Flesh + Blood

tn_fleshandbloodPaul Verhoeven’s first American-produced (and English language) movie was this knights and swords movie about a group of amoral mercenaries in Europe circa 1501. It’s not a fantasy because there’s no sorcery or dragons and Mako does not narrate. It does have Susan Tyrrell, but she doesn’t narrate either.

Rutger Hauer plays Martin, the sort of leader of a rowdy group of soldiers who, betrayed by their captain, set out for revenge and riches. While burying a stillborn baby they find a buried statue of Saint Martin, so they take it as a sign from God and carry the statue around with them, travelling in whatever direction his sword ends up pointing.

mp_fleshandbloodTheir revenge leads them to the accidental abduction of a Princess Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh, no relation to Jason Scott Lee) who’s arranged to be married to the son of the captain who betrayed them, so he and his inventor son come after the mercenaries, who are kicking it VIP style in a stolen castle.

In many ways this feels like the fantasy movies of the era. Even Basil Pouledaris’s score drops the usual Pouledaris bombast for some of that renaissance fair type medeival revelry type of shit, the magical tones that invoke images of dudes in stupid hats dancing around with a flute doing a jig and selling daggers and watercolor paintings of wolves. The difference is that this one never gets boring. Even without a typical quest or journey type of plot structure it’s just more captivating than so many bland movies of this type.

Part of the reason is Hauer as Martin. He’s clever and roguish, he gets out of some tight spots, he does things out of kindness, he’s casual in the face of danger. But he’s not some Pirates of the Caribbean type lovable scalliwag. A couple of the things he does you can’t forgive. For example he meets Agnes when his group decide to gang rape her. That’s not what they call “meet cute.” His idea of nobility is not to rescue her, but to first take his turn, then distract everybody else so they won’t take theirs. Real romantic. The two have a complicated relationship – she seems to start to care about him, but she might just be using him to protect her. She eventually goes back to her first guy, but you’re not sure who her heart is still with. The one guy is probaly a better person, because he’s not a rapist as far as we’ve seen, but as a movie character you don’t like him, he’s kind of an annoying priss.

Obviously this is more sexual than, say, BEAST MASTER or DRAGON SLAYER or even that part in LORD OF THE RINGS where they’re all jumping up and down on the bed. Agnes is discovering sexuality, experimenting, even seems attracted to her female friend played by the voice of Bart Simpson. Two of the knights are gay. Agnes loses her virginity under some rotting hung corpses, with a couple horses frollicking nearby. There aren’t co-ed showers like in ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS, but there’s sex in a bath. (Wait a minute – like the pool scene in SHOWGIRLS! That’s a Verhoeven motif I never picked up on. Robocop never fucked anybody in a pool did he? I don’t remember.)

It’s also pretty gruesome at times, but to be honest not as much as you’d expect from the equation of Verhoeven + swords. There’s a pretty good firework eye impalement. But I don’t think at this point Verhoeven was as interested in pushing the violence envelope. He was more interested in messing with sexuality and religion. In fact it opens with the knights taking communion before a battle, because then if they die they go to a Heaven full of booze and whores. In my opinion they are sort of manipulating the biblical text to fit the results they’re looking for. Their use of the statue is also theologically questionable although clearly a cool idea.

The story leaves a couple things hanging – apparently an earlier script was more about the relationship between Martin and the captain, less about Agnes. That explains why they sut up this whole thing about the Captain looking ofter a schizo nun. It seems crucial at first and then never really amounts to much.

I definitely prefer the American Verhoeven movies that came soon after this, but this is still a good one. It really had me wishing he did that Schwarzenegger Crusades movie he used to talk about. That would’ve been some crazy shit. Maybe if he thinks Schwarzenegger is too old or unavailable he could try to get CGI Schwarzenegger from TERMINATOR SALVATION.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 16th, 2009 at 12:50 am and is filed under Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Flesh + Blood”

  1. I wanted to watch that movie like forever, but it’s pretty difficult to track down here (If you are a person like me, who refuses to pay lots of money for an import DVD of a movie that he has never seen before.)

  2. I love this movie, saw it in the late-1980’s and it took forever to find. Classic.

  3. There’s that bit at the end of Robocop where he fucks Clarence Boddiker in the neck with that weird data spike he has hidden in his fist. Not in a pool, more of a muddy pond though.

  4. CJ Holden – Will you hate me if I tell you I got that DVD for $3 at a Big Lots bargain bin, haven’t watched it in the 4 months I got it?

    Same sale I also got OUTLAND, so I’m happy I guess.

  5. RRA – No, I don’t hate you for that, but I’m sitting here in Germany, so it’s a little bit more difficult for me to get it.

  6. Here in the UK, when Flesh and Blood came out Michael Parkinson, who was presenting the main film TV show at the time (we only had four channels then so what he said went), refused to review this film because he was so repulsed mainly with the sex under swinging corpses scene. Needless to say I rushed out to see it.

    BTW its sunday afternoon and I’m in my cottage a stone’s throw away from Stonehenge, drinking fine wine and feeling like I’m in some kind of medieval fantasy. Although no one is throwing plague ridden horse meat over my walls, which is a blessed relief I can tell you.

  7. No offense mate, but why is your country so trigger-happy with the censorship? Its times like those why I’m glad to live in the colonies.

    I’m reminded of how THE MATRIX, the headbutt shots had to be cut out because of some silly nonsense. Regardless, apparently that scene when Hugo Weaving loses his shades, it just randomly disapears in the UK…instead of being shown broken

    Or for that matter, that humorous STRAW DOGS cut which turned a rape scene into an anal rape scene. Bravo!

  8. Thanks. I’m quite impressed with the editing I did on Straw Dogs. Not bad for a 4 month old eh?

  9. You’re a Schoonmaker child prodigy!

  10. flembot

    I was going to say the same thing! If you think about it they penetrate each other – first Clarence with the big spike then Murph with the fist spike.

    Can’t think of one in Total Recall – but isn’t there some water based pervitude in Hollow Man?

    I love this movie – don’t know if any of you guys have read Game of Thrones – but this always seems to be the closest thing to those books on-screen (until HBO makes the series).

    Oh and the Hobbits bouncing on the bed line near the top killed me.

  11. CJ Holden : Same thing here in Italy , I’ve been looking for this movie forever . There’s some sort of Flesh + Blood conspiracy here in Europe.

    I’ve seen this a long time ago , then I watched a couple of episodes of Berserk , the anime , and immediately remembered this movie with Hauer. After reading Vern’s review , some similarities are evident : both Martin and Gatsu ( the protagonist of the anime ) are medieval mercenaries , Gatsu is raped by one of his comrades as a child , and his mother is hanged on a tree while giving birth to Gatsu. So we can safely say that Verhoeven is an inspiration to one of the most batshit-crazy anime cartoons out there !

  12. I read somewhere that Spielberg was a big fan of Verhoeven’s Dutch movies and wanted to offer him some directing jobs at his company, but then he saw this movie and pulled the offer. I’m not sure how true that story is, but it’s cool to think about. Maybe Spielberg would have hired Verhoeven to make The Goonies or Gremlins.

  13. Well, we know it’s a rule that Verhoeven is always the ideal dream director for any project, but now we can add Goonies to the list. That would’ve been interesting. Or Batteries Not Included also would’ve been pretty different if he had done it.

  14. I heard that story about Spielberg and Verhoeven too and I even think that George Lucas wanted him to direct one of the first Star Wars movies. I have to look at my Robocop DVD again. They might tell it on that one.

  15. CJ, this movie is available on Netflix Instant Watching, if you’re into that.

  16. Thank you Matt, but I doubt that Netflix offers that to customers outside of the U.S.

  17. I wouldn’t doubt the Lucas or Spielberg stories with the Mad Dane.

    But its like how geeks for decades never understood why David Lynch turned down RETURN OF THE JEDI. Well can’t you blame him? Lucas wanted someone talented or competent enough to do that job for him (like Kershner) but otherwise it was his show, looking over your shoulder and really the hotshot authority on the set, not the “director.” For better or for worse, thats why Lynch did his own space movie instead in DUNE.

    Hell didn’t Lucas admit as much as taking over JEDI in that commentary track after his European director (ummm…) wasn’t up to par for his liking?

    Well thats my pocket theory, which I pulled out of my ass.

  18. !SPOILERS!

    I actually saw this for the first time a couple of months ago. I liked it for the most part, but I found the ending really unsatisfying. To me, this film felt like it was about the love triangle, and that felt prettymuch unresolved at the end of the movie. I was expecting a War Of The Roses ending but would’ve been happy with one of the three people in the love triangle dying. None of them dying just felt like this whole story was going to continue. Maybe that’s the point, maybe they’re going for a The Good, The bad, & The Ugly thing where we smile knowing Blondie and Tuco will keep trying to screw each other over until the end of time, but it just didn’t work that way for me in this film.

  19. Oh yeah, and Showgirls is a god damn bonafide mutherfucking masterpiece cooked on cedar planks and served to a gold-shitting unicorn.

  20. All Europeans that want Flesh+Blood on dvd, why don’t buy it from play.com. £2,99, and the shipping is always free, and they send to most places in the world:


  21. I finally got my hands on a DVD of this and after watching it, I’m still trying to wrap head around what was going on. Mostly because of Agnes. I can see why the movie has the reputation of being misogynistic and pro-rape, because of how she apparently falls in love with the first guy who violently rapes her. But on the other hand I wonder if her behaviour isn’t another way from Verhoeven, to question religion and blind faith in this movie.
    Before we meet her, we learn that she grew up in a convent and therefore is definitely a virgin and then when we meet her, she seems to be so screwed up from that religious education, that she only knows that men and women “do it”, but not even how! So she forces her maid to fuck her lover in front of her eyes, just to violently make them stop after less than a minute and laugh it off. So for her it seems to be no big thing, but just like she shrugs it off that she gets married to a stranger and thinks she is in love with him, because their fathers arranged this marriage, she maybe just thinks: “Hey, Martin had sex with me, which is what couples do, so I love him from now on.”
    Which brings me to the question if Verhoeven’s message was: “The church’s damnation of sex(ual education) [which is also audible in the dialogue about the crossed out lines in the book about the mandrakes] is bad and causes only harm.”
    I mean, all in all the movie is RELIGION VS EVERYTHING. I’m okay, with that, because I’m not a religious person, but it’s blind faith that makes Hawkwood betray his men, when he feels guilty for almost killing a nun. It’s blind faith that turns Martin into some kind of guru and if he and his men wouldn’t have followed that St. Martin statue, they probably would have stopped after taking revenge and were mostly still be alive. (Although on the other hand, they were pretty awful human beings, so what happened to them could be interpreted as “God’s punishment”, which on the other, other hand doesn’t seem to be that clear or otherwise Martin had died a gruesome death too [although he probably will, after spending an awful lot of time in the pest water].) And there is also the theme of faith vs science, mostly visible in the seen when Hawkwood gets the wrong pest treatment, just because the “doctor” refuses to believe that non-christians could know anything. (Although in the end he is of course smarter)

    But to finish this incoherent rumbling (I think I might be the first person who gets his mind fucked from FLESH + BLOOD): The medieval tank was fucking awesome!

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  23. This movie is pretty amazing. Entertaining, exciting, full of memorable characters and a story that feels timeless. There’s huge landscape shots (especially filmed from the top of the castle) that seriously made my jaw drop. How did they find that much land without a bunch of modern houses and cars and planes and shit ruining the scenery? It’s old hat to say, but CGI just can’t compare to the real thing.

    This movie is a prime example of being involving and entertaining without having any likable characters. It’s a hard trick to pull off, and few movies can do it, but Verhoeven manages it somehow. Every single character is an asshole, (even the prince guy who blows up his own dude at the beginning and doesn’t really give a shit), but we still sorta like them and feel sorry for them and are entertained by them.

    Fun Fact: This is Paul Verhoeven’s only English language movie NOT to have been remade (Total Recall, Robocop) or have someone else do a sequel to (Robocop, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct, Hollow Man, Showgirls). Hopefully they’ll leave this one alone (even though *SPOILER* the ending totally sets up a sequel!)

  24. Mastor Troy (ex-convict Poeface)

    June 4th, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Just saw Verhoeven’s latest one ELLE, and I totally understand (and am thankful for) why he doesn’t make movies in America any more. The guy is some kind of warped genius in making a reprehensible subject into a thoughtful, emotional, maybe even enlightening experience. It’s not a rape/revenge film like you might have heard. More like rape/rape/consensual/rape/oh-shit-accidental-revenge type of film. These type of movies are made all the time in the West, but they’re usually low budget grindhouse knockoffs and they usually suck.

    neal2zod – well shit, there’s a SHOWGIRLS 2?? I had no idea..

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