CARRY ON NORSE

Sword N’ Sorcery movies come and go with semi-regular frequency in the world of cinema. Good ol’ Arnie’s foray as “Conan the Barbarian” in the 80’s led to perhaps the most significant wave. Plenty of happy memories exist from those that gorged on the mini-boom of films like “The Beastmaster”, “The Sword and the Sorcerer”, and plenty of other direct-to-video guilty pleasures. Of course the huge and ongoing popularity of “Game of Thrones” has led to a modern surge of adult-orientated TV shows that satisfy the current hunger for sword-play and elder civilisation shenanigans. That can either be sort-of based on true historical events like History Channel’s “Vikings”, or more fantasy-driven blood and thunder like “The Shannara Chronicles”. More recent movies of this flavour have been based on video games like “Warcraft”, Middle-Earth epics, or the baffling endless sequels to “The Scorpion King” (4 films and counting). Here’s something slightly different though, a low-budget romp that has been described in one review as “Vikings meets The Evil Dead”… which is not wholly inaccurate. Filmed under the title “Attack of the Tree Beasts”, “Viking Siege” was made by the UK-based Tornado Studios and has just been released onto DVD and VOD in Britain. So YGROY checks out this Norse case scenario and watches the film…

It starts with a short prologue that inescapably brings “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to mind, as an ancient British peasant is scrabbling about in the mud for … whatever. But instead of being interrupted by King Arthur, this serf curses God and sees a meteor fall down from the sky in his general direction. Following the golden rule of genre films, he foolishly approaches the glowing green rock in the subsequent crater, and in the manner of Jordy Verrell from “Creepshow”, he gets instantly infected by something. Fast forward to eight years later and a group of debauched Monks are partying like it’s 1099. The corrupted group of “holy” men are being wined and dined by a travelling group of “harlots” (which is their term, not ours) in their monastery. But unbeknownst to this unruly group of religious scumbags, their “entertainment” is secretly a gang of tough warrior women led by Aetheled (Michelle McTernan). The inevitable blood-letting is complicated by the arrival of Lord Osmund (James Groom) and his entourage, but the girls have an axe to grind with the monks and won’t be denied. Things take a much worse turn though with the unexpected arrival of some angry Vikings, who are being followed by something even angrier. Meet the “Tree Bastards”. And this mis-matched group will have to try and survive the night under onslaught from these weird creatures…

“Viking Siege” is a bit of a misleading title to be frank. “Warrior Women vs. Swamp Things” would be a name that summarises the tone and content of the movie (and still be better than the “Tree Beasts” title). It’s a daft film to be sure. Very daft. It’s a clumsy mash-up of Guy Ritchie-banter, a plethora of spurting bloody wounds, constant F & C-bombs, and cheap-looking monster costumes. But it’s still pretty entertaining and enjoyable for all that, and a perfect counterpoint to the more serious posturing in stuff like “Vikings” or “Black Sails”. After all, how can you not warm to a film that has a crap minstrel playing a lute and introducing his song with; “Thank you. Here is my new ballad ‘I Put it in Her Pumpkin Patch’”?

From that synopsis and description so far, po-faced fans of historical accuracy or realism will be catching a taxi, but for everybody else it’s a lightweight romp that delivers. The budget does show. There’s basically just one-large set (the monastery dining hall), with some minimal outside location shooting. The monsters are bog-standard (don’t you just love unintentional puns that crop up when you’re writing) zombies, albeit with slightly more intelligence… and branches and leaves. There’s one bigger version (that looks uncannily like DC’s “Swamp Thing”) and a handful of woody costumed minions that never really amounts to a horde. They even resurrect from corpses and are only susceptible to head-wounds (“Aim for the eyes!”).

Basically the film feels like a (much) bloodier sweary version of an episode of “Xena: Warrior Princess” rather than a HBO historical epic or something. But there’s nothing wrong with that. The tough female characters are cool, especially McTernan’s scarred and stoic leader and it makes a nice reversal of the usual muscle-head leads in this type of story. The extensive use of “geezer banter”, as used prolifically in Guy Ritchie’s crap recent take on “King Arthur”, could have been immensely annoying but actually kind of works here… as historically ridiculous as it is. There’s something wonderfully subversive about hearing the Tree Beasts being described as “Splinter Dicks”. And there’s definitely some Monty Python thrown in there as well, with “Big Nose” used as an insult, and surreal moments where a character declares; “You can buy a lot with twigs, where I come from”.

The glorious amount of blood-spilling can’t be ignored either. Stab wounds geyser fluid feet into the air, the camera lingers on oozing stab wounds, and there’s occasional head squelching and limb-removal… all accompanied with some wonderfully squishy sound effects. There are even some martial arts thrown in there towards the end. The fight choreography isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s stirring enough. The plot even supplies some surprisingly dark moments of pathos towards the climax. It does have to be said that a lot of the characters – many of whom aren’t even given names and are simply known as “The Translator” or “The Thief” – don’t really register on the memory, and you’re left to empathise with only one or two leads, but you could probably say that about quite a few “siege” movies.

It’s never ever going to trouble the likes of “Assault on Precinct 13” or “From Dusk Till Dawn” in the annals of genre under-siege films. And if it was shorn of the blood and swearing, it could easily show as an afternoon movie on the Syfy channel (albeit with a running time of about 34 minutes). But it’s enjoyable and lightweight fun, and something that’s easy to watch after the rigours and ravages of the festive season. If you’re hankering after a historically inaccurate and irreverent bit of sword-slinging, and quite fancy seeing some “Tree Bastards” killing humans instead of bloody zombies yet again, then this could be the film for you. It’s silly throwaway fun with a cast clearly enjoying themselves, and a ridiculous concept that just about rises above the norm. There are certainly Norse… err… worse films out there.

DVD Extras: Lost in Valhalla. No Extras.

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“Viking Siege” is a daft-but-fun low-budget romp with plenty to keep you entertained. It madly mixes up Guy Ritchie-type British banter, with lots of spurting blood and more swearing than “Goodfellas”. The budget limits the effects and location work, but the cast throw themselves into the carnage with gusto, and it’s mindlessly enjoyable with some good humour and pathos. Not Viking bad…

VIKING SIEGE (18)

Director: Jack Burton

Screenplay: Philip DyasAlastar Kirton

Starring: Rasheeda AliBilly BilhamSean Bingham 

Review: David Stephens

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