When Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II hit theaters 20 years ago this month, it was a much-needed critical and commercial hit for the filmmaker, chalking up $155 million worldwide and better-than-average reviews.
This is not the story of that movie. It is the story of one of these reviews—quite possibly the worst movie review ever published, at least in an outlet of note.
The outlet was Ain’t It Cool News, the primo turn-of-the-century source for movie gossip, test screening leaks, and off-the-cuff criticism; the author was the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, Harry Knowles. “BLADE 2 is an R-rated movie,” Knowles wrote. “This is the NC-17 Review of it. You have been warned.”
Knowles continues with a disclosure. “For me to review BLADE 2, it is a major conflict of interest, because Guillermo Del Toro and I are brothers,” he brags. “His father says so. His wife believes this. Guillermo and I are just the best of friends, but when El Gordo calls my father Dad, and I call his Dad ‘Pops’ and we delve into hours of passionate discussion about H.P. Lovecraft, Goya, Steve Ditko action, the movies and pussy.” Knowles then floats his thesis: “I believe Guillermo Del Toro eats pussy better than any man alive.”
And then, for 500-plus agonizing words, he carries out this tortured metaphor, imagining del Toro’s film as “the tongue, mouth, fingers and lips of a lover,” while “the Audience is the clit.” He breaks down a key sequence with sext-like play-by-play: “It starts with long licks with a nose bump on the joy button slowly.” He describes the orgasmic responses of women around him at his screening, and boasts that he grabbed one’s hand, “sniffed her fingers and said, ‘MMMm you’re fingers are wet … enjoy!’” He describes the future Oscar-winning director as a “wet chinned thigh splitter.” And he uses his stomach-churning analogy to promote del Toro’s next effort: “BLADE 2 was a teaser … It was just pussylicking. … HELLBOY is deep dicking!”
Reaction among Ain’t It Cool News readers was swift and divided, with its comments section (archived, to this day, at the end of the piece) capturing an equal mixture of disgust (“EWWWW!!! I think I just had cybersex with Harry…”) and elation (“That was the most daring review I’ve ever read”). But few took note of the piece outside the orbit of the site— which, to be fair, published hundreds of unreadable reviews under Knowles’ byline—until 2017, when a series of accusations of sexual assault and harassment against Knowles brought the site and its founder’s crumbling credibility to a seemingly permanent end. (Knowles has denied the allegations.)
The Blade 2 review makes for a shocking read today, not merely for the lewdness of the prose, but the fact that the barely-literate doofus horndog who wrote it was once a formidable presence in the world of online journalism. This was a man feared by studios, courted by such marquee filmmakers as del Toro, Quentin Tarantino, and Peter Jackson, and championed by respected legacy film critics like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin. The Times of London called him “the most powerful independent voice in movie criticism since Pauline Kael.” He was given book deals, television gigs, and unlimited access to films-in-progress. This guy had power.
This guy. The “you’re fingers are wet” guy.
Two decades on, the Blade II review serves as a useful tool for understanding AICN and Harry Knowles, because its offenses so neatly summarize all that was wrong with that site, its culture, and its figurehead. It is, first and foremost, a terrible piece of writing, loaded with comically egregious grammatical errors, misplaced punctuation and extraneous words, overuse of exclamation marks, and more ellipses than a Larry King column. note: The Movie Version of DEEMO Sakura Melody Movie
Such tics and typos were not exactly outliers in film criticism of the era (or ours, frankly), and certainly forgivable if deployed at the service of noteworthy analysis. But there’s none of that in this (or any other) Knowles review, which is filled with sixth-grade-book-report-level observations like “When Ron and Guillermo get together, there is a magic to the scenes”; he traffics in pure fandom, his insights never more penetrating than the site’s name. note: His father was a sniper in the British Army! Movie