By C. Michael Forsyth
I’ve always counted myself tremendously lucky to have been born in the United States rather than in some Third World hellhole, and in the 20th century rather than the 19th, when, as an African-American, I doubtless would have been a slave.
And if you never counted your lucky stars you didn’t live in the Middle Ages, you will after you see “Black Death.” Brutal slaughter, gruesome torture, painful death by incurable disease, religious fanaticism and blind ignorance are all features of everyday life in medieval times put on vivid display in this atmospheric film, now on DVD.
The movie is set in 1348, when the Black Plague that wiped out at least a third of Europe’s population ravages England. A single isolated village has mysteriously remained unscathed and the bishop suspects that locals have resorted to devil-worship to escape the disease. His envoy is tasked with capturing the necromancer at the heart of the conspiracy and bringing him back for what good ol’ Dubya would call “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
It’s curious that the movie is listed in the horror category, since nothing truly paranormal occurs. It’s more like “Deliverance” with knights. (Don’t worry, no one is ordered to “squealeth like a pig.”) But it richly earns the horror label. The shocking violence, high body count, and overall creepiness make it as scary as any “Saw” sequel.
Sean Bean is compelling as scraggly haired Ulric, the driven, Solomon Kane-like envoy. Like Beowulf, he grimly leads a band of fierce warriors against the forces of darkness. His guide is Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a naïve young monk who’s strayed from his vows by falling in love with a maiden.
When the crusaders cross a moor to the village, they find it populated by warm and welcoming townsfolk — a tranquil, idyllic oasis from the cruel and chaotic outside world. Still, fanatical Ulric remains convinced that the Devil is at work in the town. The question quickly becomes: are the villagers evil demon-raisers or peace-loving pre-hippies who at most indulge in folk medicine and Wicca?
The only flaw I found with the movie is that this question is answered far too soon. I would have preferred to have been kept guessing a bit longer and given time to mull over the philosophical issues it raises. Other than that, I give “Black Death” a solid two bloody sickles up.
This writer’s horror novel Hour of the Beast has been hailed by critics as “gripping,” “uniquely written” and “very difficult to put down. To check it out, look for it on Amazon.com or CLICK HERE. The eBook is just $5!