Friday 22 December 2017


Directed by Jack Burton, Starring: Michelle McTernan, Sarah Driver, Rosanna Hoult, Samantha Schnitzler, James Groom. Horror. UK, 2017, 95mins, Cert 18.

Drunken monks vs. killer tree trunks.

“I’d rather have a rusty sword shoved up my arse!”

The year is, err... (unspecified), in a place called, err... (unspecified). A brethren of drunken debauched monks are about to be slaughtered at the hands of the serving wenches they are lecherously pawing at. Unbeknown to the more pissed than pious brothers; their servants are actually a band of female warriors out for revenge against the monks who have sold their loved ones as slaves. Unbeknown to everyone however, they are about to be joined at the monastery by a handful of bedraggled gate crashing Vikings fleeing from an army of mutated tree-like demons (listed as ‘tree bastards’ in the end credits, but also colourfully described at one point as ‘splinter dicks’). 

The publicity blurb references a disparate range of film and TV comparisons, from EVIL DEAD, RED SONJA and ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13, to ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Vikings’ – none of which are remotely justified. If they’d listed CREEPSHOW on the other hand...The film opens with a falling meteor sequence lifted straight out of the ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ segment which provides the origins of the tree mutation ‘delivered from the skies’ and bestowed upon the cursed men. Unfortunately, you then have to wait 45 minutes before these ‘tree bastards’ finally show up - which is fatal as the build up really doesn’t justify the disappointingly desiccated sub SWAMP THING like creature designs (mostly covered by robes).

Up until that point, we are treated to a barrage of luridly unsubtle ribaldry, washed down with decidedly historically unauthentic (and foul) dialogue, a decent throat slashing or two, some vicious stabby stabby dispatching, and scarred warrior leader Atheled (Michelle McTearnan) and her mini crossbow with its seemingly magically unending supply of arrows.

None of the characters are afforded anything other than rudimentary character traits, and the often misjudged attempts at humour (yes I’m including you ‘lute player’ in this observation) are largely cringe inducing. 

Yet despite the film’s numerous faults, it’s still watchable in a guilty pleasurable kind of way, never dull despite its 90+ minutes running time, and occasionally hints at what could have been given a better script and a bigger budget to properly deliver on the undeniably promising premise. Given the scope afforded to Peter Jackson to realise the ‘Ents’ in the LORD OF THE RINGS films, you can’t fault the filmmakers ambitions, but inevitably, viewer goodwill can only stretch so far before it snaps (like a twig) at these ‘tree bastards’. And you can only sell a gory death by having an actor spew up gobbets of stage blood as a substitute for an actual make-up set-piece or half-decent CGI rendition so many times before you begin to realise that the requisite gory punch line isn’t coming.

But for a first-time feature, director Jack Burton’s Viking wooded demon mash-up isn’t completely barking up the wrong tree. 

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was originally published by FrighFest