Saturday, 2 October 2010


It also took me a while to catch up to Solomon Kane, Michael J Bassett's adaptation of Robert E Howard's Puritan swordsman, who was the most ambiguous of Howard's pulp heroes, a sort of 17th century version of The Shadow, and for that reason always my favourite. With that sort of foundation, it was amazing no one got to the character more quickly, and though I'd like to say it was worth the wait, the Shadow comparison is an apt one. Although Bassett gets much about the character right, he is more concerned with creating an origin story, and his Kane has an origin much like the Shadow in the Alec Baldwin film, an evil doer on a massive sadistic scale, who is somehow reformed.

Sadlt, this doesn't really work. The key conflict for Kane is between the sober restrictions of his Puritanism and the unsheathed evil which he encounters; his Kane may well be a sinner but he is also in the spell of this simple version of Christianity freed of paganesque ritual. Howard would contrast this with the unspeakable evils hidden in the dark continent, making a Kane a Kurtz in pulp clothing (see the cover of the Centaur Press reprint of Kane, the version I first read, left).

In this film, Kane, having been sworn off the rape and pillage we see at the film's start by an encounter with a devil who wants him for his own, is hiding out, as it were in a monastery, trying to find himself and lose himself from the devil. He encounters Puritans after he leaves, though the devotion of Pete Postlethwaite and family to the actual tenets of their faith seems somewhat tenuous. Drawn into the fight by the Raiders who massacre the family and kidnap the beautiful daughter, he follows them to his own family's ancetsral castle, where the ultimate confrontation with the masked warrior (hiding an identity obvious almost from the start) and his master, who can call upon great powers of CGI which somehow seem sub-Harryhausen in their awesome power.

Within this simple and predictable format James Purefoy is pretty good, if a little too muscular, as Kane: his inner demons are always externalised, more like Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing than Howard's Kane, though you can see the parallels between Howard's Kane and Stoker's Van Helsing quite clearly. Postlethwaite is excellent in his role, and Max VonSydow has a brilliant couple of cameos as Kane's father, and there is one brilliant scene in which Mackenzie Crook plays a priest gone mad and serving up sacrificial victims for ghouls hidden under the floor of his church. There are some other nice touches: the laying of hands by the evil Leatherface, the demons captured behind mirrors, and even the setting and the everyday people who inhabit it; Dan Lautsen's photography moves equally well between the grimness of the 17th century setting and the gruesomeness of the supernatural.

Sadly, Rachel Hurd-Wood is a boring heroine, who gets her final screams as the CGI monster appears with no purpose except to claim Kane and drain all the drama which has been built previously and make it redundant, kind of like the car crashes in a John Landis movie. Alice Krige, as her mother, deserved a bigger part. But the real cut and thrust of the picture seems to be setting up a sequel, where she is dumped and Kane and his few sidekicks get to go off searching for more devils. I suspect that one may be closer to the real thing, but this was entertaining enough in its generic way.

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