Gerry Lively | 86 mins | TV | 1.78:1 | UK / English | 15 / PG-13 *
Remember the Dungeons & Dragons film from 2000? To say it went down badly is an understatement. Nonetheless, they made a sequel with some returning cast (which I’ve not seen), which I doubt fared any better and maybe went straight to DVD. This one is again low-budget, and possibly was made for TV, but it’s all-new; and though form hardly suggests it will be any good, I was on a bit of a fantasy binge and it was on TV, so…
And yes, it is rubbish… I suppose… Thing is, it sort of grew on me. For all I know they may’ve shot it in order, because it feels like the production grows in competency as it goes on. From a start that looks like a fan film shot in someone’s garden, by the time our hero teams up with a ragtag gang of evil-doers it begins to come together. Such is the plot: a band of adventurers do some adventuring. Proper D&D, I guess. In a neat twist on the usual formula, the gang we follow for most of the film are nearly all villains, the only exception being our hero who has infiltrated them. Are there even badder baddies who’ll make the (remaining) members of the gang turn out good after all? Well, of course.
Even though I ended up liking it, let’s be honest: The acting never gets good, though one chap, Barry Aird, delivers his handful of good lines with aplomb, even managing to make the ludicrously clichéd ones sound half decent. He’s easily the best thing in the film. The screenplay isn’t much cop, the story and dialogue both riddled with clichés and the like… though I think some of the dialogue is better than the actors can manage with it. And for all the laughable stuff, I’m sure some of it was meant to be humorous, like when Sexy Witch Lady pushes Random Strumpet aside and there’s an almighty crash. And there’s an undead kid who is properly creepy.
Director Gerry Lively helmed the preceding D&D movie and some stuff you’ve never heard of, as well as serving as DoP on such auspicious-sounding films as Son of Darkness: To Die For II, Waxwork II: Lost in Time, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Return of the Living Dead III, and Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. Clearly cheap-sequels-no-one-wanted are his stomping ground. His direction is never more than television-y, although that’s an increasingly unfair description as more and more TV programmes become more and more movie-like; but as that’s still the high-end ones, I guess the derogatoriness holds for now. It’s not helped by editing that is occasionally bizarrely jumpy, as if someone thought it would be OK to skip a second or two just to speed things up.
One area I’m happy to flatly praise are the computer effects. Done by a Bulgarian company (which is where the film was shot), these are largely very good. No, we’re not talking Avatar level here, obviously, but for a direct-to-DVD/TV film they were pretty classy.
Despite its low-rent stylings across the board, The Book of Vile Darkness somehow won me round. It’s not going to compete for genre break-out status, never mind anything greater, but for anyone after a well-intentioned sword-and-sorcery movie, they could do worse.
Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness is on Syfy UK (Sky 114; Virgin 135, HD 165) tonight at 12:10am, and again on Thursday at 11pm.
* IMDb says this is the US rating, but that seems improbable: they list it as direct to TV, which wouldn’t use the MPAA system; and even if it wasn’t, it contains breasts. Americans don’t seem to like their under-17s seeing breasts. ^