possessed dude/gargoyle/goatman or something.

A little while later, a bunch of folks get trapped in the church. They proceed to die, occasionally right in front of each other, though they don’t really care that much. Then they die in dumber and weirder ways. Then the bishop falls off the roof, but a priest learns that the church has a self-destruct mechanism, so he triggers it to stop whatever this bullshit plotting is from getting out. Also, Asia Argento walks around and may have made the possessed Evan way into the book Lolita. If you’re really into Lolita, just remember, pedophilia is wrong. Anyway, the church self-destructs, everybody dies except for Asia Argento, and she may accidentally open the portal to Hell at the end.

That’s what I’ve gathered, but there is a lot of nonsensical crap happening. The folks who get trapped in the church include the church’s abusive caretaker, the demon librarian, the art restorer, a couple of models and fashion photographers, an old couple, the priests, two teenagers who make a bad couple, and a teacher with a bunch of kids. In some cases these folks wander off and die, such as the male model who gets a massively nasty scratch on his face and then imagines he’s being eaten by a fish. The caretaker jumps on the wrong end of a jackhammer. His corpse murders the teacher IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, and they all seem to forget it immediately. The teenage couple? The guy sees his girlfriend get naked with the gargoyle demon librarian and then seem totally fine, but they tunnel out, and she goes splat on the front of a subway train. And I do mean splat.

And so the film continues. It’s implied the old lady in the couple beheads her husband. The demon librarian turns into Satan goatman and has his way with the art restorer. The lady model sees herself as a fake old woman and claws her flesh off. One kid sees his best friend turn into himself, and I guess they either got killed or had some kind of young romantic moment, I’m not sure. It could have gone either way, really. The point is that all of this is done as batshit crazy, but it does look cool. I especially love the goatman thing. There’s a scene earlier in the film where it shows up at the art restorer’s window, and you know what? It’s fantastic.

All this, and we haven’t even gotten to the real hero of the film, the one black guy who realizes that all this crazy stuff is going on and fixes it by blowing up the church after making sure little teenage Asia Argento escapes. Hugh Quarshie played this guy, and he’s the only person making any sense. Hugh has a pedigree, including roles in Nightbreed, Highlander, and even a Star Wars film credit…though it’s Episode I. Hey, they can’t all be from The Empire Strikes Back. But his character is the only person that actually feels like a real person; his level of what-the-fuck-is-going-on is visually represented by the opening and then falling off of his priest’s collar when he’s made his final decision on what needs to be done. Good, someone has a character arc. That is sorely missing in this movie.

The Church is a mess. It’s an interesting mess, and there are some excellent visuals, but it’s still a mess. We get a scene of a guy pulling his own heart out, the cinematographer apparently watched Evil Dead right before one shot, and there are even knights walking around in what appear to be sweaters done to look like chain mail. The biggest lesson I learned here was simply not to stick giant crosses with Satan’s freaking goat face on them right over mass graves. And also to look out for self-destruct buttons in churches. Definitely don’t want to bump into one of those.

Oh, and my name is Evan, and I am a librarian. What a coincidence…

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