This post is part of the 2021 Swashbucklathon hosted by Paul at Silver Screen Classics!
Robert E. Howard is remembered primarily for Conan, but predating Conan was another creation of Howard’s: Solomon Kane. Kane was a nomadic Puritan seeking to eliminate evil in all its iterations, in many ways a kinda 17th Century cross between Nick Fury, Van Helsing, and maybe just a little John Constantine (except, y’know, before all those guys). Sadly, overshadowed by Conan, Kane has become increasingly forgotten over time.
And that’s too bad. Brooding, secretive, tortured, hiding a dark past, Kane is a 17th Century emo badass. Van Helsing may have hit the screen five years earlier, but Jackman’s vampire hunter can’t be more heavily derived from this pulp fiction predecessor. Sadly, I’m not as well versed on Kane’s exploits as I should be, neither in terms of Howard’s stories, nor the subsequent comic book representations from both Dark Horse and The Glorious House Of Marvel.
But this might be to my advantage in that I can take the movie on its own merits without the distraction of how well or dismally the source material was handled by director M.J. Bassett (who’d go on to helm episodes of Ash Vs. Evil Dead, Altered Carbon, and the criminally underrated/shabbily treated Iron Fist). One difference I am aware of is Howard made it clear Kane is a Puritan while the movie, at best, implies this. I think clarifying this would add to Kane’s badassery myself.
So, initial quibbles out of the way first. Could this have been better? Most assuredly. Was it the movie it wanted to be? Close, but probably not quite. There’s more than enough violence to maintain an R rating. The Decayed Solanum Lycopersicum site gives it a 67% and refers to “exciting gore.” Um, yeah, whatever you say. Me personally, I coulda done with more of that, but the movie definitely has its moments.
The action starts with Kane, at the time a privateer, preparing to loot a throne room somewhere in North Africa. You can’t swash many more buckles than that now can ya? Here he’s confronted by The Devil’s Reaper who informs Kane he’s there to collect Kane’s damned soul and take it to hell. Kane manages to escape, but the Reaper assures him that they (whoever they are) will find him.
Cut to a monastery where Kane has holed up to avoid this dire fate. Sadly, whilst he is there, a darkness grows throughout the surrounding English countryside, spurred by a sorcerer, Malachi, and his big bad masked enforcer. The head of the monastery can sense this shadow closing around them as well, and informs Kane that he, sadly, can no longer stay.
And so, off Kane goes, a wayward pilgrim who, in his travels, comes across William Crowthorn (Peter Postletwaite) and his family (including his wife played by Alice Krige!) on their way to join up with the ship that will take them to America. What follows is a good chunk of no fighting until, predictably, things go awry. I’m not complaining–it’s the moment we’re waiting for.
What follows is Kane’s return to his wonted way again, but this time for different reasons. Malachi’s minions abscond with Crowthorn’s daughter Meredith. With his dying breath (oh come now, you saw that coming), Crowthorn swears that if Kane finds her and returns her to her mother, his soul will be redeemed. To that end, Kane becomes God’s instrument in the battle of good versus evil.
And of course, there’s the swordplay. I mean, that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? Dirks, daggers, crossbows, battle axes, blades of many kinds. Kane of course wields two at once, frequently making short work of who or whatever is dumb enough to stand in his way.
Bassett does a nice job of bringing a graphic novel feel to his filming. Kane’s crucifixion, a baddie holding a parrying dagger at the throat of Crowthorn’s son, Kane sweeping on his signature black cloak in a single fluid movement, a caged Meredith warning Kane that he’s walking into a trap. It’s no sweat whatsoever to imagine these scenes and many others as comic book panels.
I suspect there are events and images pulled directly from the stories and comics as well–the crucifixion (again), the locket, Meredith’s red sash, certainly Kane’s dark sartorial splendor and dual wielding of weapons, these elements scream source material.
So in the end, I find myself thinking maybe Solomon Kane was in fact the movie it wanted to be and easily qualifies as my favorite French/British/Czech action/adventure/horror film. Admittedly that’s a seriously short list but still.
BODIES- 115 onscreen, 5 off. A note about this–sometimes the count is too high for me to figure out on my own, so I go to Cinemorgue for help. But in the process I came across my new favorite kill count site, a place called AOBG (All Outta Bubble Gum–what a great name!) run by a guy named, of all things, Kain. 120 is his reckoning (cuz battles & explosions & such)
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PS- Thanks again to Paul at Silver Screen Classics for indulging my 21st Century movie for his, as usual, superfun blogathon!