Color, 2001, 81 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Katherine Hicks
Starring DJ Perry, Tim Jeffrey, Laura Tidwell, Michael Wayne Walton, Rebecca Holden
Saturn's Core (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Brentwood (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Odeon (DVD) (UK R0 PAL)
The stretch of shot-on-video regional horror from the early 21st century hasn't gotten a ton of love during the SOV resurgence, but that oversight gets corrected a bit as the reliable Saturn's Core offers up the Michigan-shot Knight Chills. Picking up the mantle from the earlier role-playing game slasher film Skullduggery, this one comes up with the irresistible idea of a supernatural stalk-and-slash saga centered around an actual knight on horseback picking off his prey.
Frequently bullied and introverted John (Walton) has a ritual of RPG sessions in the basement of a house belonging to Brooke (Tidwell), who has a viking-obsessed little son, Jackson. John has a persistent crush on Brooke and offers to babysit for free, but the feeling definitely isn't mutual. Prone to reciting mantras to himself, John lives with his mother and doesn't have a thing in common with his players who enjoying sparking one up and scoffing at the ongoing anti-gaming propaganda claiming ties to devil worship. One of the more sympathetic participants is art history teacher Jack Nixon (Jeffrey), who has John as one of his students. The relentless rejection and taunting eventually drive John over the edge, especially when he overhears Brooke gossiping about rumors that he was responsible for the death of his younger brother. Believing "my faith is stronger than death itself," John ends up fatally crashing his car into a tree and making a bloody dying pledge as he bursts into flames. Soon after, his fellow players are being stalked and picked off one by one by a knight who leaves a rose each time in his wake and may be John back from the dead.
Though not particularly graphic with its violence and featuring a fairly low body count, Knight Chills stands out thanks to its snowy Michigan setting, the rare employment of D&D-inspired moral panic as its backdrop, and the rarity of having a female director behind the camera for an SOV slasher movie. This was the only credit for director Katherine "Katie" Hicks, but she pours on the atmosphere thick here with lots of fog and moody lighting as well as a couple of memorable stalking sequences. Don't miss that twist ending, too.
Shot in 1998 but circulated on VHS in 2001 to several major video rental chains and on DVD in the mid-'00s with unappetizing artwork, Knight Chills has been given a much more respectful edition from Saturn's Core with a new transfer from the Betacam SP master tapes. The earlier editions were flat letterboxed at 1.85:1, while this one is anamorphic and presented with a bit more info at 1.78:1 and looks much better; it's obvious this was shot at 1.33:1 and matted in post-production, as numerous shots are visibly too tight for comfort. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono English track is fine given the limited source, with optional English subtitles coming in handy for numerous lines of dialogue you have to struggle to hear. A lively new audio commentary features actor / writer / producer DJ Perry (who plays main bully Zac) and married co-writers Jeff Kennedy (also a producer) and Juanita Kennedy, who have tons of stories about the production including trying to time out everything for the right amount of snow, the inspiration for the D&D storyline (including Mazes and Monsters), and lots of background about the various cast members. "Knight Chills: Of Satanic Panic and Red Roses” (15m13s) is a video essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas about the D&D moral panic and the group dynamics of role playing, while "Running the Campaign" (11m39s) has Perry (in front of a very apropos backdrop) chatting about his early acting career, his screenwriting company with Jeff Kennedy, Hicks' background in TV that brought her on this production, the sometimes stressful nature of making the film, and the questionable side of the film's distribution. In "Finding Sir Kallio: Recollections of Knight Chills" (4m55s), Walton (now credited as Michael Rene Walton and still very busy in genre films today) and actor Stuart MacDonald (who plays the investigating police detective) looking back at the positive experience of the production, including celebrating a birthday on set and being involved in ambitious moments like the big car explosion. An archival camcorder-shot "dungeon tour" (7m20s) features Jeff Kennedy showing off his own gaming setup, complete with his thoughts on the misunderstandings around gaming that inspired the film, followed by a 2m36s sample of local TV news coverage on the snowy set. After that you get an archival special effects featurette (7m40s) focused on the car crash scene, "The Building of a Bad Guy" (2m4s) featurette showing off the knight suit in action, a "Cast and Crew at Work and Play" featurette (7m19s) with everyone hanging out between shots, a 24m18s camera test for the aborted Knight Chills 2, and a 1m5s photo and storyboard gallery, plus bonus trailers for Burglar from Hell, The Good Book, Lost Faith, No Resistance, and Backwoods Marcy.
Reviewed on October 2, 2023