The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Knights (1993)

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This is an Albert Pyun flick that I've been meaning to get to for a while, but for one reason or another it's always been pushed back. Well, it will be pushed back no more, it's time to bake this cake. Also, our friend Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic reviewed this as part of his Albert Pyun Fest, if you want to check that out. (By the way man, I hotlinked your cover image. Hope you're not mad at me...)

Knights takes place in an undetermined spot in the future, after the apocalypse, in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. As humans are trying to pick up the pieces, they're having problems with some super powerful cyborgs, led by Lance Henriksen, that need their blood to sustain their systems. All hope looks to be lost, until Kris Kristofferson shows up, a cyborg created to kill these other cyborgs. On his way to exterminate them, he saves Nea, a girl squatting with one of the tribes, and he teaches her how to fight against the cyborgs. Together, they look to defeat this scourge on humanity.

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I had a lot of fun with this one. Sure, there are nits to pick about it I guess, especially if one were taking it too seriously, but as far as I could tell, this was meant to be a fun ride. It had a heavy stable of actors, from DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels, to major Pyun mainstays like Tim Thomerson and Vincent Klyn (though both in small parts), in addition to the stars I already mentioned. Plus, there was the gorgeous scenery of the national park, which Pyun spared no expense in delivering to us in all its glory-- essentially allowing it to be a character on its own. Maybe the fight scenes weren't what you'd want, especially because it seemed like he went more for Japanese samurai film style fight scenes over the Hong Kong actioner, which worked for me, but might not have for some others. Also, the whole deal with Kathy Long fighting with Kristofferson's torso tied to her back might have been too silly for a lot of tastes, though again, not mine. Hey, if you're in it to have fun, it doesn't get much better than Knights.

Gary Daniels is Lance Henriksen's right hand man. He does have some good fights, so it's not as bad as the smaller roles we've seen him in-- especially lately-- but he's by no means a main star. This is not one of those moments though where I'm going to complain about the size of his role, because I think it worked perfectly here. He wasn't going to be the main baddie over Henriksen, and Pyun's getting Kristofferson was way too big a coup not to have him as the hero. Plus, Kristoferson gave the film that Western element, that, when combined with the setting, made for a really great aesthetic. It should also be pointed out that in 1993, when this was made, Daniels didn't have many starring roles to his credit, so considering his status at the time, this was the perfect sized part for him.

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Another move Pyun made in this film that really worked for me was the shifting of the protagonist, having the girl, played by kickboxer Kathy Long, take over. Again, if you're picking nits, you'd complain that it's impossible that she'd learn enough martial arts in four weeks to be able to take down all the guys and cyborgs that she does. My answer to you would be "you're okay with the cyborgs that need human blood to feed, but a girl learning martial arts in four weeks is what you're stuck on?" One of the things I've always loved about Albert Pyun's work is his consistency in trying new things and rethinking the old standards, and a big one is in casting women as heroic leads. He's doing from the director's and screenwriter's chairs what Cynthia Rothrock is doing from the actor's. His films may not always work-- and not work for myriad reasons that don't always have to do with the idea of the film itself-- but at least we know he's trying to new things, which is a lot more than we can say about a lot of other people we check out on here.

Tim Thomerson versus Lance Henriksen. I know, I've never considered it before, but this film raised the question... okay, I raised the question, after seeing the movie. Anyway, Tim Thomerson had a small part in the beginning, and then that's it for him, but it had me thinking, what if? Now, I'm not taking anything away from Lance Henriksen's performance in Knights, because he was excellent as the slightly goofy, slightly gross, yet very evil baddie, I'm just putting it out there, who makes the better baddie overall? Or rather, who makes the better DTV star? I'm calling it a tie for the sake of political correctness, but by all means, weigh in and let me know... hell, am I crazy for even asking?

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I've never been to Arches National Park before. We almost went while I was out in Colorado, but we spent too much time getting to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and it was just too far away to get there and back to where we wanted to go. As far as Knights goes, Pyun takes full advantage of this beautiful scenery. He plays with the space in a way that I was critical of him for not doing in Mean Guns with that film's prison setting. He really made it into another character, the way someone like Woody Allen makes New York City into one of his film's characters. It just added another layer of depth that made the movie that much more enjoyable-- though I'm a bit of an outdoors buff, so I might be unique in that assertion.

As far as I can tell, this movie is VHS or bust, so if you can get it, I'd go for it. Don't spend too much, but $5 is a good price. This is just a lot of fun set in a beautiful location with a lot of names you recognize. Ain't nothing to get mad at here.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107333/

19 comments:

  1. The best line was how hard they worked it to get Lance Henriksen to say "Pumpkinhead!" Wow where to start with this one... Um the finale with a dwarf in the backpack, the way Kris Kristofferson pulls off a perfect Dolph Lundgren mimicking and how (Like any Pyun film) starts with a surreal opening, Look at Cyborg, Nemesis, Kickboxer 4 and Bloodmatch same surreal energy in the opening. This is a very badly put together movie though, the movie makes little sense (Especially in context of the twist ending) The film never even tells us why the robot vampires rebelled against humans and needs their blood to live or how Kristofferson can survive without human blood. So how Kathy Long learns kickboxing so fast, is merely a question among several. It's terrible but in a good way.

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  2. Henriksen, Kristofferson, Daniels, Thomerson, Pyun, and cyborgs?

    I must own this movie. Thank you so so much for putting this into my life.

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  3. Nice review! Looks like a fun Pyun movie! Amazing cast too.

    Didn't know Daniels was in this! Will have to buy a copy.

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  4. Great review, this is one of my favorite Pyun films. One of the most fun films I've ever seen. All the cheesy scenes Kenner has already mentioned are gold, but one of my personal favorites is that terrible scene near the beginning where the cyborg/vampires are ruminating existentially over "Are we alive?" That was just too much.

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  5. First and foremost Mr. Gable, don't thank me, thank Mr. Pyun, it's all him.

    I'm glad everyone else dug this film too, and if you haven't seen it, I think you'll have a great time when you do.

    As for Mr. Kenner, I'm failing to find the logic in your movie critiquing. This was "very badly put together", but Strategic Command was "competently made"? First off, all the things you say were never explained, actually were in Kristofferson's first fight with a cyborg, but to me that doesn't even matter, because I don't think he had to explain them to make this movie great-- the story was in some ways immaterial. Second, what was so badly put together about this? When were there any inconsistencies? When did the script not make sense? I didn't see it, and in fact think this is one of Pyun's best put together films. Finally, how can you say a cliche ridden, stock footage ridden, Executive Decision rip-off that was made with zero thought and simply put out there to make money, is better made than one where Pyun is trying to defy conventions, think outside the box, and mix genres in a way that really worked? Besides that, you have beautiful Arches National Park, which Pyun does absolute justice to, instead of, again, stock footage of a generic 747 and crappy scenes you've all seen before shot inside the plane. Your logic escapes me.

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  6. cool review. love this movie. one of Puyn's best...

    and the best Post Apocalyptic Kung Fu Cyborg Vampire movie ever made...

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  7. Looks hilarious!
    I'll have to check this one out.

    Man, you are a great source for flicks I'd otherwise probably never see.

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  8. Daniels looks about 12 years old in that picture. Great stuff !

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  9. Knights is a competently made movie in terms of quality, even more so than S.C.

    I mean badly constructed in terms of script and story. I don't remember anything about the explanation as to how human blood nourishes the cyborgs. I also didn't catch how the robot at the end ties into the gang that Lance Henriksen has. Lastly I would take this over Strategic Command anyday.

    My only point is that I give 2 stars to both and while both are bad, this one is perferable. That said you can't tell me that the script wasn't grafted on to include "Pumpkinhead" in there.

    Also, I liked Cyborg and Nemesis more, which this one felt like a lesser version of in terms of feel.

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  10. Hey, thanks guys, I'm glad you all dug it.

    I'm also very glad to hear that I misunderstood you, Mr. Kenner, though if you look at the comments here and the comments to Strategic Command, you can see where I might have made that mistake. I don't know, I didn't see the issues in the script that you saw. I agree that Nemesis and Cyborg were better, though I put this above Omega Doom, which I also liked. I got the sense that Pyun was trying to make this into a series of films, and that robot at the end, who was the Master Creator, the ultimate baddie, probably would've had a more prominent role in any sequels.

    As far as the "Pumpkinhead" part, how do you not love that as a joke? That was awesome. I'm just glad you brought it up, because I forgot about it when it came to writing the post.

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  11. Hi DTV - Thanks again for the detailed review and the appreciation of what I try (though often fail) to achieve. It's rewarding when the attempts to create something different is noted. Usually, it ends with the film being taken away from me!

    On that note, I wanted to invite you and your readers to weigh in on the opening sequence to Tales of an Ancient Empire, a film I've been laboring over for 3 years. Here's a link to the clip of the first 7 or so minutes of Tales. Let me know your thoughts on another unconventional effort.


    http://www.youtube.com/user/AlbertPyunMovies#p/a/u/1/Es3U9ROyMP4

    Thanks for the kind attention!

    Albert Pyun
    Facebook/albert pyun movies

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  12. Hey, thanks for stopping by again and letting us know what you think. Knights was a lot of fun, plus I'm jealous that you got to spend so much time out in Arches National Park.

    I took a look at the opening sequence. I really liked the drawings and the way you mixed in the sound effects and panned the camera over them to keep the images dynamic. The only issue I'd have would be that it might be a bit long. Around the five minute mark I was zoning out. I think it was a combination of the monotone of the narrator's voice, and the fact that it was only shots of uninterrupted drawings, but it felt more like a college lecture. Still, I really liked those drawings, and I really liked that dynamic presentation.

    Hope that helped, and thanks again for stopping by. Good luck with everything, I know I speak for everyone when I say I can't wait to see what the end product looks like.

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  13. The narration is pretty bad. The drawings is an interesting approach though one suspects this would be better shown through either animation or live action, mainly bnecause the pictures are done in a drab way like ancient writings maybe that was the point. The narration though gets really redundant at times for instance "Reduced to ash and dust" which is pretty much the same idea and point also needless grafted because we understand that she was stabbed in the heart and the next line he scooped up her ashes pretty much gets the point across.

    Also the narrator's accent seems rather phony and think. Like a novice reciting Shakespeare also watching her recite it is just weird because she has a very weird look in her eyes as well as a very vacant stare.

    I will say I like the live action look with the boats once it starts as the camera angles have fluid look but overall I can't say I liked the opening. Mainly for the narration...

    I'm a big fan of the original along with Kickboxer 2, 4 and Bloodmatch to name a few so don't think i'm trying to be down on you, just offering up my thoughts as asked.

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  14. Thanks Matt and Kenner for the feedback. I can see we still need to refine. Tales has such a dense backstory that I wanted to find a way to tell it that wasn't just text or a narration over black. Was trying to capture a pulp feel to this movie so audience was conditioned and informed before diving into the present day primary story. Everything in that main title prologue has resonating impact on the characters and story line 20 years later and I hoped viewer can retain enough of this prologue to put ensuing events in context of emotional wounding and abandonment issues.

    Again, thanks for taking the time. Your feedback is much appreciated.

    Best,
    Albert Pyun

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  15. I know, it's a dilemma, because you need that backstory. Do you have action shots that you can splice in maybe? Again, I really like those drawings too, and I think a lot of other people would agree on that-- but I also know a lot of us movie watchers have short attention spans, and we zone out quickly, which would defeat the purpose of having the backstory in the first place if no one retains it. Maybe though it's more just my issue. What has the other feedback been like?

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  16. So far the only negative comments on length were yours and another. Most have felt that it plays like its own movie. Those are folks who got hooked into the prologue story. But its been a worry about how much is too much.

    I don't know if you ever saw John Woo's Red Cliff but the US version had a ton of voice over that lasted for a long spell at the outset. They had to explain the many aspects of politics and intrigue and a host of characters before the movie could start. this was a killer but still necessary for most audiences outside of china.

    Given my own preferences, I liked the no narration version most where the viewer has to pt the story together themselves without the aid of a narrator. We might add some live action or it least lie action stills but I love the artwork and feel it captures the tone and texture of the rest of the movie.

    there are no easy paths given i absolutely have no budget for this.

    albert

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  17. I love the artwork too, and even if the budget wasn't an issue, I think the artwork would be a great addition. For me I guess, I'd have liked the artwork shown the way you did it, with the dynamic presentation, with just music and the opening credits, but that leaves out the vital backstory that you wanted. I definitely didn't think the artwork should be replaced, simply that something should break up what I saw as the monotony of the narration over the images for 7 minutes-- maybe like action sprinkled in-- but as we're talking about it more, I almost think that might be worse. (I know, I'm starting to become less of a help the more I talk about it!). But I will say, that pulp feel you wanted definitely came through in it, and I liked that a lot.

    I haven't seen The Red Cliff yet (the US version is in my Netflix instant queue), but Kenner has, and I think he liked the original better than the Hong Kong too. One thing I can say is, a movie is like a novel, and with this being only the first seven pages or so, it might not be as big an issue for me in the greater context of the film.

    What I hope isn't lost in this discussion is that overall I liked what I saw, and am excited for the end product.

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  18. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for taking the time to review the Tales opening. It really did help in the final shaping of it. Thanks as well to Kenner for his pointed critique. Hope the final draft will show we overcame he problems he highlighted.

    Based on the comments, I think I will do a test preview screening in Las Vegas this week or weekend to see how it all plays before a bigger LA screening next week. Again, thanks to you and Kenner for your time on this.

    If I can manage it, I'll try to lip you guys an early copy of the Tales DVD BEFORE it becomes a DTV classic!

    Best,
    Albert Pyun
    Facebook / Albert Pyun Movies

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  19. Wow, that would be great! I can't wait to check it out. And it's always a pleasure when you stop by and give us your input, so I'm always happy to return the favor as best as I can whenever you ask. Good luck with the screening in Vegas, I hope it all works out for you!

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