The Devil's Church (Die Teufelskirche) 1919



Director: Hans Mierendorff
"The lord has forced the Evil One to build Him the temple! Come - follow me - let us cleanse the temple!"
Congregation, please be seated, and pray silence for today's sermon! Pastor Lucifer has a few choice words to say about all your old favourites; greed, hypocrisy, deceit ... and of course, lust. "A Thunderstorm Dream in a Prologue and Four Acts" describes Satan's plan to bring three peasant villages to ruin with the help of a peasant farmer's wife...

Synopsis:
Asmus, a poor farmer, dreams that the Devil comes to his village in the guise of a tinker. The village church, shared by three parishes, has burnt down. As the parish council leaders debate where the new church will stand, the 'tinker' intervenes, offering a special fireproof stone to help with the construction. The council leaders see this as a sign from God, and it is eventually decreed that Asmus' farm, which occupies the central spot between the three parishes, will be the site of the new church.


Asmus refuses to hand over his land. While he is out at work, the Devil seduces his wife Ane. "Listen!", he tells her, "Your kettle is singing -- it is humming the old song of domestic bliss ... let it boil over a little - but silently and secretly, like a secret love no-one else knows about." Ane begs the 'tinker' for the child her husband cannot give her, and he whisks her away to the forest. Meanwhile, the kettle does indeed boil over, and the farmhouse catches fire. Asmus returns home to see the blaze as Ane tells him this is the "wrath of God" and dances joyfully in the light of the flames.


Paul Rehkopf tells Agnes Straub how a
watched pot never boils
A shaken Asmus gives his land away to the parish for free, but the leaders squabble over the land rights, ultimately refusing to build the church. The despairing Pastor is visited by the Devil, who offers to build the church himself, but tells him that should the Pastor deny God before the altar, he and the church "...are mine, with everything that lives and breathes in it!"


The pastor accepts the challenge. The new church miraculously appears overnight, and the pastor leads his congregation to drive out the Evil One. But the Devil will not be ousted so easily. Ane confronts the pastor with a few accusations of her own, and a bearded stranger bearing a shepherd's crook brings about a final reckoning for the souls that hang in the balance...


Notes:
Die Teufelskirche, produced by the splendidly-named independent company Lucifer Film, has a lot in common with Satan Triumphant, the 1917 Russian opus discussed on these pages a while ago. In both films, the church is at the centre of my infernal employer's diabolical schemes, and through it he undermines the community it serves. Sadly, this film is also incomplete, missing all of the prologue and the first act. But at least we get to see how it ends.


As in the earlier film, sex looms large - mostly in the person of Ane, an evident weak link who makes the leap from faithful farmer's wife to cocky village strumpet in no time at all. Agnes Straub as Ane gives a full-blooded performance here. The seduction scenes still carry a charge, though sensitive viewers may take exception to the way female sexuality is seen as a destructive force - q.v. the blatantly sexual metaphor of the boiling kettle which causes the farmer's house to burn down. Those same sensitive viewers may also worry about the way Ane seems to be constantly on the verge of falling out of her dress. Devilish!


Sex is just a means to an end, though. More mileage is derived from the theological traps set throughout the film, where Satan's most heinous schemes are justified as acts of God by the credulous villagers. There's the burning farmhouse, which Ane proclaims is God's punishment to her husband for refusing to offer his land to the community. There's the pastor's sinful desire for Ane, which he excuses by entering a plea of "only human", adding that Christ died to redeem them all - therefore, "There is no sin!" In fact, there's a lot here that still seems very pertinent today in an age of greedy televangelists and wayward Catholic priests...


The Pastor's confession: L-R Paul Rehkopf,
Hans Mierendorff, Agnes Straub, Otto Werther
Things come to a head in the final act, set entirely inside the eponymous church. It's a theological showdown in which God himself makes a surprising guest appearance and the assembled cast fling insults and accusations at each other with aplomb. It's a rousing finale, and one can even excuse the familiar 'why,-it-was-all-just-a-dream' conclusion, as we the audience had been aware of it as a set-up from the beginning. 


This is a shame, as Satan (who, in the person of Paul Rehkopf, looks a lot like TV horror host Zacherle) had for once successfully damned the souls of the entire cast, thanks to the credulity of Pastor Hans Mierendorff (late of Hilde Warren and Death, in his sole feature as director) and the bountiful bosom of Agnes Straub. Sadly, it seems one cannot always depend on even the most sincere of directors to provide a happy ending.


End Credits:
Hans Mierendorff (Pastor), Otto Werther (Asmus), Agnes Straub (Ane), Paul Rehkopf (The Devil).
Writer: Adolf Paul, Assistant Director:  Freidrich Degener.
Lucifer-Film, Berlin
Running time 55 mins.

Availability:
Not available commercially. Sinners are advised to view online or to seek out Ebay dealers.

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