The Church (1989 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Church
Italian theatrical poster
Directed byMichele Soavi
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byDario Argento
Franco Ferrini
Based onThe Treasure of Abbot Thomas
by M.R. James
Music by
CinematographyRenato Tafuri
Edited byFranco Fraticelli
  • Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica
  • Reteitalia
  • ADC Films
Distributed byCecchi Gori Distribuzione
Release date
  • 10 March 1989 (1989-03-10) (Rome)
Running time
110 minutes
  • English
  • Italian
  • Hungarian
  • Latin
Budget$3,500,000 (Estimated)

The Church (Italian: La Chiesa) is a 1989 Italian supernatural horror film co-written and directed by Michele Soavi, and co-produced by Dario Argento with Mario Cecchi Gori and Vittorio Cecchi Gori. It stars Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Asia Argento, Feodor Chaliapin, Jr. and Giovanni Lombardo Radice.

Although it was originally conceived as the third installment in the Dèmoni series, Soavi insisted the film to be distant from the series, wanting it to be “sophisticated”, and re-wrote the screenplay to remove any connection to the series. Filming was primarily shot in the Matthias Church in Budapest, with additional footage filmed at studio sets in Rome and in downtown Hamburg, Germany.


In medieval Germany, a band of Teutonic Knights massacre a village of supposed devil-worshipers and bury their bodies underground, building a Gothic cathedral over the mass grave as a means to contain the demonic evil within.

In the present day, the cathedral's new librarian Evan arrives for his first day on the job. He meets Lisa, an artist supervising a restoration of the church's elaborate frescoes, who introduces him to the surly Bishop and the kindly Father Gus. The Bishop warns Evan not to enter the church's catacombs, nominally due to their instability.

Lisa begins restoring a fresco in the cellar, when she uncovers a hidden compartment containing a mysterious parchment carrying what resemble architectural schematics. Evan sneaks the parchment out of the church under the suspicious Bishop's nose, and goes home with Lisa. Bonding over a mutual interest in medieval art and architecture, the two start to make love, when Evan has a sudden realization and finds hidden Latin text on the parchment referring to a "stone with seven eyes."

As Evan explores the catacombs to find the stone, Gus and Lisa experience strange, paranormal visions. Meanwhile, the Bishop finds the parchment and begins studying it closely. Searching the cellar, Evan uncovers the stone in a hidden crypt; a seal embedded into the ground above a cross. Evan manages to pry open the seal, revealing a vast, seemingly endless black void. A blue light radiates from the hole and reveals a sack. Tomas opens the sack, and is grabbed by hands from the inside before he blacks out. When he regains consciousness, the sack and hands are gone, and his wrists are bleeding. Evan closes the hole and the sacristan enters in search of an intruder. Evan knocks him out and flees, becoming pale and bloody. Losing control of his hands, he tears out his still-beating heart and bites into it.

At home, Lisa experiences dreams of the unsealed hole and a vast, candle-filled atrium. Awake and waiting for Evan's return, she's attacked by a goat-headed demon and flees in terror. Returning home, the sacristan begins experiencing the same symptoms as Evan.

The next day, Lisa goes to Evan's office, where he is acting strangely. He tries to sexually assault her and she flees, shocked and horrified. Evan likewise menaces the sacristan's daughter Lotte, with whom he'd previously been amiable. Evan and the sacristan both become increasingly disheveled and violent. Lotte flees her apartment when she sees her father reflected as an ape-like demon. Having a moment of clarity, the sacristan rushes to the confession booth, and tells Father Gus that he has become demonically possessed and fears losing control. To Gus' horror, he rushes to the cellar and kills himself with a jackhammer, begging for forgiveness before he dies.

His death seemingly triggers security mechanisms that cause the church to seal shut, trapping everyone inside. Among the occupants are a class of schoolchildren on a field trip, a bride taking wedding photographs, an elderly couple, and a teenage couple. The occupants begin experiencing increasingly elaborate and deadly visions. The bride sees her reflection rapidly age, and in a fit of madness tears the skin off her own face. One of the schoolchildren sees his friend turn into his doppelganger before being killed. The teenager sees his girlfriend in the embrace of a gargoyle. As the occupants try to find a way out, Gus confronts the aloof Bishop, and discovers him on the rooftop with a stash of occult parchments and schematics for the church. He reveals that he intends to let the evil inside kill the occupants before being unleashed on what he sees as a sinful and corrupt world, before committing suicide.

Those inside start dying in droves; the teenage couple manage to dig through a thin section of the floor and rappel down beneath the church, only to unknowingly enter a subway tunnel and be struck and killed. The sacristan reanimates, now completely possessed, and kills the schoolteacher. At a nightclub in town, Lotte senses something wrong and rushes back to the church, using a secret passageway in the aqueduct to get inside. Meanwhile, Lisa enters into a trance and wonders into the cellar, finding herself in the same candlelit atrium of her dreams. Surrounded by the reanimated spectres of the church's victims, she lies atop an altar and is raped by Evan, now fully transformed into a gargoyle-like demon.

Searching the Bishop's office, Gus finds the ancient records recounting the church's creation. Lotte enters, and upon sees someone who looks like her in a woodcut depicting the massacre (implied to be her in a past-life). Suddenly flooded with memories from centuries prior, she reveals that the church's architect was left to die in the church he had built, and that his body contains a self-destruct mechanism for the entire building. Gus tells Lotte to flee, and he makes his way through the cellar and to the chapel hall as the dead bodies of the massacre victims begin to rise. Gus reaches the altar, and finds a massive pile of reanimating corpses rising out of the ground. He finds the architect's body hidden beneath the floor, and activates the self-destruct mechanism. The building collapses, killing everyone inside, as Lotte flees.

Some time later, Lotte returns to the ruins of the church with flowers, the sole survivor of the horror that occurred. A passing truck uncovers the stone seal and blows it open. As she hears the sounds of horses running, blue light emits from within, just like when Evan first opened it, and she smiles enigmatically.



The film is loosely based on the short story The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, insofar that it adapts the central premise of a librarian working at a gothic cathedral shrouded in a dark, supernatural past. Writers Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini initially conceived the film as the third and final entry in the popular Dèmoni series; however, director Michele Soavi, a long-time protege of Argento who had served as assistant director on several of his film, insisted that the film stand alone and not connected with the first two entries, rewriting it to remove any direct references to the previous films or their mythology.[1] Soavi has derisively referred to them as "Pizza Schlock", and expressed that he wanted The Church to be more sophisticated. In an interview with Cinefantastique, Soavi explained that he wished to move beyond with his creations following the film's release, and because of that he parted ways with Argento, ending their long-time creative partnership.[2] Though only Soavi, Argento, and Ferrini are given on-screen writing credits, additional rewrites were made by Dardano Sacchetti and Lamberto Bava, with the film's medieval prologue being penned by Bava's brother Fabrizio. English-language dialogue was written by ADR director Nick Alexander, bringing the total number of writers on the film, credited or otherwise, to eight.

Argento and Soavi originally intended for the film's titular church to be St. Lorenz Church in Nuremberg, even performing several test shots there, but city officials objected to the location's use in a horror film. The production ultimately settled on using Matthias Church in Budapest, an architecturally-similar and historically significant location that is the real-life burial ground of both Béla III and Agnes of Antioch. The film utilized the location for both its late gothic-style exterior and massive interior congregation hall, as well as prominently featuring its iconic pulpit. The remaining majority of interiors were shot on studio sets in Rome, while additional exteriors were filmed in downtown Hamburg, Germany.

The film's visuals contains many allusions and references to religious artwork. The design for the reptilian gargoyle demon is taken directly from an infamous 17th century woodcut of a man selling his soul, while the image of a naked woman embracing the demon is a lifted from the painting "Vampire's Kiss" by fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.


The film's score was composed by prog-rock musician Keith Emerson, composer Philip Glass, and the band Goblin, whom had previously collaborated with writer/producer Argento on several prior films, including Suspiria and Tenebrae. In additions to original compositions, the soundtrack features excerpts from Glass' 1981 chamber music piece Glassworks and additional tracks by Simon Boswell and Fabio Pignatelli.[3]


The film premiered in Rome on 10 March 1989 and was released in the Italian cinemas on the same day.[4] It received similar wide releases in both Japan and Spain, and a limited release in the United States before being released on videocassete.

Critical response[edit]

In a contemporary review, Variety referred to the film as a "technically proficient but empty horror exercise", praising the score by Goblin.[5]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds an approval rating of 64% based on 11 reviews.[6] Allmovie called it a "gothic-drenched apocalyptic nightmare" that builds "a suffocating sense of quiet dread".[7]



  1. ^ The Church (1988) - The Movie Digital Retribution
  2. ^ "This is bullshit!" Interview mit Michele Soavi - Spookie online (German)
  3. ^ Michele Soavi The Church Filmkritik Rezension Kritik
  4. ^ Eccentric Cinema | THE CHURCH
  5. ^ Prouty 1994: "No page number in the book. Review is dated "February 11, 1991""
  6. ^ "La Chiesa (The Church) (Cathedral of Demons) (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  7. ^ Jason Buchanan. "The Church". Allmovie. Retrieved 30 June 2012.


  • Prouty, Howard H., ed. (1994). Variety Television Reviews 1923-1992. Garland Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-8240-3796-0.

External links[edit]