14th Century England and the Bubonic plague is spreading it’s touch of death throughout the land, as towns and cities fall victim to this grisly disease, yet one isolated village is seemingly untouched by the horror. A devout monk accompanied by a small band of Knights are sent by the church to determine whether the rumours of witchcraft and necromancy protecting the villagers are true.
Cast: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice Van Houten, Andy Nyman, Tim McInnerny, David Warner. Writer: Dario Poloni. Director: Christopher Smith.
Black Death is the fourth movie by English genre director Christopher Smith following on from his previous horror movies, Creep, Severance and Triangle. Smith tackles a very dark period in English history with the movie being set in the 14th century, during the time of the bubonic plague and the systematic hunting down and killing of those believed to be practitioners of black magic and witchcraft.
Sean Bean plays Ulric, knight-crusader for the church and leader of a small group of mercenary warriors, tasked with the mission to travel to a remote village to determine whether it is through black magic and necromancy that this community has remained untouched from the plague, whilst it has ravaged the rest of the country.
Joined on their expedition by initiate monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) as guide, the band of warriors wend their way through plague ridden towns and blighted forests encountering on their way, savage brigands and superstitious witch burning townsfolk. Upon finally reaching the village all at first seems normal, with the villagers friendly and helpful though untouched and seemingly unaware of the disease wreaking havoc across England, but a growing unease forms in Ulric as he investigates the town’s charismatic yet perplexing matriarch Langiva (Carice Van Houten).
Christopher Smith like fellow Brit director Neil Marshall is a master of dark and creepy horror, and also like Marshall likes nothing more than to show the viewers the outcome of the barbarous nature of violence, this film does not shy away from showing us man’s inhumanity to man with realistic and brutal fight sequences and squirm inducing torture scenes, this is of course done for dramatic effect as opposed to shock value as the film encompasses a time when Britain was a brutal and cruel place, Smith effortlessly throws us headlong into the dark ages and a land divided by wars, pestilence and superstition. The acting is superlative throughout, the always watchable Sean Bean plays Ulric as a troubled, violent and pious holy knight, but ultimately he is a sympathetic and moral man caught up in an horrendous time.
Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Osmund the young monk looking for a direction in life, is amazing, his character grows emotionally throughout the movie, until, in the last sequence of the film he is almost unrecognisable in it’s fantastic twist ending. Carice Van Houten as village matriarch Langiva is beautiful, haunting and enigmatic but is deep down duplicitous and surprisingly more dangerous than the barbarous knights that were sent there to seek the truth. Other notable performances are by Smith’s regular stalwart actors Andy Nyman and Tim McInnerny, and classic English thespian David Warner appears briefly as Osmund’s superior Abbot.
Black Death is a bleak and harrowing look at a desperate time in English history, it is beautifully shot and magnificently directed by Chris Smith from an original story by Dario Poloni. Evoking a feel of both early gothic Hammer movies and at times the original version of The Wicker man, this is a dark and tragic film that presents you with morally ambiguous characters and no clear division between right and wrong. The film draws you into its gloomy, desolate world and keeps you on the edge of your seat as its morbidly enthralling story slowly unravels like the characters in the film itself. Recommended to all fans of supernatural horror and classic Hammer films.
Precinct1313 Rating: 5 ‘Witch Burning Zealots’ out of 5
A team-building exercise in the deep countryside of eastern Europe becomes a bloody fight for survival when the sales team of Palisade, a multi-national arms corporation are stalked by a group of crazed and murderous ex-military soldiers.
Starring – Danny Dyer, Andy Nyman, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Laura Harris, Claudie Blakely, Babou Ceesay.
British director Christopher Smith’s Severance is his second film after the excellent London based horror Creep, Smith is a devotee of the horror genre with subsequent films: medieval-witchcraft movie Black Death (starring Sean Bean) and mind-bending horror Triangle, all highly recommended modern horror classics in their respective field. Severance however bears a difference to his other movies due to the inclusion of its fantastic black comedy, in fact the movie is as funny as it is gruesome (and boy is it gruesome!) …
Horror comedies are notoriously hard to pull off, the balancing of humour and gore takes a lot of skill from both the director and cast … too much humour and the film loses its horror edge, subsequently the horrific side can take away from its more comedic moments, but like other classic horror-comedies such as Evil Dead 2, Smith blends the two different genres masterfully producing one of the greatest comedy horrors of all time.
A scene that portrays this point perfectly comes in at about the halfway point of the movie, having just finished a ‘team-building’ paintball game one of the group, Gordon gets his leg snared in a bear trap, this is a truly brutal and gory sequence made even more so by the actor himself (Andy Nyman) who manages to show extreme pain and terror that really brings a reality to the situation. With the other team members attempting to remove the jaws of the trap with no success, Gordon not being able to withstand the pain any longer rips his leg forcefully from the trap leaving the lower half of his limb in the bear trap, an horrific and realistic sequence … within seconds of this you are laughing out loud again as the team’s resident stoner Steve (Danny Dyer) attempts to keep the severed limb cold by trying to force it into a small fridge on their coach with little success, until he removes the shoe and sock, with more revulsion to the smell of the foot than the actual severed limb itself, this sequence is hilarious!
The mainly British cast features many well known UK actors including Danny Dyer (Outlaw, the Business), Tim McInnerny (Black Adder,Black Death), Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Wired) and Andy Nyman (Black Death, Kick Ass 2), their on screen camaraderie in the face of this appalling threat is amazing and really keeps you rooting for the group as a whole, not your usual horror movie fare because these are characters you actually care about, so that when the inevitable slaughter begins you genuinely lament the deaths of each and every one of them.
One of the few non British actors in this is Maggie, played by American actress Laura Harris (The Faculty, 24), she is the heroine of the piece, tough and intelligent, and the only one to take the fight to the killers themselves. She is the ultimate ‘final girl’ character and you will be rooting for her all the way throughout the film … a sterling performance.
Adding to the movies already entertaining comedy and horror are other fantastically well played scenes including an amazing Rashomon style sequence where members of the team recount stories of the ramshackle eastern European lodge they are staying in. Toby Stephens character Harris uses a 20’s style silent horror to tell of the lodge being a former mental asylum, Claudie Blakely who plays Jill, tells of it being a former military camp used by murderous soldiers, complete with a realistic and uncomfortable scene of soldiers executing civilians and once more the humour comes back in as Danny Dyer’s character Steve tells everyone that it is actually a sex lodge, complete with a scene of naughty nurses and heaving bosoms!
With a great cast, wonderful scenery (mainly shot in Hungary and the Isle of Man), laugh out loud humour, realistic gore effects and in the latter half of the film, a genuinely chilling atmosphere, Severance is a movie to search out if you have never seen it before … funnier than Sean of the Dead, gorier than Evil Dead – a horror-comedy masterpiece!
Precinct1313 Rating: 5 severed legs out of 5