THE HAUNTED SWORDSMAN ***** USA 2019 Dir: Kevin McTurk. 16 mins
Although his film career stretches much further back in the field of special effects, director Kevin McTurk became a talent to watch with THE MILL AT CALDER’S END, an exceptional homage to Gothic horror, complete with a prominent role for the wonderful Barbara Steele. His latest, written by erstwhile Disney screenwriter Tab Murphy (TARZAN, BROTHER BEAR), is a remarkable achievement in puppetry and a spry, atmospheric genre-bending treat.
“I have seen horrors no mortal ever should…I try to remember a time before the darkness…” The stunningly evocative opening zoom captures our protagonist, The Swordsman (Jason Scott Lee) up a mountain, “on the edge of the world” in pursuit of the soul-stealing demon – referred to as “ruler of the underworld” – who killed his shogun. His companion and guide is an embittered, caged severed head (James Hong) that chastises his climbing.
Shifting between humour and horror seamlessly and constructed around a priceless unlikely double act, McTurk’s film has nimble, pithy fireside exposition and an exceptional cast: Franka Potente is the Crypt Keeper-like Onibaba Witch and Christopher Lloyd steals his scenes as a grotesque harbinger known as The Black Monk. The puppets are astonishingly expressive, and there’s more ingenuity in these 16 minutes than in the entirety of most big studio releases. The cliff-hanger leaves you wanting more, so much more.
Review by Steven West