Knight of the Dead (2013)
“Variety is the spice of life”, or so someone wrote on a bathroom wall in Pompeii during a particularly philosophical moment, alongside “Is it getting hot outside?”, “For a good time summon Flavius Maximus at DCXXXI-MMMMDLVIII”, and “Christians are so poor they can only afford one God” (thank you, Mel Brooks, your royalty check is in the mail, I promise).
To say that your poor, humble horror movie reviewers can get jaded by the cinematic offerings out there is an understatement. There’s only so many movies you can see that are found footage dumps of douchebags in haunted asylums, or moody teen vampires, or even zombie flicks where the filmmakers find a stretch of countryside or an abandoned house and get at it. Which is a shame, especially for the last, because if there’s anything I enjoy, it’s a good old slamdown with the undead.
So when there’s an attempt at a cross-genre effort, like with KNIGHT OF THE DEAD, from writer/director Mark Atkins (PRINCESS OF MARS, SAND SHARKS, BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES), I will sit up and take notice. Now, that’s not always a good thing to do, as certain movies have found to their cost, so consider yourselves warned, True Believers!
KNIGHT OF THE DEAD opens with some narration and apocalyptic illustrations trying to capture the sense that this is indeed one of those nasty outbreaks of the plague that used to bother our European ancestors Back in the Day (I remember reading a theory once that such plagues spread quickly across an otherwise isolated Europe because of comets dumping extraterrestrial germs in the atmosphere, which is why these celestial bodies had become omens of doom, and that the word ‘influenza’ derived from the ‘influence’ of these things. Probably bullshit, but I’m trying to pad out this article. Which is in keeping with what the filmmakers were doing.
They’re certainly not offering us characterisation or exposition. There is a band of Medieval types, whose names and histories are never satisfactorily revealed, who are entering a valley that has been sealed off from the outside world because of the plague. They’re a motley bunch who look like they’ve got lost while on their way to a GAME OF THRONES convention, and are led by a priest named Leuther (Feth Greenwood), who’s looking for some sort of religious relic, and if they find it and use it, it could end this terrible pestilence. I think. Look, peeps, I’m trying to make sense of what the hell was going on. I watched this thing from the very start, and I still feel like I wandered into the wrong theatre halfway through the movie.
Meanwhile, while the priest is inside this church, outside, some woman is about to get raped by some local thugs. The priest’s friends step in and rescue her, killing Rapey Boy and incurring the wrath of Rapey Boy’s friends, who swear vengeance on the priest and his friends for interfering in Rapey Boy’s right to be rapey. Because clearly being in a valley of both the living plague victims and the unliving dead isn’t enough peril.
Anyway, the woman tags along, and she sounds foreign and reasonably intelligent (She’s a witch! BURN HER!), though obviously not intelligent enough to want to escape a valley filled with plague victims and zombies.
Well, I say “filled”. There’s one CGI shot of a horde of them spread out over a wide field, though when you get to the practical side of it they only seem to appear in threes and fours.
Anyway, the relic turns out to be the Holy Grail, which I suppose is the get Out of Jail Free Card of religious relics when it comes to solving whatever problems you might be facing. The priest talks about it granting you immortality if you have faith and drink from it, but rather than testing that theory and drinking from it IMMEDIATELY, especially given the situation, they take it along and try to fight their way out of the valley…
KNIGHT OF THE DEAD… is not the crappiest movie I’ve seen, at least so far. This week, anyway. It’s a short (1 hour 15 minutes) movie that feels longer because we get no sense of geography or duration or progression or urgency; it’s a half-dozen anonymous characters in Renaissance cosplay fighting zombies or other cosplay characters who pop up whenever someone scrapes together some extra money for fake blood (or fake-looking CGI effects, like one shot where one of our heroes – one of those stuntmen-turned-actors who get to show off their acrobatic skills – brings down his axe and literally splits a foe in two). The scenery (all slate quarries and snowy peaks of Snowdonia in Wales) is pretty and desolate enough, and you do feel isolated, but we don’t really get to see any abandoned villages or farms or anything that might support the idea that this is the Middle Ages; Monty Python did a better job when they gave us their story of the Grail (come to think of it, it was gorier, too. Worth a review, maybe?).
The generic anonymity of the characters means that when we’re given the usual tropes of the zombie film (the character who’s slightly bitten and progressively gets worse, the character who refuses to put down his zombified friend, the character who’s tied up and left as zombie bait by the bad guy), we don’t really care what happens to them. The mystic explanation for the zombie plague is at least different from the usual pseudo-scientific disease from more modern movies, but nothing’s actually done with it. The Grail is found early on, but then it’s almost forgotten. There are some nice realistic gore and decapitation shots, but also some craptastic CGI (but then that seems to be the norm these days). The zombie makeup ranges from the “that’s pretty decent” to the “that’s a guy in gray makeup” look.
In the end, I’ll give them points for a non-modern setting and for some of the fight scenes. But anyone expecting anything reaching the heights of ARMY OF DARKNESS will be in for some disappointment. The trailer is below, and the movie is available in the UK on DVD and VOD.
Director: Mark Atkins
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 4 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. As is the E. And both Gs. And the S. And the Y. It’s not there at all. IN FACT, IT NEVER WAS, AND IF YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU, YOU’LL NEVER TELL ANYONE ELSE ABOUT IT!