15 – 85mins – 2012
Written by: Brian Rudnick
Directed by: Gerry Lively
Starring: Jack Derges, Eleanor Gecks, Lex Daniel, Anthony Howell, Habib Nasir Naber
WIZARDS OF THE BOAST
“The Classic Saga Returns” bellows the self-assured tagline at the head of the DVD cover, yet surely this second DTV sequel to the 2001 role-playing franchise cash-in was neither wanted or expected, much less classic? Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s universally-renowned RPG has earned that distinction, I grant you, but the poorly received Jeremy Irons and Thora Birch-starring flop? Jog on!
Unfounded immodesty aside, for all its low budget flaws (flagrant genre stereotypes, unknown actors with all-too-modern haircuts delivering preposterous dialogue with serious faces) The Book of Vile Darkness is a “level up” on 2005’s soulless and pedestrian Wrath of the Dragon God. The fact that many fans actually prefer that first sequel to the theatrically-released Dungeons & Dragons (2000) speaks volumes.
The “vile” tome of the title doesn’t play a major role (it’s forgotten for all-too-lengthy stretches), with the undemanding plot focusing on a young knight’s (Derges) decision to join a rag-tag party of ne’er-do-wells too nice to be evil but too bastardly to be empathised with, on a mission of vengeance after his unrealistically youthful father is kidnapped by a villainous warlord.
There are a handful of beautiful mythical landscapes (briefly viewed but they do bring visual scope to the small production), some passably sufficient CGI beasties and some mildly unusual and inventive fantasy elements (a roaming eyeball and ghost limbs in particular), although these nods to the fanbase are integrated a little too irrelevantly as if everyone should be a well-traversed grand-master of every facet of the long-running and highly-acclaimed strategy game.
Modest horror studio After Dark Films’ involvement in the film has – as with The Butterfly Effect’s none-too-shabby threequel, Revelations (reviewed on my old blog HERE) – lead to a dramatic increase in blood and boobs which feels alien to the series and gratuitously crammed in, like a lame Game of Thrones knock-off. While the only genuinely spine-chilling aspect (a hungry undead demon child) feels like it belongs in Silent Hill.
Ultimately, this brisk 85minute adventure leaves you feeling somewhat unsated, the credits rolling too soon after the climatic show-down. An epilogue would have improved the film’s pace and narrative structure, helping to contextualise the action in the grand D&D universe (merely hinted at in a stylishly illustrated prologue) rather than dumping you out of the diegesis while the actor’s are still catching their breath.
In a CR@B Shell: A noble and sporadically successful endeavour from the cast and crew, The Book of Vile Darkness accomplishes a lot with little resources but this scrappy little underdog can’t escape the hackneyed genre stereotypes its iconic source material is so deeply rooted in.