Friday, 4 February 2011



We appear to have been going through a small wave of Dark Ages pictures recently: we had the okay Centurion, we had the absorbing Valhalla Rising (which no-one liked except me), we had Black Death, probably the most enjoyable of the cycle so far, and we've still got The Eagle (Of The Ninth) to come - and you might want to add the dreaded Marcus Nispel retread of Conan - in 3D if you please! - to the list. But while the earlier wave of Dark Ages, sword and sorcery pictures were generally fun if frequently a bit ropey (think Red Sonja, think Krull, think The Beastmaster, Hundra or Hearts And Armour), the recent offerings have been grim, muddy, cold and rooted in a far less fantastic world; one ruled by religious dogmatics and sheer brawn. Probably the only one to have deliberately set out to be an entertainment was the generally unsuccessful Solomon Kane.

Season Of The Witch clearly wants to be an enjoyable fantasy-horror popcorn romp, but it's stymied by a number of things and chief among these is having Nicolas Cage as a 14th Century Knight fighting through the Crusades with his long-time comrade in arms, Ron Perlman. Renouncing their trade when it amounts to a holy commandment to slaughter children, they are hired (by a bubo-plastered Sir Christopher Lee in another cough-and-a-spit deathbed cameo) to escort a suspected witch to a distant monastery for an allegedly fair trial. They're accompanied by a soldier, an altar boy and a priest (named Debelzaq, which I consistently, and childishly, misheard as "The Ball Sac" and shamefully giggled every time his name was spoken). Is the unnamed girl possessed, innocent or insane? It's never clear, as they wend their way through the forests, up hillsides and across lethally rickety rope bridges, but when they finally arrive....

This is not, emphatically not, a terrible film. Bits of it are actually quite fun if you ignore the star casting: Ron Perlman looks like he could be from any century, past or future, but Nic Cage simply doesn't translate well into historical settings. But it all falls to bits in the final thirty minutes when it suddenly lurches into full-on CGI horror and just becomes incredibly, laugh-out-loud silly. Presumably these were the sequences that the executives demanded be reshot after allegedly poor preview audience reaction. But how bad can the original Dominic Sena cut have been if they had to hire Brett Ratner (uncredited) to do the reshoots? The resultant cut-and-shunt job does feel like two radically different movies awkwardly bolted together and while it's not an almighty disaster, it's hardly anything to be massively proud of. It's hokum, albeit miscast and with a ridiculous climactic confrontation, but it's never dull, more fun than expected and better than many of the reviews suggested.


Silliness in a box (not yet, though):

No comments: