Directed by Gerry Lively
Starring Jack Derges and Eleanor Gecks
We open with the last of the Knights of the New Sun, an ironically old and defunct holy order who once threw down an evil sorcerer (the opening narration tells us so; with animation) and were the guardians of peace for centuries, but are now an irrelevance in an age when every small town has a curtain wall and a magically-shielded trove of enchanted treasures. Newly anointed knight Grayson takes his vows of duty and chastity, like his father and grandfather before him, but the mystical light show fails to happen, as it has failed to happen for decades, and he is feeling a little blue when the order are attacked by barbarians and wiped out, save for Grayson – who is left for dead – and his father, who is captured.
In pursuit of the barbarians, Grayson gets help from a friendly prostitute, as you do when you’re a paladin. She hooks him up with a magic item seller – a contact that is no doubt of immense use to a small-town whore – who sells him some black armour and a jaggedy sword so that he can disguise himself as a badass. The prostitute – judging by the credits she might be called Carlotta, but names are elusive things in this film, and none of the actors are recognisable enough to narrow it down – then points him towards Akordia, a ruthless witch who is recruiting sell-swords in the service of the barbarians’ master, Shathrax the Mind Flayer.
He does not make the best showing at first, given that the posse of evil bastards are unconvinced by Grayson’s manly swagger. However, by killing one of her existing goons, Grayson wins a place on team evil, alongside Seith the Libertarian Assassin, Bezz the Vermin Lord, and Vimak the enormous black guy with the immense sexual appetite (I think someone slipped and fell on a stereotype). In the hopes of being led to his father he goes with them on their mission for Shathrax, despite knowing that he may have to betray his vows to maintain his cover.
This Fearsome Five head out, slay a dragon, massacre a small town and generally behave badly. Sure, they occasionally stop to discuss philosophy (Seith believes that poor people just exist as somewhere to keep his knives), ambition (Vimak was exiled for being weak and wants to go back and kill everyone who knows about it, although apparently he mostly wants to sleep with a huge number of women simultaneously), to kill each other (even Grayson murders Vimak and lets Seith die), or just to afflict people with bug plagues for the sheer, unadulterated hell of it (Bezz the Vermin Lord digs insects; go figure), but mostly it’s just one bad deed after another. Finally, with most of them dead of friendly fire, they retrieve the cover of the long-lost Book of Vile Darkness from its keeper.
Said keeper, by the way, is a ‘slaymate’; an undead child betrayed and abandoned by her guardians and now subsisting on cruelty and hate. It is very, very creepy. Being allergic to all touchy-feely feels, the Slaymate reveals that Akordia is in love with Grayson after (spoilers) he betrays one of his vows when they have creepy, Red Sonya-ish ‘you saved my life so I must do you’ suddenly-submissive-Amazon, post-dragon slaying sex, which is a phrase almost as uncomfortable to say as the scene of Akordia being all ‘the witchy law says you may ravish me as you desire’ is to watch.
Finally, we reach the castle of Shathrax, who turns out to be a guy with his mouth sewn shut who speaks through two women he keeps on chains, which is creepy, but so not a Mind Flayer. Grayson rescues his father, and when they are cornered his defiant hope kindles his paladin amulet into life (bizarrely in response to his declaring himself a blackguard, which in D&D is an anti-paladin rather than a bounder and a cad). Shock, horror! This turns out to be a trap, as the villains need ‘liquid pain’ extracted from a true knight using a machine clearly knocked off from Count Rugen’s design in The Princess Bride to ink the new Book of Vile Darkness, but Akordia betrays the dark lord for love and light returns.
What’s wrong with it?
So, another Dungeons & Dragons movie; more mock heroics and dodgy dragons, and perhaps another chance to see Bruce Payne in purple lipstick chewing on the scenery.
Well… not exactly.
The third D&D movie takes its title and setting from the game line’s controversial Evil Bastard’s Manual, released amid much sound and fury as a ‘mature readers only’ product from the pen of Monte ‘Monte Cook’s World of Darkness’ Cook, introducing rules for sex, drugs and rock and roll (well, drugs and bad magic rituals at least) and making Tracy ‘All thieves must be evil unless they are racially inclined to kleptomania’ Hickman cry.
What’s right with it?
It has a few decent moments, and some effort clearly went into it, and the evil adventuring party are not only properly evil, there is also a clear division between the Chaotic, Neutral and Lawful Evil members which shows proper commitment to the material.
How bad is it really?
The Book of Vile Darkness is… bad, but not as bad as the first D&D movie and for different reasons. The attempt at grimdark is partially successful, but Grayson is painfully bland and Akordia not much better and the less said about the awkward stab at sexing up the franchise the better. Seith, Bezz and Vimak are the stars here, since they are clearly having fun, especially Bezz, whose presence seems to be as a reminder that not all evil is Lawful Evil. There are also some nice moments, and even some half-decent dialogue.
All in all, however, if you’re not siting up into the wee small hours waiting for your laundry to finish, there are probably better choices available.
Having murdered the giant Vimak, and needing to make it look as if he ran off with the treasure, Grayson stuffs the corpse into a bag of holding.
What’s up with…?
- The Paladin in disguise? Honestly, it’s amazing that this works at all, given how incredibly bland and wet our hero is. If you picture a cross between Johnny Depp and Karl Urban, with all the manly passion and charisma of Justin Beiber, you’re about there.
- The Knights’ vow of chastity. Grayson is at least a third generation knight, but they forswear the pleasures of the flesh. I pity their wives; I really do.
- The Witch law that you have to get nekkid for a guy who saves your life? Oh, yes; they were trying to sex things up some.
Production values – Mediocre, at best. The dragon is pretty clearly CGI and nothing is better than you would see on a TV series; and not a good TV series either. I’m talking the level of Lexx or Cleopatra 2525. Buffy the Vampire Slayer looked this good in the 90s, and today even nuWho would be embarrassed. 15
Dialogue and performances – Mostly pretty lame, although some of the support is good. Bezz the Vermin Lord is an enthusiastic treat, and clearly would have been Bruce Payne if they could have afforded him. The dialogue has a few corkers, but is mostly nothing to write home about, either for good or for ill. 13
Plot and execution – The plot is coherent, at least, and the direction and fight choreography passes the first test of being better than I could have managed. 12
Randomness – – Pretty well in hand, for the most part, although the fact that a small mountain town has a towering wall, a magical vault and a massive, exotic brothel seemed a little out of left-field. 8
Waste of potential – Pretty much all it could have been, with what it had to work with. 5