Sunday, October 9, 2011

Worshipping At The Altar Of October

If I went back and checked, I bet I'd find that - year after year - my lightest month of blog posting is always October. While other horror bloggers kick it into high gear in the days ramping up to Halloween, I tend to slack off.

Mostly I'd chalk it up to being preoccupied by the season itself - in greedily trying to soak up all the sights and sounds of October, I don't get on the computer as much. And if I'm going to be able to cram in all the horror movie watching I want to in thirty-one days, there's not much time to write as well. So, October always ends up being lean on content here.

Still, I'd like to give a mention to one of the movies that I always revisit at this time of year - Michele Soavi's The Church (1988). Something about The Church has always marked it as a fall film to me. Eagle-eyed viewers can spot a Halloween decoration on a window in one scene (see photo below) but it's not specifically a Halloween movie.

I don't know what fall looks like in Rome (or Budapest or Hamburg, where location shooting for The Church was done) but what we see of the outside world in The Church doesn't look much like the falls I know here in my home turf of New England. But yet every October I feel an urge to go back to The Church.

Originally conceived as the third Demons movie, director Michele Soavi dropped most of the references to the previous two Demons films when he came onto this project after making his debut film - the underrated slasher Stagefright (1987) - and after serving second unit directing duties on the Terry Gilliam fantasy, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). As an inspired Soavi told Cinefantastique at the time regarding his artistic intentions on The Church: "I didn't want to make a cheap special effects picture after my involvement with Baron Munchausen." Soavi rewrote the existing script completely (which had been developed under the project's original director, Lamberto Bava) before the start of shooting. Producer Dario Argento gave Soavi the leeway to tailor The Church to his own vision. As Soavi told CFQ, "I turned what was conceived as schlock pizza cinema into a strong essay on karma and the ambiguous inner conflicts we all face at some time in our lives."

That might seem like a headier agenda than is reflected in the actual film but I love that The Church is a mix of the kind of graphic gore that fans of the Demons series would be looking for (with FX presided over by Makeup Supervisor Sergio Stivaletti) and the kind of poetic visuals that displayed just how quickly Soavi was advancing as an artist. I get the feeling that this film is too slowly paced for a lot of fans but even though things don't really get rip-roarin' until the fifty minute mark or so, I love the leisurely build-up and deliberate pace of the film so I don't feel any restlessness while watching it. A lot of that might have to do with the fact that I just enjoy listening to the synth-driven score by famed composer Philip Glass and Keith Emerson (of the '70s rock band Emerson Lake & Palmer) so I find it very easy to be patient with The Church.

Once events conspire to seal the film's characters (including a young Asia Argento as Lotte, the rebellious teenage daughter of the church's sacristan) inside the walls of the gothic Cathedral, The Church becomes an usual entry in the siege film subgenre in that its embattled characters are trapped inside with evil forces and unable to make their escape to the outside world. The characters are all thinly written (as well as being too numerous to get a handle on - even late into the film, Soavi is still bringing more people into the storyline) and its story is whatever but it's all just a hook for Soavi to hang his rich, baroque visuals on and on that level, The Church is irresistible to me.

A nostalgic reminder of a now long gone era of Italian horror, The Church is one of those movies that's purely cinematic, with almost every frame being interesting in some way. It's also a testimony to old-school FX ingenuity with rubber monsters getting their share of screen time and a climatic image of a writhing, intertwined mass of bodies - a visual that would be instantly CGI'd today - accomplished with wholly practical means.

It's moments like that that make me a true believer in The Church.


Arbogast said...

I've always enjoyed this movie. Thanks for the reminder - I need a revisit.

When I first saw this on video cassette, I watched it pig-a-back with the second Blind Dead movie which features a similar tunneling to disaster scene. I love those little unintended synchronicities.

Jeff Allard said...

I agree, it's always a neat surprise when you discover a connection between two seemingly disparate movies.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

Is that Terry Gilliam in that last photo? Certainly looks like one of his leering degenerate characters.

This is one of those movies that I keep almost watching... it's been in my NF queue for quite a long time now but I keep putting if off for some reason.
I'm trying to watch a horror movie every day this month though so hopefully I'll finally stop dragging my feet.