Saturday, March 28, 2015

Movie Reviews: Sword of Vengeance

Sword of Vengeance
Directed by Jim Weedon
When William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings and became the first Norman King of England, not everyone on the island was thrilled with this turn of events. Some nobles refused to swear allegiance. Others were slow to provide feudal service or managed to be out of town whenever William sent messages requesting same. A few peasants and merchants were always telling William that their tax payment must have gotten lost in the mail. They were sure it would turn up any day now. The church hierarchy remained dominated by Saxons who weren't necessarily loyal to the new Norman overlords. Some folks even mocked William's accent, his illegitimate birth and mother's lowborn status. This last was a really bad idea as William's berserk button was anyone saying ANYTHING remotely negative about his mother. William tended to break things (and people) when someone insulted dear old mum. The people who were the most dismissive and defiant of the Normans were the Saxons in the north of England. They had rustled up a rival Saxon heir to the throne. They were buoyed by a Danish incursion (at this time the Danish and northern Saxons were close kin). Apparently the Northern English believed that William was too far away to do anything to them. Well they were wrong about that. This was not an era that rewarded weak or indecisive leaders. And William was neither. He was a brutal man for brutal times. When his enemies refused to bend the knee, William decided to bury those cockroaches, Norman style. William launched an invasion of the North that was considered close to genocide by contemporaneous historians. In what was called the Harrowing, William and his armies not only defeated, executed, chased off or paid off rebel armies, they also ruthlessly and thoroughly destroyed the ability of the North to rebel ever again. 

They accomplished this by purposely targeting non-combatants (including women and children) for slaughter. They burned villages, killed livestock, salted fields, committed public atrocities to cause fear, poisoned wells, destroyed homes, crops and tools, starved out families, and made the North such a wasteland that twenty years later the population was only one quarter of what it had been prior to the Norman depredations. Sword of Vengeance is set in the immediate aftershock of the Harrowing. Earl Durant (Karel Roden), a Norman noble, has taken over large swaths of Northern England that he rules as a virtual king. He only answers to King William the Conqueror, whom he assisted both at Hastings and during the Harrowing. Away with William fighting in France, Durant has left his lands under the control of his two feuding sons Lord Artus (Gianna Giardelli) and Lord Roman (Edward Akrout). They reign supreme over a wasteland in which food and shelter are virtually non-existent if you aren't Norman. Well they reign supreme until a rather intense young man with improbably magnificent sword skills more reminiscent of Japanese kata techniques than medieval European styles, shows up and starts turning Norman soldiers into chop suey. This man, known only as Shadow Walker (Stanley Weber) is cool. We know that not only because of his speed and swagger and name but because he's apparently the first white man to discover cornrows. You know anyone who's brave enough to stand up against the Normans is going to attract attention and loyalty. Shadow Walker gets both from a renegade band of Saxon survivors/refugees. This group, led by the fetching Anna (Annabelle Wallis), shieldmaiden extraordinaire, thinks that Shadow Walker could be just the man they need to lead them to justice.

This movie is rather obviously a spaghetti Western/samurai film translated into the sword and sandals genre. Shadow Walker even has what looks like a Clint Eastwood style poncho. The film has a short running time (85 minutes). It makes the critical mistake of giving too much away in early flashbacks but again stories like these tend to be predictable anyway. It's done by the same people that were behind Hammer of The Gods and is about as violent as that film was. Everything is blue or gray in this movie except for the blood and viscera, which are all too red. I liked this film but even a genre fan such as myself would advise possible viewers that this film is not the best in terms of dialogue or story. In fact the dialogue occasionally is almost laughable. This film is mostly an excuse to see grim people get bloody revenge on those who have wronged them. I'm not sure why I like these films as there aren't a tremendous number of people still around on whom I would like to have bloody revenge but all the same if you're into this sort of thing the movie can be cathartic. I think it's just that I like underdogs and dislike bullies. There is something I appreciate about the idea that one man armed with nothing more than two swords, an obvious back story and a bad attitude, can make a serious difference in the world. 
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