Sunday, January 6, 2008

Day For Knight

Now here's a curio the world seems to have forgotten, and it's a good one. How's this for potential: a civil war voodoo movie. Watching this movie makes me think that Hollywood comes together every now and again, sees a movie like this and agrees to bury it and pilfer its more creative moments for better funded projects. For a movie that clearly no one saw, one can draw some parallels to Ravenous, Sleepy Hollow, & Pirates Of The Caribbean that are just clear enough to make me wonder if there wasn't someone paying attention.

Grey Knight
by George Hickenlooper

Morphine addicted union captain John Harling is told that before he can be discharged he has to track down a group of rogue confederate soldiers who have been killing and crucifying whole regiments at a time. The only trace they have left so far is a belt buckle from a Kentucky regiment that his old friend and former professor Col. Strayn used to run. It just so happens that Strayn is in a union prison where he's been for as long as his regiment has been missing. Harling pulls some strings and gets his commanding officers to agree to let Strayn accompany them on their mission as he is familiar with both the territory and the regiment they will be tracking. Also along for the ride are aborted comic relief English photographer and a mute black girl who seems to know more than she lets on. You see she was a witness to an attack by the evil brigade and managed to escape by using fire to scare her attacker. So Harling, Strayn, Mute Girl, annoying Brit, a very humourless Ray Wise and a group of soldiers head into confederate territory. Eventually we'll that the evil soldiers stumbled upon a curse that been condemned to a small cave that Mute Girl's ancestors forced it into. The cave was broken into when the war started and the curse began possessing soldiers who now kill without prejudice, making more zombies for their army. So what happens when Strayn's regiment catches up with him?

Grey Knight or The Killing Box was about as odd a film as could be imagined in 1993; a film led by a string of B actors with little to no production value that combines a lot of elements that would show up in much bigger films in the next 15 years. It's a shoddy affair to be sure, but you can see some flares of originality in this movie, even if it does labor over dreams and voice over a lot more than it can get away with. It was, as far as I can see, a fairly unique premise, even the title is fairly creative. It also relies heavily on pretty silly behavioral ploys; the villains do a lot more menacing than they do killing. The movie looks like it was shot pretty much completely in day for night photography (this gets old pretty quickly) and the footage of the silhouetted soldiers owes an awful lot to The Fog. It has the same kind of energy as The Fog, though Hickenlooper tried to build a little more out of the nothing he was given than John Carpenter did. In that regard it's a little more like Escape From New York (I'm surpirsed Tom Atkins didn't put in an appearance).

What bugs me most is the little things they do to set up intrigue among characters that they just abandon. Harling's morphine addiction for one is ignored almost completely. While they find it necessary to say how anti-slavery Strayn would become after the battle, it never bothers exploring how the soldiers would explain that a group of Zombies had been killing soldiers from both sides of the army. George Hickenlooper did his best, but there just wasn't enough to make it work in the end. He didn't care at all about the anachronisms that seemed to fill every second of the movie (I guess if execs blew their load getting name actors you could give a damn about, you wouldn't care much either, granted I don't know how they convinced Martin Sheen to appear for his 15 seconds at the beginning or whose idea it was). Corbin Bernson, Ray Wise and Adrian Pasdar are professional enough; shortly after this movie, minor players David Arquette, Matt Leblanc and Billy Bob Thornton would explode in a big way. There are too many little coincidences here that suggest someone with deep pockets paid attention to this movie, even if audiences didn't. For my money it's better than all of the direct to video zombie films released ever since. Seeing Grey Knight has reminded me just how little creativity is left in the movie making world. A movie like this, cheap as it is, had enough going for it to spark a fair amount of rip offs. Whens the last time a horror movie, studio picture or straight to video, made use of a wholly original concept, enough that the lowliest of filmmaker sought to rip it off. The days of unique rip-off culture are long dead I fear. Oh sure, there's still a When A Killer Calls every month, but dammit, the heart and soul of this business is long dead. What happened to the Dan O'Bannons and J.R. Bookwalters of the world? Zombie movies have seen much better days than these.

No comments: