Today I watched Mario Bava’s Knives of the Avenger (1966)
In an ancient time of barbarians and warlords, a woman named Karin is in hiding with her son. She has been driven to this by the evil Hagen, once a warrior of her husband, the chieftain Arald who has been lost at sea for years, Hagen is tired of living in exile and wants to force Karin to marry him so he can attain her departed husband’s titles and lands. Into this time of chaos rides a stranger with a mysterious connection to these events, a man named Rurik who is a master of throwing knives who protects Karin and her son from the depredations of Hagen but is really driven by his own desire for revenge.
There is very little to separate this film from it’s numerous and very similar genre brethren, it follows in the classic tradition of Italian fantasy and peplum films fairly closely. The meager budget is apparent in the lack of locations and lighting in numerous shots and the fight scenes lack choreography, but being a Bava film it does focus smartly on it’s stronger visual elements. One particular scene, a fight in a pitch black tavern is actually quite exciting as Bava uses his horror movie expertise to instill a good deal of tension in the blind game of cat and mouse that transpires. Another small thing that sets this film apart is the influence of the western on the plot and it’s pacing, switch Rurik’s knives for a six shooter and this could almost be a frontier revenge flick.
That whole mysterious connection that Rurik has to the situation makes the otherwise boring plot something worth viewing. The big flashback sequence and his internal monologue bring some darkness and drama to the proceedings that would otherwise be lacking. Otherwise the film lacks intensity or drive, the hero is never in much danger and is never really challenged by anything. Without that challenge the film gets a little boring, saved only by it’s short length and a few fun sequences.
That being said I did not hate this movie, I like old cliche Italian fantasy and this is far from the worst. It works because Mario Bava manages to inject a tiny amount of his trademark style on some of the most noteworthy scenes and because of the interesting moral drama raised in the flashback. I would only recommend it to other fans of the genre, but that does mean I would recommend it. If you are a Bava completionist then this is even more worth watching to see what he can do when handed a botched production, apparently he re-shot this entire movie in six days which is incredibly impressive. This film is a silly little piece of classic Italian camp, if that appeals t you, you can do a lot worse. 3/5