There aren't many local films I've been looking forward more to than Joe Grisaffi's Dead of Knight. I first heard about the film four Comicpaloozas ago, and we're just now seeing the DVD release. Was it worth the wait? Yes. Yes it was.
The movie follows Wayne Stevens as Sir Gasparay, a disgraced Templar resurrected in the 21st century on a quest to fulfill a vow to an evil queen. To do so, he has to murder his way through people that represent the nightly virtues that he has lost, culminating with the pure college co-ed Marla (Jerin Julia).
It's definitely a new premise for a slasher flick, and kudos to Grisaffi for finding a way to make a murderer wandering around in 15th century plate armor and a big broadsword both plausible and believable. The real gift to the film, though, is Stevens' portrayal of Gasparay.
It's very rare to have a monster that is both masked and unmasked about an equal amount of screen time, and the decision to do so was quite bold. An unmasked killer risks too much empathy, while a faceless force is too often a tool of lazy writing. Stevens manages to be Gasparay whether he stands completely naked, in relatively normal street clothes, or fully geared up.
At first his performance feels somewhat wooden. Almost amateurish. As the film goes on, though, you come to understand that what you're seeing is a man that no longer feels anything in his life besides despair and a desire for release. Once the movie reaches its gripping climax and Gasparay sees things that finally rekindle his soul, that same stoic delivery becomes saturated in sadness and nobility. Think Robert Eddison in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade... except, you know, with a trail of dead bodies leading up to that.
It's weird to see Dead of Knight so soon after Grisaffi's Conjoined. The latter was made within the last year on a shoestring budget in a couple of weeks mostly as a kind of cinematic dare. This film had a much more ambitious approach, and yet I feel like Conjoined is the better if far less polished film. You can really see how Grisaffi has grown as a filmmaker in the interim.
At times it misses its mark, true. Jerin Julia is a competent and adorable leading lady even if you never quite buy her reticence for sex with her boyfriend Jaxson. It's Julia's sweetness and conviction that ultimately holds the film together around her. Kyle Greer as her gay best friend Truman hits every single cliché about that character in the book, but there's no doubt he gets all the best lines in movie and does provide for great comic relief.
Outdone, of course, by the always entertaining Sara Gaston once again as Detective Waters. Grisaffi's long-running incidental cop never stops being awesome.
Dead of Knight is often funnier than it is scary, even if the blood effects are actually pretty amazing. Special praise goes to Toe Head, whose bizarre rock soundtrack offerings sets the perfect mood.
It's funny, yes, but it's also a strangely sweet film. That seems to be Grisaffi's particular genius. He tricks us into movies by promising blood and boobs, but what he really wants to talk about is how we love each other. In the end his movies are all about relationships, making them the goriest romantic comedies ever shot.
Dead of Knight is out on DVD now. Contact the filmmakers at their Facebook for a copy.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.