I learned of this movie while perusing the pre-orders on Amazon earlier in the year. The DVD cover looked interesting so I hit up YouTube to see if I could find a trailer. There are trailers up now but there weren’t any when I first started looking, so I then hit up IMDB but couldn’t find any movie called, Forbidden Empire. There’s an entry now for Forbidden Empire, but again there wasn’t when Amazon first had the pre-order up. I had to punch in the director’s name and even then I still couldn’t find the movie. I can’t remember how, but somewhere on the net I found information that linked it to this Russian movie, Viy 3D. After that it was easy to find a trailer, for it was going under its original title. It had monsters, so I was game.
Forbidden Empire (aka Viy 3D) is a Russian horror fantasy based on a 1935 short story by Nikolai Gogol. Apparently it was first adapted once before for film in 1967. A month or so ago Quiet Earth did a short review on the movie and they mentioned briefly it was filmed in 2008 and then re-filmed again hence the long, long completion time. This wikipedia entry will pretty much fill you in on the whole history of why this flick took so long to get completed. Just guessing but the flashbacks feel like the original film, while most of everything else is the new stuff.
This has two British actors in it I like to watch: Jason Flemying (Deep Rising, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Charles Dance (Last Action Hero, Space Truckers). Flemying plays the lead, Jonathon Green, and his character is based on an actual historical figure, an explorer and cartographer. Dance has a much smaller role, he plays Lord Dudley, and in the opening Dudley catches Green in bed with his daughter (Dudley and Green’s girlfriend are kept in the movie via notes Green sends her by carrier pigeon). He and his guards chase him out, which sets up his journey. Green wants to chart the uncharted lands of Transylvania. The second tale that unfolds concerns a small village Green is destined to run aground in later on. Here tragedy unfolds when these girls looking for love perform a ceremony at the local lake. They encounter this creature, this Viy the locals call it. The creature kills two of the girls and leaves one of them half-alive. Her father finds her and her last words to him are to have this particular person watch over her body for three nights. This second tale is told all through flashbacks after Green runs into these two kids from the village. They also tell him how one of their friends was killed by a witch, also told as a flashback.
The girl’s father, who’s the leader, just wants his daughter buried, which hasn’t happened for a year, not since word got back of the hellish things that happened during those three nights that kid watched over her body.
I should warn you all this movie has a Scooby-Do ending. The evil here is religion, the holy man in charge has secrets and he wants them kept. But not all the “monsters” are debunked. The general vibe of this movie is Sleepy Hollow (1999) on steroids, or 60s period piece Hammer Films coupled with CGI technology. It’s a damn good-looking movie, with CGI and practical effects, and some of those computerized FX are damn good looking. The “undead wolves” that chase Green in his carriage were impressive. Shoot one and they become the mist that accompanied them. These creatures are never debunked. The only debunked beast is the Viy itself and those flashbacks in the church where the dead girl became an undead girl and she menaced her “watcher” with all sorts of LSD weirdness that included a mass of vines. Think the ending Of Lucky Mckee’s The Woods (2006), those scenes with the vines, but jacked up on steroids. And I thought those computerized vines were quite impressive too.
What also wasn’t debunked is a weird scene in the village with Green breaking bread with some of the locals, and during the process the locals transform into these hellish creatures. Apparently the only defense against the things in this movie, real and imagined, is to take chalk and draw a circle on the floor around you. Green does this and the creatures and this witch cannot see him. By this time the whole scene has become some sort of acid trip where Green is surrounded by a CGI nightmare of demonic appendages, while a Lovecraftian menace is carried into view to face off with him. The only thing remaining of the room he was once in is the floor and the circle he’s cowering in. It’s humanoid, but has these eyelids that droop all the way down to the water. The village, or part of it anyway, is built upon a lake and during Green’s “trip” the lake starts seeping up. These appendages life up this creature’s eyelids and there’s two, big eyes made up of all these tiny eyes. This whole scene was quite well done in my book and provided me with a level of unnerving strangeness that had me thinking, ‘Jesus, I think I’ve had nightmares similar to this.’
That whole scene is never debunked and the explanation for what the hell happened is cryptic at best, so I was happy about that. Now despite the Scooby-Do ending I am still recommending this movie based on visual aesthetics alone. The story itself, the editing, the stitching together of what I’m assuming is two films is problematic at times, but the monsters, the fairy tale-ish Sleep Hollow Hammer Films gothic vibe that oozes from every pore was enough to keep me watching right to the end. Eventually the fantasy elements give way in the final act and you get a more 18th century tale of religion at its worst, at its most primitive, which is sometimes tough to watch.
According to that wikipedia article there’s a sequel in the works, Viy 2. Journey to China, and I for one would love to see it.
Back on June 30th eOne Entertainment released Forbidden Empire here in the states in DVD form only.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—2.0 Surround Stereo, 5.1 English Dolby Digital—No subtitles.
Video and audio was just fine!
- Making-Of-Featurette (30:25)
- Jason Flemying Interview (2:59)
- Behind-The-Scene Footage (4:50)
The most informative extra on here is the half hour Making-of, here I learned the Viy isn’t the creature the villagers thought it was. They called it Viy, but it was “debunked.” The filmmakers reveal the Viy was actually that thing Green encountered with the freaky eyes while he was dining with the villagers. Nothing is mentioned of the movie being filmed then re-filmed.
Usually if the plot and characters are lackluster, the FX, no matter how great, is thus guilty by association and unable to elevate the film in any capacity. Forbidden Empire was a rare treat indeed where the visuals compensated for the flaws in the storytelling. My review might be the only one, or one of a very few, that gives this flick a thumb’s up based on that alone.