BlackAngelThis haunting and fantastic 25 minute film played before THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK during its initial release in England and Australia. Having only recently resurfaced, BLACK ANGEL is an impressive work, boasting a full-bodied medieval atmosphere and a teasingly enigmatic aura.

Presumed lost for over 30 years, 1980’s BLACK ANGEL has been painstakingly restored, and in mid-2014 was finally released to the public (through iTunes and Netflix) by its creator Roger Christian. The film was financed by George Lucas (for whom Christian had worked as a set decorator on STAR WARS), and shot in the Western Highlands of Scotland.

With BLACK ANGEL Christian got the jump on the Hollywood sword and sorcery craze of the eighties (the most prominent example of which, EXCALIBUR, was heavily influenced by Christian’s film). Unfortunately Christian’s subsequent directorial efforts (which include THE SENDER, STARSHIP, NOSTRADAMUS, UNDERWORLD and the notorious BATTLEFIELD EARTH) haven’t born out the promise of BLACK ANGEL.

The heroic knight Sir Maddox returns to his castle home after a lengthy period spent fighting overseas. He finds most of the castle’s inhabitants dead, and the few survivors riddled with the Black Plague. Continuing on through the countryside, Maddox falls into a river and nearly drowns. Upon coming to the surface he’s confronted with a young maiden with whom he’s immediately enraptured.

The maiden warns Maddox not follow her, but he can’t resist. She ends up leading him into a smoky vortex, at the end of which is the titular angel, a horrific creature who takes on Maddox in an all-out battle of swords and wills.

Extremely slow and contemplative in nature, BLACK ANGEL is essentially an art film. As such it obviously doesn’t jibe with the sensibilities of modern-day Hollywood, much less those of its benefactor George Lucas (I can only imagine how audiences who viewed it play before THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, to which BLACK ANGEL is stylistically opposed in most every respect, must have reacted). Yet it’s a visual stunner, with a strongly atmospheric recreation of the middle ages and a teasingly hallucinatory air (George Lucas’ pal Steven Spielberg is said to have called this one of the “most enigmatic” films he’d ever seen).

Credit must go to cinematographer Roger Pratt, whose visuals are sumptuous and otherworldly; art director John Beard, whose scenery is on a par with that of Roger Christian’s own design work on STAR WARS and ALIEN; and composer Trevor Jones, whose superbly evocative score is integral to the overall effect of a film that may have been a threadbare low budget affair but plays like a big screen spectacular.

Vital Statistics

Painted Lady Productions

Director: Roger Christian
Producers: Roger Christian, Leslie Dilley
Screenplay: Roger Christian
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Editing: Alan Strachan
Cast: Tony Vogel, James Gibb, John Young, Patricia Christian, Colin Booth, Yvonne Cameron, Ian Macmillan