By C. Michael Forsyth
The Colosseum of ancient Rome was the setting for some of the most bizarre and surreal events in history, as ringmasters sought to satiate the public’s demand for increasingly violent and depraved “entertainments.”
Battles between Amazons and dwarfs; women raped by specially trained animals ranging from wild boars to giraffes; gladiators forced to fight in helmets that blinded them; children clubbed to death like baby seals by men in centaur costumes — nothing was too horrific or disgusting for the jaded emperors and the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Romans who crowded the arena 350 days a year.
So if werewolves existed, there’s no doubt that the showmen responsible for exciting new human-versus-animal contests would jump at the chance to add them to the program.
That’s the premise of an upcoming movie, “Gladiators Vs. Werewolves: Edge of Empire.” If the eye-popping poster art is any indication, I hope to give it a Nero-like thumbs up.
The British movie is currently in production, and the film company AV Pictures released this intriguing synopsis:
“AD 160. The Romans occupy Britain, and the great Hadrian’s Wall divides the land, built to keep back the northern warrior tribes, and something far more dangerous; a clan of savage wolf-like creatures which roam the lowlands.
“Word reaches Governor Flavius that the Emperor has decreed that new, more fearsome beasts should be captured for the games. The ambitious Governor, having heard rumors of the fierce wolf-beasts beyond the great wall, senses an opportunity to win favor with the Emperor and even a place in the senate.
“The heroic centurion, Titus, is tasked with hunting and trapping the wolf-creatures. Titus and his legionaries track the beasts to their mountain lair and discover a warrior clan who transform at will into mighty, armor-clad werewolves. In a fierce battle, the beasts slaughter half of the legionaries. Titus and his surviving men escape and ensnare the pursuing werewolves.
“The Governor is delighted he has his prized new fighting savages, but Titus realizes that anyone bitten by a werewolf is cursed to become one of their kind. He warns the Governor that the werewolves pose a grave threat if they increase their numbers. Titus’s reward for challenging the Governor is to be stripped of his rank and thrown into the arena where the beasts’ savagery will be tested.
“Excited spectators cram the amphitheatre. Titus and the land’s best gladiators are pitted against the ferocious werewolves, but the beasts are powerful and smart. For every two fighters they slay, they leave one wounded and alive. Titus’s fears are confirmed; the werewolves are building an army. The final day of the games will be a blood and thunder battle, more savage than any Roman has seen or experienced before.”
A hopeful sign is that the director is Paul Davis, best known for his documentary “Beware the Moon,” about the making of “An American Werewolf in London” — one of my favorite werewolf movies of all times. I expect him to bring to the set a genuine love and understanding of the genre.
In an interview, Davis revealed that the werewolves are being created by special effects whiz Shaune Harrison, who did those the marvelous aliens in the “Men in Black” movies and was prosthetic make-up artist for Red Skull in “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
“Shaune has done some wonderful work so far on the werewolf designs and sculpts,” the director said. “These are some badass looking werewolves. I mean, if you’ve seen the poster, that’s how they look in person.”
Curiously enough, werewolves aren’t the only supernatural critters who’ll be duking it with Spartacus and his buddies on screen soon. A similarly themed movie is in the works titled “Gladiators Vs. Zombies.” I’m not as optimistic about this flick. For one thing, it sounds like one of those movies where the word “zombie” has simply been tacked onto an unlikely phrase for comic effect. (You know, like “Zombie Strippers, “Zombie Cheerleaders,” “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”)
Another bad sign is that the producers were so unhappy with the script that they announced a rewrite contest, in which the public was invited to mail in better versions to claim a $10,000 prize. Think about it, just how bad would a script have to be for a wily producer to dream up a stunt like that? And if you can only spare $10,000 for a script, where’s the money in the budget to convincingly recreate ancient Rome?
But that’s another battle for another day. Right now, I’m chomping at the bit to see “Gladiators Vs. Werewolves.” May the best man – or monster – win.
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