The Witches Hammer (2006)

I once spent an entire afternoon arguing with a sub editor over the placement of an apostrophe. Oddly enough, it was the apostrophe in the term "the greengrocer's apostrophe" -- you know, that erroneous apostrophe that turns up in handwritten signs for "apple's" and "banana's." We both agreed that there needed to be a possessive apostrophe somewhere in there, but did the phrase refer to many greengrocers, or to just the one symbolic Greengrocer? We never did come to a satisfactory conclusion, but that argument did at least serve to illustrate the extent of my pedantry. A film called The Witches Hammer, then, was on the back foot before I even got it out of the DVD sleeve; so the fact that it managed to win me over is a colossal achievement.

"The Witches Hammer", according to this film, is a book: the Malleus Maleficarum, except, er, not the real one. The actual Malleus Maleficarum is a German treatise on witch-hunting published in 1487; the Malleus Maleficarum of The Witches Hammer is a book scrawled by a vengeful witch in the Middle Ages which contains instructions on how to bring the souls of the damned into the world of the living. Typically, lots of very evil people are after this book, and it's up to the forces of good to protect it.

Unfortunately, the forces of good manifest themselves in the shape of a genetically engineered vampire called Rebecca and an incredibly dull man named Edward. Rebecca has recently been trained up to be one of those hot, leather-clad types who knows kung-fu; Edward is versed in reeling off annoying monologues. Even more unfortunately, neither of the two is terribly good at that acting thing; Claudia Coulter as Rebecca is hampered by her prosthetic fangs and awkward accent, and she doesn't make as much of her character as is really needed to carry the plot. She's a young mother recently ripped out of her comfortable family life into a world of vampires and demons; she can't even go out in sunlight any more, but it's really hard to care.

Luckily, the villains make up for every other failing in this movie. Evil, as always, is way more fun (and it gets all the best one-liners). There're lots of baddies to choose from here: Hugo Renoir, a slightly daft coward with a super nifty haircut; three mysterious hooded figures with lots of pointy teeth; horror legend Stephanie Beacham sporting a range of stylish eye-patches; and a Spanish assassin thrown in for good measure. As if that weren't enough, the real stars of the movie arrive about half an hour in, in the oddly-matched shapes of vampiric over-eater Charlotte and the compensatingly-tiny-but-even-more-brilliant Oscar. Without these two, the film would only have been mildly entertaining at best: their scenes are far and away the best. Whether they're murdering clowns or stealing camper vans, Charlotte and Oscar blow everyone else off the screen, to the point where I'd rather there were fewer scenes with the actual leads in favour of more time with Charlotte and Oscar. But I suppose you can have too much of a good thing, and when everyone finally ends up in the same place, there are some utterly brilliant comedy moments that more than made up for earlier sins (like the over-abundance of flashbacks).

For a low-budget production, the CGI is decent enough (though there's some over-use of that amber sparks effect). The fight choreography is above average -- particularly the fight with a ninja who can tri-locate -- and the filmmakers have managed to find some really impressive-looking locations to film in. The vast majority of the plot is utter bobbins, but it moves along at a decent enough pace and manages to get in enough genuinely inspired moments to be really, really entertaining.

But I still haven't forgiven them for that title.

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