Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on January 24, 2014, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
Reviewing Knights of Badassdom puts one in a situation that has become depressingly familiar: Having to address the movie that’s there instead of the movie it once was, could and should have been. The much-discussed postproduction woes are abundantly evident in the final product, though the silver lining is that, for horror fans anyway, Knights gets a little better as it goes along.
Knights of Badassdom, which has played a handful of Tugg theatrical engagements and will be available on VOD and digital in February, was shot over three years ago by Wrong Turn 2 and Chillerama director Joe Lynch, who no doubt had a better idea of what he wanted the film to be than the final product itself seems to. Taken over by one of the financiers and hacked down to 80 minutes plus credits, this fantasy/horror/comedy wavers uncertainly from one component genre to the other, never committing to a consistent tone and failing to pay off on setups and character beats. Building either humor or horror is a delicate process and combining them is even trickier, but whoever put this version of the movie together is all thumbs.
The script by Kevin Dreyfuss and Matt Wall (also two of the producers, who are alleged to have been forcibly removed along with Lynch) certainly has a promising premise: introducing live-action roleplayers (or LARPers) in the midst of a medieval campaign to a genuine centuries-old threat. The catalyst is a magic book that is introduced in a very Evil Dead II-esque prologue before winding up in the hands of Eric (Steve Zahn), who intends to use it in the games he plays with best pals Joe (Ryan Kwanten) and Hung (Peter Dinklage). Joe has lost some of his enthusiasm for these ventures, having just broken up with his girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva), so Eric and Hung conspire to get him drunk/stoned, and Joe wakes up wearing a full suit of armor in the parking lot of the Fields of Evermore, where teams bearing names such as “The Norse Whisperers” and “Gnomeland Security” have gathered to compete in an epic quest.
There are a few chuckles to be had with gags like that, though even in the first act, the movie can’t settle on whether it wants to be an affectionate ribbing of the subculture or a no-holds-barred spoof laughing at them. The main dialogue joke of juxtaposing Olde English phrasing with modern vernacular and incessant swearing gets olde itself pretty quickly, though the cast, also including Summer Glau as the fetching Guinevere—Gwen for short—who catches Joe’s eye, is game. Most fun is Dinklage, who in a happy accident of timing and a bit of irony could be seen as playing off his image from Game of Thrones, which was lensed a year before the HBO hit premiered.
In the midst of the silliness, Eric reads some passages from that book of spells and accidentally raises a bloodthirsty succubus who looks just like Beth and starts stalking the woods, seducing and preying on the LARPers. Little is done with the idea of this monster taking on the visage of Joe’s old flame, and the first male dorks she approaches seem unconscionably resistant to her charms. Her first victim is dispatched via an unfortunate digital mutilation effect, but from there on her carnage is brought off with very red and wet makeup FX, as Knights veers awkwardly from lighthearted capering to a full-on gorefest. The splatter will satisfy those in the mood for mindless mayhem, though, and the movie perks up in the final act when a huge demon is unleashed, all done practically and just as impressively by Mike Elizalde and the Spectral Motion folks as when they put Edward the troll before the cameras for last year’s much more expensive Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
This behemoth’s rampage is the film’s highlight, and might have had even more impact if the audience were allowed to truly engage with the characters. Instead, the haphazard editing-room tampering reduces it to a series of sketches that don’t connect—and as if the interference wasn’t obvious enough through the rest of the running time, the final act of desperation is a “six months later” postscript consisting entirely of freeze-frames of previous scenes with no new footage. It’s a shame that the happy endings seen here didn’t extend to the saga of Knights of Badassdom itself.