The Sect (La Setta) (1991)
(18) Running time: 112 minutes
Director: Michele Soavi
Writers: Dario Argento, Gianni Romoli, Michele Soavi
Cast: Kelly Curtis, Herbert Lom, Michel Adatte, Mariangela Girdano
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
I have been hunting Michele Soavi’s classic Italian horror for years. I first saw the film when it was released on VHS in the early nineties, and I already had a fascination with Dario Argento’s protégé after seeing the creepy and mesmerizing The Church (1989), and the excellent Stage Fright (1987). The director cemented himself as one of the best in the world of horror after giving us Stage Fright, The Church, The Sect and finally the truly awesome Dellamorte Dellamore (1994). Shockingly he has not made a horror film since, and it baffles we why not because with Argento as his partner in crime (Argento wrote or produced all of Soavi’s horrors), the pair seemed unstoppable. Argento was still at the height of his long career in the early nineties, and his new protégé, Soavi, was looking like becoming the next Argento. As you can tell, I am upset that this love affair with Italian horror did not continue after Dellamorte Dellamore, but Soavi left behind a staggering legacy. In fact, his legacy is so great that two of his films have never even had a proper region two release here in the UK: both The Church and The Sect can only be found on import, and that my friends is a terrible crime to the horror fans of the UK, terrible!
If you want to see either The Sect or The Church, then you will have to pay a fair old price to buy it on import, but both are well worth the cost. The Sect followed The Church, and all the elements that made The Church so great were included here, although slightly more stripped back of the scale and grandeur The Church offered. The Sect is low on production (often resembling a TV movie) but big on ideas. As with all the great Italian Giallo horrors, The Sect looks good, has some truly disturbing scenes and imagery, and can often not make a huge amount of sense, but that is not a complaint, we have come to expect this from the great Italian horrors, and besides, Argento is on writing duties for God sake!
A brief introduction to a sinister religious cult opens up the film magnificently. Some hippies are slaughtered by an almost Christ look-a-like bringer of death, and then on a busy subway train, further grotesque happenings wake us up to the fact something sinister is afoot. It seems that these Devil worshippers are getting set for the return of Satan himself, and they mean business. We then meet quiet school teacher Miriam (Kelly Curits, sister of Jamie Lee) and she comes close to running over a creepy old man who calls himself Moebius (a brilliantly unsettling Herbert Lom). By way of an apology, Miriam offers the old man a place to stay so he can get better, and so begins a chain of events which put Miriam right in the middle of the Devil worshipping Sect, and slap bang in a whole heap of trouble. Even Miriam’s pet rabbit (called “rabbit” to avoid getting too attached!) begins acting weird: a scene later on see’s the rabbit playing with the channels on the TV, and in one instance it shakes with fear as a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, a brief, and excellent comedy moment that is a welcome distraction from the disturbing tone.
Soavi throws in all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas here, with some of the content being up there with some of the most remarkable, and disturbing stuff you are ever likely to see. Stripped back to basics, all the effects here are practical, and never stray you away from the engulfing mystery. Simple creations like an extinct bug forced up a victims nose, a hideous Stork which appears too often for comfort (twice is enough, thankyou!), close-ups of satanic mechanisms, truly bizarre dream sequences, a neck being torn open, weird blue shit in the water and fire! All the effects benefit from not being too over the top, and serve as excellent and subtle additions to the main bulk of the story. The key element here is the story, and the mystery builds and builds, with the plot taking all sorts of unexpected turns. It always feels like Argento and Soavi are one step ahead of the audience as the film proceeds, with many build ups to a creepy moment catching the viewer off guard. There are plenty of shocks, but it is the atmosphere and haunting tone that win the day. The Sect has the kind of menace that stays with you long after the credits roll, and Soavi is a terrific storyteller. Yes sometimes the plot becomes too baffling for its own damn good, but that only adds to the films brilliance rather than detract from it.
Curtis gives a wonderful performance as Miriam, and Lom is undeniably creepy as the old man, but the real star of The Sect is Soavi and his camera. Time and time again Soavi takes us on a thrilling ride with his camera which appears to have a life of its own. Ever wanted to see the inside of a bathroom tap? Soavi will show you. Ever wanted to actually go into someone’s nose and into their brain? Here you can. Soavi delivers many of these Argento-esque moments of absolute genius as if it were nothing, just another day at the office. He creates these truly incredibly sequences with ease and perfection, and it is moments like this which have left a very empty space in today’s horror, with few director’s having this sort of vision.
The Sect does suffer from its overlong running time, and while the story is incredibly involving, some of the badly dubbed and badly acted moments will test your patience, and sadly as the film is largely story based, this does become an issue. However, this is a minor quibble for one of the last great Italian horrors. Soavi is a former master of horror who really is missed, and while he only ever made four horror films with his pal Dario Argento, they were four of the finest horrors the genre had to offer. Do yourself a favour, spend some cash and get Soavi’s four classic tales of terror in your collection, you will not be disappointed.