Knives of the Avenger
A.K.A. I Coltelli del vendicatore
This scaled down version of The Vikings is a more minor entry in the Mario Bava canon, but is nevertheless great fun. The viking theme is more or less irrelevent to the plot and style of the film, which has more in common with the western genre. We have a Shane-like relationship between a young boy and his mother and the repentant killer trying to escape his past, a villian and a hero who fling knives at one another (substituting for a shoot-out and echoing James Cobuen’s iconic character, Britt, from The Magnificent 7) rather than fighting with swords, punch-ups in bars where surprisingly brittle furniture gets smashed over peoples heads, lots of horse riding and fights over somebody sitting in someone elses favourite chair. All this and virtually no longboats to be seen, let alone sailed in.
The restrictions of the budget are obvious at times, but never really detract from the enjoyment. There are some great examples of inventive film making to get round the small cast and meagre props, such as the use of forced perspective to make a tiny model longboat look like a full size one moored in the distance. My particular favourite scene was where the villian of the piece, Hagan, addresses his band of cutthroats. The camera shoots initially from Hagan’s left, suggesting that we can only see half of the gang, and then shoots from the opposite side showing the same actors dressed up in one another’s costumes pretending to be different characters. Brilliant!!
One the downside, this movie does have the feel of a quickie and lacks the style and stylisation of Bava’s most fondly remembered films. The pace is a little slow in general and the fight scenes lack the exitement of those in the better westerns ( I’m thinking of Shane and Joe Starret’s brawl in the provision store). There is a sort of “spaghetti” nihilism to the hero, Rurik’s, character, in that he is both a murderer and a rapist, who’s reign of terror only ends when his rape of his enemy’s wife satiates his rage and triggers his remorse, but not enough is made of that.
Not for fans of Alexander and Troy, but good fun viewing for Bava fans and Western fans in general.