New Horror Release: Black Death (2010)

I must admit that even before seeing BLACK DEATH I was inclined to really like it, and its not because of director Christopher Smith (more on him in a second).  I wanted to like this film because in high school I had an African-American buddy who used to call his penis “Black Death”.  I still call this man my friend to this day and he knows who he is (I’ll spare him the embarrassment just in case his wife is reading this review).  Now what about Christopher Smith?  Smith’s first feature which gave him some notice was 2004’s CREEP.  The film had a lot of wasted potential and had a lead actress who was extremely annoying.  But there was something there; there was definitely a talented eye behind the camera.  This talent was partly realized with his follow-up SEVERANCE (2006), an above-average “killer in the woods” with a twist and some great black humor.  But then Smith took a huge step backwards with his 2009 “thriller” TRIANGLE (see my review here).  This one had an interesting idea but completely falls apart under the weight of its own plot.  Now we have BLACK DEATH.  How has Smith done with his latest?

Our ragtag group of hardened soldiers, expert torturers, & a monk.

The plot takes place in 1348 just as the bubonic plague was starting to creep across Europe decimating any and everyone in its path.  As the story begins we join the monk Osmund (an Emo Philips-looking Eddie Redmayne) and his lover Averill (Kimberley Nixon) as they are making plans to escape the plague-riddled town they’re in and run off to a more remote area in the forest.  Osmund is pretty naughty and gave in to the temptations of the flesh (hey who wouldn’t take a piece of ass over god??).  But as they are about to run off together a group of soldiers sent by the area’s Bishop rides into town carrying with them many interesting looking devices of torture.  The group is led by Ulric (Sean Bean) and is tasked with tracking down stories about a village in a remote area that is still completely plague-free.  It’s rumored the villagers there made some kind of unholy pact with some dark forces in order to protect themselves from the plague.  They need a guide to take them there and Osmund is from the area.  Problem solved (hhmmm; is it me or does this sound like the same basic set up as SEASON OF THE WITCH?).

Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) does a solid job here.

Pretty standard set-up to a pretty routine story.  Along the way we get to see various horrific scenes (ok; they’re not that horrific) from surrounding villages of witches being burned at the stake and other similar visions.  We also get to learn about each of the soldiers and a little bit about their backgrounds; they’re all warriors and it seems some specialize in torture.  So I was hoping to see at least one scene of the torturers at work but Smith decided against it.  But at least we’re told some horrific stories and how talented they are at torturing others.  That counts for something … right?  Right??

Along the way we’re told that the Bishop believes there’s a Necromancer (one who can raise the dead) in the village.  There have been reports of this forbidden and black art being practiced in this village as well as cannibalism and demons roaming freely around the area.  I don’t know, it sounds like a pretty kick ass village to me that “The Man” wants to shut down.  I must also point out something here.  It seems the church wants to have its cake and eat it too.  Witches and non-Christians are blamed as the cause of the plague AND they’re also the people who’re accused of evil practices when a village ISN’T affected by the disease.  Make up your fucking mind Christians; which one is it??  BLACK DEATH flirts around with examining such ambiguous beliefs by the church but ultimately just glosses over such questions.

Even this battle scene felt tacked on!!

As they get closer to the village they’re attacked by a group of … come to think of it I have no idea who they were attacked by.  They were just a bunch of guys who were just sitting around the forest waiting to ambush someone.  No explanation was given and the entire scene kinda felt like it was tacked on after the initial filming in order to give the movie an action scene.  Ultimately this attack has nothin’ to do with nothin’.  But that’s ok because they’ve finally arrived at their destination.  After they cross a marsh they find themselves in the village.  The villagers are very stand-offish until they’re finally approached and welcomed by Hob (Tim McInnerny).  They tell Hob that they were just attacked (hey maybe that scene was good for something) and that they’re just looking for a place to stay for the night.  Hob warmly greets them (a little too warmly) and these seasoned soldiers and torturers are given free reign of the town and yet not one of their “spidey senses” goes off.  Interesting.

The village feels calm ... a little too calm!!

We soon realize that the real village leader is not Hob but is in fact Langiva (Carice van Houten), a rather striking long-haired strawberry blonde.  Things quickly go from weird to really bad for the soldiers as they find themselves imprisoned and killed one by one for being Christians.  That’s pretty much it people.  The plot unfolds exactly as you expect it too.  There’s no curveballs or twists thrown at us and all the characters behave exactly as you expect them too.  Wanna know how the villagers over-power the soldiers?  At the nightly “big ass feast” that is so common in these types of films (you know is kind; women dancing around, music playing, large dead animals to eat) they drug their wine.  Really?  The soldiers’ mission is to investigate this very village after stories of cannibalism and necromancy have drawn suspicion.  So why, please tell me, do they let down their guard so easily and eat and drink everything put in front of them in such an “evil” village?  Yeah; I don’t know either.

Ulric (Sean Bean) is about to have a baaaaaad day!!

The only interesting development is when Langiva raises Averill from the dead right in front of Osmund … or does she?  It’s an interesting scene that tests Osmund’s faith and just how important god is in his life.  The acting in BLACK DEATH is actually quite strong.  Redmayne (Osmund) does a terrific job and I always love Sean Bean in everything he’s in (yes; I even loved his performance in the dreadful James Bond film GOLDENEYE).  The problem here isn’t with the acting but with the script.  Nothing in the script pops or grabs you.  You sit through the first few parts of the plot waiting until they reach the village.  And when they finally reach the village nothing really exciting happens.  The most interesting part of the film comes in the “afterwards.”  The events that unfolded once in the village traumatized Osmund so much that over the years he ends up picking up a sword and becoming one of god’s soldiers who hunts down witches.  Every woman he sees looks, in his traumatized brain, like Langiva so he spends the rest of his days torturing and killing innocent women who look like the woman who killed his beloved Averill.  Interesting ending that was definitely the best aspect of the film.  But unfortunately it was too little too late.  It seems the message here is that no matter what religion you are, Christian, Wiccan, Islamic … whatever, no one is safe from death.  Death comes to everyone and no one is immune.  Valid message.

Interesting scenes like this are kinda rushed through.

There are a couple scenes of mild gore and that’s about it.  The fight scene right before they reach the village is well-filmed but it’s over pretty quickly.  This is just one of those films that won’t leave much of an impression on you.  It’s not a bad film and it certainly isn’t a great one.  It’s a time killer.  You’ll forget you saw it a few days after watching it.  I caught it on my AT&T U-Verse MOD channel the other night when there was nothing else on to watch.  BLACK DEATH served its purpose but I can’t say that I’d recommend it.  Note to Christopher Smith:  You’re now 1 for 4.  Yikes.


My Summary:

Director:  Christopher Smith

Plot:  3 out of 5 stars

Gore:  1.5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

8 Responses to “New Horror Release: Black Death (2010)”
  1. Captain_Trips says:

    OK… In this case the Christians you’re bitchin about aren’t Christians… They’re Catholics. Everything done in that time era with the name of Christian stamped on it was actually Catholic. I really don’t know if you care, but I’d just thought I’d put it out there…


    • Thanks for clearing that up Captain_Trips. That’s my bad that I worded it like that. I know that everything back then was under the “Catholic stamp”, but for me all religion is a bunch of bullshit so I always lump it all in together LOL Thanks for pointing that out!!


      • Captain_Trips says:

        I agree about the religion being bullshit thing… Seriously I do. I just get tired of the Christians getting blamed for all the crap that the Catholics did.
        Now I close with one of my favorite jokes…
        What do you get when you cross an Agnostic, an Insomniac and a Dyslexic?
        A person that stays up all night wondering if there’s a dog.


      • Nice!! But you’re right Captain_Trips … the Christians did enough fucked up things over the centuries; let’s not unduly blame them for the sins of the Catholics!!


  2. I totally agree with you about this movie. I was extremely disappointed with how they hid most of the deaths in the movie. With the movie named “Black Death” I thought it would be more about that, but it turned out to be more about another religious quest. The fight scene in the forest is one of the better scenes in the movie, especially if you are looking for blood. Funny how you asked who those guys were. I didn’t even question that when I should have. You are right, who were they, and why were they there? Someone compared this movie to the latest Robin Hood movie, and I can see some similarities. It just wasn’t as good as I was hoping. Great review!


    • Thanks for the nice words horrosreviews!! I never saw the latest ROBIN HOOD flick … I heard it really sucked. BLACK DEATH was another disappointment from a director with a string of disappointments.


  3. Buzz says:

    I mostly enjoyed this. I think your pretty much right in everything you say especially that it’s easy to forget and it’s certainly not going to be a classic or anything but I had a bit of fun when I watch this and sometimes that’s all you want. Although I don’t think that gore necessarily makes a movie I do think it would have helped make this a bit better. It did seem like a movie that should have had it. Other than that Sean Bean is awesome in absolutely everything he’s in, even that stupid fucking Syfy and that’s saying something!


    • Sean Bean rocks in everything he’s in … period!!

      Now I don’t think that gore is needed in every film to make it good, but they kept talking about and referring to the guys as being badasses and trained torturers, etc … hell, they even carried around torture devices with them. Put your money where your mouth is film!!! LOL


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