Seeing as I’m finally back on track from a looooonnng dry spell, how about we get back to things with a movie that’s been a looooonnng time in making it’s way to my DVD player? Sound good? Well then I guess that means it’s finally time for another trip to the Gothic wilderlands of old Russia and a look at the super late to actually get released, long, long, looonnng delayed, always just out of reach, never thought I’d actually ever see it, Russian remake of the 1967 classic fantasy film, “Viy 3D”.
Our synopsis? OK… OK… it goes sorta along these lines: “Early 18th century. Cartographer Jonathan Green undertakes a scientific voyage from Europe to the East. Having passed through Transylvania and crossed the Carpathian Mountains, he finds himself in a small village lost in impassible woods somewhere in the hinterlands of the Ukraine. Nothing but chance and heavy fog could bring him to this cursed place. People who live here do not resemble any other people which the traveler saw before that. The villagers, having dug a deep moat to fend themselves from the rest of the world, share a naive belief that they could save themselves from evil, failing to understand that evil has made its nest in their souls and is waiting for an opportunity to gush out upon the world.”
Can’t tell you how long this one has teased me from afar. How about since waaaay the heck back around 2005 or so? Yep. This particular film has been kicking around in some fashion or another for well near a decade before finally seeing a release in it’s home country of Russia, let alone any sort of DVD that yours truly could lay her hands on. I had figured that would eventually turn out to be China, Thailand, or maybe Malaysia…. but nope. Just when I’d about forgotten to keep checking around for it, it turns up at my local Walmart under the somewhat goofy and WTF? title, “Forbidden Empire”. Oh well… no passing up a gift of the Movie Fairies… But was it worth the wait to see? One way to know, right? 😉
Our story starts out promisingly enough with what I’m assuming was one of the original scenes filmed for this one waaaay back in 2005. In it, we see a couple of peasant girls and their friends by a suitably spooky lake doing some sort of pagan fertility festival thing where they float some candles to celebrate something. Just what, I’m a little vague on, but luckily that doesn’t really matter because pretty soon all heck breaks loose as a hulking horned unseen “thing” causes one of the maidens to plunge into the lake and begin to drown. One of her friends shows up looking for her and gets scared absolutely shitless by her friend grasping at her from the waters of that creepy lake. Before they can both die, the monster pulls them from the seething fog-shrouded water and leaves them beneath a tree set ablaze by a lightning strike. When the next day rolls around, our rustic villagers… looking like most of those Slavic mobs from any old horror movie… find them. The dark haired beauty, Pannochka (played by Olga Zaytseva) is near death… able only to gasp out some cryptic last wishes to her father before expiring and her blonde friend Nastusya (played by Agniya Ditkovskite)… well she’s now a gibbering imbecile, her mind shattered by the horrors of their supernatural encounter. The grungy local priest starts throwing around the words “witch” and “Satan”… and heck you just know that’s gonna get all the peasants undies in a bunch. Wow… so… now that’s a pretty snazzy beginning for our story, right?
Then we hang an abrupt left. We’re suddenly in England where stuffy Lord Dudley (played by Charles Dance) bursts into his daughter’s bedroom to interrupt a bit of sexy funtime with our film’s apparent hero, traveling cartographer Johnathan Green (played by Jason Flemyng). Ummmm? Huh?
Yeah, yeah… unfortunately this movie likes to do that. Much of that I’m thinking is due to the long production time this film spent being made. Years worth, in fact…The result tends to make it feel like two different films crudely stitched together throughout from footage shot years apart at times and using two entirely different scripts. The result is at times jarring. The feeling you get is that the story started out as a straight classic horror movie, then got “re-imagined” at some point as a kind of “Van Helsing” meets “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” sort of horror/action mash-up. Why the Russians figured they needed an English hero for their Gogol inspired story is beyond me. Maybe they were thinking of the purely box-office possibilities for foreign film sales? If so, it’s an unfortunate and clumsy choice, story wise in this wee Catgirl’s opinion…
The bulk of our story then follows our logical, scientific cartographer as he takes his steampunk carriage stuffed with the latest in map making tech deep into the uncharted expanse of the wilderness beyond even the Transylvanian reaches of Europe and into the dark “Terra incognito” of old Russia. Here he becomes involved in the wierd goings on surrounding the death of Pannochka, her supposed “witchcraft from beyond the grave” and the truth behind our mysterious “beast with seven horns” who may… or may not.. be the Devil himself. There’s a local priest stirring up trouble, a definite power struggle between him and Pannochka’s father the local Boyar, lots of mistrustful peasants just waiting for someone to convince them to commence the sharpening of the ol’ farm implements and lighting those pesky torches. It all should be a pretty fun story, right?
Sigh…. unfortunately for me, it all kind of fails though, falling through under the sheer weight of a plot too darn crammed full of neat ideas and almost uncomprehendingly complicated plot notions to work well on any level. Does it want to be a straight adventure story? Ummmm, sort of. But our hero isn’t actually interested in becoming that deeply involved with any of the locals to form any real friendships or connections. Ok then. Does it want to be a straight up horror story? No, not really, all the great special effects aside, it teases about that more than seeking to scare anybody successfully. A pity, there are some really great possibilities here for that kind of thing.
Neko can’t really go into great detail as to what exactly is happening without ruining it but good for you, o’ Gentle Visitors, so let’s simply say the big “twist” upon which the whole story depends is ultimately a disappointing one, and one you and I have had forced on us plenty of other times by horror movies that don’t really want to be seen as horror stories….
Don’t get me wrong. This movie was actually worth a look. Worth the long wait as a great horror movie? Nawwww… Still, the images and ideas that sit at it’s core could easily be mined by others for some seriously good filmmaking if anybody was in a mood to give a knockoff a try. That film I’d probably enjoy a whole lot more. Your own experience may differ. This lil’ Catgirl? I’ll stick with the 1967 Soviet original.
The DVD itself wasn’t too bad. I wish the film had included the original Russian language audio option, but “Forbidden Empire” as it’s inexplicably titled here in the US, comes only on Region 1 DVD in a dubbed to English version. It’s widescreen, and thankfully free of all the 3D hijinx that would have probably ruined the experience completely for me and Carolyn. In cdue consideration, I can only award “Viy 3D” a paltry 3 “Meows” out of 5, mostly for the look of the film itself and some of the scenes that captured the charm of the original 1967 film and threw w in the special effects to make them work even better.
Still think I could be wrong? Wanna see it for yourself? The have a peek at the Trailer, it’s a pretty one, that’s for sure…. 😉