Set in 1099 AD, knight James Frain leads his men home to Rome, after a long, Crusades-like Holy battle, with a supposedly holy relic in tow. Unfortunately this relic (believed to be a piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on), as the title suggests, is cursed and most unholy indeed. Frain, his men, and a few outsiders (i.e. Muslims and a self-confessed atheist) are subsequently besieged by a shipwreck, swarms of insects, ravenous wolves, and a Balrog-esque fire-breathing monster with a bad ‘tude.
SyFy Channel movies are generally an abominable lot, but “Ghost Town” wasn’t half bad and this 2010 offering from Lorenzo Sena is downright watchable. Wow, wonders will never cease. Set your expectations low, and sometimes you get a pleasantly modest surprise. Speaking of expectations, I should warn horror lovers out there that whilst this isn’t exactly free of horror elements (there’s monsters, plagues, curses, and a bit of blood), it’s more of a dark fantasy film than outright horror.
The music score over the opening credits is excellent for a film of this budget, and the good music continues throughout. It’s clichéd, but the right kind of music for a film with a medieval setting. The look of the film is a bit grey-looking, but that too befits the genre (They’re called the Dark Ages for a reason), and during the day scenes, it still manages to look attractive. We get some fog and light shining through trees to make me quite happy indeed. The film is extremely well-lit, I’ll say that.
The battle scenes are more competently done than I expected for the budget, even with the overuse of “300”-style slow-mo and also some judicious use of shaky-cam. The big Balrog-like monster is also far from the worst CGI creation I’ve seen, and rather effective by SyFy standards (make of that what you will). Some of the lightning FX are a bit phony, but the big storm scene is well-done for the budget and the darkness of the water and sky (perhaps CGI) helps to hide the CGI boat rather well. It’s really only impressive in the context of SyFy’s usual quality, but it’s a distinction nonetheless. I didn’t quite buy the CGI snow, but having the snow and birds falling from the sky was still nicely apocalyptic. The FX are at least comparable to those in “The Mummy”, though that’s hardly a compliment. Given how expensive it usually is to make a film in this genre, it’s to the director’s credit that it doesn’t altogether look like an episode of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”.
I have to take points off for some hard to swallow elements, such as the varied accents within Frain’s men (not to mention a monk with an American accent), highly unlikely given the period (Frain included. He’s meant to be Roman after all, but there’s only one of his men who speaks with an even vaguely Italian-sounding accent). Also, there’s no way Christians and Muslims would be fighting side by side after having just gone through battling each other in the Crusades. That said, it does lead to some halfway interesting philosophical musings between the Christians, Muslims, and the token female atheist (Who comes off a bit strident and judgemental for my liking, and I’m a pretty strident and judgemental atheist myself sometimes!).
Plot-wise it’s really just a Medieval spin on all those cheap horror flicks set in a Middle East conflict situation where soldiers are beset by some kind of evil supernatural force (“Red Sands” for instance). However, the Medieval twist makes all the difference for me personally, as I have a keen interest in such things. Honestly, this film isn’t bad at all. I probably would’ve really liked it when I was 13 or so.
With a big budget and better actors to surround the solid James Frain, this might’ve really been something. As is, it’s a nice try, and pretty OK for what it is, and what it was likely made for.