Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Review: The Warlock's Revenge

Lupus Pictures (released in 2003)

Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:
Princess gets caned to lift wizard's curse

Victim Appeal:
In this sequel of sorts to The Fairy Tale, one of my favourite movies from the old Rigid East label, the Czechs (who had by this time renamed themselves Lupus Pictures) undertook another excursion into the realm of whimsy medieval fantasy. They spared no expenses whatsoever this time and rented a real castle for the production. We also get to see a proper dungeon, complete with iron shackles, a display cage for the prisoners and a torture rack. Together with the usual nice costumes and props from Lupus, it provides a magnificent stage for the cast to showcase their skills (and their bodies).

The princess (obviously, there has to be a princess!) is played by Terezie Vesela, a brunette girl who brings an appropriately quiet-yet-defiant demeanour to the role. The video also features Adela Valkova, another brunette, as a chamber maid, plus classic Lupus star Katerina Tetova as a "wanton", a lascivious woman who has been imprisoned for her... well, lasciviousness. Katerina's face is hidden behind an iron mask throughout the entire film - I didn't realise it was her until I read the credits. I'm not sure whether this constitutes a terrible waste or a pretty cool casting choice. Probably both.

Gratuitous Sadism:
"The Warlock's Revenge" shows a fairy tale kingdom in decline. A wizard is infatuated with the king's daughter, but she refuses to marry him. Enraged, the warlock (played by Michal Valášek) decides to deprive the old king (Pavel Stastny) of his most favourite pastime - eating. He casts a dark spell over the land that causes all food to lose its salty, sour and bitter taste. The king and his court are forced to dine on nothing but sweets, which gets rather redundant. "I'd kill for a herring!" he cries out. "Salty potatoes..." However, the warlock will not lift his curse until the princess is disciplined (i.e. caned!) for her defiance and marries him. The princess, on her part, holds steadfast in her refusal.

Because the king can not persuade his daughter to make the sacrifice, he and his crafty advisor come up with a ploy to fool the wizard. The wizard resides in a magical portrait and can only see things that happen in front of it. So, they are going to spank a different girl, make her scream in pain, and pretend that it is the princess! The poor chamber maid is handed over to the king's hangmen (among them Pavel Stastny in a double role) for a session in the dungeon.

The incompetent hangmen use their standard interrogation techniques (rack, water torture) until the advisor storms in and explains to them that the maid is not supposed to confess anyting, they simply have to make her scream. They tie the girl up and whip her with birches, but she stays silent (42 lashes are shown on-screen). A flogging is also ineffective (17 lashes shown). Finally, a caning in the diaper position (25 strokes shown) produces the desired sounds. However, the wizard does not fall for it.

The king tries another ruse. This time, they use the wanton prisoner with her iron "bridle" mask, hoping that the wizard will mistake her for the princess. The woman is brought into the castle yard, sat astride a wooden horse and given a hard birching on her buttucks and her back. It's a long, quickly paced beating and I counted 152 lashes. The whole thing happens in front of the warlock's eyes (or rather, in front of his portrait), but again, he does not believe that it is the princess being disciplined.

Having run out of tricks, the king flatly tells his daughter that she must do as the warlock demands, there is no other choice. She is tied to a wooden bench and the chief hangman whips her bottom with a switch. After 50 painful strokes, when she begs for mercy, the warlock steps out of his magic portrait - he is now in the scene together with the other characters - and instructs the hangman to stop. He grabs the switch himself and gives the princess a handful more strokes, light ones, to drive the lesson home. The story then ends with a typical Lupus surprise twist, but I won't spoil it for you here.

Best Reactions:
The caning of the princess, Terezie Vesela, is the dramatic highlight of the film, and I also liked her reactions the most. She's a defiant girl, writhing and gasping heavily, trying very hard to suppress any sound of pain. After about a dozen strokes, she starts crying. The bindings on her hands are loose enough to allow her to wipe away her tears, which Terezie does frequently, with an exquisitely angry motion.

Best Line:
The chief hangman is a lot of fun to listen to while he does his dirty work. At one point, he reminisces to his assistants about the good old days: "Well, he was a true master, I tell you. 27 executions in one day! In the capital, in the main square. Big applause, of course."

My favourite part, though, is when he examines the switches for the punishment of the princess: "Are they fresh? Good. My grandpa hanged himself when his tool broke at a public execution."

Nice Psychological Touch:
I liked how the king repeatedly tries to spare his daughter, his "sweet one", from being caned. Futile, but cute. They also did some amusing things with the "magical portrait", which consists of a recording of Michal Valasek on a monitor, "interacting" with the other characters.

How Good Is It Really?
In terms of action, I have seen better movies from Lupus. The birchings and canings in this one are okay, but not great. The visual backdrop, the humour of the plot and the inventive little details are the real reasons to watch "The Warlock's Revenge". Michal Valasek and Pavel Stastny turn in great, wacky performances as the warlock and the king. The special effects used for the magical portrait are simple, but fun to watch. And the castle location is just spectacular.

As a bonus to the regular CP, fans of medieval torture get some interesting scenes, like the hangmen forcing water down the maid's throat with a funnel (a predecessor of waterboarding) or the wanton girl riding the uncomfortable wooden horse.

What You Learned:
The iron yoke worn by one of the girls in the dungeon, where her neck and hands are locked with a hinged board, is known as a "shrew's fiddle".

1 comment:

Pandora Blake said...

Oh man, this looks fabulous. Not at all what I expected from your short summary - quirkier and more Lupus (which I should have expected!) but I love both the sound of this twisty, ironic plot and all the ideas I've had for why princesses might need to be caned to lift a wizards' curse. Um, not that I need more hard-to-film medieval script ideas...