Archive for the Period Pieces Category


Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on TV Show, Cinema Knife Fights, Garbage, Johnny Depp Movies, Masks, Period Pieces, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

loneranger(THE SCENE: The Interior of a steam locomotive. The year is 1896. In the saloon car, L.L. SOARES sits back in his seat and lights a cigar, as MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives and sits down across from him)

MA: Ahh, we finally have the chance to travel in comfort. This is pretty sweet.

LS: And I’ve already ordered our drinks.

(Waiter brings a tray over to their table and puts a glass of whiskey down before LS, and a pint of ale in front of MA)

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: I think we’re fine for now.

MA: Can we have some pretzels?

WAITER: Certainly.  (leaves)

MA: You picked a nice place for us to review THE LONE RANGER. Usually when you start things off, we end up on the roof of a tall building or in the middle of a gang war. Nice to be able to relax for a change.

LS: Drink up, my friend. I’ll even begin the review for you.

MA: Please do.

LS: As you said, this week’s movie is THE LONE RANGER, based on characters who go all the way back pre-television radio serials. Although Michael and I are more familiar with the popular TV series starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his sidekick, Tonto. We saw the show in reruns when we were kids, and while I didn’t exactly love it, I remember it being enjoyable enough.

This new movie version of the story features Armie Hammer as the titular ranger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick, Tonto. I think it’s safe to say that the new movie takes a lot of liberties with the concept.

MA: Yeah, it’s a “little” different from the old TV show.

(WAITER returns with a basket of pretzels)

MA: (looks at LS) That’s it? Pretzels?

LS: Whatever do you mean, my good man. You asked for pretzels.

MA: No surprise ambush of bad guys? No tribe of angry Indians? Usually when you start these things, I’m in for some kind of shish-kebobbing.

LS: Nothing of the kind.

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: Not for the moment.

Basically, THE LONE RANGER is an origin story, as we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer, who played both of the Winklevoss twins in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) in 1869. He has just come back after going to law school in the East. He’s returned to Colby, Texas to be the town’s new District Attorney. His first case is going to be the trial of outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, who played Alex Mahone in the Fox TV series, PRISON BREAK). Reid’s brother, Dan (James Badge Dale, who also had roles in this year’s IRON MAN 3 and WORLD WAR Z) is the town’s sheriff, and is known for being pretty heroic. The make things more complicated, Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) has strong feelings for John and it seems like she married the wrong brother.

Anyway, the train bringing Cavendish to town is hijacked by Butch’s gang of outlaws, and he escapes the law. John is on the same train, and barely escapes with his life. John also meets a Native American prisoner named Tonto (Johnny Depp), whose face is painted chalky white like death, and who wears a hat made out of a dead crow. Who is this guy? And why is he also captive in the same train car as Cavendish? It’s never really clear why he’s chained up beside the outlaw in the first place.

MA:  And that’s a problem—one of many—that this movie has.  There are a bunch of things that are never clearly explained.

LS:  In a really good movie, I don’t feel the need to have everything explained to me. The problem is, this is not a really good movie.

Anyway, Tonto also gets away after Sheriff Dan and his boys stop the runaway train (which was sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang).

John insists on going along with brother Dan and his men, and Dan deputizes John for the job (even though, John, stupidly, refuses to carry a gun – this is the wild west after all).

MA:  I liked the fact that John refused to carry a gun.  But this disdain for firearms doesn’t last throughout the whole story, which is too bad.  I seem to remember that Lone Ranger fought his battles without guns, but maybe I’m wrong.  I think he didn’t shoot to kill, that’s what it was.  I think he tries to shoot to kill in this movie, but he’s such a bad shot it doesn’t matter.

Have I said yet that I thought this movie was stupid?

LS:  No, but I’ll say it as well. It’s stupid and a waste of time!  Now let me get back to my plot summary so we can finish this review and enjoy our train ride.

The good guys track down the outlaws and there’s an ambush, where just about everyone is killed. Tonto arrives on the scene after the outlaws have taken off to bury the bodies, and ends up taking part in the strange resurrection of John Reid when a wild white stallion comes and stands by John’s grave.

MA:  Which is another thing that isn’t explained properly, how does Tonto get out of his prison cell and be free to discover John and the bodies of the slain rangers?

LS: I just stopped caring early on. Must have been some sort of magic, I suppose.

Revived from death (it’s never clear if he was every really dead), John seeks revenge on the men who killed his brother, with shaman-like Tonto at his side. Meanwhile, Cavendish and his men have teamed up with a corrupt railroad baron named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who also has a U.S. Calvary captain, Jay Fuller, in his back pocket (Capt. Fuller seems to be an awful lot like historical figure, General George Custer). So it’s basically Reid and Tonto up against a whole bunch of corrupt individuals.

Oh yeah, and Tonto gets Reid to wear a mask that covers the top part of his face, because the bad guys think he’s dead. I’m not sure why this matters. If people think he’s dead, wouldn’t it be scarier if he didn’t wear the mask? Wasn’t it Batman who said something about striking fear in the hearts of criminals? I guess the Lone Ranger missed that lecture.

This one is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also collaborated with Johnny Depp on the wildly popular PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films.

I have to admit, I really didn’t find a lot about this movie to like. One of my biggest problems is its length. At 149 minutes, THE LONE RANGER is just about two and a half hours long. And with the exception of the train being sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang early on, the first two hours crawled at a snail’s pace for me. I didn’t care about these characters, and there are long stretches were nothing seems to happen but backstory, and I found myself struggling to stay awake a few times. Hell, let me be honest, I was bored out of my skull for most of the running time! This is pretty odd, considering THE LONE RANGER is a big budget action blockbuster. The key word being ACTION. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of action for most of the movie. In the last half hour or so, things suddenly get interesting again, and we get treated to some major action and happenings, but it takes us about two hours to get there! What the hell was Verbinski thinking?

You can’t make an action movie where it doesn’t really hit its stride until the last half hour!

MA:  True, but I had many more problems with this movie than just its lack of action.  I didn’t even like the action sequence at the end, even though parts of it are pretty cool.

LS:  There’s also a framing story that involves a young boy, Will (Mason Cook) who is visiting a wild west show in 1930s San Francisco and who comes across a very old Tonto, who seems to be living in one of the exhibits (called “The Noble Savage in his Native Habitat”). Tonto then tells the story of the movie as an extended flashback. I normally hate framing devices, and this one didn’t change my mind. I have no clue why so many directors love the idea of having framing scenes at the beginning and end of movies of characters who are telling us the tale in flashback. Just start things off with a bang with the actual movie, for chrissakes!

MA:  I hated this framing story.  It gets the movie off to such a slow start, which as you said, in terms of pacing, the film never really recovers from, and every time they return to this framing story, all it succeeds in doing is slowing things down even more.  They could have cut all these scenes and easily shaved 20 minutes of the running time.

LS: They could have cut a lot more than that.

Things don’t get interesting until two hours into the movie, and by then I had pretty much given up on it as a long, drawn-out, snooze. Armie Hammer has about the same charisma as a mannequin here, which is too bad, because he’s normally not a bad actor.

But, really, there aren’t many characters worth caring about in this movie.

MA:  By far, the character of The Lone Ranger was the worst part of this movie for me.  It wasn’t so much Hammer’s performance, although I agree with you he has no charisma here and isn’t interesting, but the way writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio constructed the character.  He’s pretty much a joke in this movie, and as a fan of the character, this new interpretation left me feeling very disappointed.  He’s kind of a bumbling goofball which isn’t the way I remember the character at all.  What these folks did to the Lone Ranger reminds me of what Johnny Depp did to Barnabas Collins in last year’s DARK SHADOWS remake.

LS: All I can say is, don’t hold any shows or movies from your childhood too sacred, because someone is going to come along and screw them up for a new audience eventually. It’s only a matter of time.

MA: I liked Hammer at the beginning, and I liked how John Reid was this innocent lawyer who didn’t really understand the workings of the Wild West, but after his brother is murdered, I expected him to change, to have a revelation and come back as an avenging force.  But this isn’t what happens.  He becomes sillier.  It just rubbed me the wrong way.

LS:  You would think that Depp took the role of Tonto as some meaningful attempt to tell the true story of Native Americans in the old West, but his performance isn’t that insightful. His Tonto is really little more than comic relief.

MA:  I actually didn’t have a problem with Depp’s performance here, and I liked him much better as Tonto than as Barnabas Collins.  I thought he was pretty funny throughout THE LONE RANGER.  He’s certainly the dominating character in the movie.

But you know what’s wrong with this?  The movie isn’t called TONTO.  It’s called THE LONE RANGER.  The way this entire story is presented in this movie is a real mess.  I kept thinking, why make a movie about the Lone Ranger if you really didn’t want to focus on the guy? Because that’s what’s going on here.  He’s simply not the main focus of the story, which makes no sense to me.  I mean, his friggin brother gets murdered in front of him.  He has all the reason in the world to become this really interesting dynamic character, but instead he acts like a buffoon.

LS: I agree.

MA: And even though he is a buffoon he’s not funny.  He’s actually the straight man to Depp’s Tonto.  Hey, let’s make a LONE RANGER movie and cast Jerry Lewis as Tonto and Dean Martin as The Lone Ranger.  Actually, Martin would have made a more interesting Lone Ranger than Armie Hammer, even if he sang a few songs.

LS:  I always liked Dean Martin, and he was in some westerns when he was alive. Believe me, he would have been an improvement. But Jerry Lewis as Tonto? Sadly, this isn’t too far from that.

I also found things like a running gag where people keep asking the Lone Ranger “What’s with the mask?” to be pretty useless.

William Fichtner, who is usually pretty good, starts out pretty well as Cavendish, who has a harelip that reveals a silver tooth, and who isn’t adverse to eating human flesh now and again, but it’s not long before he turns into just another one-dimensional bad guy (actually, he’s little more than a henchman for Latham Cole, which is really too bad).

MA:  I liked Fichtner well enough, but the problem with his character is, they make him really evil early on— he actually eats a guy’s heart, for crying out loud!— but this is a Disney movie, and so he can’t get progressively more evil as he normally would in a well written movie, which means he gets stuck with nothing to do because if he did anything, it would probably be too horrifying for a Disney flick.

LS: Agreed. They painted themselves in a corner with that one. Cavendish gets less scary as the movie goes on, not more.

Tom Wilkinson is okay as railroad baron Latham Cole, but the problem is we’ve seen this character—or ones just like him—in dozens of movies before, and Cole just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Another corrupt businessman in the early days of the railroad? Haven’t those been done to death by now?

MA (yawns):   I’ll say.

LS:  Helena Bonham Carter, as a brothel madam named Red, has some inspired moments, with her colorful clothes and a prosthetic leg made out of scrimshaw (and that doubles as a gun!), but she’s not in the movie enough to keep the boredom from setting in for long stretches. The scenes she’s in, though, are improved by her being there.

MA:  I agree.  Not that I really liked her character, but she was far less boring than most of the other folks in it.

I liked Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid.  I thought she was sufficiently sexy and voluptuous.  I wish her character had been more important in this movie.  It would have been nice to see her do more.

LS: Yes, she’s completely wasted. She might as well have been part of the scenery.

You know…I just really hated this movie!

MA:  I started out liking it— once it got past its silly framing story— but as it went on it gradually went downhill for me until, like you, I ended up not liking it at all.

LS:  It was overlong, boring, and had characters that did not keep me interested. What little action there is, mostly amounting to a big chase involving locomotives, comes too little too late, and I felt like I was being tortured for most of the movie’s running time.

How can you mess up a mindless action movie? By trying to give it more smarts than it really has, and by dwelling way too long on aspects of the story that just aren’t that interesting. Oh yeah, and forgetting to put enough ACTION into the damn thing.

Depp’s version of Tonto is just another in a long line of eccentric characters, like Captain Jack Sparrow. Between one-liners, mugging for the camera, and pretending to feed bird seed to the dead crow he wears on his head, this Tonto comes off more as a silly jester than an attempt to provide a realistic Native American character from this era. Tonto is humorous enough – not anywhere near as irritating as Depp’s take on Barnabas Collins—but he’s certainly not some great, iconic character here, either.

Armie Hammer plays Reid/the Lone Ranger as a one-dimensional good guy, which might have worked in the 1950s, but who just seems superficial and dull today.

MA:  I don’t even think he would have worked in the 1950s, unless he was co-starring with The Three Stooges, maybe.

LS:  I give the movie half a knife, for the half hour at the end when THE LONE RANGER finally remembers it’s supposed to be an action film. And for the times—which couldn’t have been more than once or twice—when Tonto elicited a chuckle from me. But overall, I had no use for this movie and considered it a waste of two and a half hours of my life.


What did you think, Michael?

MA: That’s it? What do I think? Where’s the falling chunk of mountain to conk me on the skull? Or maybe the train will suddenly derail and cut me in half.

LS: You’re being paranoid, my friend. There are no surprises planned for you. It’s just two guys sitting around with drinks, discussing a movie.

MA: It’s never just two guys sitting around discussing a movie with us— I don’t get it.

LS: Look, the movie this time was so awful, I figure I’d make the review as painless as possible. Why do we need gags, when the movie itself is a joke?

MA: Well I certainly agree with that.  And I can’t say that I’m disappointed.  I’d rather finish this review than be sidetracked thinking of ways to get you back.

I didn’t like THE LONE RANGER either.  I also didn’t really like the last half hour.  I’ll admit, the concluding action sequence at times is pretty impressive, and reminded me of some of the action sequences in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but you know what really ruined it for me?  The music.

The film actually has a decent score by Hans Zimmer, a guy who has an incredible list of credits.   He just did the music for MAN OF STEEL (2013), and he wrote the scores for THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, to name just a few.

And his score here for THE LONE RANGER is also very good, but in this concluding sequence, they finally introduce the William Tell Overture, the classic piece of music that used to accompany the old Lone Ranger TV show, and the radio show before that.  So, I guess they had to put it in the movie, but man, it seems way out of place.  It just makes things so silly.  I almost expected the action to switch gears and be shot in fast motion here.

Did I say this movie was silly?

That’s the biggest problem I had with THE LONE RANGER.  It’s way too silly.  I saw this film over the July 4th holiday with a bunch of family members, and they all loved it, and they told me one reason they liked it was it was so funny, but I tried to explain that there’s a difference between funny and silly.  Johnny Depp as Tonto was funny.  But the rest of the film was goofy, and to me, it ruined the character of the Lone Ranger.

(LS calls the WAITER over)

LS: We’re almost done with our review here. How about bringing over the special drinks.

WAITER: Of course, sir.

MA: Special drinks?

LS: Do go on.

MA: I liked how this one opened.  I liked the ambush scene.  I liked how villainous Butch Cavendish cuts out Dan Reid’s heart and eats it.  This was some potent stuff.  I expected the Lone Ranger to become this really cool character after this, to avenge the death of his brother.

Granted, I wasn’t expecting an R rated action film, but I was expecting a PG-13 rip rousing action adventure that had me cheering, not groaning.  Not cringing, or wincing, or otherwise rolling my eyes in disgust.

It’s obvious they were going for a repeat of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN formula.  Now, Johnny Depp did his part, creating a rather memorable Tonto, but unlike Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES movies, Tonto is not the main character here.  He can’t carry the movie.

And in PIRATES you had Orlando Bloom as a rather serious character who offset and gave balance to Depp’s shenanigans as Jack Sparrow.  You don’t have that balance here in THE LONE RANGER.  You have Armie Hammer doing his best Zeppo Marx impersonation.  Which Marx Brother is Zeppo?  Exactly!  He’s the one no one remembers!

I liked the ambush scene, I thought Johnny Depp was enjoyable as Tonto, but that’s it. The rest of the film I found to be a foolish goofy mess that I wish I hadn’t seen.

I give it one and a half knives.

WAITER:  Here are your drinks.

MA:  Thanks.

LS:  Drink up. A toast to making it through this one alive. Or rather, awake.

MA: (looks at glass) What is this, anyway?  There’s something moving in my drink.  Is that a scorpion?

LS:  Haven’t you ever had a scorpion bowl before?

MA:  Yeah, but they’ve never had real live scorpions in them!

LS:  This is the wild west.  Be a man! Chug it!  It’ll put hair on your chest!

MA:  I’ll pass. Waiter, another glass of ale, please.

LS: (drinks his glass, and pushes a scorpion leg back inside his mouth):  Mmmm. You don’t know what you’re missing.


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE LONE RANGER ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE LONE RANGER ~ half a knife.


Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Presents: DARK INTRUDER (1965)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Demons, Lost Films, Monsters, Occult, Period Pieces, Plot Twists, TV Pilots with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Halloween is almost upon us, kiddies, and tonight I have a real treat for you . . . a nearly unknown little horror gem that truly deserves a wider audience.  This is the kind of discovery monster movie fans search the backs of the video store bargain bins for, the kind of film you hear people speak of in hushed, awed ones, even though hardly anyone has actually seen the thing.  Tonight, we unveil DARK INTRUDER!

DARK INTRUDER was originally filmed as the series premiere of a never produced TV show called THE BLACK CLOAK, produced by Shamley Productions, Hitchcock’s television company, which also produced THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR and THRILLER.  When the show was deemed too scary and violent for mid-sixties television, NBC sold it to Universal, who sold it to drive-in theaters as the second feature on a double bill that also included William Castle’s I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965).  It showed up from time to time on late night TV through the 1970s, and it received a token, blink-and-you’d-miss-it release on VHS, but it has never (officially) been released on DVD.  Sadly, relegated to the deep discount bins and random showings in the middle of the night on weird cable networks, DARK INTRUDER has become a forgotten classic that was creepy and disturbing in the 1960s, and it remains so today.

In 19th century San Francisco, a murderer stalks a woman through fog-enshrouded streets.  The killer limps and remains obscured in shadows until he creeps up on his victim and tears her to shreds while she screams in the night.  At the foot of the body, a small grotesque statue is left like an offering, and the slobbering, snorting hump-backed monster gimps into the night as the police arrive.

Leslie Nielsen (yes, that Leslie Nielsen, of AIRPLANE, 1980 and FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956) plays hung-over playboy Brett Kingsford, who dabbles in the occult, calls the elder gods of H.P. Lovecraft by their first names, and employs a dwarf manservant named Nikoli (well played by Charles Bolander).  Brett is off to see the police, who have called him in to help investigate the murder, the fourth in a long string of awful murders where statues were left by the bodies, but he is interrupted by Evelyn Lang (Judi Meredith of QUEEN OF BLOOD, 1966 and THE NIGHT WALKER, 1964) the shrill, chatty fiancé of his best friend, Robert Vandenburg, played by Peter Mark Richman (star of multiple TV series like SANTA BARBARA and BEVERLY HILLS, 90210).  Brett says, “Evelyn, there is this much to say of you – you don’t just enter a room, you invade it!”  She proceeds to tell him how her fiancé Robert is acting strangely, as if there was something bothering him beyond typical wedding jitters.  Brett informs her he will also look into this behavior.

At the police station, Brett confers with the police about the killings, which resemble animal attacks, and he identifies the statues as replications of a Sumerian demon god.  In each statue found at a victim’s feet, the demon in the little figurines emerges from the back of a man, budding out farther with each crime.  It’s as if with each killing, the demon is freeing itself from its host a little bit more.  Plus, there seem to be connections between the various four victims.

Outside the station, Brett discovers Robert walking in a daze, almost hypnotized.  He tells Brett he will meet with him later at his antique shop.  Brett stops by an ancient Asian man’s curiosity shop, where a Confucius-like shopkeeper shows him a parasite demon and says it could be related to the Sumerian figurines.

At seven that evening, at Robert’s shop, Robert is nowhere to be seen, but a cloaked creature with clawed hands and a bad case of asthma attacks him, destroying most of the shop before being driven away by a silver-tipped cane.  A few minutes later, Robert arrives and whisks Brett away to his family doctor, Dr. Burdett played by Vaughn Taylor (PSYCHO, 1960, IN COLD BLOOD, 1967 and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, 1958).  While he patches up Brett, he shows him a photograph in which two of the four victims are shown, including a nurse, the latest victim.  The picture was taken on an expedition to Bagdad, and the nurse was the last to return to America, bringing with her a sickly little boy Robert has vague memories of seeing when he was a child.

Robert keeps falling into a fugue state, sleep-walking, while the dwarf servant follows him.  He claims that he feels as though he was being pushed out of his own mind by some terrifying power.  Something is trying to force him out of his own body, some dark entity.  Brett plays the fool, acts the playboy, but he grows increasingly worried for his friend.

Leslie Nielsen as playboy Brett Kingsford, who dabbles in the occult, the hero of DARK INTRUDER,

Robert is visiting a psychic, Professor Malaki, who tells him that Robert has a terrible scar on his back, and Robert admits that when he was born in Bagdad (!), he had a small lump removed from his back by Dr. Burdett.  This Professor Malaki is played by Werner Klemperer, Colonel Klink from HOGAN’S HEROES!  The German actor’s accent must have been too much, however, as he is dubbed by Norman Loyd (SPELLBOUND, 1945 and LIMELIGHT, 1952).  After the men leave, Prof. Malaki reveals his hands, complete with long, sharp talons.

Meanwhile, the creature kills Dr. Burdett in his office.  Brett dons a drunken sailor’s disguise and searches the doc’s place, discovering all the files from Robert’s date of birth are missing.

Everything points toward the beautiful Evelyn being the next victim of the monster’s wrath, so the police surround her house on her wedding night to catch the killer.  The fog enshrouds the place, Robert’s fugue state grows ever more virulent, and something in a cloak stalks the gardens waiting for the couple to emerge.

Is Robert the monster, committing the murders while under some hypnotic spell?  What of the gargoyle-like statues?  What of the deformed boy brought to the states by the nurse?  Will Evelyn and Robert survive their marriage night?

The solution to the puzzle is truly grotesque, and I am not surprised that NBC refused to air this supernatural tale.  In fact, I would be very surprised if Frank Henenlotter didn’t see this little wonder before writing and directing his grindhouse masterpiece BASKET CASE (1982).

The DARK INTRUDER is gonna get you!

DARK INTRUDER is full of atmosphere, just as the streets are full of smoke and fog and gas light.  The finale in an impressionistic graveyard is especially impressive.  It was directed by Harvey Hart, who also helmed the TV mini-series EAST OF EDEN (1982) and the great, underrated THE PYX (1973) which starred the wonderful Karen Black in another disturbing supernatural mystery.  The literate script is by Barre’ Lyndon, who also penned THE LODGER (1944) and WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).  The pacing is almost too fast, speeding along like an episode of THRILLER on crystal meth.  Even the make-up on the creature is quite hideous, demonic and yet somewhat human.

And, yes, Leslie Nielsen is quite good as Brett Kingsford.  He’s funny and charming and handsome, but there’s always this dark side to him, as though you wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alleyway.  The interplay between Brett and his intelligent dwarf servant is witty and amusing, and their chemistry is quite good.  This would have made a terrific series in the vein of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER.  What a missed opportunity.

Missed opportunity or not, DARK INTRUDER is a creepy Halloween horror treat, a smart monster movie with several unpredictable twists and turns and a hideous creature at its epicenter.

There is a rumor that Universal is planning on putting out a DVD of this spooky thriller next year.  Let’s pray to any Sumerian god that this is true!

I give DARK INTRUDER three and a half dwarf servants out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl



Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Historical Horror, Martial Arts, Period Pieces, Revenge!, Vampire Hunters, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Present Day. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk through the area.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: This has got to be one of the most somber places I’ve ever visited. You can almost feel death all around you. (turns to LS) Or maybe that’s just you.

L.L. SOARES: No, I know what you mean. I was surprised you chose this place to do our review. Not the usual locale for Cinema Knife Fight shenanigans.

MA: I just thought this location would be the perfect setting to make my point, that today’s movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), in spite of its ridiculous title, is not a comedy. It plays it straight throughout.

LS: It may not be an intentional comedy, but it’s not a reverential piece of historical filmmaking, either. It’s a silly vampire movie! Hardly worth this location!

MA: Perhaps, but it just felt right. The hero of this movie is, after all….Abraham Lincoln!

(Orchestral music plays in the background)

LS (grimaces): What’s with all the seriousness? Man, are you a buzzkill!

MA: Anyway, I hadn’t planned to stay here. Let’s take advantage of the magic of Cinema Knife Fight Land and go to a more appropriate place. (Snaps his fingers, and suddenly they’re in a crowded pub surrounded by folks in 19th century garb.)

LS: Now that’s more like it! But why is everybody dressed so funny?

MA: I dunno. Maybe this is the cast party for the movie. Or maybe we went backwards in time. You can never tell around here.

LS: So why don’t you start the review? I’m going to grab a couple of cold ones from the bar.

MA: Thanks!

LS: Why are you thanking me? Get your own!

MA: Sometimes you make the Grinch seem generous.

LS: The Grinch is a wuss!

MA: Anyway, in today’s movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also penned the screenplay, young Abe Lincoln witnesses his mother attacked by a vampire. Years later, as an adult, Abe Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) seeks revenge against the vampire who killed his mother, but not knowing anything about vampires, his attempt at retribution is a complete fail. He is nearly killed, but a stranger (Dominic Cooper) comes to his aid and saves him from the vampire.

The stranger’s name is Henry Sturgess, and he actually had met Lincoln earlier in a bar, a lot like this one, and it turns out Sturgess knows a lot about vampires. He’s a vampire hunter, and Abe Lincoln agrees to be his protégé and learn all there is to know about hunting vampires, with his eventual goal being to avenge his mother’s death.

LS: Excuse me, was I snoring? Must have dozed off for a second.

MA: Aren’t you supposed to be getting yourself those cold ones?

LS: Oh yeah.

MA: Lincoln moves to Springfield, Illinois, where he finds a job working in a general store for an amiable young man named Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who quickly becomes one of Lincoln’s best friends. It is also here where Lincoln meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the woman he eventually falls in love with and marries.

When he’s not working or studying to be a lawyer, Lincoln’s busy as a vampire hunter, using his weapon of choice, an axe, to destroy the multitude of vampires living in Springfield. Lincoln learns about these vampires through letters sent to him by Henry Sturgess, who sort of acts as Lincoln’s “mission impossible” contact. You almost expect the letters to self-destruct into puffs of smoke after Lincoln has read them.

LS: Don’t forget, it’s not just a normal axe. It’s blade is coated in silver! The dreaded enemy of vampires. Or was silver the one that werewolves don’t like? I’m not sure. It gets so confusing sometimes. Everyone has their own rules. But in this movie, vampires can go out in sunlight and can do all kinds of cool things you wouldn’t think they could do. But they hate silver. Oh, and they can turn invisible! How convenient!

MA: Yeah, the invisible part was silly, but the hating of silver can be traced back to several of the Hammer Films. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) stabs Dracula (Christopher Lee) with a silver knife in DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972), and in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) Van Helsing attempts to shoot Dracula with a silver bullet. In both those movies, silver was fatal to a vampire.

LS: In the trailer, when they poured liquid over Abe’s blade, I thought it was holy water, not melted silver. But it’s been a long time since anything religious hurt a vampire in the movies, so I should have known better.

MA: Lincoln and Sturgess eventually cross paths with the vampire leader, Adam (Rufus Sewell, in a deliciously evil performance) who’s been in existence for 5,000 years! He makes Dracula seem like a baby! Lincoln also learns that Adam is using the black slave trade to his advantage, using the slaves as food for his vampires. So, Adam is definitely a proponent of the slave trade and aligns himself politically with the folks in the south.

LS: Rufus Sewell is “deliciously evil” here? Man, you have no clue what evil is all about, do you? He’s a cartoon. And he’s not scary for one instant. I thought Sewell was completely miscast as the king vampire here. But more on that later.

MA: No idea was evil is all about? Pardon me, Mr. Evil Know-it-all!

Lincoln has a personal investment in the welfare of the slaves, because one of his best friends is a free black man, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), who becomes one of Lincoln’s closest advisors.

LS: Just to play Devil’s Advocate here—a role I enjoy, by the way—I wasn’t sure whether having slavery and the Civil War tie into the vampire agenda was clever or kind of offensive. It kind of trivializes the real horrors of slavery, doesn’t it?

MA: Not really. Slavery is still horrible. The vampires were simply using it to satisfy their own needs.

Realizing that the problems in the world are too big for just one man, Lincoln throws his hat into politics, hoping to become part of a system that can make a difference in the world. He marries Mary Todd, wins the presidential election, and eventually finds himself fighting vampires on the battlefield, as Adam and his vampires have aligned themselves with the Confederate army.

(LS returns with two beautiful women, one on each arm.)

MA: Aren’t you married?

LS: Not in Cinema Knife Fight Land!

MA: I thought you were getting some cold ones?

LS: I changed my mind and went for hot ones.

(Women bare their fangs to reveal they are vampires)

LS: Oh well, I guess they are cold ones, after all. Care to take a nibble, ladies? I’m sure I’m quite delicious.

(Vampire women each sink their teeth in a side of LS’s neck)

MA: Aren’t you worried they’ll suck you dry?

LS: Not really. This is Cinema Knife Fight Land, and here I’ve got unlimited blood.

(LS smiles and raises a mug of ale and drinks along with the vampires)

MA (shaking his head): The things we do for this column. Anyway, back to our movie.

I fully expected this movie to be a complete turkey, but I have to admit, I liked it.

(LS makes turkey noises in the background)

MA: That said, I still don’t get the concept. Why choose Abraham Lincoln to be a vampire hunter? It still seems almost like a random thing to do. Hmm, who should I choose to be my hero in this alternate history tale about vampires? Stick my hand into a hat and pull out Abe Lincoln!

LS: Makes as much sense as using any other historical figure, I guess.

MA: Of course, Abe Lincoln is one of our most beloved U.S. presidents of all time, and so it’s certainly not a random act, and this affection for Lincoln is one of the things that works to the film’s advantage, but even so, I’m still not ready to concede and call this combination of history and horror a stroke of genius. But I do have to admit, in a strange way, it works!

LS: I dunno, it didn’t really work for me. I thought the title was clever for about two seconds. The concept is mediocre at best. “Let’s take a famous historical figure and turn him into another BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.” Whatever…. (Yawns)

MA: First and foremost, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER looks terrific. I saw it in 3D, and it pains me to admit it—again because I expected this one to be awful— it’s one of the better 3D movies I’ve seen. The visuals were almost as good as what we saw in HUGO last year.

LS: I saw it in 3D, too. Not intentionally – it was just the best show time for my schedule. But you’re right, the 3D effects were better than we normally see in these kinds of movies. But I wouldn’t go so far as to compare them with HUGO. The 3D here isn’t that good.

MA: I don’t know if it’s because Civil War America is more picturesque than alien worlds or haunted forests, but I enjoyed the look of ABRAHAM LINCOLN better than the look of other movies we’ve seen recently, like PROMETHEUS and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I think director Timur Bekmambetov did a great job at the helm.

LS: The setting was okay, I guess. I could take it or leave it. No way is it as visually rich as PROMETHEUS or SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. It’s all rather drab—which is fine in a vampire movie—but nothing I’d single out as a plus. As for the direction, that’s another kettle of fish entirely.

MA: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is also helped by its R rating. While the film isn’t scary, there are lots of bloody killings. There’s even some nudity and language. I was surprised, but ABE LINCOLN kinda earns its R rating.

LS: Barely. I actually went into it thinking it was PG-13, and it was a little while before I realized it wasn’t. The nudity happens in brief snippets for the most part. Some of the killings (of vampires) are graphic enough to make me realize it was an R movie. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it earns its rating.

MA: The look and feel of this movie reminded me of a Disney film for adults. It had that look, that attention to detail, that made it look almost like a richly animated movie. The movie looks like what would happen if you put both Disney and Hammer Films inside one of THE FLY’s machines and had their respective filmmaking genes spliced together.

LS: Yeah, it actually reminded me of a Tim Burton movie, like SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) maybe. Except SLEEPY HOLLOW is a much better movie. This is no coincidence, though, because Burton produced ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Hell, it might have been a better movie if he actually directed it, since he’s comfortable with this kind of stuff.

MA: Another reason I liked the action sequences in this movie—and again I’ll give credit to director Bekmambetov—is that they were quick. So often in today’s movies, because directors have the technology to do so, the action scenes go on forever, and this becomes boring as the movies play out like extended video games. Not so here in ABE LINCOLN. The action scenes are quick and bloody, and they’re supported by lots of scenes where we get to know the characters.

LS: Quick? Ninety percent of the time they played out in slow motion! It got incredibly tedious after a while. All of the action sequences have the same “by-the-numbers” feel to them. Once you see one, you know what to expect. And the alternating between fast movements and irritating slo-mo ones just bored the hell out of me. And you know what, the action scenes did have a kind of video game look to them! They were so stylized, they certainly didn’t look realistic.

MA: But they didn’t go on and on and on. That’s what I meant by quick.

LS: Not quick enough for me.

MA: There’s also a strong sense of story, and you can tell this movie was based on a novel. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith does a nice job here adapting his own novel, and he achieves better results than his last screenplay, for the muddled DARK SHADOWS.

LS: Really? You thought this was a big improvement over DARK SHADOWS? Well, I’ll agree that at least it doesn’t constantly go for cheap laughs. I really think Grahame-Smith’s screenplay for DARK SHADOWS was the main reason that movie was so disappointing. Here, his script does come off a little better, but I wasn’t all that amazed by it. I’m glad everyone plays things straight, at least. But I didn’t find this movie very exciting.

MA: DARK SHADOWS was horrible compared to this movie.

LS: Let’s face it. DARK SHADOWS was horrible. Period.

MA: I liked that this was a serious vampire story. It wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. We didn’t have to suffer through Abe Lincoln delivering one-liners after every vampire kill. ABE LINCOLN is not VAN HELSING (2004), thankfully. This could have been a very silly movie, but it isn’t. Then again, maybe I just have a soft spot for vampires.

LS: If this movie has anything going for it, it’s that it plays things straight. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make for a great flick – vampire movie or otherwise.

MA: Speaking of which, I wasn’t too crazy about the look of the vampires in this movie, and their movements were way too fast and very fake-looking. They weren’t bad, but they were just a little too exaggerated for my liking. And like the rest of the movie, they weren’t scary.

LS: No, the vampires didn’t look very good at all, and they weren’t scary. In fact, to go back to a previous point, I found Rufus Sewell as Adam (he’s called that because he’s the vampire all the others come from – oooh! how frightening!) to be a major flaw in the tension. I like Sewell enough as an actor—he was great as the lead in 1998’s DARK CITY, for example—but he’s completely miscast here. He is not intimidating, he doesn’t seem dangerous at all, and he is NOT scary in the slightest. There are so many better actors they could have chosen to play this role. This is the big bad villain, and the character should have real presence. Sewell just doesn’t cut it.

MA: Really? I thought Sewell oozed evil.

LS: Well, he might have oozed something, but it wasn’t evil.

The funny thing is, I found Marton Csokas as Jack Barts— a flunky of Sewell’s Adam—to be much more convincing as a dangerous vampire, and there were times where he even seemed a tad scary. He should have been the lead vampire! I also liked Erin Wasson as Vadoma, Adam’s right-hand woman vampire, who was also more formidable than her “master.” I really hated Sewell in this role, because he was such a damned weak bad guy!

MA: I liked the characters and the performances throughout.

Abraham Lincoln as your main character—how can you not like him? Well, if the lead actor stunk, that’s one way, but Benjamin Walker doesn’t stink at all. He brings Lincoln to life and makes him a very likeable person.

LS: I thought Walker was okay in the lead role. He actually reminded me of a young Liam Neesom at times. He has a similar face. But overall, I wasn’t all that impressed by him. He was okay in the role, but nothing special. Kinda bland, actually.

And as for that fateful trip to the theater at the end—hell, any kid who has read a history book knows what happens then, so it’s not a spoiler—does that mean that John Wilkes Booth was part of the vampire conspiracy? Was he a VAMPIRE HUNTER HUNTER? Something to ponder, perhaps.

MA: Henry Sturgess is an interesting character. As the vampire hunter who trains Lincoln, he’s a multi-dimensional character with a curious back story, which hearkens back to this being based on a novel. Dominic Cooper, who played Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) does a nice job here as Sturgess.

LS: Dominic Cooper is one of the best things about this movie. I liked his performance here very much, even more than Walker’s Lincoln. But this brings up a big complaint of mine. In the movie, we find out how Henry Sturgess was able to acquire his skills and amazing strength—there’s a legitimate reason why he’s so affective as a vampire hunter—but we never once get an explanation as to how Abe Lincoln is so good at it. He does these amazing martial arts moves; he’s able to cut down trees with one mighty swing of his axe (once he gets the hang of it); and he can take on several vampires at once. How? Is he a superhero? Is he from another planet? Not once does the movie explain his “powers,” and for that reason I didn’t buy them for a second. There is no way a normal man can do this stuff. And if vampires are supposed to be much stronger than humans, then Lincoln’s entire story here is actually kind of stupid.

MA: You know, I can’t argue with you on that point, and I’d go so far as to agree with you that Lincoln possessing these powers is stupid, but again, for me, in spite of this, somehow it worked.

LS: For you, maybe. Not for me.

And hell, even if he is superhuman (and he clearly is), his fighting style is impossible for the time period. Asian martial arts just were not taught to Westerners in those days. It was forbidden. But ever since BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992), ever single vampire fighter is an expert in martial arts. It’s kind of embarrassing. And isn’t there any other way to fight except showing off with all kinds of karate/kung-fu moves and fancy kicks? This has become a very annoying cliché at this point. How about making Abe a super-powerful boxer, instead? It would make more sense for his time.

(LS and MA are now sitting at a table, drinking ale, when a shirtless BRUCE LEE suddenly approaches them)

BRUCE LEE: I find this movie offensive. Here I go and revolutionize martial arts in American movies during my lifetime, and now, ANYONE can do what I did. All they have to do is call themselves a VAMPIRE HUNTER.

LS: I can’t disagree with you there.

MA: Come on, it’s only a movie. It’s silly entertainment.

BRUCE LEE: It completely trivializes the years of work and skill that goes into being a true martial artist.

LS: (nods) I dunno, Michael, he has a point. Plus, give me something like ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) over ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER any day of the week. It’s a helluva lot more entertaining.

(BRUCE LEE goes to start a brawl at the back of the room)

MA: I don’t know why he was so upset. It’s just a movie.

Ever since I saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) I’ve been a big fan. She does an excellent job here as Mary Todd Lincoln, a female character who gets to do more than just be rescued by a male lead. She grows with the story and becomes integral to the plot as the movie goes on.

LS: I like her as well. I don’t think she’s amazing as Mary Todd, and I certainly don’t find her convincing as the former first lady—this is clearly a completely different person than the real Mary Todd—but she’s enjoyable enough when she’s onscreen. She certainly doesn’t contribute to the more annoying aspects of the movie.

MA: Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed, and Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson, do nice jobs in their respective roles as friends of Lincoln. These characters are multi-dimensional as well, and they are much more than just your average token buddies.

LS: I liked Joshua Speed. He was okay. It’s funny that Jimmi Simpson’s career is actually rooted firmly in comedy, with a recurring role as “Lyle the Intern” on the LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (from 2008 -2009) and as a semi-regular on the hilarious show IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, as the weirdo Liam McPoyle. It’s good to see him playing a serious role here, and his character was likable enough. As for Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson, I found him rather bland. They don’t really give him an awful lot to do, except hang around with Abe and seem earnest.

MA: I also really liked Rufus Sewell as the main baddie in this movie. His vampire Adam is an imposing adversary for Abe Lincoln and company. Sometimes a movie is only as good as its villain. In this case, Adam is a powerful foe, and Sewell delivers a commanding performance as the deadly vampire who’s been alive since the days of ancient Egypt. He’s one of the movie’s strengths.

LS: If a movie is only as good as its villain, then ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER isn’t good at all. As I’ve already said, Sewell is a very lame villain.

MA: I also loved the climactic battle aboard the train between Lincoln and friends and Adam and his vampires, as this sequence on a burning trestle was very cinematic. Again, a nice job by director Bekmambetov.

LS: I found the climactic battle aboard the train really boring in parts. It went on way too long, and I just didn’t care about any of the characters enough to be emotionally invested in it.

MA: Had this movie been scary, it would have been great.

LS: Well, it would have been an improvement. We’re in agreement that this movie is not scary.

MA: I expected it to be horrible, and so I’m shocked to say that while ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is not a great movie, it is a very good movie.

It’s better than both the TWILIGHT series and the UNDERWORLD movies because it has something that both those series lack: an imagination. And some good old-fashioned bloody oomph!

(EDWARD CULLEN, the vampire from the TWILIGHT series, approaches their table)

EDWARD: Vampires that don’t sparkle? You’ve got to be kidding me. Who would believe that?

MA: There were tons of vampires before you that didn’t sparkle!

EDWARD: That’s ancient history, old man. I am what today’s generation wants in a vampire. If you want to be cool, then you gotta sparkle. Abraham Lincoln would never be able to stop me.

LS: He may have a point. The sparkly vampires are kind of strong…even if they look like they were caught in an explosion in a glitter factory.

EDWARD: And vampires are more civilized today. I would invite Mr. Lincoln to sit down for a cup of tea. We wouldn’t have to fight at all. Instead, I could spend the time bemoaning how sad I am.

MA: And where is the excitement in that?

(LS snores loudly)

EDWARD: Oh, you’ll never understand me! You don’t even try to!

(EDWARD leaves in a huff)

MA: Wake up! (nudges LS). Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to give this movie my rating. I give ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, three knives.

LS: I think this movie thinks it is a lot cleverer than it really is. But writer Seth Grahame-Smith is clearly the “flavor of the month” with his DARK SHADOWS script and now this. I can only hope he disappears as quickly as he showed up in Hollywood. This is the same guy who gave us the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which started the whole horror/history mash-up genre, and it’s gotten incredibly tired in a very short amount of time. It’s like a flimsy joke – it may work once, but it won’t have any staying power. Neither does this one-joke genre.

And I think writing should be as limitless as one’s imagination, so it’s not like I don’t think anyone should be allowed to play around with actual history. I think a really talented writer could take this concept and do something interesting with it. But that writer was nowhere to be found when they were making ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.

And I wasn’t all that impressed with the direction by Timur Bekmambetov here. This is the talented Russian director who gave us the really enjoyable movies NIGHT WATCH (2004) and DAY WATCH (2006). I suggest people check out those movies on video instead, because they are works of art compared to ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. I give it one and a half knives.

MA: Well, we disagree on this one. I thought it was a handsome production, and I for one got caught up in the look and feel of this movie, and so I happily went along for the ride.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get a couple of cold ones of my own.

LS: Be careful. They bite.

MA: Not those kinds of cold ones. I’m talking the kind that comes in a mug with a frothy head.

LS: Like that one? (points)

(MA looks over his shoulder to see a severed head floating on top of a huge mug of beer on the bar.)

MA: (throws up his arms) I give up! (Exits)

(LS goes over and lifts the big mug and brings it to his lips)

LS: Head for the mountains!


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER ~one and a half knives.

THE RAVEN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Edgar Allen Poe, Gore!, Period Pieces, Psychos with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A park in Baltimore in 1849. There’s some snow on the ground, and a mysterious figure sits on a bench, wearing a large hat. L.L. SOARES approaches)

LS: I got a mysterious message to meet someone here. Is that you, Michael?


LS: Then you’re the great Edgar Allan Poe!

MYSTERY MAN: Uh….nope.

LS: Then who the hell are you?

MYSTERY MAN (holds out box): Uh, have one mister. Life is like a box of chocolates!

LS (pushes box away): Get out of here, Gump! I’m supposed to be meeting someone important here!

FORREST GUMP: D’uh, you are a mean person. I was only offering you a candy.

LS (kicks him off bench): Beat it!

GUMP: I’m gonna go tell my mommy on you.

LS: You do that.

(MICHAEL ARRUDA approaches from behind)

MA: What was all that about?

LS: I came here to meet you, so we could review the new movie THE RAVEN, and that damn Forrest Gump character tried to trick me into thinking he was you!

MA: Gump was pretending to be me?  Wow, I’m flattered.

LS: You’re sounding more like Forrest Gump every day.

MA: Real funny. (bends down and picks up the box of chocolates). Hey, he left these.

LS: We’ve got a movie to review!

MA: I’m only going to eat one or two.

(MA sits down on bench and starts eating chocolates)

MA: Why don’t you start? Hey these are delicious! Don’t you want any?

LS: Maybe later.

Okay, so this week’s movie is THE RAVEN, starring John Cusack as the legendary writer, Edgar Allan Poe. As horror writers, Michael and I are both fans of Poe’s pioneering work in the field. It’s pretty safe to say there would be no horror genre if not for Poe.

MA (talks with his mouth full): Yep. Mmmm, these are yummy. You sure you don’t want any?

LS: Nope. So, in THE RAVEN, the police come across violent murders that seem to be patterned after Poe’s story “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” At first, the detective on the case, Inspector Fields (Luke Evans), suspects Poe may have something to do with these grisly goings-on, but soon realizes that whoever the killer is is basing their murders on Poe’s stories. Talk about a “Number One Fan.”

MA (quickly finishing the chocolate he was eating):  All right, get these away from me. (pushes box away). Yeah, I thought Fields and the police dismissed Poe as a suspect too quickly. They have these murders based on Poe’s stories, and they have Poe, who’s about as far away from a well-balanced fellow as you can get, plus one of the victims is a fellow critic hated by Poe, and yet the police quickly dismiss Poe as a suspect and then welcome him into their investigation. Honestly, this seemed like a forced plot point to me, just to have the movie, THE RAVEN. These are police officers. Wouldn’t they be highly suspicious of Poe?

LS:  Poe aids Fields and the police in trying to guess the killers next move. Meanwhile, at a masked ball, Poe’s fiancée, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) is kidnapped during some confusion (having to do with Poe’s story “The Masque of Red Death”). This scene kind of bugged me. In one scene, Poe is standing right beside Emily, then in the next she has been kidnapped and Emily’s father, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) reads a note from the criminal. If she was standing right next to Poe, when did someone have the chance to snatch her?

MA:  I’m with you. It was an odd scene, and I found myself asking the same question.

LS:  It really annoyed me! Because there is no way Poe would be standing next to Emily and let anyone take her away. He would have fought tooth and nail.

And there’s another scene, later on, when Poe kicks over a heavy table that has a lantern on it, yet the lantern doesn’t smash or start a fire. In the next scene, he’s carrying it down into some catacombs. Did they really have Plexiglas in the 1800s?

Sloppy writing. Anyway, poor Emily is soon buried alive in some mysterious location. While they try to track her down, Poe is informed that, unless he writes a new story each night in the paper, Emily will die. So, at the end of each frustrating day that they can’t find her, Poe must spend the whole night writing. Luckily the paper he normally writes for agrees to go along with this, since Poe has been writing for the editor, Maddux (Kevin McNally) for the last 10 years.

MA:  I didn’t really like this plot point, but more on that later.

LS:  Will Poe find Emily in time, before her air runs out? Who is the mysterious murderer and kidnapper who seems so obsessed with Poe’s life and work? These questions and more are answered in THE RAVEN.

Well, first off, why call it THE RAVEN? We’ve already had a few movies with this title already. According to, there have been 23 movies with this title. Including the excellent 1935 film, starring Bela Lugosi as a sadistic plastic surgeon with an obsession with Poe, and Boris Karloff as a criminal on the run whom Lugosi torments. And the more humorous 1963 version, where Karloff and Vincent Price play dueling sorcerers, while poor Peter Lorre gets turned into a raven. Couldn’t the people who made this new movie come up with a more original title?

MA: I agree.  I certainly wouldn’t have named it after one of Poe’s poems or stories, because it’s not one of his stories but an entirely new tale.  I would have gone with something simpler like POE.  But that’s just off the cuff.  I’m sure there are a host of better titles.

LS: I have to admit, the concept of this movie seemed an awful lot like the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies where Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes as something of an action star. And the comparison is kind of apt. In THE RAVEN, Edgar Allan Poe, at a point in his life when he was ravaged by alcoholism, somehow finds the energy to search for Emily, match wits with a madman, shoot guns, dig up graves and ride on horseback. It’s all pretty impressive, but not very believable.

MA:  You’re right. It’s not very believable, and as a result for me, not all that impressive.

LS:  John Cusack is okay as Poe, but not great. At first I thought he was really miscast. There are, however, a few scenes that worked for me, like when Cusack would look at Alice Eve lovingly, or when he takes action, then Cusack is tolerable. In other scenes, where he reads Poe’s poetry or goes off on a rant, he just sounded silly, and I found myself wishing they had cast Jeffrey Combs instead. Combs has played Poe on television (on the “Black Cat” episode of the Showtime series, “Masters Of Horror” in 2007) and on the stage, and he just seems more physically believable as Poe. He also can read Poe’s poetry without sounding goofy. And Cusack just seems way too healthy for the role. It’s impossible to look at him and believe this is a guy battling deep inner demons and an addiction to booze and drugs. I just had a really hard time buying Cusack in the role for most of the film’s running time. However, I realize that  Cusack’s name on the marquee probably sells a lot more tickets to mainstream America than Combs’s would.

MA:  I didn’t have a problem with Cusack. I thought he made for a dark and brooding Poe, and I didn’t think he sounded all that silly when he read Poe’s poetry. And he looked sufficiently under the weather. He didn’t project images of good health, let’s put it that way. I thought he looked like he was suffering from a head cold throughout the movie, so I didn’t have a problem with him seeming too healthy.

LS: A head cold? The man is weeks away from death! He should have looked a lot worse off than that! I didn’t find this believable at all.

(A man walks by sneezing and coughing, looking as pale as a corpse.)

MA:  Is that a better representation of how Poe should have looked?

LS: Nope. Not sick enough.

MA:  How about him?  (points to a figure staggering in the distance, with maggots crawling out of his eyes, rotting teeth, his left arm missing below the elbow, wearing bloodstained clothes and a knife in his skull.)

LS:  Now you’re talking!

MA: However, I did have a problem with his being a hero in the movie. I liked Cusack A LOT early on in the movie, in his scenes in bars and listening to a group of women read their amateur poetry to him, but as soon as he gets involved in the murder plot, I thought his character became much less enjoyable. Poe is a dark and haunted character, but he’s not Sherlock Holmes, and so he’s not the most entertaining hero.

LS: But you can understand why Poe is sucked into this mystery. He did write the first detective story, after all, and created the fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin!

MA:  And that’s exactly why I expected him to be more of a detective in this movie. I didn’t find this angle exploited enough.

(Three men show up. Two of them take off their jackets and begin bare-knuckle boxing)

MA: What’s going on here?

MAN WATCHING: It’s Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin, determined to find out who is the tougher detective.

HOLMES: I was first!

DUPIN: No, I was!

(The two men knock each other out, and the WATCHING MAN drags them away by their shit collars)

LS: Wow, a real live boxing match. That was exciting!

MA: Didn’t last very long.  Actually, Dupin was first, but no matter.  They’re gone now.

LS: I guess they’re not as tough as they seem in these recent movies.

MA: Back to our review. Cusack’s Poe is sadly lacking charisma, which in and of itself is fine since I don’t expect Poe to be the most charismatic character, but as a lead hero in a horror movie, I found him dull.

I would have preferred to see Cusack play Poe in a straight biography rather than in this silly murder mystery.

LS:  I actually liked Luke Evans a lot as Detective Fields, and found him to be more dynamic and charismatic than Cusack’s Poe was. In fact, there were times when I found myself wishing the movie was Fields’ story, rather than Poe’s. I wanted to know more about Fields.

MA:  Yeah, Evans was good, and his Detective Fields was slightly more interesting than Poe, and since I didn’t find Cusack’s Poe charismatic, I’d agree with you that Evan’s Fields was the more charismatic character. But as detectives go, he wasn’t the most effective. He kinda fails at everything he does.

LS: Exactly! I thought that was actually pretty inspired. He’s this renowned detective and a vibrant force of nature, and yet, he’s pretty much a failure, despite his reputation.

Alice Eve is good as Emily, and Brendan Gleeson—an always reliable actor—is fine as her father.

MA:  I agree. I liked Eve a lot, and I wish she had been in the movie more. She spends a bulk of the film buried alive while we wait for Poe and the police to rescue her. What a waste!

I really liked Gleeson as Captain Hamilton, a man who would rather shoot Poe dead on sight than have the author marry his daughter. We just saw Gleeson in SAFE HOUSE (2012).

LS: Gleeson was much better in movies like THE GENERAL (1998) and IN BRUGES (2008)

MA: I also liked Kevin McNally as Maddux, the newspaper editor who publishes the stories Poe has to write each night to placate the murderer. McNally played Gibbs in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and I remember him from the Kenneth Branagh TV-movie SHACKLETON (2002). McNally provides nice support here.

LS: Strangely, McNally was also in a TV-movie called POE in 2011, playing a character named Kyle Kilpatrick. In that movie, Christopher Egan plays a Poe investigating murders in 19th century Boston. Coincidence?

I thought the script was clever at times, and the murders were suitably gruesome (especially one involving the notorious Pit and the Pendulum). Although I have to admit that CGI gore leaves a lot to be desired and cannot take the place of stage blood just yet. It just looks incredibly fake.

MA:  Yes, the murders were gruesome, and I thought the pendulum scene was one of the better parts of the movie. It blows away all the similar pendulum scenes we’ve seen in movies past. Finally, we get to see how truly gruesome and horrible this torture can be.

LS: Not gruesome enough for my tastes. This movie could have tried a little harder to earn its R rating.

MA: On the other hand, the script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, I didn’t like that much. I liked the premise, that Poe would become involved with a murder investigation, trying to hunt down a murderer who’s basing his crimes on Poe’s stories. But I didn’t like how it played out. I didn’t like Poe’s having to write stories to placate the killer and save the woman he loves. On paper, it sounds pretty good, but it doesn’t make for exciting cinema. Scenes of Poe writing words on a paper just didn’t do much for me. They weren’t that exciting.

I would have rather seen Poe trying to solve the crimes. I expected him to be more of a Sherlock Holmes-type character, which would have been apt, since Poe’s stories influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he wrote Sherlock Holmes.

So, when the story heats up, and Poe’s feverishly writing his stories for the killer, and he and the police are furiously trying to find the killer, I just wasn’t going along for the ride.

(EDGAR ALLAN POE staggers toward them, looking disheveled)

POE (holding out hand): Some sheckles for a poor sod? I would gladly recite a poem for your edification, for but a sou.

LS: Beat it, ya bum!

MA: No, no, that’s the real Edgar Allan Poe! Of course we would love to hear you recite poetry. Here’s a dollar (hands it to him, and LS does the same)

(POE opens his mouth to speak, but instead, begins vomiting)

POE (wipes his mouth): Maybe later. I seem to be a bit under the weather right now.

LS: Now that’s the Poe I know and love.

(POE runs away to buy booze)

MA: Well that was depressing.

LS: Yeah, he didn’t look like John Cusack at all! And what was with Cusack having a goatee? Poe didn’t have one of those! He just had a mustache. Whatever happened to historical accuracy?

Anyway, the direction by James McTeigue, who previously gave us V FOR VENDETTA (2005), which I actually liked a lot, and 2009’s NINJA ASSASSIN, is adequate here, but everything didn’t seem quite as atmospheric as it should be. For some reason, the movie just didn’t seem to reach its full potential for me.

MA:  I agree that it didn’t reach its full potential, but I don’t think it was because of a lack of atmosphere. I thought this movie looked great. It brought back memories of Hammer’s movies, although this one took place in Baltimore rather than Europe.

But that being said, this movie is lacking, and it’s strange, because it has so much going for it. It has solid acting, strong atmosphere, sufficiently graphic bloody scenes, but I wasn’t into it. Why not?  The answer is the story, which I found surprisingly dull, for reasons I’ve already gone into.

I’ll be honest. I was kinda bored throughout the second half of this movie.

I also was disappointed with the killer in this one. I expected someone much more evil and sinister.

LS: Yes, I agree. The identity of the killer is something of a letdown. And you start to think back to the earlier scenes and the whole thing is just very far-fetched, that this guy would be so successful in everything he does to bait and elude the police. The killer’s motive was kind of cool, but the movie is not very believable.

MA: Another problem with the story is it’s simply not as twisted as one of Poe’s stories. To accomplish this, we would have had to really get inside the head of the killer, and since this movie is a mystery, we don’t meet or know the killer until the end.

LS: Oh, I agree with that, too. This movie is pretty wimpy compared to a real Poe story. Not half as dark as it needed to be to truly feel Poe-inspired. Maybe that’s why I questioned the strength of the movie’s atmosphere.

Overall, I liked THE RAVEN more than I thought I would, based on the trailer. I went in with low expectations, thinking it would be awful. It’s not. There are several things about it that I liked,  and despite the far-fetched plot, it kept me interested throughout. But I don’t think it was a must-see movie. More of a rental. I give it two and a half knives.

What about you, Michael?

MA:  I fully expected to like this movie, and I was very surprised that I didn’t like it. It gets off to a strong start, and really does well at setting the stage for a deliciously macabre murder mystery, but then it drops the ball because later the suspense is sadly lacking when it’s needed most. THE RAVEN isn’t bad, but it’s oddly not that compelling or thrilling, and as a result I give it two knives.

(FORREST GUMP runs up to their bench, laughing)

LS: What’s so funny, Gump?

GUMP: You ate the candy, you ate the candy!

LS: So what?

GUMP: Haha. I put some of that Ex-Lax stuff in it. And you ate it. Gump got you good, you mean man.

LS: Actually, I haven’t had a chance to eat any yet. Thanks for warning me.

MA: What did you say?

GUMP: It was Ex-Lax candy. Gump got you good!

MA:  Oh yeah?  Well, Gumpy boy, I’ve got news for you. You didn’t get me, because there were two boxes of chocolates left here— (aside to camera) how’s that for an unrealistic plot point? —  and I didn’t eat yours. I ate the other one. So, you can take this box and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine!  (shoves box into Gump’s hands.)

GUMP:  You meanie!  (runs away crying)

(A figure is suddenly standing behind them. They turn to see the GRIM REAPER.)

REAPER:  Did you eat my chocolates?

MA:  Er, your chocolates? (to LS) What are the odds he put something stronger than Ex-Lax in his candy?

LS: It was nice knowing you, man!

REAPER:  So, did you eat my chocolates?

MA:  Um, yeah. Am I going to—?

REAPER:  Hope you liked them. I’m a big fan. (Walks away).

LS:  In that case, give me some of those. (helps himself to some chocolate.)

VOICE-OVER NARRATION (sounding sad):  Life is like a box of chocolates. You eat ……..and then you die. (violins play)

LS (stops eating):  Let’s get the hell out of here.

MA:  I’m with you. Let’s go review another movie or something.

(LS and MA run from the park, as a raven flies overhead, cawing)


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE RAVEN ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE RAVEN ~two and a half knives.


Posted in 2011, Aliens, Coming Attractions, Mystery, Period Pieces, Psycho killer, Remakes, Sherlock Holmes, Spy Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 2, 2011 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The Circus. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk by cages of lions, tigers, gorillas, and other wild animals.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So here we are— attending your family reunion.

L.L. SOARES: Very funny. Nah. It’s feeding time, and I’ve signed on to feed the animals.

MA: Really? What are you feeding them?

LS (takes out salt and pepper shakers and shakes them over MA’s head): You.

MA: Ha ha. Good one!

LS: I’m dead serious.

MA: Well, lucky for me, we’re not at a normal circus. This here is a vampire circus! (Caged animals suddenly sprout fangs and start sipping blood from liquid dispensers mounted on the sides of their cages.)

LS: Who knew!

MA: And we’re here at this bloodsucker’s circus because the first weekend of December, there isn’t anything of note opening at the theaters, so we’ll be treating our readers to a DVD review, of the weird Hammer Films movie, VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972).

VAMPIRE CIRCUS is one of the stranger Hammer vampire movies, made at a time when it seemed Hammer was releasing multiple vampire movies each year. It’s also one of Hammer’s more erotic vampire films, if I remember correctly. I’ll be looking forward to taking another look at it.

There’s not a lot of star power involved with this one. No Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee on hand, but the director, Robert Young, is still actively making movies today.

LS: I remember seeing stills of this one as a kid in old issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and really wanting to see it. I eventually did, but it’s been awhile. And Synapse Films put out a very nice Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack a year or so ago. This will be a good one to revisit, for old time’s sakes.

MA: Yes, VAMPIRE CIRCUS is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray—as well as streaming video—so there are plenty of opportunities to catch this one.

LS: On December 9, we’ll be back at the theater, as we’ll be reviewing TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011). Ahh, a British espionage thriller, with the talented Gary Oldman as George Smiley. I’m not a big fan of spy movies, but this one sounds interesting.

MA: Yeah, this one looks like a neat Cold War spy thriller, and I’m really looking forward to it, even though I have to admit, I don’t like the title at all. Sounds like a bad nursery rhyme.

LS: You don’t like the title? It’s based on the classic novel by John le Carre!

MA: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, stuck his thumb inside a pie.  Awful.

But I almost always enjoy Gary Oldman. Plus the stellar cast also includes John Hurt, Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010), Toby Jones, and Mark Strong (KICK-ASS, 2010). With a cast like this, I’m expecting a lot.

It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson, who directed LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), with a screenplay by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, based on the le Carre novel of the same name.

All in all, I have some high expectations for this one.

On the other hand, on December 16, I’ll be reviewing the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes sequel, SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011). While I really enjoyed SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) and bought into the Downey Jr. interpretation of an action- oriented Holmes, I can’t say that I have high hopes for the sequel.

LS: Me neither, which is why I’m not reviewing this one. You’re on your own buddy!

MA: Gee, thanks.

LS: Actually, I didn’t see the first one so I’m not all that interested in this one. Although it was cool to see in the trailer that Noomi Rapace will have a major role in it. Noomi played Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009).

MA: Again, I liked the first one. I thought Robert Downey Jr. made for a fun Sherlock Holmes, as he brought along his Tony Stark/Iron Man pizzazz to the role, and he shared good camaraderie with Jude Law’s Dr. Watson. The two actors generated some neat chemistry together.

But SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is a sequel, and most sequels just don’t compare to the original. I’ve seen the trailer for this about a million times and feel I’ve seen the entire movie already, so that hasn’t helped, and since it’s a sequel, it probably means there will be more action, more subplots, and fewer things that make sense. While I’m not dreading this one, I don’t expect it to be all that good.

Guy Ritchie’s directing it, and he directed the first one, and it’s written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, two newcomers who did not write the first one.

LS: On December 21, we’ll be reviewing THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011). What a funny coincidence, since the star of the original film is in the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I have seen all three of the Swedish films based on the books by Stieg Larsson, and enjoyed them a lot, but I guess an American version of the series was inevitable. Since David Fincher is directing this one, I am very curious to see how it turns out. Fincher has given us everything from SEVEN (1995), to FIGHT CLUB (1999), to THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010). My first reaction is to say that since the Swedish films are so good, there’s no need for an American remake, but if anyone can bring something new and interesting to this movie, it’s Fincher.

MA: I’m looking forward to this one. I’ve enjoyed all the trailers I’ve seen for it, as it looks like it’s going to be a very stylish mystery thriller. I haven’t seen the Swedish version, so this one will be fresh for me.

Steven Zaillian wrote the screenplay, and he has a bunch of screenwriting credits, including the Steven Spielberg classic SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993). It also has a great cast, led by Daniel Craig, and also features Stellan Skaarsgard and Christopher Plummer.

LS: And don’t forget Rooney Mara, who will be taking over the role of Lisbeth Salander!

And just in time for Christmas, I’ll be reviewing the new horror sci-fi movie THE DARKEST HOUR (2011). This is the closest thing to a horror movie that’s coming out in December, so I’m looking forward to it. Invisible aliens attack the Earth for our energy and are able to smash humans to atoms if they get too close. How do you fight such an adversary? I guess we’ll find out.

MA: Since this one is opening at Christmas, I won’t be available to see it, and I can’t say that I’m feeling too bad about it. It looks like yet another alien invasion story. Frankly, I’m tired of this plot, as there have been a lot of these tales on the big screen the past couple of years.

So, that wraps up December. Also, as the year winds down, look for our annual BEST OF and WORST OF columns on our picks for the best and worst movies of 2011.

LS: Have a good weekend everyone, and we’ll see you soon with our review of VAMPIRE CIRCUS. Speaking of which (turns to MA). What blood type are you?

MA: Why?

LS: Just wondering. Just in case someone I know is a picky eater.

(Behind MA a giant gorilla with massive fangs sticking out of its mouth looms in the shadows).


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Pickin’ the Carcass: BLACK DEATH (2010)

Posted in 2011, DVD Review, Michael Arruda Reviews, Middle Ages, Period Pieces, Pickin' the Carcass, Supernatural, Torture with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda


Death by the plague is about as unpleasant as it gets.

It’s no surprise then that the movie BLACK DEATH (2010), now available on streaming video, with its black plague in the Middle Ages backdrop, is a major downer.

Yep, it’s the Middle Ages, 1348 to be exact, and everyone is questioning why there’s a plague. Is it a punishment from God? Or is it an attack by the Devil?

A group of religious warriors, led by a special envoy from the bishop, Ulrich (Sean Bean, looking like he walked directly off the set of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies) are searching for a village hidden deep in the woods rumored to be free from the plague because its inhabitants worship the devil and partake in human sacrifices. Their mission (cue MISSION IMPOSSIBLE music): to capture and execute the leader of this village, a purported necromancer.

Ulrich and his men visit a monastery in search of a guide. The Abbot (David Warner) doesn’t want to supply them with one, as he believes the mission is too dangerous, but a young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) volunteers for the job, and Ulrich accepts the boy for the position. Though Osmund is a monk, he is also secretly in love with a young woman Averill (Kimberley Nixon), and he’s praying for guidance from God on which direction to take his life—the religious life, or a life with Averill. When Ulrich arrives in search of a guide to take him and his men to a village near where Averill has fled to escape the plague, Osmund concludes that God has spoken to him, and he knows now which direction to follow.

Led by young Osmund, Ulrich and his men travel through the dangerous woods where they encounter superstitious witch hunters and deadly robbers, and after making quick work of these threats, they eventually reach the mysterious village in the woods that is free from the plague. Ulrich and his men request shelter in the village, and the friendly villagers allow them to stay, and they make no secret that the plague does not exist within their community.

It doesn’t take Ulrich long to discover the necromancer and leader of the village, a strong-willed woman Langiva (Carice van Houten). Langiva eventually orders the villagers to round up and imprison Ulrich and his merry band of religious soldiers, and she tells her people that they must do away with the evil Christians, as they’ve arrived in the village to end her reign and, as a result, will give them the plague. Langiva gives the captured Christians a choice: denounce Christ or face torture and death. Of course, most of Ulrich’s band refuse to renounce their faith, which opens the door for some pretty nasty torture sequences.

Langiva develops a fondness for young Osmund, and to further entice him, after showing him the dead body of Averill, she restores Averill to life, and then offers him a life of lusty pleasure with Averill, free from the plague, in return for renouncing Christ. This is no easy decision for Osmund. He was deeply in love with Averill, and he suddenly finds himself dealing with a painful dilemma.

Eventually, some of the religious manage to escape, Osmund makes his decision, and there is a bloody final confrontation between good and evil, although it’s more like a battle between sad and evil, as the followers of “good” don’t exactly have a good thing going, because if they win, they’re just going home to the plague. Not exactly the most inspiring of stories.

And that’s really the major problem with BLACK DEATH. It’s a depressing movie. Not that I’m expecting a movie about the Black Plague in the middle ages to be a hoot, but without some semblance of brightness, some victory for the human spirit, or even some humor, it’s all pretty bleak, and as a result it’s not all that enjoyable.

I did enjoy the look of this movie. BLACK DEATH has above average production values. As I mentioned before, its story takes place in 1348—and it looks it. And while the sets and costumes may not be as impressive as we saw in SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011) earlier this year, the fact that they’re not so grand adds to the bleakness of it all.

I also enjoyed the plot. The story of a group of religious warriors in search of a necromancer caught my interest immediately and had me excited to see how this one played out. The problem here, though, is that the pacing for the first half of the movie is very slow. It takes these guys forever to reach the village, and the threats they meet in the woods, the witch hunters and the robbers, aren’t overly exciting. The slow pace almost put me to sleep.

Once they get to the village, things pick up dramatically, and the movie does get better at this point, but it takes a while. The village scenes have an almost WICKER MAN feel to them, especially once Ulrich and his men have been taken prisoner. It’s very uncomfortable watching these helpless men toyed with and tortured by Langiva and her villagers.

The acting is pretty good in BLACK DEATH. Sean Bean in the lead role as Ulrich is solid and watchable. He’s done this sort of thing before (as I said, he looks like he’s still in his LORD OF THE RINGS get-up) and he’s fine here, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen him do before.

The best performance in the movie, by far, belongs to Carice van Houten as the villainous Langiva. She’s one scary woman. She’s cold, earthy and heartless. Langiva would make the perfect wife to Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle from THE WICKER MAN (1973). We saw van Houten recently in REPO MEN (2010), and she was also in VALKYRIE (2008), but she’s much more memorable here in BLACK DEATH.

Eddie Redmayne is OK as Osmund. He’s serviceable, but he didn’t knock my socks off. The same can be said for Kimberley Nixon as Averill, though in her defense, she’s not in the movie all that much.

It’s great to see David Warner in a small role as the Abbot. The role is way too small, though. BLACK DEATH could only have benefitted from more screen time from David Warner.

The other performance of note belongs to John Lynch as Wolfstan, the only standout among Ulrich’s group of religious warriors. Wolfstan is sort of the second in command behind Ulrich, and there’s a sincerity to this character, provided by Lynch’s strong performance, that is enticing. Lynch gives the second best performance in the film, other than Carice van Houten as Langiva.

The torture scenes in this one are pretty grisly and earn the film its R rating. We see men gutted, tied to horses and then pulled apart, and other grisly tidbits. If you like torture movies, you might find BLACK DEATH of interest.

However, for the most part, the Black Death itself is far more disturbing and frightening than anything seen in BLACK DEATH, and this works against the movie. The whole plot is about an evil necromancer, but really, some of the scenes early on in the movie depicting plague victims are far more frightening than any of the supernatural shenanigans depicted later.

And while the second half of the movie does pick up steam and is better than the slow first half, the ending of the movie is just so-so. As a result, the pay-off doesn’t fully deliver.

Director Christopher Smith gets mixed results. The film looks good, and there are some good heavy hitting torture moments that are not for the squeamish, but the action sequences and battle scenes are standard at best, and they’re not memorable at all.

Dario Poloni wrote the screenplay, and while he presents a decent story and a plot that I liked, his dialogue is flat and dull. Compared to SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011), which created some likeable characters and had inspired dialogue, this script adds very little to the proceedings. Not that I’m looking for a “fun” movie about the Black Death, but this is one dreary flick. It’s really hard to enjoy.

All in all, BLACK DEATH is a mixed bag. There are elements I liked—the story, acting, the look of the movie, and the intensity of some its painful torture scenes—but its slow pace, uninspired dialogue, and so-so ending all weigh this one down.

So, if you decide to watch this one, be forewarned: BLACK DEATH is about as fun as the plague.


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda