I know what you are all wondering: Jesse, when will you stop doing these absurd comparisons between films that don’t go together? The answer is never! As long as there is breath in my body I will continue. If Netflix sees fit to put them together in the same specific genre category of “Scary suspenseful supernatural movies” then it is my job to find out why. Netflix’s fury rains down on you!
So anyway, my latest double feature was Warlock and Black Death. I just knew there would be something there, and boy was I right. These movies were both lumped into the horror category. So what’s the horror? At first glance it looks like the horrific bits of these films would be all about the ‘Medieval’. Those horrible barbaric times are an easy source of horrific images and ideas. Images of dark medieval wizards and plague ridden people have been burned into our minds and the mere thought of them conjures up all sorts of horror stories. So let’s look at them one at a time.
To be honest the scariest part of this movie is that I will never look as amazingly beautiful as Julian Sands. That aside, the film is obviously a lot lighter than Black Death. Imagine sitting in a studio executive office and David Twohy is standing in front of you saying, “It’s just like Terminator, but instead of being from the future, they’re from the past and instead of being a robot, it’s a warlock.” Sold! The warlock comes from the puritanical past and seeks to reunite the three separated pieces of the satanic bible in order to undo creation. (I don’t care who you are that’s a fucking dumb thing to want to do.) Luckily, a warlock hunter named Redfern comes through the time portal as well and teams up with Sarah Connor, I mean, Kassandra.
They team up and go after the Warlock. Sounds pretty mild, but I suppose some of the shit the Warlock gets up to might have scared some five-year-olds in 1991. In the end Redfern and Kassandra prevail on the side of good and save the day (and ever consecutive day after that seeing as how they stopped creation form being undone). It’s a much more fluffy film than Black Death, but that does not make it less threatening, as we will see.
Despite the few sequences guest directed by Ingmar Bergman, Black Death was surprisingly original. It seems like it will go down a few different roads, but stays on its own path, and by that I mean The Wicker Man’s path. A few vengeful, god-fearing knights lead by Sean Bean travel with their monk guide to a remote village that has not experienced the plague yet. It is obvious something is strange in this village, mainly the low cut nature of the head mistress’s shirt.
Don’t trust her! She isn’t conservative enough! It’s true, the blonde bombshell is the ‘villain’ of this film. I put the word in quotes because whether she is truly evil or not is the crux of the film. We learn that she has used veiled methods of trickery posing as necromancy to bend the village to her will. She slaughters Christians telling the townspeople it keeps the plague away, leaving room for them to worship her instead of God. The monk, a young man who stays steadfast with his faith, is in the end consumed with anger and hate for this woman and becomes a mad knight who burns any woman he thinks may be her. He sees in them only her treachery and evil. The film centers on the conflicts created by playing god and using faith to your own advantage. There are indeed scenes of horrific battles and executions, but the blood and guts pale in comparison to the true horror in the film. This brings me to my next point.
Both of these films work on a simple conflict. The heretic vs. God’s army/us. Both films have a heretic that is against God and the church and wants to kill followers of both. The warlock and Langiva (the woman in Black Death) both are against the norm and against God. We are aligned with Redfern and Kassandra and also with the Christian Knights. The films follow the same course of pitting the good forces against the isolated evil individual. Now here comes in the essential difference. Warlock proceeds without any question whether the Christian side is in the right or not. In this film it is obvious that the warlock is evil and must be put down and that God and puritanical ways must be preserved. (Admittedly, the warlock’s plan to un-create the universe is fucking idiotic.) However, Black Death focuses entirely on the question of whether the Christian knights are doing right by destroying this village. The true horror of a film comes from its idea, not just its gory or suspenseful scenes. Warlock assumes that good prevails and that evil is always put in its place, and rightly so. Nearly twenty years later, Black Death reminds us that evil is not black and white, but a much more frightening gray area. Black Death is progression, but it is also a difficult and important reckoning.