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Beowulf (1999)

A would-be epic shot in Romania by Graham Baker (The Final Conflict, Impulse), this feels like a slightly more healthily-budgeted version of the sort of quickie Charles Band or Albert Pyun have been making for years. The setting is a mock-Dark Age pseudo-future, with few gadgets and an American idea of ethnic diversity (plus a terrible rock score from Juno Reactor) to distinguish it from the past, and the script mutates the Anglo-Saxon epic poem into a castle-bound remake of Predator. Christopher Lambert, still clinging to the rim of the toilet into which Rutger Hauer flushed his career, is the white-haired, acrobatic warrior who hacks his way through a besieging army to the border castle where Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton) commands a company that dwindles nightly because a CGI Grendel is picking off his men one by one. There's a relatively complex backstory about Hrothgar's murdered brute of a son-in-law, the resentful love of his head man Roland (Gotz Otto) for his daughter Kyra (Rhona Mitra), the death of his wife and a blonde succubus (Layla Roberts) who appears to him in erotic dreams. It turns out that the succubus is Grendel's mother, and after Beowulf has hacked her son apart she morphs into a manga-style vagina dentata bat-spider-crab creature but is swiftly seen off by CGI fires. It offers amusingly ridiculous moments, courtesy of the sultry Mitra (model for the computer game character Lara Croft) as a well-spoken princess in low-cut leather gear, but is mostly a dreary, murky tour of the castle with frequent busy but unimpressive swordfights.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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