The problem with tackling a low-budget fantasy film about dragons is how ubiquitous they are. Strictly sticking with movies that hit either VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, or were made for TV, there was Full Moon’s 1994 release Dragonworld. Dragonheart saw a sequel release in 2000 and two prequels in 2015 and 2017, respectively. The Asylum made a movie titled merely Dragon, along with Dragonquest and Dragon Crusaders. Mark Atkins directed P-51: Dragon Fighter, about nazi dragons, and the Syfy Channel put their name to such silliness as George And The Dragon and Dragon Storm. This is in no way, shape, or form a comprehensive list and it doesn’t even touch upon any fairy tale adaptations that have dragons in them.
In such a crowded field, how can a filmmaker make their dragon-based movie standout? Well, adding zombies is a start. Another pervasive subgenre that is in need of fresh material, mixing zombies into unexpected realms has proven a winning strategy with the likes of American Zombie and Fido. Combining dragons and zombies is a novel concept. Knights Of The Damned builds an entire mythology around this odd mashup but ultimately proves underwhelming.
The king handpicks his twelve strongest knights to track and kill the dragon terrorizing the kingdom. Only four of these men survive to the rocky crag the creature calls home. In the course of the battle, one of the soldiers falls off the cliff and dies. Due to the chaos, the dragon escapes. Richard (Ross O’Hennessey), Thomas (Silvio Simac), and George (Ben Loyd-Holmes) traverse the border of Nazroth, hoping to pick up the dragon’s trail.
Stopping for the night at an inn, the knights encounter a band of warrior women, who are also trying to save their homeland. Dimia (Zara Phytian) is wary of the knights at first, but Isabel (Kate Marie Davies), the leader, sees how they can help one another. Phrowenia (Andrea Vasiliou) and Thomas find that they get on exceptionally well as the night continues. Setting out the next day, the warriors’ path is blocked by a horde of reanimated dead called Furies. Surmising that the magic calling the dragon to attack and the magic raising the dead is the same, the hunt is on to discover the culprit behind these unnatural events.
“Surmising that the magic calling the dragon to attack and the magic raising the dead is the same, the hunt is on…”
If I made any of that sound exciting, I apologize. The few action scenes are serviceable, if unremarkable. The CGI on the dragon is not too shabby, not the best DTDVD dragon effects (the two Dragonheart prequels own that distinction) but nowhere near the worst. While the Fury make-up is basic, it is suitable. The problem is that Knights Of The Damned doesn’t care about the dragon or the zombies or the plot. No, it is much more interested in the leads standing around and talking about their current predicament than showing them doing anything about it.
Taking one’s time to introduce characters and give them clear motivations is never an issue. Rather, Ben Loyd-Holmes and James Morelli-Green’s screenplay loves to repeat itself over and over and over again. The opening narration informs the viewer of the twelve knights being chosen and their quest. Then, on the path to the inn, George, Thomas, and Richard discuss how they “…numbered twelve, but now are only three.” Then, at the inn talking to the warrior women, their dwindling numbers gets brought up again. It is as though the movie doesn’t trust us to remember what we’ve already been told.
A spell is cast over Thomas while he’s asleep, which causes a scuffle between him and his comrades. With the trance broken, Richard comments on the dark magic used for such a spell. A few sentences later this is stated- “This is dark magic, George.” And do you know where the king is currently? If not, the scenes between the evil Prince Favian (Jon-Paul Gates) and the enlightened Princess Elizabeth (Rebecca Dyson-Smith) will endlessly remind you. Oh hey, did you know Furies, aka zombies, exist here? Every time the horde of walking dead show up, the leads need to comment on how unnatural and vile they are.
Due to this endless repetition, despite Knights Of The Damned being roughly 80% dialogue, all the characters are one-dimensional. They just talk in circles, so very little information is given about anyone. It doesn’t help that the acting is only passable at best, and stilted at worst. However, these annoyances could be overlooked for a guilty pleasure watch, if it weren’t for the single most significant mistake the movie makes.
“…CGI on the dragon is not too shabby,”
In order to discuss this issue properly, the very, very end will be brought up. This does mean spoilers for how the movie concludes. Thus, this is the spoiler warning. The next paragraph contains the spoilers.
Director Simon Wells and the screenwriters have so much confidence in how the movie will do commercially, that they sequel baits in the worst way. Sequel baiting isn’t always a problem (MCU, anybody?) when handled in a way that does not interrupt the narrative flow of this particular adventure. However, it is a massive dilemma when the filmmakers don’t even bother to give an ending to their movie! That is correct, Knights Of The Damned doesn’t wrap up any plot thread it introduces. The dragon is not defeated, the Furies are still around, the evil prince escapes, and no one learned anything or grew in any way. Why, then, is this story being told? Literally, not a single deed is accomplished by the characters, so the movie is inconsequential and ineffective. The film simply stops.
Knights Of The Damned doesn’t look too crummy, given its limited resources. The production design is solid, the costumes are great, and the CGI is adequate. But the screenplay needlessly repeats information the viewer was already given. The acting is ho-hum and there is too few action beats to be rousing. However, it is the film’s non-ending that makes it such a cumbersome chore to watch. The film wastes the cast and crew’s talent and the audience’s time.
Knights Of The Damned (2018) Directed by Simon Wells. Written by Ben Loyd-Holmes, James Morelli-Green. Starring Ross O’Hennessy, Ben Loyd-Holmes, Silvio Simac, Zara Phythian, Andrea Vasiliou, Kate Marie Davies, Jon-Paul Gates, and Rebecca Dyson-Smith.