Knight Chills – Roleplaying with a Vengeance DVD

DVD cover of Knight Chills Roleplaying with a Vengeance with a knight's great helm in the foregroundIn 2000 at CineVegas I saw the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Its director was also its only star, playing over 40 roles as the screen cut from one camcorder shot to another. Sometimes he conversed with himself and other times he “acted” with a dummy. He also wore a gorilla suit. One by one viewers left the theater. Some swore in disgust. One newcomer came in and got up and left in less than a minute. It became an endurance contest as those of us who remained enjoyed a sort of camaraderie, occasionally looking over at one another with disbelieving looks, grateful to have something else to look at besides that dreadful, dreadful movie. Knight Chills from 2001 may not be as bad, but it is plain awful and ranks among the worst movies I have ever seen. In fact, on IMDB I give it 1 out of 10 stars.

The film centers around a group of roleplayers so unlike one another that my suspension of disbelief snapped within the first five minutes. We have one or two jocks who like to bully a fellow player when not getting drunk, a stoner and his girlfriend, another girl who is overweight and snarky, and the group’s GM, a high school teacher whose wife occasionally plays too. Then there is John, who is pretty intense. It takes over 40 minutes of painful exposition on screen before unlikeable nerd John finally gives in and crashes his car into a tree in an emo fit of rage, sorrow, and rejection. Naturally John mutters a spell-curse as any roleplayer would before he kills himself, “To the land of the shadow I will ride, turning from the cold earth, deep my love, my vengeance. Squire and steed, the quest will be fulfilled by the solstice of Yule; I cross the Veil.” Then his car explodes and he roars demonically in the flames.


If I seem a little apathetic about the nerd tragedy that is John, let me explain that I’m probably not being harsh enough. At the beginning of Knight Chills, when his mother or aunt mentions that Uncle Sal is dying, John storms out of the house and mutters “Sea hag!” under his breath. It comes out that he has lied to her about attending gaming for the night, since she’s religious and against his roleplaying. Maybe she’s still bothered too about John allegedly killing his younger brother (a rumor the GM’s wife is delighted to share). Besides this matter of murder, John constantly hits on the stoner/slacker Zac’s girlfriend, both calling her number 14 times without leaving a message and making overtures to her in person, creeping her out by kneeling and begging, “Please don’t leave, Jahandra. Let me warm you with my pledge of undying affection.” Her boyfriend, the stoner Zac, is played by DJ Perry. And it’s DJ Perry we have to thank for this piece of garbage, since he produced and helped write it. Its production values for normal scenes are actually not that bad (reminiscent of an X-Files episode) but the acting, along with the horrid script, is probably one of the reasons that Knight Chills belongs in the horror section.

That and the whole revenge theme and coming back from the Beyond. John unfortunately doesn’t stay dead and instead returns as the semi-mysterious Black Knight. Does he right wrongs in this new form? No, he continues the lame existence he already had and leaves red roses as an ominous foreshadowing before killing his fellow roleplayers who mocked him in life. Maybe they deserve it too; they also mock him at his own funeral, clowning around until they are shushed. Despite his purported knightly ideals in life, the Black Knight also kills off a random, innocent bystander girl. For a fuller plot summary with many more laughs than the actual Knight Chills, read Something Awful’s review.

Gaming in Knight Chills: “This is a game.”

For all of its many evils, Knight Chills does manage to capture some typical gaming moments in the two gaming sessions at the start of the film, however poorly lit they are. The group plays by candlelight, of course, as all true role-players do, in a basement with cobblestones painted onto the cinderblocks. Wooden shelves loaded with miniatures beckon over the GM’s shoulder. The GM even wears a special Renaissance hat in the second session. The players break down as follows:

  • John – Sir Jonathan Kallio, a Knight of the Rose, High Executioner, Protector of the Golden Flame of the Ancients, who wields a Sword of Righteousness
  • Zac – Morgan who wields a sword (and has the least amount of roleplaying time on screen)
  • Brooke – The enchantress Jahandra who uses “Dagger of Fire” and “Angelic Blast” spell abilities
  • Nancy – The ranger Shanara who uses enchanted arrows
  • Hanee – Teek, who has a Brooch of Illusion which grants invisibility. He also has a Crystal of Penetration.
  • Russell – Aristo the bard, who curiously wields a battle axe (unless he is referring to his guitar as his axe)
  • Laura – Catherine, a priestess, who stands ready with her herbs and magic, serving her “Ultimate God”

The players encounter goblins in the first session before confronting an ice demon with an “icy scourge” on a mountainside. Jack the GM (or Lord of Lore in the film’s fictional RPG) narrates with passion, but the real conflict at the table happens between players John and Hanee, whose characters come to blows after Hanee has Teek attempt to spook Sir Kallio’s horse. The action spills over into real life, despite warnings that “This is a game.” Hanee fumes outside the GM’s house, “I’m going to choke the piss out of that little geek.”

In the second session the characters are in a maze and take turns describing their characters’ actions. The GM pulls Hanee aside into a different room to describe what Teek sees as he scouts ahead. This is a nice touch and perhaps the first and only cinematic capture of roleplaying on the side of a group. The camera circles around the room as the group fights a demon. Throughout both gaming sessions there are sound effects and music, added to heighten the viewer’s tension. I’m on the fence about their inclusion, but since Knight Chills is so bad, it doesn’t really matter anyway. More interestingly, while they play with miniatures, there are also random Woodland Scenics trees on the tabletop in both scenes. I have to imagine that director Katherine Hicks or one of the set directors suggested adding them to create a more visually interesting tabletop, but they are odd and out of place.

While it’s never shown on camera, John also works as a hobby shop clerk where a popular game called Pandemonium is played. When the GM confides that he can’t let his wife know about his spending habits, John is in disbelief, “No way! You can never spend too much on gaming stuff!” John has a point there.

The Redemption Found in Knight Chills

For a brief moment Knight Chills actually gets good. John has died and his funeral’s over. Jack the GM calls to his wife to come downstairs, asking if she’s touched anything. Miniatures have mysteriously been set up on the basement table on a “dungeon floor plan”, which the wife recognizes as the layout of their house! They go to check on their son and his rocking horse is rocking eerily, but he’s “fast asleep” in bed. Creepy! Sadly this doesn’t continue and rather than the survivors needing to roleplay or analyze miniatures to solve the mystery, the Black Knight slowly stalks and kills off his victims. The miniatures scene also features the best actor in the film, Tim Jeffrey, as the GM. His on-screen partner Laura, played by Laura Alexander, is the pits though. Ultimately roleplaying does play a part in dealing with the Black Knight at the climax of the film with the GM using his Ultimate GM Authority, “I command you to hold, for I, and I alone, am the Lord of the Lore. You have done well on your quest. All your enemies are vanquished and you’ve won the love of fair Jahandra with your courage and your bravery. I declare this campaign over. You may cross over now, into the Hall of Heroes where you may eat and drink and sing song until ye be summoned to action once again.” If only I got to make such speeches at the end of every adventure or campaign!

All Those Other Gaming Movies: Not So Bad

Apart from those few scenes, another redeeming quality that Knight Chills has is that it makes other bad movies about roleplaying look brilliant by comparison. I would gladly watch the bizarre Skullduggery over and over again rather than ever lay eyes on Knight Chills again. Geekin’ can be painful to watch, but at least it has some comedic moments. The fairly straight-laced Mazes and Monsters seems better and better every time I’ve watched Knight Chills. Maybe that guy Tom Hanks should have gotten an Oscar for his part.

And What Knight Chills Reveals About IMDB

Knight Chills also revealed something else. It has a number of accurate reviews on IMDB.com for a movie that is on the level of Transylvania 5000, Ishtar, and Batman & Robin; most reviewers try to warn other viewers about what a horrible movie it is and to avoid it at all costs. Their warnings:

  • “the dumbest movie ever made” – angelandthebeast
  • “the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of horrible B-movies)” – moovie_expert
  • “Whatever you do, do not waste your time or money on this one!!!!!” – bluebloodraven
  • “I had honestly thought I had seen the worst movies had to offer, until I saw Knight Chills I was wrong.” – JFerenczy

So it stands out when users give it 6, 7, 8 and even 10 stars. I’ll be the first to admit that my Perception can be quite low, but it has taken me all these years to recognize that IMDB can be a great haven for internet trolls, who can rate a bad movie positively just to enjoy their victims’ imagined anguish and grief. Further investigation also reveals that many of the positive reviews were done by reviewers who only have reviewed Knight Chills and no other movies. Knight Shills anyone? In all fairness, most of the negative reviewers from above had also only reviewed Knight Chills and no other movie on IMDB, but I tend to credit that to their humanity and overwhelming desire to save others’ time from the horror that is Knight Chills.

Consider, if you care to, the following review and note the reviewer’s IMDB username. Either it’s a perfect internet trolling or a bit of self-promotion from the film’s producer/writer/stoner.

imdb review with name djperry at top and 10 stars for film Knight Chills

DVD Bonus Features: The Dungeon

If you actually bother to watch Knight Chills despite warnings about how bad it is, at least reward yourself with the Dungeon Tour bonus feature. In it, one of the writers, Jeff Kennedy, takes the viewer on a tour of the basement room or “dungeon” used for the roleplaying sessions. Kennedy also explains that some of the film’s bizarre RPG persecution scenes were based on his own life as a teacher. Besides the aforementioned shelves of miniatures, there are also trophies that Kennedy’s gaming club collected from years of attending Gen Con and a giant Shivan Dragon M:TG card. Kennedy started the dungeon in 1989, but began gaming as a wargamer in the 1970s, and built his own custom, maplewood gaming table as well as an initiative tracker using wooden discs on a rod. Kennedy ends his tour by saying “Gaming inspired my partner DJ Perry and I to write and produce Knight Chills – and possibly Knight Chills – Part 2, we’ll see – and I hope it inspires you to do a bit more gaming. Some of the best times I’ve ever had have been around this table gaming.”

Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey

14-year old Colin Taylor with longbow on cover of Drakmar A Vassal's JourneyDrakmar: A Vassal’s Journey is a heartwarming documentary from 2006 about 14-year old Colin Taylor. Colin loves dragons and plays Halo, Sonic, and D&D. Recorded in 2004-2005, the film follows the bright but alienated Colin at school, home, and at Adrian Empire events. Though much of the documentary revolves around Colin’s vassal relationship as the squire Drakmar to his knight Sir Cledwyn, the film shifts focus to the possible renewal of Colin’s relationship with his biological father in Arizona. Film students Lowell Frank and Destin Daniel Cretton shot Drakmar on the cheap, but it doesn’t impact their storytelling at all. Within the first few minutes Colin will endear himself to the viewer who will later share in Colin’s nervousness at the prospects of reunion with his father. If Colin and older brother Corwin fail to tug at your heartstrings, there’s also Colin’s grandfather, an inveterate ham, who provides occasional comic relief. These human elements are Drakmar’s strengths and should be compelling to any person on the fence about the possibility of putting on armor and pretending to live in another time, whether it be the Adrian Empire, the SCA, or a LARP.

The Adrian Empire: Kingdom of Terre Neuve

Less famous than the SCA, the Adrian Empire has a narrower time frame for its personas, from 1066-1603 compared to the SCA’s generally accepted 600-1600. Geographically the Adrian Empire is exclusively Western Europe in its historical focus, whereas the SCA is global. Perhaps more importantly, the heavy end of Adrian Empire fighting is done with real steel instead of the SCA’s rattan. Colin Taylor is not old enough for these real steel battles, instead fighting with a shinai, a bamboo sword. But he boasts, “I’m actually a better archer than I am a shinai combatant. You give me a bow and I can shoot a penny off of your head.” Both Colin’s mother Kathy Taylor and his brother Corwin Taylor participate in Adria, respectively known as Mistress Aileen Bristow and Corrwyn Ardwulf. Living in San Diego, their Adrian region is the Kingdom of Terre Neuve. In the SCA, knights wear white belts with no other colors restricted to other fighters, but in Adria, knights like Sir Cledwyn wear blue belts, pages like Colin wear yellow belts, and men at arms wear green. Colin desperately wants his green belt.

Chivalry: Alive and Well in the Adrian Empire

Known mundanely as the jewelry store owner Scott Mallory, Sir Cledwyn is much more than a lord to his vassal Drakmar, also serving as Colin’s father figure (as well as Corwin’s). Mallory’s feudal ideals run deep. Speaking about Colin, Mallory says, “He does something wrong, it’s my responsibility to fix it. It’s my responsibility to equip him and to make sure that he’s not lacking for anything.” It’s not hard to imagine that Mallory is speaking both in game and out of game. In fact, the Taylor brothers recount Cledwyn’s very physical defense of his vassal’s honor owing to a belt-pulling incident that happened in the Adrian Empire. That the perpetrator of the dishonor was himself a knight says something, but in general other Adrian members captured in Drakmar seem to echo Mallory’s fondness for chivalry. “We are Adrian; that means we do things for honor,” one official reminds the Adrian populace before battle.

Belly dancers flank a knight in armor from the Adrian Empire at San Diego Comic-Con 2012

Kingdom of Terre Neuve Members at San Diego Comic Con 2012:

The Rush of Battle, Being Who You Want to Be, and History Re-Imagined

The documentary captures several fighter practices, including one involving rapiers at night near tennis courts. For Corwin, fighting in Adria is “a total complete adrenaline rush.” Others are attracted by the desire to recreate a different time, complete with wooden stocks and a wooden gaol. For Colin, each fighter practice and weekend trip to Adria, is “a break from reality” and far preferred to the complexities of our modern world. For another Adrian, it’s more about the freedom. Stan says:

“Out here, where these guys are finding themselves out and beating themselves silly, you can be a knight, you can be a lord, you can be a king (if you get elected). Anything you want and you can imagine, you can sit there and be in Adria. We call it mundane out there. This, for some people, is the real world. They get to come out here and do what they really want to do and be who they really want to be. I think that’s really what it’s all about.”

The Crown War for Terre Neuve

The climax of Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey as far as the Adrian Empire goes is the Crown War, fought in March at the Potrero County Park. Because progress towards knighthood in the Adrian Empire depends on a combination of skill at arms, artisanal skill, service to others (ministry), and archery, Colin finishes a belt pouch in order to get his green belt but must also supply documentation about its crafting and historical accuracy, before facing an oral panel who grill him about its construction. Fantasy gaming is only hinted at in Drakmar. Colin reveals around the Crown War campfire that he “had seven draconic items: the Draconic Orb of Doom, the Draconic Lance of Greatness, the Draconic Greatsword of Light, I had a Shield of Dragon Might, and the Boots of Dragon Speed, just to name a few. ” Yes, Colin loves dragons. The Crown War seems to be fought with 30 armored men or less on each side, but the action is intense as one warrior bashes his gauntleted fist over and over into another’s helm, following him down to the ground.

Hope is Here: The Real Vassal’s Journey

The real climax of Drakmar is much more touching than knights battling or even an oath of fealty. The knightly virtues of mercy, generosity, and courage come alive on screen, embodied in the form of a scrawny 14-year old. Role-playing can be about much more than identifying four-armed greater demon-dragons as Colin does at one point. Occasionally in a tabletop RPG, a player can so identify with his paladin PC or another character’s high morals as to transform his interactions in the real world. Drakmar presents evidence of fighters who learn the meaning of honor and courtesy on the fields of Adria. Many other participants though, like Colin Taylor and Scotty Mallory, already possess those virtues and the Adrian Empire merely refines them and lets them share them with the rest of the world.