Friday, December 02, 2005

A Cry of Desperate Men: Grey Knight--The Director's Cut (1993)

This Civil War/horror film has had a long, troubled history worthy of a small chapbook or something, and was originally released as The Killing Box (as well as Ghost Brigade), though that version is not director George Hickenlooper's. Known informally as the "Producer's Cut," The Killing Box was edited by ten minutes, downplaying much of the simmering homoeroticism between Adrian Pasdar's character and that of Corbin Bernsen's, as well as containing a different music score and a drastically different opening sequence. Hickenlooper, who also directed the fabulous documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, about the tribulations surrounding the making of Francis Ford Coppola's psychedelic war masterpiece, Apocalypse Now (my favorite film, by the way), here reimagines Coppola's Vietnam War odyssey to the scorched earth of the American South, complete with surreal Orphean interludes and arthouse existentialism. Focusing on a small group of Union soldiers, led by Captain John Harling (Pasdar), as they meander through the blood-soaked countryside in search of a band of Confederate renegades (so they believe) who've committed acts of extreme prejudice against Yankee soldiers, the film combines gritty combat realism with supernatural horror and adds a little cosmic myth into the mix just for good measure. The results aren't always smooth--due mainly to Hickenlooper's sometimes plodding and amateurish directing--but this flawed yet ambitious film frequently delivers on originality and boldness thanks to Matt Greenberg's screenplay. The performances by Pasdar, who seems to be channeling Martin Sheen (who has a cameo in the film at the beginning) as Captain Willard from Apocalypse Now, and Bernsen (who has a little Richard Harris from Peckinpah's Major Dundee going for him) are good, as are Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) as a demented Colonel Kilgore-like Union officer, Billy Bob Thornton as a Confederate soldier, and Cynda Williams (One False Move, which also starred Thornton) as a mute slave who ends up offering Col. Nehemiah Strayn (Bernsen) a little taste of immortality. Not brilliant by any means, this modest film should nevertheless reward the more adventurous horror film aficionados out there.

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