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Friday, January 17, 2014

KNIGHT OF THE DEAD -- DVD review by porfle

If you're going to make a movie in which one-third of the world's population dies of a plague, you might as well make them zombies, too. 

KNIGHT OF THE DEAD (2013) does just that--and not too badly, either, for a low-budget flick with a no-name cast and a director whose biggest credits so far are the JACK THE GIANT KILLER remake and assorted SyFy Channel titles.  Many of Mark Atkins' other films, in fact, are so wretchedly-reviewed on IMDb that I fear this one may have gotten sucked into the same black hole generated by them (with a current score of less than three out of ten) even though it doesn't quite deserve to be. 

The year is 1349, the Black Death is in full swing in medieval Great Britain, and four knights and a priest have just been tasked to deliver no less than the Holy Grail itself to--well, Priest Central,  I guess.  Since the Black Plague was the most fun and exciting of all the plagues, we're guaranteed no end of boils and pustules and an overall air of absolute squalor, sort of like in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL but without the fun and frivolity.

Fortunately for monster fans, though--and especially those who look forward to each new zombie flick that comes off the conveyor belt these days--KNIGHT OF THE DEAD  goes the plague one better by having a goodly number of its victims come back as flesh-eating ghouls, who are then banished by the thousands to a desolate valley that just happens to be right in the middle of the route our hero priest Leuthar (Feth Greenwood) and his four swashbuckling companions--Anzo, Raphael,  Gabriel, and Bjorn--must take in order to complete their quest.

This results in an elegant sufficiency of full-scale zombie attacks on Leuthar and the knights which deliver the goods right down to the traditional gang-chomps and entrail feasts you'll find in Romero's works as well as those of his successors.  (The only difference besides the costumes is the fact that we can be pretty sure this zombie plague wasn't caused by a satellite returning from Venus.) 

Director Atkins stages these sword-slinging, blood-gushing battles in an uneven style that looks pretty cool one moment but slapdash and poorly edited the next.  Still, things are kept mostly at a nice brisk pace save for a few lags during the dialogue scenes.  But even these maintain our interest fairly well due to some fairly good performances, interesting characters, and some dramatic situations involving people being bitten and facing the prospect of returning as undead creatures themselves. 

Further conflict is generated when the knights rescue a boil-bedecked damsel from the clutches of a molesting cad and, in killing him, raise the ire of his ruthlessly vengeful clan led by the not-very-nice Calon (George McCluskey) and his toady Cybron (Alf Thompson).  While these hostile characters on on their trail, they also run across a relatively winsome young woman named Badriyah (the appealing Vivien Vilela in her debut) whom they must decide is either an ally leading them safely through the valley or a witch leading them to their doom. 

Even with all of this going on, screenwriters Atkins (who also is credited with the cinematography) and Jeffrey Giles find time to squeeze in an odd (in a nice sort of way) love scene between two characters who become unexpectedly smitten with each other.  This final two (in reality-TV lingo) must fight to the death in the modestly rousing finale, against both the living and the dead, with bleak and desolate Welsh locations serving as a terrific backdrop which the filmmakers use to excellent advantage. 

Production values are always passable (barring a floppy rubber sword here and there among other gaffes) and often richly atmospheric, including a nifty pre-titles sequence which gives us a quick rundown of the Black Death highlights leading up to our current events.  The film is never slick-looking but the visuals have a gritty realism and rhythm that compels our interest for most of the running time. 

Zombie makeup effects and even some CGI shots are well done.  As for the score, it's dynamic and exciting despite being assembled from myriad sources including library cues. 

The DVD from Inception Media Group is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16 x 9 (1.78:1) and 5.1 digital surround sound.  No subtitles, but closed captions are available.  The barebones menu offers only two selections--"Play Movie" and "Play Trailer."

I enjoyed KNIGHT OF THE DEAD for what it is--a well-rendered B movie that impresses by being considerably better than it could have, or perhaps even should have been.  Several IMDb users seem to totally disagree,  but I'm going to go along with me on this one. 

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