Monday, December 23, 2019

Final Girl Film Club - The Church

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

The Church started as Demons 3, and Cody wishes it had remained Demons 3.

The Church was originally intended to be Demons 3, and would have been if Demons and Demons 2 director Lamberto Bava had remained attached to it through production. But when Bava had to leave the project due to scheduling issues, the helm was handed over to Michele Soavi - who got all pretentious about it, despite having had an acting role in the first Demons. Soavi had no interest in making a Demons 3, as he dismissed the previous two films as "pizza schlock" (which sounds delicious) and wanted make something more "sophisticated" than they were. Soavi's mindset is how a film that was supposed to be a sequel to the fun and ridiculous Demons movies turned into something that's rather dull.

When screenwriters Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti first started working on Demons 3, the story in mind involved a plane making an emergency landing on an island that would be like landing in a "weird hell". It's an idea that reminds me of the Japanese film Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell, and it's also an idea that Ferrini and Sacchetti just couldn't make work. So they decided to focus on a different set-up. Demons in a church. That seems more fitting to me than the "Aliens on an island (but with demons)" the first script was going to be. The subject matter of the trilogy would now have something of a flow to it - film, television, religion. That's better than film, television, island hell. Ferrini, Sacchetti, and producer Dario Argento worked on the "Demons 3 in a church" script, and then when Bava left Soavi did his own rewrites to turn Demons 3 into The Church.

The Church begins in medieval times, with Teutonic Knights riding into a village that is said to be inhabited by witches that are in league with Satan. The fear is that these witches could bring some kind of contagion to the land, so the knights massacre every living being in the village. Men, women, children, ducks. The bodies are all dumped into a pit, and when the pit is filled in a church is built on top of it. A holy shrine meant to imprison the demonic forces the witches were dealing with.

Jump ahead to present day (1989) and we find that Dario's teenage daughter Asia Argento, who already appeared in the film as one of the murdered villagers, is now playing a second character, Lotte, the daughter of the sacristan at the church that was built on top of the body of her first character. Eventually Lotte will begin having memories from the short life she led back in medieval times, so while the film is set in a Catholic church it actually sides with those who believe in reincarnation.

There are renovations going on at the church, so anyone watching the movie is going to know immediately how this is going to play out. Somehow the renovations are going to disturb the evil-filled pit beneath the church and unleash demons. However, anyone who watches this movie hoping to see traces of its Demons origins may be shocked at just how long Soavi makes the viewer wait for the demonic activity. The story drags on as Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), the woman in charge of restoring the frescoes, and Evan (Tomas Arana), the church's new librarian, ponder the mysteries of the symbols and coded parchment found in the church's cellar, things which go along with Evan's theory that treasures might be buried beneath the cathedrals of Europe. He seems especially excited by the idea that the treasure could contain information on an unknown science that might turn a man into a superman. Unfortunately for him, digging around in the cellar doesn't turn the librarian into a mutant hero; instead, he becomes a possessed creep who pulls his own heart out and wants to cut open Lotte's tummy.

Evan becomes possessed about 40 minutes in. A few minutes later, Lisa is understandably frightened when a goat-like creature appears at her bedroom window. That's one of my favorite moments, as I always love it when movies like this have the forces of evil represented by horned man-goats. But if you're waiting for the traditional Demons situation of people being trapped in one location, Soavi doesn't give you what you're looking for until over an hour into the overly long 102 minute running time.

At least the forces of evil are unleashed in a cool way. The sacristan becomes possessed, and while wrestling with the evil inside of him he decides to commit suicide... by starting up a jackhammer that's in the cellar for the renovations and impaling himself with it. The jackhammer continues to function while sticking through his body, and the tip of it jars a giant cross that was built into the floor above the body pit. With that holy covering now loose, the church goes into lockdown. Mechanisms built into the church shut the building's only door so it can't be opened. Characters stuck inside the church when this happens include Lisa, priests, a bishop, a grumpy old man and his wife, a couple whose motorcycle broke down on the way to a concert, a group of children on a school trip, and the photographers and models from a wedding photo shoot.

People do get possessed, and possessions are spread through physical injuries and scratches, but The Church never reaches the level of fun, action, or intensity that either of the Demons movies were on. These demons would rather play mind games with people than run amok, and Soavi's dedication to being "sophisticated" keeps things low-key and moving slowly throughout. The movie kind of falls apart because of this. A guy has a vision of his naked girlfriend being embraced by a winged demon, and just brushes it off when the vision disappears. As if he sees that sort of stuff all the time. A woman gets stabbed through the neck in front of witnesses, and nobody is shown freaking out about it. Soavi just cuts to the next scene to show people sitting around on the pews, some of them acting sad. What the hell happened? Where did the possessed person go?

Soavi doesn't handle the scenario in an exciting, sensible, or satisfying way. I don't like The Church much even when taken on its own merits, but when Demons and Demons 2 left me wanting more and I turned to The Church in hopes of getting more, all I got was disappointment. Couldn't Soavi at least have included Bobby Rhodes in here?

Dario Argento has said that he was fine with Soavi turning Demons 3 into The Church because Bava was the only person who wanted to make a Demons 3 in the first place. Thirty years later, I would still be happy to see Bava make a proper Demons 3.

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