Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Warhammeresque Movies

An old friend recently posted on facebook that the movie Red Riding Hood reminded her of a Warhammer game. I haven't seen it. But I have seen a few other movies that, to me, were very Warhammeresque, evocative of that grim feel we WFRP fans love. So here's my picks for "Movies That Are Like Warhammer."

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972). Directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski, this is a German movie about Spanish conquistadors. It follows the tale of Aguirre (Kinski) who does one of the best "spiraling into madness" performances I've ever seen. Aguirre and other conquistadors under the leadership of Pizarro are looking for El Dorado in the remote jungles of Peru, depicted perhaps accurately as a steaming, nightmarish hellscape. No spoilers here, but Aguirre eventually becomes the leader of a splinter group and he gets worse and worse, more oppressive and evil, as time goes on and he slowly loses his freakin' mind. Here's a typical example of his dialogue:

"Anyone who even thinks about deserting this mission will be divided into 198 pieces; those pieces will be dissolved; whoever takes one grain of corn or one drop of water more than his ration, will be imprisoned here 155 years... If I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees... then the birds will drop dead from the trees... I am the wrath of God. The earth I pass will see me and tremble."

This movie reminds me of Warhammer because it is grim as hell, and goes to show you don't need the Taint of Chaos to drive men mad - just heat, disease, and a bad attitude. The movie also reminds me a lot of Apocalypse Now, in that it gets weirder and more insane as the journey into the primordial landscape progresses.

If you see this, try to see it in the original German. Because nothing sets the WFRP mood like some German, no? And I don' t want to spoil anything, but I will say one phrase that I hope inspires you to see this fine movie: Death by Monkeys.

The Devils (1971). Directed by Ken Russell, who has done some of my favorite movies (Lair of the White Worm, Gothic, Altered States), this is hands-down the most bizarre and disturbing movie I've ever seen that I actually liked. It was apparently even more shocking in the early 70s, and it was banned in many countries and heavily edited in others. It's very difficult to find even now, and I could be wrong but I don't think it ever made it to DVD.

When I say "disturbing," I mean it features such things as witch-hunters administering boiling enemas, an insane hunchback nun (Vanessa Redgrave) masturbating with the charred femur of a priest who's been burnt at the stake, and other sorts of the craziness not out of place during a mass possession that takes hold a nunnery in a French town in the 1600s. A dissolute but popular priest (the vastly underrated Oliver Reed) has de facto control of a town after its ruler dies; Cardinal Richelieu, who runs France, is having city fortifications demolished to weaken Protestants. But the town holds out under some promise from the King not to give this town the same treatment. Because of this, and the ravings of a batshit crazy hunchbacked nun (Vanessa Redgrave) who is sexually obsessed with the priest...well, it's pretty convoluted but in the end there are supposed mass demon possessions, witch-hunters are brought in, and the protagonists generally come to a bad end. The best part is when the whole thing is clearly exposed as a sham or mass hypnosis, and yet it keeps going on.

The witch-hunters, the grim, bleak tone and an explosion of religio-sexual frenzy worth of Slaanesh him/herself is what, to me, make this a Warhammeresque movie. However, this is not for the weak. I can only watch it about once a decade.

Flesh & Blood (1985). This one is from Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) and it follows a band of mercenaries in 1501 northern Italy. They are led by Martin (Rutgar Hauer) who are swindled by a noble and robbed of their payment for a war (the right to loot a city). They kidnap Agnes (Jennifer Jason Lee), the betrothed of the noble's son, and do all kinds of frightful things to her. Eventually, though, she proves to be a master manipulator, and before long she has settled in as one of the gang. Martin has found a buried statue of St. Martin (who has a sword), which convinces them all he should be the group's leader. They take a castle whose inhabitants are dying from the plague, and set up shop. Martin and Agnes become king and queen of this motley group. Now it's never quite clear to me whether Agnes has some kind of Stockholm Syndrome or whether she's just playing the hand she's dealt (she may not either), but several times it seems clear she has real, if twisted, affection for Martin, who she eggs on into despotism.

Meanwhile, the kid she was supposed to marry, Steven (Tom Burlinson, who seems to be a Frank Sinatra tribute artist these days, among other things), is trying to get Agnes back. He seems like a weak and ineffectual kid at first. But he quickly shows how ruthless he can be. He raises a force and heads for a confrontation that involves catapulting plague-ridden animals, vicious sword fights, gigantic fires, torture, and a lot of just plain gross, over-the-top stuff (this is Paul Verhoeven, so...).

What makes this a Warhammeresque movie to me is mostly just the look of it. It was shot in Spain, which looks a lot like the way the Border Princes are often described, and the weapons, clothing, armor, and stuff are right out of the illustrations in the books (complete with poofy pants, ridiculously large swords, etc). The band of mercenaries is (except for Rutgar Hauer), generally weird-looking and have obviously rolled on the Distinguishing Marks table quite a few times (one of whom is steadfast 80s-90s supporting bad guy, Brion James). The movie does a good job of balancing colorful sex/action violence and a bleak, hopeless feel that can only be called grim. It does have a great ending, though, and it's exactly the way any player would hope it to.

1 comment:

  1. I watched Aguirre, the Wrath of God not too long ago when I was trying to write my Spanish Conquistador story. I thought it was pretty awesome, and very WFRP. I do believe Coppola was directly inspired by this movie.