Having just seen and been a bit disappointed with the latest installment of The Hobbit trilogy, I thought back to another time when sword and sorcery films were popular, in the early 80s. While not having the 100+ million dollar budgets of the fantasy epics of today or the abundant CGI to make these fantasy realms come to life, these films had to make do with the talent and creativity of their makers. The two biggest and most popular were Conan The Barbarian and Excalibur which I already covered in a previous double feature (here). For this double feature I am going to go with two B-movie fantasy films that didn’t have anywhere near the budget of those two flicks but, they made up for it with boobs, blood and lots of heart… and in some ways were just as entertaining or more so than the films they were trying to compete with…
Deathstalker is another film that has sentimental value to me as friends and I saw it at the now long gone Loews Harmon Cove in Secaucus NJ. I saw a lot of fun B-movies there such as the laughably bad Luigi Cozzi Hercules with Lou Ferrigno and the Chuck Norris ‘classics’ Missing in Action 1 & 2 and Forced Vengeance. Produced by B-movie legend Roger Corman, Deathstalker is a fun little movie that knows it can’t compete with the big budget fantasy flicks and instead gives us a campy and fun tale filled with spurting blood and bared breasts. This B-movie cult classic has cynical warrior Deathstalker (Rick Hill) hunting 3 powerful objects, a sword, a chalice and an amulet that when combined, will give the barer great power. The amulet and chalice are in the clutches of the evil wizard Munkar (Bernard Erhard) while Deathstalker has possession of the sword. Using a tournament of strength and skill open to all the warriors of the land as a cover to enter Munkar’s castle and retrieve the objects, Deathstalker and travel companions Oghris (the late Richard Brooker) and the warrior woman Kaira (Lana Clarkson) enter the lion’s den. Now Deathstalker must not only battle a slew of fierce warriors, he must also rescue the rightful ruler, the beautiful Princess Codille (Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton) and also battle a traitor in his midst. And if he survives that, there is still the powerful magician Munkar to contend with, who has what Deathstalker wants and wants what Deathstalker has.
This is a fun flick as directed by James Sbardellati, under the pseudonym James Watson. Sbardellati knows he doesn’t have anywhere near Conan’s budget, but has a blast with the material making a far cheaper, but also a far less somber and more campy film. There is little provocation for warriors to clash resulting in spurting blood and lost limbs…and one such limb is hilariously used as a weapon by one warrior creature…or a lusty maiden to drop her clothes and reward the heroic victors. None of the cast are strong actors… though Clarkson gives her warrior woman a nice nobility and fiery sexuality… but it is obvious they are having a good time and it helps us forgive badly recited dialog and the sub-standard fight choreography. The FX are cheesy as are the 60s TV show level sets and the film knows it and takes what little it has and runs with it.
There’s no pretension here, it’s a Corman B-movie in every sense of the word and if you can look past the cheesy production value and just have a good time watching all the rolling heads and jiggling boobs, then this is a fun Saturday night flick that will go quite well with a six pack of your favorite poison. A really fun and delightfully campy B-movie the likes of which they don’t make anymore!
3 battle axes!
THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982)
This modestly budgeted sword and sorcery flick beat Arnie’s Conan movie to theaters by about 2 months and is regarded by some as a lot more entertaining. While I’m not sure I’d go that far, I do enjoy Sword and will admit this flick is certainly lighter in tone and far less somber then the Schwarzenegger classic.
The tale starts out with evil King Titus Cromwell (B-movie bad guy Richard Lynch) reviving the powerful sorcerer Xusia (Richard Moll) to aid him in conquering Ehdan, the kingdom of the good and wise King Richard (Christopher Cary). Cromwell takes the kingdom, betrays the sorcerer and slaughters most of Richard’s family save for his young daughter, who he takes for himself, and Prince Talon who escapes, but is maimed in battle with Cromwell’s men. The film picks up over a decade later with Talon (Lee Horsley) now a famed pirate and mercenary with a gauntlet on one hand and a three bladed sword at his side, returning to Ehdan. Upon his arrival, Talon is hired by the beautiful rebel Princess Alana (Kathleen Beller), who is unaware of who he really is, to rescue her brother Prince Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale) who is now believed to be the rightful heir to Ehdan’s thrown and is in Cromwell’s dungeon for heading the rebellion. Joining the rebels to rescue the Prince and get revenge on the man who murdered his family proves no easy task as there is betrayal and treachery in Cromwell’s favor and if the vile King isn’t opponent enough, there is a vengeful sorcerer who would bring death to anyone who would stand in the way of his revenge.
Directed by prolific B-movie director Albert Pyun, Sword And The Sorcerer was a hit in it’s own right grossing back nearly 10x it’s original $4 million budget. Pyun injects a lot of fun in his fantasy flick giving it the tone of an Errol Flynn movie with added scantily clad babes and gore. He never takes his tale too seriously, but never makes a joke out of it either. There are some fun and bloody brawls and battles to punctuate the derring do and heroics and the scenes featuring the sorcerer Xusia have an almost horror flick look and feel. The FX are decent for this kind of flick with gore and make-up by Allan A. Apone and FX legend Greg Cannom. The sets and costumes are more on a TV show level, but Pyun makes up for it by giving us a quick pace and a lot of action to take our attention away from the budgetary shortcomings.
The cast are all having a good time with Lynch giving us a strong slimy villain in Cromwell, Lee Horsley giving us a charming rogue in the person of the exiled Talon and Beller making a feisty and beautiful heroine of her rebel princess. As with the tone of the film, the actors, who also include George Maharis, Joe Regalbuto and Robert Tessier, never take themselves too seriously, but never fall into camp either…although wrestler/body builder Earl Maynard’s Rasta pirate Captain Morgan is quite a scene stealer. Pyun brings all his colorful characters together for a climactic battle within Cromwell’s castle where swords and sorcery are brought to bare in an effort to settle scores and exact revenge. And it’s a fun showdown between heros, tyrants and scorned sorcerers.
The modestly budgeted Sword And The Sorcerer may be a B-movie at heart, but heart is something this movie has a lot of and fun is a lot of what you’ll have, as long as you go in understanding that despite it’s exploitation film trappings, there is an old fashioned swashbuckler under all the blood and boobs. Sadly, despite showing potential here and enjoying a long career, Albert Pyun would never find the stride he hit with this movie or the success it enjoyed, again, though his Cyborg with Van Damme and Nemesis were enjoyable enough sci-fi/ action B-movies. A fun flick and a good time.
3 battle axes!