Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (2012)

Grayson is a novice of the sun god Pelor. During his initiation rite to become a knight, the order is attacked by minions of the evil Wizard Shathrax. Everyone is killed except Grayson, and his father is abducted. Seeking to free him, Grayson joins a band of evil mercenaries that are trying to find the pages and ink of the Book of Vile Darkness for Shathrax. The book holds the power to unleash the forces of Evil into the land and to destroy all that is good. During the journey Grayson’s pure heart becomes tainted as he is forced to commit evil deeds to stay undetected. Despite this, it turns out that he is the only true Knight of Pelor with the power to stop Shathrax.

The Book of Vile Darkness is the third official movie based on the table-top fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). While the first two movies followed the standard scheme of evil wizard vs. good band of heroes, the third movie aims to explore the different aspects of evil in more detail. There is actually a D&D sourcebook with the same name where the movie draws inspiration from. The story of The Book of Vile Darkness is not related to the first two movies.

In a sense, the progression of the story and the dialogues are very much in line with a typical D&D adventure. Everything that is said is uttered with an epic undertone to it. A more critical viewer might note that the dialogues are drooling with antiquated high-fantasy clichés, but not me. Things happen abruptly and locations are changed frequently without further explanation, just as if they are inserted by the game master to keep the story in the wanted direction. While in any movie this could be a cause of criticism, here it is perfectly in line with the spirit of D&D. There are also some nice references to other typical D&D elements, such as looting corpses for treasure after battle, secret doors to treasure rooms, sneaking and lockpick challenges, and a magical bag of extradimensional holding.

For this series (as with many other) the available budget decreased exponentially with every new installment. To compensate for this, the movie was shot in the beautiful forests and mountains of Bulgaria. The results is a professionally produced movie with decent cinematography and cost-effective, but not too cheap-looking special effects. The overall movie-quality is decidedly above the myriad of contemporary direct-to-video fantasy movies that only seldom exceed the level of a fan film made by LARP enthusiasts. There’s plenty of action, some nudity, and well-photographed outdoor locations. These are all important things to save a movie from being relegated to bulk trash status.

The variety of monsters is a bit on the low side, unfortunately. There’s the obligatory dragon, a zombie child, a red glowing ghost in armor and a horned helm (her father!), and not much else. This is more than compensated by the character of wizard Bezz, who forms a nice optical counterpoint to slick-looking, underwear-model turned hero Grayson. Bezz introduces himself as Verminlord, as he spits cockroaches, and can morph into a swarm of bugs whenever needed. Other gimmicks include a removable eye that can fly around, a rotten face, and being generally mean to everyone.

I believe one intention of the movie was to delve into the different aspects of evil and their manifestations in human characters and interactions among each other. This ambition is realized by having the characters commit as many evil deeds as possible during the course of the story, even in the most inappropriate situations. As for Grayson, he’s going through some moral dilemmas, but after a wiping out all enemies in the final battle in less than 30 seconds, he is redeemed, and all is well.

Overall, The Book of Vile Darkness may not be a very original fantasy movie, but it provides ninety minutes of excellent and painless entertainment, despite some lengths here and there. Due to the various references, people who are familiar with the D&D games may enjoy it a bit more than everyone else, I believe.