Flesh + Blood (1985)
, directed by Paul Verhoeven.
When mercenaries, promised loot and pillage of a town they have taken, are betrayed by their captain they strike out on their own and become land pirates. They have their own women and a crazed omen-seeking Cardinal who makes them zealous but crazed religious bandits.
I saw bits of this on cable long ago and remember it being really nasty
. It still is, but is an odd combination of romantic action/adventure with filthy sadism and violent sexploitation. Verhoeven confessed a cynical outlook and intended an "apocalyptic" story. We're not cheering for anyone shown.
Seeing the poster:
...audiences were probably expecting a fantasy like Ladyhawke (1985)
(Rutger Hauer again!) or Krull (1983)
, or maybe something slightly edgier like Excalibur (1981)
Instead they got:
- A stillborn baby, buried in a mud puddle.
- A nun, accidentally slashed in the skull with a sword, suffers seizures and convulsions thereafter.
- Young lovers having a meet-cute beneath the legs of rotting hanging men. They dig up the aphrodisiac mandrake root, which we are told grows from the final emission of a dying man.
- Kidnapping and gang-rape of the young woman...
- ...who has to pretend to enjoy it so she can ingratiate herself with the leader, surviving and biding her time.
- Appearance of the Plague, where a man hugs a child and unknowingly bursts a large pustule and smears the infected fluid on his face. ("That was too much", admitted the director).
- A dog laps up infected blood, sickens, is killed and dismembered and the pieces flung over over the castle wall and down a well to serve as an early bio-weapon.
- The young woman's betrothed is captured, chained like a dog and used for target practice.
(The film was much edited to get an R rating, so I don't know how much of the above was shown in the US theaters).
And yet: we have Jennifer Jason Leigh (age 23) lovely when she's cleaned up and sporting with Rutger Hauer in the hot tub, surrounded by romantic candles. As always I am floored by the courage of actresses willing to give their all to these difficult roles, in this case scenes of rape and complete nudity.
And as is often the case, I am conflicted. Erotic displays in film have their appeal but the violence and general nastiness
of the context make it seem wrong and guilt-inducing.
After all that, the film does turn into a over-the-top fantasy in the final act, with an impossible da Vinci-inspired siege engine, a statue of a saint that falls and stabs our crazed Cardinal, and lightning striking a tree and melting the iron chain of our young lover. (Verhoeven: "We lost the sense of reality there. Actually, we lost it in several places").
Rutger Hauer and Brion James are reunited from Blade Runner (1982)
. Also with a small part and slight nudity is Nancy Cartwright, later a voice actress well known for The Simpsons
Basil Poledouris score. Filmed in Spain.
Available on DVD; not a very good image. This is the complete cut. When released in theaters a lot of nudity, violence and sexual violence had been removed to get an R rating.
The director gives a non-stop commentary track. This was his first American picture and his fifth and last with Rutger Hauer.
He says it took him a while to learn how to make American movies. That form requires clean heroes and happy endings. When making a European film he doesn't mind showing everyone as just plain bad, doing whatever Darwin or Nietzsche requires to survive.
Orion Pictures put up most of the money and insisted on story changes, which may be the source of the inconsistent tone. For Verhoeven it was about the betrayed friendship between Rutger Hauer and his captain; the studio wanted a romantic triangle between Hauer, Leigh, and her betrothed.
He had seen Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
and tested her for the part, warning her about the extreme sex and violence, and he praises her for her courage and sense of adventure. She defended the film and objected to the theatrical cuts.