Black Death (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by Christopher Smith
Distributed by Magnet Releasing
Director Christopher Smith is well on his way to becoming one of the defining horror directors of our generation. Simply put, we have loved just about every single thing the man has created, and his latest feature, Black Death, is no different. Before we get into all that, though, first a quick plot crunch.
It's the 14th century and a deadly plague is sweeping the land, bringing death everywhere that it reaches. We meet Osmund (Redmayne), a young monk-in-training, just as he's about to send his young love Averill (Nixon) out into the rural marshlands where she is to wait for him until this evil pestilence passes through their corner of the land. Yet, Osmund is conflicted. Should he weather the storm at his monastery or head out into the wilderness to serve God with Averill at his side? It's just then that he meets a group of mercenaries headed up by Ulric (Bean) who are in search of a guide to lead them through the very marshlands he sent his girl out into. This must be a sign, right? God works in mysterious ways, but come on!
The mercs, however, don't care about Osmund or Averill. Their job is to get to a remote village in the marsh, where a necromancer is supposedly practicing the dark arts and bringing all this trouble and woe to the land. In a nutshell that's the story, and to give away anything else would be doing you the disservice of experiencing all this spooky goodness for yourself!
Black Death is a vintage feeling slice of Gothic horror served up to near perfection. There are a couple of pacing issues here and there, but overall we wouldn't be a bit surprised if this flick makes its way onto many year-end 'best of' lists. It's just that damned good.
Also good is the picture and sound quality of the Blu-ray. Black Death's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer has its ups and downs. It should be mentioned that Smith intentionally shot the movie on very grainy film stock to give the look of it a rough, gritty feel. While this works well for the daytime scenes, at night the picture quality takes a bit of a dip in that the image definitely looks a bit softer around the edges. No big deal, however, as for the most part the film looks stunning in high definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also knocks it out of the park with lots of spookiness and mayhem to give your home theatre system quite a workout. Sword-on-sword clanging will be ringing in your ears, and disembodied voices will be calling to you from afar. Really stellar stuff which brings us to the bonus material.
While it looks like quite a bit is included here, we still couldn't help but be a little disappointed as most of the goods included are presented in standard definition. Things kick off with your basic twelve-minute featurette called Bringing Black Death to Life, which is home to the usual interviews with the director and stars and of course behind-the-scenes footage. Next up we get a battery of cast and crew interviews that clock in at about the half-hour mark; included are Christopher Smith, producer Phil Robertson, producer Jens Meurer, Sean Bean, Carice Van Houten, Eddie Redmayne, Kimberley Nixon, Emun Elliott, Andy Nyman, John Lynch, Johnny Harris, and Tim McInnerny. From there we get an extra ten minutes of behind-the-scenes goodness and, finally, along with the trailer a four-minute look at the film courtesy of HDNet, which also happens to be the only HD feature on the disc.
If you're a fan of horror films for the thinking man, then this movie is not to be missed. Chilling, beautifully shot, and absolutely compelling, Black Death hits all the right notes and leaves you eagerly anticipating whatever Smith does next. This is a must buy, people! Do yourself a favor and make it so.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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