[Contains convenient dragon-crushing architecture and SPOILERS!!!]
Generally speaking, if a movie “trilogy” begins with a big budget theatrical release featuring an Oscar-winning actor, and ends with a direct-to-DVD release featuring total unknowns, you’d expect the story quality and entertainment value to diminish with each successive entry… yet the third entry in the Dungeons & Dragons series, titled The Book of Vile Darkness, is probably the most genuinely enjoyable of the three! I mean, the script could use a little polishing, and there are a few weak links in the cast, but overall it’s well above par! If nothing else, shifting the focus towards characters with more malign alignments makes for a welcome change of pace from the tedious do-gooding seen in previous instalments.
Sadly, to get to the fun stuff, you first have to sit through a five-minute long, (barely) animated exposition-and-opening-credits sequence, which somehow manages to drain all of the shock value out of an evil sorcerer being flayed alive and bled dry to provide the pages and ink for the eponymous spellbook (apparently his bones were also crushed to make the cover, through that doesn’t really make any sense. Just chalk it up to magick, I guess?). We’re then introduced to a bland wannabe-chosen-one named ‘Grayson’ (Jack Derges), who is hoping to join a sacred order of knights originally formed to destroy the cursed tome using fancy God-given powers, which has since degenerated into an impotent social club. Grayson’s initiation ceremony is rather rudely interrupted by murderous barbarians, who massacre the other knights and make off with his father… forcing our hero to fall in with an evil adventuring party intent on reassembling The Book of Vile Darkness, which their employer intends to ink with Daddy’s “liquid pain”. Eep!
As Grayson slips deeper and deeper undercover, we get to ride along with the villains, and enjoy a few Game of Thrones-style shock twists… such as when they all get caught trying to sneak out of a walled town with a haul of stolen treasure, and Grayson manages to successfully buy their freedom in return for half of the loot and their promise not to kill anyone (else) on the way out, but then their rotten mage ‘Bezz’ (Barry Aird) explodes the town’s mayor and kicks off a totally unnecessary battle, just for the hell of it! There’s also a super-creepy scene involving Bezz and a finger-sucking zombie girl, that’s all kinds of disturbing… in fact, now I come to think of it, almost all of the stand-out scenes or gags involved his character, one way or another. Far less successful was the assassin character, who needed to knock-back an invisibility potion just to sneak down a dimly-lit corridor and stab an unarmed and otherwise-occupied man in the back! He then gave a bullshit “survival of the fittest” speech to his dying victim, as if potion-dependent back-stabbing were some great feat of strength or cunning that only an Übermensch could perform! What a d-bag. That said, he did provide this post with its unintentionally amusing title quote, while demanding a magickal horn from the band’s female leader, as payment for his services.
Speaking of whom… I guess on paper ‘Akordia’ was supposed to be a scary, seductive femme fatale, as fearsome on the battlefield as she was in the bedroom… but once again they cast an actress who was incapable of summoning up the kind of rage and menace the role really required. Eleanor Gecks may be a very attractive and charming woman, but she just isn’t in the same league as Fairuza Balk or Helena Bonham Carter… and, as you can see from the screencaps, they also decided to undermine her screen-presence by drawing a bunch of random squiggles on her face with a black marker pen! WTF!? Worse still, despite being one of the most magickally powerful characters in the main cast, the story reduces Akordia to an easily-duped love-fool, who goes all soppy and sells out the dark side to rescue an ungrateful, overpowered Grayson from being tortured to death, just because she has the warm-fuzzies for him… and then all she gets in return for saving the world by proxy is an abrupt, perfunctory (and kiss-free) kiss-off! Meh.
As noted in my rant about Tron: Legacy, women tend to get short shrift in stories about fathers and sons, and this movie’s no different… Akordia aside, the only female characters with any lines here are ‘Carlotta’ (Charlotte Hunter), a sympathetic prostitute who helps Grayson get kitted out for his adventure, and an unnamed ‘Gorgeous Girl’ groupie (played by Yana Titova, but dubbed by Lisa Kerr) who tries to jump his bones in a tavern. The rest are just mute, topless playthings and eye-candy. Feh.