Forgotten Favorite: The dark deeds of Solomon Kane

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In continuing SYFY WIRE's examination of theatrical genre films that faded from memory all too soon and deserve a serious second glance, we now target the failed quest of 2009's Solomon Kane.

Robert E. Howard's scowling 16th-century Puritan avenger, Solomon Kane, is one of the late Texas author's coolest characters, second only to his testosterone-fueled Conan the Barbarian. A gloomy, solitary wanderer dressed all in black, Kane roamed the European countryside and African continent vanquishing evil with a lethal arsenal of rapiers, swords, and flintlock pistols, glaring through ice-cold eyes that had seen unspeakable horrors.

Kane made his first appearance in the somber pulp story "Red Shadows," published in August of 1928 in Weird Tales magazine. His brooding presence was found in many Marvel comics and comic magazines throughout the '70s and '80s. More recently, Dark Horse Comics took up the sword and issued a trio of Solomon Kane miniseries.

For years, fans of REH had been clamoring for a Solomon Kane movie, and with werewolves, witches, and phantoms being all the rage in Tinseltown creative meetings, it seemed like a natural time for the tall, dark demon hunter to finally be offered his rightful time in the limelight.

Years of legal wrangling with the Howard estate eventually awarded the film rights to Davis-Films, and at 2006's San Diego Comic Con an announcement was made that a Solomon Kane movie was in preproduction starring Rome's James Purefoy and directed by Michael J. Bassett (Ash vs. Evil Dead, Silent Hill: Revelation).

Cameras began rolling in Prague's Barrandov Studios in the Czech Republic in late 2008, with the movie's thrilling climax being shot in North Devon, England. The impressive cast also starred Max Von Sydow, Alice Krige, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and Pete Postlethwaite.

Here's the film's official synopsis:

A ruthless mercenary renounces violence after learning his soul is bound for hell. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer's murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

Solomon Kane sat languishing on a shelf for nearly a year awaiting a distribution deal before it eventually hit theaters in Britain and foreign markets starting in January 2010.

Purefoy delivers an inspired performance here as the vengeful puritanical killer, imbuing the character with all the heroic hallmarks of the solitary slayer of the supernatural. And don't ever dare pass off Purefoy as a "poor man's Hugh Jackman." That would be flat heresy!

The classically trained Brit can stand toe to toe with the handsome Aussie superstar any day, and there are some obvious comparisons of this film to Jackman's Van Helsing of 2004, which borrows liberally from the Robert E. Howard monster hunter.

Amid some spectacular set design by Ricky Eyres (Farscape, Saving Private Ryan, Nightbreed) and piercing, atmospheric cinematography by Guillermo del Toro favorite Dan Laustsen (Silent Hill, Crimson Peak), Purefoy embraces the character's myriad psychological facets and gives him a wicked sneer to accompany his damned demeanor.

Creature design was supervised by Patrick Tatopoulos, who lent his SFX talents to geek flicks like Stargate, Independence Day, and Underworld. It's even blessed with a riveting score by German composer Klaus Badelt, who wrote the music for Constantine and Equilibrium and worked with Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Yet audiences STILL stayed away.

Bassett does a capable job balancing the film's tone and weaves in tender, intimate moments with swashbuckling set pieces while retaining the paranormal aspects of the acclaimed fantasy horror stories.

Solomon Kane's budget was a respectable $40 million, but the action-adventure reaped only $19 million during its initial theatrical run. Critics applauded the film's exotic locales, solid acting, striking special effects, and faithful respect for the source material, yet it was a huge failure following its delayed release.

This rousing origin story was to be the first chapter in a planned cinematic trilogy that would eventually take Kane to Africa and early colonial America. But its disappointing box office and terrible mismanagement of the movie's distribution and marketing stuck a flaming dirk straight through its heart.

For whatever reason, through bad luck, red tape, court cases, and some plain terrible decisions, the film was initially lost to North American audiences in the absence of any distributor.

After a ridiculously limited American release by The Weinstein Company's Radius Films in September of 2012 in the wake of a video-on-demand campaign one month prior, Solomon Kane silently shuffled onto home video with its stateside Blu-ray and DVD release in July of 2013. Its unceremonious path to obscurity since it was first seen on European shores describes a bounty of botched promotional opportunities that now represent a sad cautionary tale.

Here's the alternate U.S. marketing poster as shared by director Bassett.

Give yourself over to the zeal and absorb Solomon Kane's wildly entertaining redemption saga adorned with clashing steel, decrepit stone churches, magical mirrors, eyeless hell-wraiths, frost-dusted heaths, and blazing bonfires to set the mood for a spooky Halloween season.