D: Joe Lynch / 86m
Cast: Steve Zahn, Ryan Kwanten, Summer Glau, Peter Dinklage, Margarita Levieva, Jimmie Simpson, Brett Gipson, Danny Pudi
When heavy metal loving Joe (Kwanten) is dumped by his girlfriend, Beth (Levieva), his best friends Eric (Zahn) and Hung (Dinklage) try to cheer him up by taking him on a larping weekend. Larping is short for Live Action Role Playing, the province of fantasy game players who want to act out their roles for “real” as well as doing so online. Eric is an enchanter, and has obtained a copy of a rare book said to have been written by Dr John Dee as an attempt to conjure angels but which was subsequently hidden when Dee found he was conjuring demons instead (though Eric thinks it’s just a prop he got off the Internet). Challenged by games organiser Ronny (Simpson) to come up with a casting spell that will allow Eric, Joe and Hung – accompanied by Lando (Pudi), Gwen (Glau) and Gunther (Gipson) – to progress to the games’ next level, they use an incantation from Dee’s book.
Unaware at first that in doing so they’ve raised a succubus – and that it’s taken on the form of Joe’s ex-girlfriend – the three friends and their new companions continue with the games. As the succubus begins killing stray larpers, it’s only when Hung, Ronny and Lando encounter her later that night that anyone becomes aware of what’s happening. She kills Hung and Lando but Ronny runs away; while he tries to find his way back to where the gamers are camped overnight, Joe and Gwen find Hung’s body and are joined by Eric and Gunther. They too try to get back to the campground but they run into the succubus; Eric recites another incantation to try and send it back to hell and the succubus runs off, apparently hurt. When Ronny sees the book he recognises it straight away and is horrified to learn what’s happened, and lambasts Eric for his stupidity, telling him that if he spoke Enochian (the book’s language) he would have known that the incantation wasn’t for sending the succubus back to hell, but for transforming it. Now the succubus is a demon, Abominog, and it’s down to the remaining group to stop it from feeding on the souls of anyone it encounters, and to destroy it.
Originally filmed in 2010, Knights of Badassdom has had a chequered history. A cut of the movie was shown at 2011’s Comic-Con but was held back from distribution by producers IndieVest Pictures (IVP). Rumours that IVP were cutting the movie without Lynch’s involvement were rife, and it seemed that the movie might end up being released in a bowdlerised version, one that didn’t match Lynch’s vision. Eventually a cut of the movie was screened in March 2013 and it was picked up by distributors Entertainment One. How the movie would have turned out without all that having happened we’ll probably never know, but even if Lynch did have a different approach to the one we’re presented with, it’s unlikely it would have saved the movie from being so bad.
The problem, mainly, is the movie’s tone. It wants to be a hip, clever horror comedy in the vein of Evil Dead II (1987), but where that movie was successful in its combination of extravagant, gory horror with laugh-out-loud sardonic humour, Knights of Badassdom is a crude misfire in comparison, providing lame jokes, gags that are shouted for emphasis by its cast, and which relies on Zahn’s intimidated baby face reactions to criticism as a humorous device. There’s also an over-reliance on having the cast speak in mock-Shakespearean English before relapsing back into modern-day slang or swearing; what the movie’s makers have failed to realise is that it’s not even funny once, let alone the numerous times it’s trotted out over eighty-six laborious minutes.
There’s a woeful lack of characterisation as well, with Joe turning out to be one of the blandest heroes to reach our screens, and the rest of the characters are given little to do but run around and shout a lot. Zahn does a watered-down version of his usual comedy schtick, Glau looks pretty but loses out to Levieva as the woman to watch (she gets far more to do as the bloodthirsty succubus), and Kwanten defaults to looking perplexed throughout (as well he might be). Only Dinklage makes an impression, embracing the intrinsic absurdity of getting dressed up and running around in the woods playing fantasy games, and having as much fun as possible; when his character is killed off, his presence is sorely missed.
With an emphasis on the gore that overwhelms the comedy (such as it is), Knights of Badassdom further demonstrates its inability to strike a balance between the two, leaving the viewer to wonder if Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall’s screenplay really was this artless to begin with, or if the rumoured tampering is to blame. Either way, the movie fails on so many levels that by the time Abominog is despatched in a blaze of ill-conceived coloured lighting, the viewer can only heave a sigh of relief that it’s finally over (and for once there’s no hint of a possible sequel).
Rating: 3/10 – pleasingly old school gore effects aside, Knights of Badassdom has so little to recommend it that the viewer could well end up rooting for Abominog in its efforts to feast on the characters; dreadful and dire in equal measure and a warning to anyone trying to make a modern-day horror comedy.