Skip to content

Plot: one woman dares stand up against an evil industrialist empire.

The second Babes with Blades feature came three years after the entertaining but ultimately misguided Warrioress (2015). The Flower Of Sarnia was conceived and conceptualized during post-production on Warrioress (2015), and it was to be even more ambitious than the first. Once again everybody from the Babes with Blades stunt team was involved but this time Cecily Fay would not only write, produce, direct, edit, act, and score – she would also double as costume designer and action choreographer. Seeing it as an opportunity to showcase her team it’s a vehicle by, with, and for stunt people. A labor of love for everyone involved. The Flower Of Sarnia became Babes with Blades: The Flower Of Sarnia before being rebranded to just Babes with Blades. And that’s what it ultimately is all about. Call it truth in advertising. Babes With Blades delivers exactly what it promises. It’s about babes… with blades.

Whoever thought that Cecily Fay would give up after the protracted release of Warrioress (2015) might as well looks elsewhere because Cecily isn’t going anywhere. No, it seems all the troubles she was beset with during production of her debut feature only added more to her resolve to get a second out. And that perseverance and determination is at least to be admired, even in light of how Babes with Blades presents no real progress (from a technical – or writing standpoint) from Warrioress (2015). We’d love nothing more for Cecily than that she’s able to produce that one feature that would finally break her through to an audience beyond martial arts enthusiasts. To its credit Babes with Blades is in every way to superior to things like Geisha Assassin (2008), a glorified martial arts demo reel that didn’t so much pretend as to have a story. No. Babes with Blades suffers from exactly the opposite, the action scenes sometimes get in the way of the story. Where character scenes would’ve sufficed there are seemingly never-ending action scenes. Sometimes it just is better to have a character forward the story arch with words instead of punches, kicks, and blades.

The galaxy trembles under the tyrannical rule of the Visray empire. The planet Sarnia is “under seige” (no, really). Azura (Trudie Tume) is taken captive by the invading forces. Twelve years pass, and Azura (Cecily Fay) has escaped the clutches of her captors and now hides on the mining planet of Draiga 5. There she survives by staying out of sight. One day Azura is discovered and imprisoned by Visray patrols. She’s sold to slavetrader Sef (John Robb, as Jon Robb) and is forced into gladiatorial combat for the amusement of Section Commander Sorrentine (Joelle Simpson). Sorrentine is grooming her son Peltarion (Daniel Everitt-Lock) as a successor. The catacombs are overflowing with rebellion and the headforce – the brave Viridian (Cheryl Burniston), the feisty Amber (Yennis Cheung), and pricefighter Dahlia (Lauren Okadigbo) – have managed to plant a deep undercover operative in the court with Kewan (Michael Collin). Before long Azura is deemed recuperated enough for gladiatorial combat. It’s at this juncture that Kewan hands her an arcane tome from which she learns ancient martial arts.

Empowered by the knowledge from the tome Azura comes face to face with the fearsome and feared Andromeda (Jo Marriott) and later Freya (Heather McLean). Much to the chagrin of both Sef and Section Commander Sorrentine both end up defeated in the arena, and Azura soon becomes the people’s favorite combatant. With Azura’s popularity ever increasing the freedom fighters realize that the hour draws near. In Azura they not only have a formidable champion, but also their new messiah, linchpin, and figurehead for their plebeian revolution, an insurgence strong enough that it may topple the cruel Visray regime that has long oppressed them. When it’s time for Dahlia to combat Azura in the ring the various rebel factions must come together. Azura’s motives are of a more personal nature. Exacting revenge for the slaying of her people, and Section Commander Sorrentine is the most directly responsible. The only question is: can Azura put her vendetta aside and rise to lead the revolution?

While by no means original Babes with Blades manages to pack just about everything in what is not really a whole lot of story to begin with. The general template is that of Bloodsport (1988) with a central character archetype straight out of Spartacus (1960) and a non-ambiguous good-evil out of Star Wars (1977). All of that is overlain with a negligible dystopian science-fiction component and steampunk cosplay aesthetic. Sadly, it takes the route of Lithuanian shlockfest Amazons and Gladiators (2001) rather than that of Mortal Kombat (1995) (a masterclass in storytelling/worldbuilding through economic exposition and succint character introductions) or Gladiator (2000). At one point Azura is even put in a weaponized necklace, sort of like the kids in Battle Royale (2000). When Azura comes to face to face with Andromeda and Freya both get an introductory line in their respective fight, but the screenplay never introduces them properly, nor what milestone they represent in Azura’s ascent to legendary hero. Pacing is problematic at best and once past the 55 minute mark (when Azura’s gladiatorial combat wraps up) Babes with Blades sort of collapses in on itself.

All of this could have been easily resolved had each contestant represented an actual obstacle and a milestone in Azura’s growth as a character. This would have made her eventual duel with Dahlia that much more powerful, especially if we weren’t privy to the fact that Dahlia was actually a rebel – and even moreso if the reveal of Dahlia’s true loyalties coincided with the coup d'état staged by the uprising rebellion (that now anticlimactically transpires post the arena fights) crushing the Visray empire in one swift blow, simultaneously putting Azura in gladiatorial combat with her arch nemesis. Andromeda and Freya now appear as regular contestants and not imposing figures they were probably were meant as. Script problems aren’t the only thing that grind Babes with Blades down. There’s the expected shaky camerawork that either is hyper-active or positioned in such a way that the action is occasionally hard to follow, or that completely irrelevant things clog up the frame. The lighting in the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, South Yorkshire is mostly put to good use. Some of the more vibrant hues give it that artsy Mario Bava feel. The exteriors of the Crossness Pumping Station in London are good for what they are, but that’s about it. Given that this is the work of one woman makes it impressive in a technical sense. At least Cecily Fay is not Neil Breen. No, Fay’s modest catalogue is perhaps closest to pre-2013 Rene Perez.

And it’s not as if Cecily Fay, Lauren Okadigbo, and Yennis Cheung are novices either. No, that’s about as the furthest from the truth as you could get. Cecily Fay was a stunt performer in Prometheus (2012), and Skyfall (2012). Lauren Okadigbo was a stunt performer in Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and most recently doubled for Zendaya in Dune (2021) and Nathalie Emmanuel in F9 (2021). Yennis Cheung was in a handful of Hong Kong and South Korean martial arts movies in late 90s before relocating to the UK. That about makes Lauren Okadigbo the Helen Steinway Bailey of the piece. Music commentator and punk rock monument John Robb (of The Membranes and Goldblade, as well as editor-in-chief of Louder Than War magazine) is surprisingly solid as a poor man’s Vinnie Jones or Jason Statham. The focal point, of course, is Cecily herself. Don’t be fooled by her diminutive stature and petite frame, Fay is Britain’s own Angela Mao Ying, JeeJa Yanin, or Veronica Ngo and it’s nigh on unbelievable that this woman is practically unknown.

To its credit Babes with Blades offers a veritable avalanche of high-octane Hong Kong-inspired action routines but is marred by non-existent cinematography, choppy editing, a hokey score, and amateur actors with more enthusiasm than talent. The near-constant barrage of death-defying action sequences, both with weaponry and without, work exactly the way you want them to; but it are the character – and exposition scenes where Babes with Blades fails most glaringly. As Warrioress (2015) before it Babes with Blades has the thinnest veneer of story as a preamble to have as many action sequences as humanly possible and like that one this too often looks like a Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, or Frank Frazetta canvas brought to life. In other words, Babes with Blades is full of, well, babes in skimpy constumes and/or impractical armor. Fay’s Lollipop Chainsaw cheerleader costume pretty much is a futuristic make-over of the little number she wore in Warrioress (2015). Babes with Blades probably would do good in hiring Ukrainian bellydancer Diana Bastet as their resident costume designer. Whether Babes with Blades is actually an improvement over Warrioress (2015) depends entirely on your preference for no-budget, shot-on-video action demo reels with an absolute dearth of story. Since this one comes bearing The Flower Of Sarnia as chapter title that reasonably suggests there’s going to be sequels at some point. When, and if, it does hopefully it comes bearing Ken Kelly or Lorenzo Sperlonga poster art.

Plot: cityslickers check in at Mortlake – they won’t be checking out.

It took Alex Chandon a decade to get the follow-up his rightly infamous Cradle Of Fear (2001) off the ground. His 2001 offering was a critical darling but audience reaction was mixed under the kindest of circumstances. In the ten years that seperate both features Chandon didn’t direct a single thing. You’d imagine his working with a high-profile act as Cradle Of Filth would lead him into directing music videos more frequently but no such thing transpired. Thankfully Chandon put the ten years to good use and he seems to have learned a thing or two since Cradle Of Fear (2001). The technical polish that Cradle Of Fear (2001) lacked Inbred has in spades. This is by far Alex Chandon’s most impressively lensed and photographed production to date. Inbred is a vast improvement over his debut on all fronts but some of its more glaring shortcomings have persisted despite the decade-long interval between productions.

Like many a budding splatter director a meaningful story was never high on the list of priorities for Chandon. His earlier Cradle Of Fear (2001) set the bar admittedly low on that end. Inbred does an earnest effort to actually tell a story and fleshes out at least some of its characters, no matter how unlikable they might be. Writing was never Chandon’s strong suit and it isn’t here either. While Inbred is obviously better written than Cradle Of Fear (2001) Chandon’s pervading nihilism and ruthless Darwinism appear to have persisted and Inbred fares accordingly. Inbred offers no ray of light or redemption for any of its characters. It’s always a delight seeing Emily Booth and she, as always, makes an impression. Her cameo part is merely limited to the opening scene but it’s impactful enough, to say the least. It allows Alex Chandon to indulge in his worst tendencies before moving on in a more reserved, story-oriented direction. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of carnage and dismemberment to be had. In fact there’s plenty of it to go around and it’s better distributed than in his 2001 debut. In Inbred the bloodshed serves the story, not the other way around.

Care workers Jeff (James Doherty) and Kate (Jo Hartley) and four youth offenders embark on a character education weekend in one of the more remote outskirts of North Yorkshire. When they arrive in the sleepy farming community of Mortlake the youths are none too impressed, not with the task ahead nor with the accomodations for that matter. The group settle down at The Dirty Hole, the local pub, where they meet wayward owner Jim (Seamus O’Neill), before checking in for the night. The next morning Sam (Nadine Mulkerrin, as Nadine Rose Mulkerrin) and Tim (James Burrows) are send on an abandoned train salvaging mission and they do that to the best of their abilities. Dwight (Chris Waller) and Zeb (Terry Haywood) don’t take the job seriously at all much to the chagrin of group leader Jeff. A minor run-in with local yokels Gris (Neil Leiper) and his hick goons soon leads to a second, much more violent confrontation that eventually becomes the inciting incident that turns the entire village against the city-dwelling intruders. As the entire inbred population of Mortlake descends in numbers upon them the group finds themselves fighting for their very survival…

Chandon was never much of an auteur and Cradle Of Fear (2001) was closer to the collective oeuvre of German gore merchants Andreas Schnaas, Olaf Ittenbach, and Timo Rose than it was to more esoteric and faux-philosophical splatter offerings as Shatter Dead (1994), I, Zombie: A Chronicle Of Pain (1998), or Ice From the Sun (1999). Whereas his debut was very much a mostly plot-free showreel for its admittedly impressive special effects work Inbred actually makes a concerted effort to tell a story. Inbred was clearly meant to be a homage to exploitation shockers as H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), I Drink Your Blood (1970), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977). One of the biggest improvements is that the bloodshed and carnage is better distributed. The gratuitous gore only commences after a nearly 40-minute set-up and from that point onward Inbred makes each kill count. The carnage is that much hard-hitting because it happens in snack-sized portions and where it matters in the story. Cult favorite Emily Booth, she of Josh Collins’ Pervirella (1997), is given a far more dignified role although that doesn’t exclude her from meeting a sudden, gruesome end. On all fronts Inbred is a far more measured exercise that will surely satiate die-hard Chandon fans.

Yet as good as Inbred is Chandon couldn’t write a character if his life depended on it. Jeff and Kate are painted in broad enough strokes to be recognizable and Sam is by far the most sympathetic figure of the group as the prerequisite put-upon girl. Dwight and Zeb are two sides of the same coin and emblemic of Chandon as a writer. Near constant profanity spills from Dwight’s mouth and Zeb is pretty much his wingman until the two are seperated. Zeb (as the token minority character) ends up garnering far more sympathy than his insufferable colleague. Tim initially comes across as much of a douche as Dwight and Zeb but soon makes a turn for the better once he’s paired with Sam. There isn’t much to go on seperating each of the four youths, Sam is as much of a cipher as the three guys and neither is given any sort of depth, let alone pathos, to call them a lead character. Alex Chandon always had a very pronounced proclivity towards ruthless Darwinism and Inbred is, unfortunate as it may be, no different in that regard. Like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) five decades before Inbred is nihilistic and unforgivably bleak. In hands of a different director Sam and Tim would have survived the bloodshed, but not so with Alex Chandon. Just like in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) the so-called normal people are the real monsters and like the townfolk in H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) they are merely defending their turf.

Just like Cradle Of Fear (2001) launched the Creature Effects team to worldwide special effects superstardom Inbred is surely to do the same for prosthetics maker Duncan Jarman, silicone wounds creator Linzi Foxcroft for Trauma FX and blood and gore specialist Graham Taylor for GT FX. Inbred prides itself (and rightly so) on making use of an absolute minimum of CGI and basing the feature almost entirely around old-fashioned practical special effects. Everything about Inbred is bleak, including the extremely desaturated colour scheme. In an interesting inversion of modern conventions the colors in Inbred become more enriched, deep, and lush the more citydwelling folks meet their bloody fates. Also not so unimportant is that Inbred isn’t quite as exploitative as Chandon’s debut was. Emily Booth and Nadine Mulkerrin (who was 18 in 2011) both are allowed to keep their clothes on. At 35 Booth is as dashing an appearance, if not moreso, than she was in 1997 when she first worked with Chandon. Inbred benefits tremendously from Ollie Downey’s beautiful cinematography and a serene ambient score from Dave Andrews that is both minimal and unobtrusive. Unlike Chandon’s debut Inbred actually looks like a professionally helmed production and not some rather hideous looking shot-on-video experiment in bloody special effects work. At this point we’re genuinely interested where Chandon moves from here. If history is any indication, his next feature should arrive in 2021. We can only hope….