Extremely badass with a side order of nerd-fantasy-role-playing. Can I say, "yes please"? Eric just about sums up the narrative when he enthusiastically says to Joe, "Join us in tasting the sweet nectar of victory! Or mope around an empty house all week like a b****!". Joe, who was previously dumped by his girlfriend, has been playfully kidnapped by his friends and brought to a live action dungeons and dragons extravaganza in the woods! "It's a lot like you remember it.", says Hung, "except for sitting around a table, we do it for real." Unbeknownst to the protagonists, this renaissance fair of fantasy gamers is about to get dunked in a brutal blood bath of demon succubus death dealing.
I totally enjoyed Knights of Badassdom (2013)! Not only do we get some great sword fighting action, we get a ridiculous role playing nerd-out fantasy quest fest, with a good horror twist to boot! This horror-comedy has a blast poking fun at the so called fantasy role-playing crowd, while simultaneously empowering them as the story's heroes and our standard Hollywood role models. I must say I quite enjoyed the low-budget aesthetics – taking me right back to Sam Rami's Army of Darkness (1992). Instead of a crazy expensive semi-good looking 3D special effects monster they were creative within the boundaries of the budget and came up with a freaking awesome demon succubus monster from Hell. Summoned from an ancient book off eBay (go figure), the Hell creature assumes the form of the protagonist's recently ex-girlfriend (or should I say ex-girlfiend) and promptly reigns destruction on the camp of innocent live-action-role-players (LARP). The monster, which I'm pretty sure was a bigger than life size puppet, was grotesquely extravagant and yet perfectly fitting for the film.
Not only was I totally entertained, I thought this film actually had some great qualities, reminding me at moments of The Pick of Destiny (2006). Let's dissect a few in the sections below.
While Knights aims at a giving it's audience a fun ride, it is also very clever in it's delivery of the fantasy-horror film hybrid. The antagonist in this film is the demon wench that Eric summons but a closer look shows that the real conflict is in Joe's character transformation. Joe dreams of becoming a death metal rockstar but is constantly held back by his girlfriend who doesn't give his music credit or allow him to follow his dreams. Quite perfectly, the demon that Eric calls forth from Hell extracts the visage of Joe's girlfriend from Joe's brain during the ritual. This places the demon succubus in the narrative as both a real big problem for the characters as well as a metaphor for Joe's need to break free of his repressive girlfriend and become the rocker he was always meant to be (and get a new, way hotter girlfriend)!
Let's take a quick look at any historical relevance this film may be drawing upon. In case you are new to the fantasy genre, a succubus is a mythological creature found in the stories of both western and eastern cultures and religions. In mythology the succubus is represented sometimes as an extremely attractive seductress while other times a creature of zoomorphism, such as a deformed human with bird or serpent body parts. In Knights we get all of the above while the demon starts out looking like Joe's girlfriend but ends up as a boated slimy monster. This shows that at least the film makers did a little research before crafting this mythological based hack and slash fantasy. The film shows the female demon using her womanly charms to seduce and kill her victims. However Knights focuses way more heavily on the blood and guts side of the demon's folklore then the seduction side, which works nicely for the film's horror goals, but isn't totally accurate per se. But who cares! Right?
All in all though Knights isn't trying to be historically accurate by any means. It's trying to show that fantasy gamers are cool people too and shows that you don't need a bunch of crappy 3D animations to make a freaking great monster flick! I think this film gets its strength from its acting, ridiculously silly but clever narrative, and it's classic low budget special effects.
I thought Knights was pretty tasteful with its special effects. A good two thirds of the film is based in reality and warrants no special treatment aside from good editing, well used smoke, and cool misty moonlit shots of the forest landscape. I like how they integrated things simply instead of overdoing it. For example, when the succubus magically appears after the conjuring, Hung just tosses a harmless smoke bomb on the ground as they walk away. Instead of doing some extravagant animation of a demon rising from the underworld here, the succubus is revealed as the smoke clears. The only effects applied are some tasteful and subtle animations as the blood on her face gets slowly absorbed into the perfect seductress complexion, showing the audience her dark and unnatural power.
The first victims's death is a little cheesy where the succubus rips the man's jaw open and we see a sub-par special effect. I think this is the only lacking shot in the whole film, at least for me. The monster version of the succubus is a very cool costume or puppet thanks to a good makeup effects artist. I really liked that the demon was not comprised solely of computer graphics, as we are now so accustomed to seeing in movies. The finale of the film does have some very cool lightning and fire effects though, which are certainly the result of some computer rendering - though it almost looks like they could have lit the monster on fire for the final scene. That would have been fun! When Hung is brought back from the dead we see some cool glowing effects and deep red burning eyes. Again subtle and tasteful. The most obvious computer generated portion of the film is probably the churning blood red storm clouds that form behind Joe as uses his death metal powers in the final battle. It looks very video game-ish, but I think it fits the scene and doesn't distract from the story line. As a whole I think the use of fog machines and good editing does this film great credit. By not overdoing the special effects the narrative and humor is allowed to carry the film to success instead of being overwhelmed by unnecessary computer graphics.
Super awesome cast on this one. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been to read this script and get invited to be a part of such a unique project. The cast is as follows. Joe, played by Ryan Kwanten, who is most known from the vampire series, True Blood. Hung, played by Peter Dinklage, from most recently Game of Thrones. Eric played by Steve Zahn. Gwen played by Summer Glau who I will forever remember as River in the sci-fi TV series Firefly. And don't forget Lando, played by Danny Pudi from the TV show, Community. Each of these actors and actresses kick ass in making their characters feel real as we can identify with each of them in this wonderfully entertaining comedy. The actors and actresses are just serious enough to pull it off, but you know they can't stop laughing in-between cuts.