SOLOMON KANE is bloody, badass and every bit the SOLOMON KANE of the page! So Sayeth Massawyrm!!
Published at: Oct. 7, 2009, 11:26 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
Clad entirely in black, he did not dress as such to be cool or mysterious, but rather to be plain. The swords; I think it was the swords that made him cool. Or the flintlock. Or the musket. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was a plain-clothed Puritan who walked the earth as the weapon of God, dispatching all manner of demon, witch, vampire and pirate that crossed his path that made him easily the most badass Bible banger ever put to print. He is Solomon Kane, creation of Sword & Sorcery godfather Robert E. Howard, and he’s back.
Easily one of the very best things to emerge from Fantastic Fest this year was the much murmured about, but yet still stateside-undistributed fantasy film SOLOMON KANE. Kane is one of those great geek characters, buried in antiquity and only known by some of the hardest of the hardcore literary fantasy nerds. Unlike Howard’s better known hero, Conan, Kane never quite broke into the mainstream enough to garner the level of excitement there should be in the adaptation of the character. But there should be excitement. LOTS of excitement.
Because this movie fucking kicks about 12 different kinds of ass and is exactly the type of thing to cause a resurgence in popularity and interest in the character.
The producers took an interesting tact making this: they hired horror director Michael J. Bassett (DEATHWATCH and the criminally under-seen WILDERNESS) and tasked him with writing and directing an origin story. The hiccup? Howard never wrote an origin story. Being a pulp writer in the golden age of Science-fiction/fantasy there wasn’t much call for one. Heroes just kind of showed up. There were no rules because people like Howard, Lovecraft and Burroughs (Edgar Rice) were writing them as they went along. But this is a different age and people want to know where their heroes came from. So Bassett plunged himself into the text and pulled out every scrap of history Howard ever dropped in passing. And from that Bassett constructed a very BATMAN BEGINS kind of origin.
Remember back when you first saw the early stills of VAN HELSING and read the first whispers of the story and thought “COOL!” Well, that’s because Sommers was ripping off some of the best elements of Solomon Kane for his own asstastic, juvenile, Universal monster fanfic opus. Everything VAN HELSING had going for it (save the monster choices) was plucked from the pages of Howard, and it isn’t until you see James Purefoy’s rendition of Kane that you can look at Hugh Jackman in that hat and realize what a fucking imposter he was. Once the clothes are on and the hat is firmly in place, there is no question: Purefoy is the reigning king of Puritan Chic.
The film plays out as a pretty standard origin story with all the bleak accoutrements you’d expect in a post-DARK KNIGHT world. Solomon Kane isn’t a nice guy. He’s a scoundrel, a pirate and a murderer. But when he’s busy sacking a city and spilling the township’s blood for a fistful of gold, the Devil’s servants catch up to him eager to drag him screaming into the pits of hell. But Kane will have none of that. So he turns to God and becomes a man of the cloth; but that ain’t exactly right either. And once it becomes perfectly clear that the Devil has no intention of letting him off the hook, Solomon blends the lifestyles together and dedicates his life to sending the Devil’s minions back to him – sans a few limbs and several gallons of blood, of course. Just as Howard intended.
SOLOMON KANE is an incredibly cool return to form for modern sub-studio level financing fantasy. This isn’t a big budget epic. It’s a modestly funded film that forced Bassett to milk every bit of mud, grit and grime he could to generate mood – not to mention bringing in veteran genre powerhouses Pete Postlethwaite and Max von Sydow to pitch hit in small, but pivotal roles – becoming an effective, authentic feeling film that puts you squarely in Colonial-era England. There’s just something about the real sets, the practical make up effects and a story focused more upon mood than huge stunts that puts this a cut above what you would expect. Unlike its recent Russian predecessor WOLFHOUND, I can’t liken it to the cheesy but enjoyable kitsch fantasy fare of the 80’s, because it is nothing like it. Bassett does everything in his power to elevate this beyond pulpy camp and turns to his horror-filmmaking roots to make the monsters genuinely intimidating, hideous and frightening. While it shares much in common with the genre fare of that era in terms of budget and story, it finds its home in the darker, more mature genre of the current era.
Make no mistake – just because Howard didn’t write the story Bassett is telling is by no means any indication that this is anything but Howard’s Kane. He is still every bit the brooding, swashbuckling blood letter from the stories. And when all is said and done we are left with a hero ready to walk off into any number of Howard’s tales. Bassett has used the mythology to build upon it, adding a whole new layer to the character while introducing a new generation of readers to the classic, but long ignored, hero.
I desperately hunger to see this film again on the big screen, and soon. It inspired me to go home and immediately order a complete collection of Howard’s original stories to reacquaint myself with him. Kane has spent way too much time out of the limelight and it’s time that he stepped in. I’m really pulling for someone like a Lionsgate or a Summit to step in and pick this up – someone hungry to make it a hit and who would put money into funding another few outings for Bassett and Purefoy. This is exactly the type of mid-range action fantasy film we need right now, something that illustrates what sharp, young directors can do with some dusted off titles and characters. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. As soon as you manage a way to see this (hopefully projected) do so at your earliest opportunity.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.