Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Image Entertainment is reaching the end of its Mario Bava collection, yet hasn't run out of
interesting films. Knives of the Avenger is a sword 'n smorgasbord action film, filmed
largely outdoors. It stresses performances while telling a straight genre story, and shows a
sensitivity to characters not always associated with director Bava.
In a Viking kingdom troubled by tribal fighting, King Harald (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart)
is lost at sea, leaving his queen Karen (Elissa Pichelli) and his son Moki (Luciano Pollentin) at the
mercy of general Hagen (Fausto Tozzi), an ambitious hothead who has kept the land at war for half a
generation. Hiding out at the seaside, Karen and Moki are rescued several times by a rootless drifter
who turns out to be none other than the dreaded Rurik (Cameron Mitchell). Once an ally, Rurik turned renegade
after Hagen's murder of his family years before ... but now is protecting Karen and her son for a
complicated set of reasons ...
Once again Mario Bava has made a quality film out of practically nothing;
Knives of the Avenger features
that same Bava Beach (it's time to rename it after him) that's in most all of his films, that same quarry-like
that also repeats; a couple of interiors, and one interesting Viking building that is in so briefly,
it must have been borrowed from another production.
Frequent Bava collaborator Cameron Mitchell carries the film, providing a solid center of interest. His
troubled Frisian chieftain, with a bloody past to live down, is a serious characterization that has
nothing in common with the frequently sloppy 'American star' performances that we're used to seeing
in European films. With blonde hair and a dark stubble beard, Mitchell's makeup reminds of Henry Fonda
in Once Upon a Time in the West; this is how Italians must picture masculine toughness.
In his well-observed liner notes, Tim Lucas says that Knives is a Western, Shane actually,
masquerading as a Viking epic, and he's very correct. The relationship of Rurik to his 'adopted'
son is the same. It's an unkillable story, and Bava makes the growing relationship between Rurik and
the abandoned queen-in-hiding very interesting; although the fights and action are okay, the real
interest here is finding
out how the triangle is going to resolve. As a story, it's actually an improvement on Shane,
which soaked itself in platitudes to become an 'instant classic.' Bava's drifter is no angel, but
instead a murderer-rapist. Coming to grips with the past and convincing anyone else that he's worthy of
trust and respect is a more compelling problem, when the past crimes are so heinous.
Although most of the story wraps up in a series of fights, there's enough real relating going on
between Mitchell and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (no spoilers, so his character will remain unidentified)
to elevate the proceedings considerably. Bava handles the flashbacks that explain the story
with ease and clarity.
The gimmick here is Rurik's knife-throwing ability, which is less impressive than it wants to be, but
at least gives his character a spaghetti western-like edge. His credibility in overcoming so many
adversaries is enhanced, when he can flick out these daggers two and three at a time and nail the
bad guys so efficiently.
As is usual with Bava, his contribution is the whole show, production-wise. Knives is simply
too cheap to be mainstream:
a Viking film with no armies, no castles, no boats, only a handful of horses. The slipshod music, dubbing,
and cheap titles, etc., don't help much, and limit the general interest to Bava fans and those
who can be roped into the fold. Again, what surprises about Knives of the Avenger is the simple
effectiveness of the intimate scenes - clearly Mario Bava could have been any kind of filmmaker he
wanted to be. We'll have to wait for Mr. Lucas' upcoming book to learn the whole story, but I'll bet
a major theme in Bava's work is that he stayed 'small' because he preferred working on these tiny,
intimate movies where control could be his.
Image Entertainment's Knives of the Avenger is a very clean, nicely transferred 16:9 copy of the
American version of the film (this I assume from those crummy Anglo credits), with both English and
Italian tracks. The Italian audio is not quite as clearly recorded, indicating it may have been lifted
from some European video release (?). There are no English subs or closed captions, so most of us
will be stuck with the English dub, which actually isn't that bad. The usual Bava filmographies, etc.,
are provided, along with a nice set of stills and other ad material. A b&w copy of a trailer looks
to have temp narration ... it's just terrible! Knives is the first Bava disc
to be released in a plastic keep case instead of their older Warner snapper. Either that contract
ran out, or Image finally reached the bottom of a giant pile of previously-purchased snappers.
Next up on Image's slate is I Vampiri, a quasi- Bava, but one of the most sought-after
titles in all of EuroHorror.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Knives of the Avenger rates:
Supplements: Trailers, text filmographies, still and artwork gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 27, 2001
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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