Monday, February 19, 2007

The Witches Hammer (2006)

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the cover for The Witches Hammer, all I could think was, “Oh brother…not another Blade/Underworld rip-off!” Thankfully, The Witches Hammer may look similar to these two vampire flicks, but it turns out to be a very unique, entertaining and fun film!

On the brink of death, Rebecca (Claudia Coulter) is resurrected by shadow organization Project 571 and genetically engineered to be a vampire. She must leave behind her old life, in which she was wife and mother, to be trained as a master assassin to fight against the forces of evil. A year after honing her fighting skills, she is sent into the field on various missions, one of which gets her shot in the head. Fortunately, vampires can only die from exposure to sunlight, decapitation or a stake through the heart, so she is alright, until she finds her entire team at Project 571 slaughtered. Witches Edward (Jon Sidgwick) and Madeline (Stephanie Beacham) kidnap Rebecca and want her to acquire the Malleus Maleficarum, a book written by enraged witch Kitanya (Magda Rodriguez) in the Middle Ages. The book contains spells to release the souls of the damned and into our world. Rebecca must find the book before it lands in the hands of Hugo Renoir, a vampire intent on using the spells contained in the book for evil. Also after the book are vampire couple Charlotte (Sally Reeve) and Oscar (Jason Tompkins) and Spanish vampire assassin Victor (Miguel Ruz). Can Rebecca put her past behind her and save mankind from an ancient evil?

The Witches Hammer seems to have it all – vampires, witches, ninjas, demons, even a midget! Yet, with so many different characters and twists, it never gets bogged down but instead glides (or perhaps I should say roundhouse kicks) effortlessly through to the end. The story, written by director James Eaves, is evenly paced, featuring both adequate action and character-driven scenes. Each of the characters get great development as the story delves into each of their backgrounds. Flashbacks are used to tell Kitanya’s story, as well as the very amusing story of over-eater Charlotte and how she became a vampire in Victorian London. The mythology of the Malleus Maleficarum is adequately described, and everything is tidily wrapped up at the end.

For a low budget film, the action sequences are extremely well done. Rebecca fights numerous demons, witches, vampires and even ninjas with different types of weapons (guns, swords, knives, staffs, etc.) and different styles of martial arts. I was astounded at the quality at the action sequences, as most indie films don’t have the budget to pull off believable fights and end up looking silly. The fight scenes in The Witches Hammer, on the other hand, look professional and not at all cheesy. The various types of martial arts used are most impressive, especially when Rebecca fights a ninja that has the ability to split into three ninjas and disappear/appear at will.

The acting is solid throughout, with special mention going to Stephanie Beacham playing Madeline. Her polished, commanding performance was a treat to see and lends a lot of credibility to the film. Beacham is a veteran of film and TV, and starred in many horror films in the 1970s and onward, including Dracula A.D. 1972 with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Claudia Coulter as Rebecca did a bang up job, but at times it felt as if she was holding back. Sally Reeve and Jason Tompkins as mismatched vampire lovers Charlotte and Oscar brought some excellent comedic relief to the film. Fortunately, the comedic elements weren’t over-the-top but instead fit quite nicely with the script.

Shot on 35mm, the film looks amazing. Director Eaves made an excellent choice to shoot on 35mm film, as it gives the film a much more polished and professional look. Scenes are shot stylishly and effectively by Eaves. In particular, the action sequences looked terrific.

The Witches Hammer is a fun, entertaining horror film that doesn’t rely on nudity, sex or excessive gore to titillate the audience. Instead it relies on a cohesive, interesting story, insane action sequences, entertaining characters and a great mythology. The Witches Hammer delights at every turn. Looks like this is proof UK indie horror is back…

Available on Amazon!

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