The Church is produced and co-written by Dario Argento. Apparently, Argento wanted to make it as the third film in the Demons series that began with Demons (1985) and continued through Demons 2 (1986). These had the possessed dead respectively taking over a movie theatre and an apartment building. When planning what would be Demons 3, Soavi said he wanted to forego the cheesy popcorn effects that the Demons series was founded around and make a more artistic film. Although billed as Demons 3 in some parts, The Church evolved into an original work. You can still see its roots as a Demons film the story follows the same pattern and the latter half has a group of people locked in the church being killed by occult forces and their own dead returned possessed.
The Church is like a Demons film with artistic pretensions. The tone of it, at least during the build-up, resembles the extravagantly arty and baroque effect of one of Argentos Three Mothers films Suspiria (1976) and Inferno (1980). To this extent, the film even has a soundtrack composed by both Goblin and Keith Emerson who respectively put together the scores for Suspiria and Inferno. Like Suspiria and in particular Inferno, the film has the theme of buildings constructed as arcane occult devices by their architects that exude a physical evil out to those who venture under their arches in the present day.
Michele Soavi has filmed in a mixture of real churches and studio sets such that the film looks as though it has been shot in a genuine Mediaeval cathedral. The main problem with The Church is that nothing much happens during the first half. While Soavi seems to be aiming in the direction of one of Argentos Three Mothers films, what seems lacking is Argentos extravagantly theatric despatches peppered throughout the build-up. The one scene that does work well during these scenes is where Tomas Arana ventures down into the catacombs, uncovers a crucifix-shaped tomb and shifts the lid, which then falls down into the depths emitting an eerie blue light in its place. The scene is aided greatly by the thundering Gothic music on the soundtrack and there is a jolt as Tomas Arana pulls up a bag and a pair of clawed hands then abruptly reach up out of it and grab him around the neck.
The film does suddenly pick up after the 60-minute mark when we get the group of people trapped in the church and Soavi finally starts serving up the extravagant despatches Roberto Corbiletto impaling himself on a jackhammer; Tomas Arana appearing to pull his own heart out while in a phone booth; the teacher (Patrizia Punzo) impaled in the throat with a section of wrought iron railing by the possessed Corbiletto; the aging bishop (Feodor Chaliapin) throwing himself from a balcony to impale his body on an iron spike; Claire Hardwick and boyfriend collapsing through the floor of a pit and she is left hanging from his hand down into a railway tunnel only to be promptly creamed by a train; a flashback to show the original architect being impaled with a giant screw wound into his throat.
Most of these despatches are okay but nothing extraordinary. Michele Soavi does impress with some of his wildly artistic imagery the naked Claire Hardwick enwrapped in the wings of a stone gargoyle; the dead from mediaeval times rising up from the depths in a single mass covered in mud; a demon mounting Barbara Cupisiti in the middle of an occult ceremony. The problem with The Church is the same one shared by Argentos films, the Demons films and those of the Argento imitator Lucio Fulci it lacks a plot. Not much happens for a substantial part of the film and it is never particularly clear why it does. The first half sets Tomas Arana and Barbara Cupisiti up as a standard, if rudimentary, romantic hero/heroine but when the church doors are locked, both characters almost completely vanish off-stage. All that the film is eventually based around is a progression of sadistic despatches.