Review: Minotaur

I keep coming back to the SciFi Channel on Saturday nights, despite the uneven quality of their movies in the last couple years. Once in a while there’s a gem.

So I’m happy to say that this week’s Minotaur was surprisingly good. With a title inspired by Greek myth, I first thought it would be something like Cerberus or Basilisk, which are each about bringing said monsters into the present day. Not so! Minotaur is actually a period piece about Theseus (although he’s called “Theo”), the island of Minos, and the legendary labyrinth.

I knew I was in for something special during the opening title sequence. The myth of the Minotaur is told in voice over (Linda Hunt? Or was it Ingrid Pitt?) while works of art tell the story visually.

The hero, Theo, is introduced as a goat herder. His village and the people in it are believable, and the performance of Rutger Hauer as Theo’s father is solid. Soon, Hammer horror scream queen Ingrid Pitt makes an appearance, although her leperous make-up made her unrecognizable. She tells Theo his lost love is still alive, although she had been taken for sacrifice to the Minotaur the year before.

So the plot kicks in. Theo manages to get abducted himself, and he and several other victims are brought before the king.

What really drew me in was the presence of Tony Todd. In true Shakespeare mode, he played the evil but tortured king role to the hilt. Melodramatic, but that’s what the part required. His make-up and costuming actually made him look like the bull his people worship, with a ring through his nose and horns tattooed across his shaved scalp.

By the time we got through the first act, I had decided I liked the movie. It’s too bad the second act turned into repetitious cat and mouse antics, as each of the victim characters are chased around the underground labyrinth and gored one by one. Theo himself was perhaps overly sensitive, but I really couldn’t bring myself to care about his friends. I would have liked to see Theo be more proactive, approaching the labyrinth as a problem to be solved. (I believe in the original myth, he used a ball of string to find his way out.) Also, I was crossing my fingers for appearances by Daedalus and Icarus, but that didn’t fit in with this movie’s story.

These negatives in mind, I can still recommend the movie because the Minotaur itself was done so well. Ninety percent of the effects work was practical, which you hardly ever see anymore. The beast was a huge, decayed hulk of a puppet — really impessive. Curiously, it ran around on all fours, but it worked. For the handful of shots where CG took over, the animation was convincing and well integrated.

Overall, a juicy low budget offering. Definitely worth a rental.