Color, 1992, 116 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Carl Schenkel
Starring Christopher Lambert, Diane Lane, Tom Skerritt, Daniel Baldwin, Ferdy Mayne, Alex Diakun, Katherine Isabelle, Kehli O'Byrne, Blu Mankuma
Koch Media (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), UFG (DVD) (France R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Republic (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Who's up for a German-American pseudo giallo shot in Vancouver? If so, feast your eyes on Knight Moves, a gimmicky and stylish thriller seemingly designed for endless cable TV play with Christopher Lambert -- still coasting on his Highlander cult popularity -- and his spouse at the time, Diane Lane, headlining a surprisingly impressive cast. Very much in the spirit of '90s Italian offerings like Body Puzzle with a dash of then-trendy serial killer dressing, it's an entertaining and ridiculous ride with a macabre, waterlogged climax that has to be seen to be believed.
In the black-and-white opening, a chess match between two young boys turns nasty when the loser takes a handshake as the chance to plunge a sharp pen in his opponent's hand. The little psychopath gets hauled off and committed to an institution, with orders issued that he can never play chess again. Flash forward a couple of decades as master chess player Peter Sanderson (Lambert) is in competition somewhere just down the street from Twin Peaks by the looks of it. When his one-night stand after a game turns out murdered with all of her blood drained out and a menacing message left behind, it's time for the cops, comprised of Captain Sedman (Skerritt) and the very belligerent Detective Wagner (Baldwin), to sift through the clues, occasionally point to Peter as a prime target, and cooperate with skilled psychologist Kathy Sheppard (Lane) when she isn't busy falling for Peter. As the body count builds, he realizes the killer is playing a deranged game of corpse chess with the ultimate checkmate in store.
Obviously this is pretty silly stuff with Lambert not all that convincing as a brilliant chess champ, but Knight Moves delivers the pulp thrills with a string of completely undeveloped characters getting bumped off around Peter's orbit and the cops acting very concerned and annoyed. Baldwin's performance in particular really stretches credulity, with Lane and Skerritt keeping things more grounded with the best performances of the batch. More weirdly, Ferdy Mayne (Frightmare) and future Ginger Snaps star Katherine Isabelle also turn up to give the film some horror cred, while former Art of Noise member and future Oscar winner Anne Dudley contributes a mostly nondescript score.
For some reason Knight Moves was heavily cut by over ten minutes (all character development) by the time it barely reached American theaters from Republic Pictures, after which it became a VHS mainstay for a few years. The film was shot in Super 35mm, composed for 2.35:1 projection but with considerable extraneous room left at the top and bottom (a la Opera) so it could be reframed for 4x3 televisions later on. That open matte version was used for the VHS and later ported over for a fleeting DVD release (still the much shorter cut) you can easily skip. A laserdisc was also released by Republic, letterboxed but looking really awful. The film proved to be quite a bit more popular in Europe, particularly Germany where it's been issued several times including a 2007 DVD from Koch Media and a remastered 2018 Blu-ray and DVD reissue from the same company. Given that this film has never looked particularly hot on home video, it should go without saying that this is the best it's gotten so far even if the presentation will look modest next to anything you'd consider reference material. It's much easier to make out the dark scenes now (with deeper, richer blacks to boot), and detail bumps up several notches compared to the fairly drab-looking DVDs. The film grain can have a harsh, digital look that also runs into some compression issues in the brighter outdoor scenes, but if you're a fan, this is worth the upgrade. DTS-HD MA options are available in both English and German 5.1 and 2.0 mixes; the latter is more faithful to the original mix, but the surround on the 5.1 version is fun if a bit artificial. Optional English and German subtitles are also provided. As for extras, vintage EPK interviews are included with Lambert (5m10s), Lane (2m17s), Skerritt (3m46s), Baldwin (6m12s), director Carl Schenkel (6m7s), writer Brad Mirman (5m) (who also wrote the hilariously absurd Body of Evidence and another fun Lambert serial killer film, Resurrection),
and producer Dieter Geissler (5m17s) in front of a poster for Visconti's Ludwig; the last one is German only, while the others are English with German subtitles. Also thrown in is a behind-the-scenes featurette (10m34s) comprised of raw footage with lots of emoting from Lambert and Baldwin, followed by a gallery (7m16s) of international poster art and stills and the English and French theatrical trailers. Tucked away at the end of the extras is an open matte version of the film (1.33:1), in standard definition and taken from an older video master. However, it's also uncut and quite interesting if you want to compare how the film looks with all that extra space.
Reviewed on July 23, 2018.