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Ring Up the Dead 

No need to 'bring out your dead' — not when the dead are already walking among you.

click to enlarge They make house calls. Not pleasant ones.
  • They make house calls. Not pleasant ones.

There's nothing like a good ol’ bubonic plague movie to make you happy that you weren’t born in England 700 years ago. Black Death, for example, is set in ravaged medieval cities and villages. Corpses are piled in the streets. People keep checking their armpits for fear that blood will start spewing out.

One such ravaged village is home to the still-healthy young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) who’s having an illicit affair with the beautiful, also healthy Averill (Kimberley Nixon). He insists she must leave town till the pestilence is gone.

No sooner has she left for their special hiding place when, wouldn’t you know it, visitors arrive: the proud, dour and weary warrior Ulrich (Sean Bean) and his motley band of not-so-merry men. Like the Blues Brothers long after them, they’re on a mission from God.

They’re searching for a small village rumored to be plague-free, and they need a guide to find it. Wide-eyed and seemingly innocent Osmund offers his services.

This edgy and often startlingly violent road trip through the deep woods provides beautifully lit campfire scenes — perfect for telling tales of places where so many witches have been burned, the men are reduced to “shagging pigs.” Gradually, the truth emerges: Ulrich and company are in search of a necromancer.

What everyone is looking for, of course, is not what they’re going to get. A sword, ax, and mace battle is exciting and bloody, but it doesn’t exactly bring our heroes — if you choose to call them heroes — closer together. Dissension in the ranks is always as near as the next bend in the trail.

The village turns out to be filled with food and drink and lots of gorgeous, overly friendly women and, uh-oh, a dank, old unused church and ... hey, why are there so many dead birds around?

Black Death is an odd mix of medieval socio-political commentary, religion, Stephen King and a barrage of plot twisting. Along with a few brief but annoying slow-motion sequences, there are some very handsome production values and a terrifically unsettling performance by Carice van Houten (Black Book) as the village leader Langiva. Though the film has a lot going for it, it’s likely a bit too grim and grisly for wide audience appeal.

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