CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SEASON OF THE WITCH (2010)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(The Scene: A Medieval forest. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES ride on horseback, leading a group of knights and priests transporting a jail carriage holding a caged witch through the forest.)
MA: Welcome, everyone! We’ve signed up for witch duty so we can review the new movie SEASON OF THE WITCH.
LS: Just what is “witch duty” anyway?
MA: Well, it’s when we get paid for—.
LS: We finally get paid? I like witch duty!
MA: Yeah, we get paid for helping these folks transport an evil witch through the forest so she can be tried by a group of monks in the hope of ending the Black Plague, since folks back in these medieval times believed that witches caused these sort of things.
LS: You just gave your plot summary.
MA: Pretty much. Anyway, we’ll kill two bats with one stone, as we’ll review the movie while transporting the witch.
LS (Looks back at girl in jail cart): But she’s so cute. How can she be a witch?
(Girl in cart waves, winks, and flirts with LS.)
MA (to LS): Hey, stop that! She’s supposed to be evil.
LS: What’s wrong with that?
MA: Need I remind you that you’re married?
LS: Not in Cinema Knife Fight World, brother…ahem…. Don’t you have a movie to start talking about?
MA: Yes, let’s get started. SEASON OF THE WITCH (2010) is a tale of two 14th-century knights, Behmen (Nicholas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman). The movie starts off with multiple battle scenes in which we get to see just how cool and bad-ass Behmen and Felson can be. They’re the “A-Team” of the Crusades. They never die, and they kill everybody, that is, until one day Behmen kills a defenseless woman, and then realizes he and his knight buddies have just slaughtered a castle full of women and children in the name of God. Disillusioned, Behmen and his buddy Felson desert the crusaders.
LS (laughs): What a dope. That’s not how the movie starts. The movie starts with three women being tried as witches and hung. And drowned. But one won’t stay dead.
MA: Dope? It’s impossible for you to get through a review without making insults. I guess you think you’re still in grade school.
A plot summary is a condensed version of the movie, bud. It’s not meant to include every friggin detail! Dummy.
This desertion doesn’t last long, because soon they’re recognized, captured, and brought to the ailing Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee).
LS: It took me a little bit to realize that was Christopher Lee. He’s almost unrecognizable with that plague-scabbed make-up job. I dunno what gave it away for me – his eyes, his curled lip. But I was like “Hey, isn’t that the great Christopher Lee?” Isn’t he like 90 by now? But he keeps making movies!
MA: Yes, Lee is pushing 90. He’s 88.
The Cardinal is dying from the plague, and he beseeches Behmen and Felson to serve the church once more by transporting an evil witch across the dangerous countryside to an abbey where a group of monks in possession of a powerful prayer book will be able to try the witch, and if she is found guilty, she will be executed.
LS: Boy, you just said a mouthful.
MA: This is crucial, the Cardinal says, since he believes that this witch is the cause of the Black Plague which has infiltrated their town.
LS: Of course, it couldn’t be caused by rats and the fact that people crap in the street.
MA: Behmen refuses until he actually sees the witch in the dungeon. The innocent-looking girl (Claire Foy) reminds him of the woman he had slain, and so Behmen changes his mind, believing that if he can get this girl a fair trial, then he can make amends for the innocent blood he had spilled.
Joining Behmen and Felson on their journey is a priest (Stephen Campbell Moore), a soldier named Eckart (Ulrich Thomsen), a guide Hagamar (Stephen Graham), and a young former altar boy who wants to become a knight, Kay (Robert Sheehan.)
LS: Stephen Graham, who plays the sleazy swindler Hagamar (who guides them through the forest) looked awfully familiar to me, but I couldn’t place him. Turns out he’s the guy who plays Al Capone on the HBO show BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Imagine seeing Al Capone around back in the 1300s! I wonder if he could get me some bathtub gin!
MA: The rest of the movie is the tale of their journey, with the central question being, is this witch really a witch, or is she simply a girl? Well, that question is answered early on, (remember the title, folks!) and so our brave band of men are constantly fighting for their lives against the powers of darkness as they make their way towards the abbey. Along the way they deal with strange visions, a pack of supernatural wolves, and the old standby in a lot of movies over the years, the decrepit bridge swaying high above a treacherous rocky river, over which they must pass with their heavy jail cart, in one of the movie’s better scenes.
LS: Didn’t we see the same thing in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL?
(A wizard suddenly materializes from thin air, wearing a horned helmet)
WIZARD: What is your favorite color?
LS (chops off his head with a battle axe): Red!
MA: Nice move. You just offed a wizard. He could have helped us on this journey.
LS: Well, guess what? He’s not helping us now!
MA: I can see that.
LS: You know, when I first heard about SEASON OF THE WITCH, I thought it might be a remake of George Romero’s film of the same name from 1972. But it has nothing to do with Romero’s movie.
MA: SEASON OF THE WITCH is also the title of the ill-fated third film in the original HALLOWEEN series, the one without Michael Myers, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983)
Anyway, back to this SEASON OF THE WITCH. The story leads to a conclusion where there is a slight plot twist, followed by the obligatory battle between good and evil.
I liked SEASON OF THE WITCH a lot. I loved the look of the film, as I’m a sucker for period pieces. Was it the most dazzling visual set piece I’ve seen in a while? No, but it was purdy darn good looking, as these things go!
My favorite part of the film though was the acting by the two leads. I really enjoyed Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman and thought they shared a great camaraderie. They were fun to watch. I know I’ve spent recent weeks saying I’m not the biggest Nicholas Cage fan, but he’s excellent in this movie as Behmen, the troubled knight who’s fed up with bloodshed in the name of God. I thought Perlman was even better as his sidekick Felson, and he gets most of the best lines in the movie.
The rest of the cast is also very good. I really liked Claire Foy as the witch, or as she’s listed in the credits, as “the girl.” She was just as good as Cage and Perlman. Stephen Campbell Moore was solid as the priest Debelzag. Moore was one of the leads in THE CHILDREN (2008) a film I liked a lot but you didn’t, and he was good in that movie too. Robert Sheehan as the young knight wannabe Kay was sufficiently sincere and noble, and I liked that he didn’t really fall into the cliché categories we often see with these types of characters, you know, where they’re kind of silly and hokey (the Luke Skywalker syndrome) or overly angry that they’re not getting their due (see the other Skywalker, Mr. Vader himself, Annakin). Sheehan as Kay was very likeable without being wimpy and whiny or arrogant. You wanted to see him become a knight. And Stephen Graham was entertaining as the guide Hagamar.
But my favorite bit of casting by far: Christopher Lee as Cardinal D’Ambroise! Need I say more? Here we are in 2011 and we’re still blessed by Lee’s presence on the big screen. Amazing! Absolutely amazing! Now, Lee’s only in one scene, and he’s practically unrecognizable behind all the Black Plague make-up – he’s almost as unrecognizable as he was in his horror movie debut as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)—but to see him on that big screen even for just one scene— priceless. Heck, I’d tell you to go see this movie just for those few minutes of Christopher Lee!
LS: Come on! Lee is a great actor, but he’s not the best thing in this movie. He does what he was paid to do: another fine, but small, performance. This is not going to go on his resume as one of his last great roles. He just keeps the story moving!
MA: Did I say he’s the best thing in this movie, you ol’ ding dong? I said the fact that he’s still on the big screen makes this movie worth seeing! Pay attention!
LS: You know, you make about as much sense as a script by M. Night Shyamalan.
(A flash of green smoke reveals the WICKED WITCH OF THE EAST from THE WIZARD OF OZ standing before them!)
LS: Look lady, we gotta keep going, or we’ll never get there.
WICKED WITCH: Not so fast. Where did you get those ruby slippers! (she points at MA’s feet)
MA: You need some glasses, lady. I’m wearing medieval knight boots.
WICKED WITCH: Don’t tell me what you’re wearing! What do you think I am, blind?
WICKED WITCH: Those shoes once belonged to my sister, the Wicked Witch of the West. You must have killed her to get those shoes. And I want them back!
LS: Wrong movie. We don’t have time for this.
MA: I’m telling you, they’re boots! Hey, ask my friend here what his favorite color is.
WICKED WITCH: Why?
MA: Just do it. His answer will surprise you.
WICKED WITCH: Fine. (to LS) What’s your favorite color?
LS (swings axe and beheads witch.): Red.
LS: Damn witches.
WITCH IN CAGE: So that’s what a real witch looks like.
LS: You don’t fool us. We know you’re not an innocent girl.
WITCH IN CAGE: Whatever do you mean?
MA: Real girls don’t have wings and talons.
WITCH IN CAGE: Oh.
MA: Back to our review – before we were so rudely interrupted.
LS: Overall, I was surprised by the acting, too. I mean, Nicolas Cage doesn’t have the best track record. I have to admit – I like him a lot. (to MA) Stop laughing! (Back to Audience) But I don’t like a lot of his movie choices. I can’t tell you how many Cage movies I completely avoided because they just looked torturous to watch. His roles seem to be either serious and thoughtful (which is rare) or completely over-the-top (which is often).
In SEASON OF THE WITCH, he does a little of both, with the quieter scenes where he’s broody, and then the majority of the movie where he hams it up, even if he may not completely mean to. (Who can tell?) But the truth is, he seemed to be having a lot of fun in this movie, especially in his scenes with Perlman (who’s good in everything he’s in, even the bad movies).
LS: Not again! We’ll never finish this review.
(WITCHYPOO from the Sid and Marty Krofft show H.R. PUFNSTUF appears before them)
WITCHYPOO: How dare you enter my evil forest! Now hand over that talking flute and I will let you pass with your lives!
LS (Throws hatchet at her): Get your ass outta here!
(WITCHYPOO runs away)
MA: That was easy enough.
FREDDY THE FLUTE (in LS’s saddlebag): Whew. I’m sure glad she didn’t find me!
LS: Shut up, you damned flute!
MA: Anyway, I enjoyed the story of SEASON OF THE WITCH, as the journey the characters must make across the countryside is a rather compelling one. Admittedly, I would have enjoyed it more had it been more hard-hitting. This would have worked even better as a darker horror movie, as opposed to a fantasy flick, which is what it is now: a fantasy movie with dark elements. It plays more like LORD OF THE RINGS than a Vincent Price period piece.
LS: Oh yeah, this movie is fluff compared to the best of the witch trial movies, like Michael Reeves’s classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL from 1968 (aka THE CONQUERER WORM) starring Vincent Price, and MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) with Herbert Lom. And there is a bit of that “epic journey” feel from LORD OF THE RINGS at times. And I hate those movies! But overall, I liked SEASON OF THE WITCH a lot, too.
MA: The ending was fair. It was predictable, and the battle between good and evil which unfolds is nothing I haven’t seen before. I thought the demon at the end of the film was cool-looking and better than some of the recent CGI creations I’ve seen, but was it amazing? No.
LS: In some scenes, the demon looked cool. In others it looked really fake. They should have gone with more of mix of make-up and CGI like they did in THE WOLFMAN (2010). Straight CGI just isn’t reliable if you’re striving for a realistic look.
MA: The best thing SEASON OF THE WITCH has going for it is the camaraderie between Cage and Perlman. They’re the main reason to see this movie, and the main reason why I liked it so much. They’re really entertaining. I also liked how they spoke in contemporary language. This might bother some people, but I thought it worked well here. They spoke like they belonged in the 21st century, with lines like “Let’s get the hell out of here,” and conversations about who’s buying the beer.
So, I enjoyed the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut. I thought the dialogue was excellent and the story passable. Sure, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before, but for what it was, it was entertaining.
LS: I dunno if the screenplay completely worked. This was the biggest gripe for me. The dialogue got pretty silly at times. So much so, that it had the audience I saw this with howling. Screenwriter Bragi Schut certainly didn’t do any research on the use of language in that time period. We’re not talking DEADWOOD here. It’s like a mash-up of period-speak (or a facsimile thereof) and modern speech. Even though it was goofy at times, I agree that it was entertaining enough. And the anachronisms certainly didn’t take away from any of the fun.
MA: The same can be said for director Dominic Sena. The film looks great and everything seems to work well, but there weren’t any “go for the throat” moments that would have made this one an instant classic. The best scene in the movie was where they had to cross the bridge, as that was fairly suspenseful, but it’s not like I haven’t seen that same exact scene done a thousand times before!
LS: I actually thought that scene was a snooze. It went on way too long and we’d seen stuff like it many times before. My favorite scene is actually the very first scene (the first witch trial) and then I love any scenes where Cage and Perlman banter. The two of them really do have great chemistry together and are believable as old friends. It’s that chemistry that saves SEASON OF THE WITCH from being a stinker.
MA: The fight with the wolves was so-so, and the CGI here was the same as most other CGI these days. It rarely wows me. And the ending battle was okay, with a neat-looking demon, but again, it wasn’t all that original.
However, the movie is entertaining and hard to dislike, even if it doesn’t go for the knockout. I wasn’t bored at all, and I had fun watching Cage and Perlman for 90 + minutes.
I give SEASON OF THE WITCH 3 knives.
LS: I give 3 knives as well. Not a bad way to start 2011.
MA: Not a bad way at all!
LS: Are we at our destination yet?
(A MONK approaches them from a stone building)
MONK: Look, we’re closed for the season. You’ve got to go back!
MA: MONK LAND is closed? But it’s my favorite medieval theme park!
MONK: Them’s the breaks you foul-looking rogues. Be off with you!
LS: We didn’t want to see your stupid theme park anyway!
MA: I did.
WITCH IN CAGE: So what happens to me?
(LS lifts crossbow and kills her)
MA: What did you do that for? She didn’t ask you what your favorite color was!
LS: Because we gotta wrap this up and that was the quickest way.
MA: That’s horrible! Poor girl. I’ll never forget the look of horror on her face when that arrow pierced her heart.
LS: Come on, let’s head to a pub.
MA: Pub? How can you think of drinking now? That girl—-.
LS: Forget about the girl.
MA (despondent): I can’t.
LS: I’m buying.
MA: Girl? What girl?
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gave SEASON OF THE WITCH - 3 KNIVES!
LL Soares gave SEASON OF THE WITCH - 3 KNIVES!