Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hawk the Slayer (1980)


The 1980s were the Barbarian Age of fantasy films. We had a ton of flicks featuring muscle bound heroes saving topless women from monstrous puppets. It became so pervasive that the genre oversaturated the theaters and direct to VHS market by 1988.  Fantasy films kind of fell off the map for a decade or so. But imagine my surprise when I discovered this little gem of a film that attempted to tell a sword and sorcery tale, before the barbarians struck the gate.


In a legendary time two brothers battled in a far away land. Voltan (Jack Palance) had a heart filled with hate, and had become a minion of the forces of Darkness. Hawk (John Terry) was heroic and battled to save the land from evil and oppression. In their youth, the brothers fell in love with the same woman, but a quarrel killed their beloved and left Voltan horribly scarred.

Years later Voltan returns with an army of evil and threatens the Abbess of Caddonbury (Annette Crosbie) unless he receives a massive ransom of gold. Hawk comes to the aid of the abbey with help of his companions of old. Gort, (Bernard Bresslaw) the giant wielding a mighty hammer. Baldin, (Peter O’Farrell) the dwarf who eats just about anything. Crow, (Ray Charleson) the elf whose skills in archery make him deadly. Ranulf (Morgan Sheppard) the warrior whose wicked crossbow can shoot rapid fire bolts of death. And the mysterious witch (Patricia Quinn) whose power (and ping pong balls) may prove unstoppable. Do they have any hope in succeeding or is this the last adventure of Hawk the Slayer?

Good Points:
  • Commits to the adventurous feel and fantasy style
  • Takes inspiration from classic stories and movies and gives them a fantasy twist
  • Jack Palance is deliciously over the top
Bad Points:
  • The budget is low: impacting visual effects and sets
  • The humor misses the mark
  • Hawk is a pretty bland hero

No one would confuse this for a great film, but I will say it is pretty good for what it attempts to do. The over the top villains against Hawk’s varied crew make for some entertaining viewing. The low budget visuals add unintentional laughs to the whole thing. The intended humor is often pretty weak, but if you can get past those moments, you’ll find a movie with its heart in the right place and plenty of of fun viewing for bad movie night.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

In Depth Review

Hawk and his party of adventurers.
Ah, Hawk the Slayer where were you all my life? If I had run into this movie when I was a kid, I’m certain it would have been one of my favorite VHS watches. Unfortunately I didn’t discover it until the early 2000s when a coworker introduced me to it. She knew I was a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and figured this would be right up my ally. I borrowed the DVD from her and my wife and I had a great time watching it. The combination of the over the top performance by Palance, the wobbly sets, the hilarious “magic” effects and the ripe dialogue made it an instant winner for bad movie night.

And while the film isn’t going to win any awards, I don’t know if I’d necessarily call it a “bad movie”. Compared to dreck like Outlaw of Gor or Cave Dwellers, Hawk the Slayer is Lord of the Rings. It has a coherent story. It has actors who are committed to the roles. It has a certain style to it (not that the style succeeds, but it really tries). When it attempts to entertain, it mostly manages it (except for the funny parts).

What makes Hawk the Slayer an interesting film from the era is the fact that it was made before Conan the Barbarian and The Beastmaster set the course for fantasy cinema for the next decade. In fact its influence is more varied and therefore creates a movie that feels familiar and yet is unique among the films that surround it.

Hawk tries to play catch with the pommel of his sword.
There are two obvious influences on Hawk the Slayer. The first is Dungeons and Dragons. The game was first introduced in 1974, but had grown in popularity over the years and by the time 1980 rolled around it was already into a second iteration as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons or AD&D. And while a group of diverse characters teaming up to fight evil in a fantasy setting may have originated from The Lord of the Rings, the characters in Hawk the Slayer feel much more like a D&D party of adventuring heroes from the tabletop game. I could see this film appealing to young fans of the game (I’m sure the kids from Stranger Things have this in their VHS library).

"How do you solve a problem like Voltan?"
But the film also feels heavily influenced by Arthurian and Celtic legends. While you have fantasy characters like elves, dwarfs and giants running around, it is mentioned that they are all the last of their kind. We see Christian symbols all over the film, especially the Celtic cross that Eliane (Catriona MacColl) gives to Hawk. This cross plays a vital role in defeating Voltan and his dark powers. Then you have the fact that you have an abbey full of nuns and a powerful abbot as characters in the story. There is a feeling like this is a world changing from paganism to Christianity, much like another film from the same era: Excalibur.

Riding through a gauzy flashback.
But the movie has other influences from visual, story structure and even music. When you look at the story structure it is actually built like Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. You have a group of defenseless innocents (the nuns in the abbey) threatened by a mob of wicked men (Voltan and his minions). He will return for their gold in a set time frame. The nuns send out a local villager for help and he gets ronin/gunslinger’s (Hawk) attention and they work together to gather a team to help the innocents. You get a series of vignettes as the ronin/gunslinger gathers the team and we see each team member in action. Then the final act plays out as the team battles against the raiders. Along the way some heroes and innocents are killed, but the raiders are defeated.

Posing for the action figures?
Some of the influence goes beyond the story structure. Some scene blocking and set up is clearly inspired by Kurosawa’s style. Each of the new companions has a clear personality and unique way of handling problems that makes them valuable to the group. Direct correlations can be made between the character types. For example Baldin the dwarf reminds me of the humorous Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) whose laid back attitude helped ground the group Seven Samurai. Then you have the deadly Kyuzo (Siji Miyaguchi) who is the quiet master swordsman who fears nothing. I get the feeling that Crow the elf was supposed to be taken from the same mold. You can continue this comparison with all the heroic characters, with the only real exception being the witch.

Lots of close ups on Hawk's eyes.
That leads to the next influence, Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name films, like A Fist Full of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. While a movie like The Warrior and the Sorceress went for what is essentially a rip off of Yojimbo directly, Hawk the Slayer comes at it a bit more subtly. Hawk is a man of few words, who often stands and coldly stares at his opponents before springing into action. The camera work in these scenes is heavily influenced by Leone, with close narrow shots of Hawk’s cold blue eyes and quick cuts to the enemies’ sweaty faces.

And then you have the music by Harry Robinson. Since this is the early 80s we have synths and some awesome disco backbeats pumping the music along. Seriously the music is an awesome flashback of cheesiness. But once you get beyond the disco synths, you get this synth whistle sound every time Hawk appears or there is a close up on his eyes. It is very reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s uses of the whistle in The Good, the Bad and The Ugly. I’m not sure it is nearly as effective, but I’ll get to that in a little bit.

Now, I’m not coming down on Hawk the Slayer because of all these influences. In fact I think the movie handles them well enough that they all kind of work together to make something interesting. It doesn’t directly rip off any of these movies. Instead it takes the Star Wars approach and borrows here and there to make something unique, especially in 1980.

Voltan love scaring the simple folk, especially this
innkeeper played by Mr. Salt from Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory
As unique as Hawk the Slayer is, that doesn’t mean it is a successful film. One of the elements that just doesn’t work for me is the acting choices. I think this may stem from the tone. While there is a consistent tone of adventure and peril in the film, there is also this odd feeling that they are targeting the movie towards a younger audience. So you get some very broad acting styles combined with some more serious story elements. It is a strange mix that makes the whole thing feel off, but usually in an unintentionally humorous way.

So you have Palance as Voltan just ranting and raving away. His scenes where he threatens his son Drogo (Shane Briant) and his men are hilariously evil. His unbridled rage at Hawk is also pretty amusing. Palance is not holding back and it makes all his scenes a lot of fun. Sadly his outfit isn’t all that threatening, even if the helmet is obviously going for the Darth Vader look.

Unfortunately John Terry is stuck in a role that requires him to be the cool, calm guy. Most of the movie is spent with Hawk standing, staring and saying things in measured tones. And as good as Terry is in other films, he just doesn’t have the presence to pull off this type of role. The result is that Hawk is actually a bit of a bland character.

Uh oh, another "humorous" moment.
Especially compared to all the insane supporting characters around him. Hawk the Slayer has a great group of heroes, well great in that they are all uniquely odd. Gort the giant is the most normal of the group. He’s just a huge hulking guy that talks loud and people assume he’s a bully. But no, he’s just loud, eats a lot and has a heart of gold. Bresslaw does a good job expressing all these qualities in the film, and he becomes Hawk’s right hand giant. Playing off of him is Baldin the dwarf. He’s small, but he eats a lot. And he lies to get more food. And he teases Gort… and um. Well he’s short. So there’s that. He’s basically the comic relief of the film. But comparing him to Gimli from The Lord of the Rings is not a good thing. Baldin is just kind of annoying. The set up for most of his jokes goes on way too long and the punch lines are just lame. The action just kind of stops when the jokey scenes happen. Bresslaw and O’Farrell seem to have the comic chops, but the material just isn’t there. On top of that, as a hero, Baldin doesn’t bring all that much to the table. At least the character he’s modeled after in Seven Samurai could fight, but Baldin just doesn’t do much at all but eat and make stupid jokes.

Ranulf should have patented his machine gun/crossbow
The two archers of the group are also interesting. Ranulf actually gets a lot of screen time as the film starts. He’s a villager that survives an off screen raid by Voltan, but loses his hand in the process. He then crafts a full repeating crossbow that self loads! With this bad boy he’s out for revenge on Voltan and his minions. Powerful motivation and a solid performance by Morgan Sheppard makes this one of the best characters in the film. Sadly he gets pushed to the side of the film once all the heroes are assembled. The odd thing is that Crow the Elf is less interesting but ends up with more screen time. Again, I think he’s supposed to be calm and cool. And when he doesn’t speak, he almost pulls it off. We find out he is the last of his kind, and there is a bit of that melancholy in Charlson’s performance. But then he talks. I’m not sure what the hell happened. They attempted to modify his voice higher… I think. But he is also talking in complete monotone – like the way a kid sounds when he’s a robot. I’m not sure why he chose to play an elf this way, but man is it distracting. It leads to some of the funniest lines in the film, all because of the delivery and the attempt to make Crow cool.

You can tell she's magical because her hula hoops
glow green.
Finally you get the ladies in the film. Crosbie does a good job as the Abbess. I also think MacColl is solid in the key role as Elaine. But the scenes are so short it is hard to get much chemistry between her and Hawk. Sister Monica plays the naïve nun who thinks Voltan will keep his word. Cheryl Campbell sells it well with real conviction, so even when you are shouting at her blind faith, you see where she is coming from. But the best performance is by Patricia Quinn as the witch. She brings all the magic to Hawk the Slayer, and she does a good job being mysterious and deliver her cryptic lines with mystic skill. The film also has her voice coming through clearer in ADR, and since she is whispering all her lines it gives it an unearthly quality. Not sure if it is intentional, but it all works out.

Hawk is ready for the final battle.
The film itself moves a little on the slow side. The set up in the first third is a bit belabored, with some flashbacks thrown in to make things a bit clearer, but they low the momentum down. The scenes where Hawk recruits each team member are all done in this vignette style inspired by Seven Samurai, but much less effective. In all of them, the outsiders are all being threatened or oppressed in some way and Hawk’s arrival saves the day. It’s a bit contrived, but fun. The movie still always feels like it moves in fits and starts, lacking moments that flow into the next. Even the use of traveling montages and awesome disco synths just end up making you chuckle at what the director was attempting.

What happens when fireflies mate with ping pong balls.
But nearly all the action scenes are fun. The stage fighting isn’t great, but it’s much better than Outlaw of Gor or Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell. You also get a lot of in camera effects to show the speed of the crossbow and bow of the heroes, with editing tricks to speed up the action. It is very obvious and kind of silly, but entertaining. The real joy comes from the low budget magic effects. Blacklights, florescent paint and all kinds of house hold items combine to make the magic feel really darn goofy. When Hawk uses his magic Sword of Mind to call the weapon to him – you can see the string. What makes those scenes even frunnier is the fact that in nearly every case, Hawk doesn’t need to use magic to pull the sword to him. He could just reach over and grab it. There is no reason for him to use the magic, and I kept forgetting it had that ability.

You also get some of the more standard magical visuals that include smoke blasts and a fog machine. There is even a bit of simple animation, but the big finale battle with the ping pong balls has to be seen to be believed. I was laughing so hard the first time I watched it. Great stuff.

Hawk the Slayer is a lot of fun. Like Star Wars it feels familiar, but fresh at the same time. It’s has plenty of moments to enjoy because of the silly dialogue, questionable acting choices and music. It is the exception to the Barbarian Age of fantasy films, managing to carve its own path, but is still silly enough that fans of the genre should check it out.

Gort doesn't like being called "big boned".

"You'd tell me if this helmet made me look goofy, right?"

Medieval eye surgery. It doesn't go well.

Hawk and his crew ready for the next adventure.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Outlaw of Gor (1989) – MST3K Review

Poor Professor Cabot (Urbano Barberini). He misses his girlfriend Telena (Rebecca Ferratti) in the mystical land of Gor. Last time he crossed dimensions, he became a hero, but these days he’s hanging out in bars with his super annoying friend Watney Smith (Russel Savadier). 

Suddenly they are both sucked back into Gor and find themselves mixed in a conspiracy between the lovely Queen Lara (Donna Denton) and the scheming high priest Xenos (Jack Palance). Its going to take wits, sword swinging and magic to survive. Well that and the Midget Hup (Nigel Chipps). That's his name folks. Prepare yourself for endless scenes of wandering in a desert, endless scenes of people saying "Cabot" over and over again, and endless scenes of people wearing next to nothing and flailing about with fake weapons. Will Cabot remain the Outlaw of Gor or will he clear his name and get the girl?

Movie Review
"I really like your hat Mr. Palance."
The 1980’s proved to be a pretty rich time for low budget fantasy films. Conan the Barbarian started this whole trend off and we entered the Barbarian Age of fantasy movies. And if you loved your fantasy films with a bit of skin and lot of dumb dialogue, than this was the decade for you. This film (also going by the names Gor II and Outlaw of Gor) is a sequel to Gor. These were loosely based off a series of sword and planet adventures started in the late 60’s by John Norman. These types of stories were modeled off of the John Carter series by Edgar Rice Burrows, but with a bit more sex and torture.

"Is that where the tree topper went."
This movie has more in common with Ator the Flying Eagle and Cave Dwellers then either of the Conan films. It was produced by Golan Globas, the subject of the film Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. So you kind of know what you are getting into. Not only is the budget on the low side, but the film is poorly written and put together. Some attempt was made to make the kingdom and castles look a little interesting. Having never seen the first Gor film, I’m guessing some of these sets and costumes were carried over. Sometimes they look very silly, but hey that’s part of the fun.

Mike begs the movie to stop showing off Hup's butt.
One side effect of the costuming is the fact that a lot of skin is shown. And I mean a lot. Cleavage and long legs abound. For the ladies watching, they get multiple shots of men running around in short tunics and tight little briefs. I lost count of the number of shots of men splayed out and women bending over. Director John "Bud" Carlos knew exactly what kind of movie he was making, and Outlaw is certainly competing with Barbarian Queen in the skin department. Outlaw is a little less misogynistic, but not by much.

Cabot is confident. Hup? Not so much.
Much like Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell the fight scenes are all pretty lousy. Most of the battlers look inspired by spastic chipmunks on a sugar high. No one comes close to hitting anyone else with any weapon. People jump around, I think to show how skilled they are, but I suspected they were suffering from seizures. The funny thing is the film is packed with battle scene. The most memorable is a female gladiatorial battle between princess Telena and two amazons who chewed all the scenery before entering the fray. The big finale battle scene in Outlaw is so stilted and random that you can’t help but laugh. This movie could have used rapid editing to hide the fact that these actors can’t fight.

Picked up the bloody dagger, now why don't you
tromp around in the blood and leave well defined
footprints while you're at it.
The story is simple. Our hero goes back to Gor, gets framed for murder and must expose the plot. But the movie continues to botch things. Not one single character  in Outlaw has any motivation or exhibits rational behavior. One minute Watney is Cabot’s best bud, the next he’s a traitorous bastard. One minute Queen Lara is all chummy with Xenos the next minute she hates him. Talk about mood swings! Cabot never proves he’s innocent really, he just stumbles around, beats people up, and gets beaten up. Eventually Watney reveals the truth, but only because he’s about to be killed. What about the dwarf or Midget Hup as he is called in the credits? Well I have no idea who he is, or why he’s in the movie other than comic relief and showing his butt off.

Even in these early scenes you want to smash Watley
in the face... hard.
Then there is the acting. Yeah it stinks on toast. Barberini isn't bad as Cabot. I'm guessing he was hired more for his physique as opposed to acting skills. But if Miles O'Keefe works as Ator, than I guess Barberini is fine as Cabot. Savadier is really good at being annoying as Watley. He's supposed to be smarmy which he gets right, and funny which he isn't really. He also manages to look oily in just about every scene he's in. Then there is Mr. Chipps as Midget Hup. He doesn't do much else other than follow Cabot around and act as a mascot of sorts in the film. Not going to fault Chipps for his performance, there just isn't much in the script for him to do.

Oh she looks normal (maybe a little vampy) now
but just wait... just wait.
But two performances in Outlaw are worth mentioning. Donna Denton as Queen Lara is hilarious. She chews the scenery vamping it up one minute and shouting imperiously the next. Not a drop of subtlety to be found, but you get the feeling she’s having a good time. One scene in particular where she’s yelling at Xenos she almost blows her line and it’s even funnier. Then there’s Jack Palance in full “I’m doing it for the money folks” mode. He wears some of the stupidest hats I’ve seen in a fantasy or sci-fi film. He can barely muster the energy to act with other characters. His wheezy delivery is just plain hilarious in this film. I guess he just wasn't as motivated as he was as Voltan in Hawk the Slayer. It’s a long way to City Slickers Jack – hang in there.

The music was borrowed from numerous sources, but I actually recognized a few pieces from the 1983 version of Hercules with Lou Ferrigno. IMDB has the composer listed as Pino Donaggio who is still composing work for Italian films. Honestly, his lush score may be the best part of the movie.

All told, Outlaw is a mess. It makes less sense than an Ator movie and has more skin than one too. I’m not sure who the target audience was, but I do know that the audience ended up being Mike and the bots.

Episode Review
"Try tossing me and I'll gut you Cabot."
I love when the crew tackles bad 80’s fantasy and they don’t disappoint here. Everything from the acting, to the costumes, to Jack Palance gets mocked for some really big laughs. Things start off with the bang as Watney won’t stop saying Cabot’s name. He literally says “Cabot” about thirty times in first ten minutes of the film. When he finally stops, the people of Gor are so happy to see Cabot they take up the chant. You literally spend the first 30 minutes of the movie listening to people say “Cabot!” “Cabot?” Cabot.” Cabot!” and so on. Mike and the bots join in at first, but soon grow tired of it, and then angry at it. The results are hilarious.

Jack’s “performance” gets imitated and improved with added lines and comments on the wardrobe. My favorite is when he’s in a chase scene, except Jack isn’t running at all. Crow says in an very good imitation “Jack’s not being paid enough to run.”

This fight scene is something else... not in a good way.
Some of the best riffing in Outlaw comes at the expense of the numerous shots of people’s hindquarters, cleavage and crotches. I have to hand it the writers for coming up with so many euphemisms for body parts and then working them into jokes. Its hilarious stuff, but it actually makes this one of the least family friendly episodes of the show. The movie has some serious sexual overtones in it (you know for this type of movie) and our boys just riff along with them to. When a particularly phallic pillar appears in the foreground with the queen in the background Tom says as the queen, “Oh I wish someone would invent the battery.” Yeah, I was a bit surprised.

All in all it’s a pretty good time, lot of laughs, but a few slow spots here and there. Cabot and the dwarf spend a lot of the middle section wandering around the bland desert and the castle intrigue is really badly written and executed. It doesn’t give them too much to work with and makes things flag a bit. As annoying as Watney is, he was a great source of jokes. When he disappears about halfway through the film, you end up missing the stupid slimy jerky.

"Its a tubular, boobular joy for each girl and boy!"
The host segments aren’t bad. Thing start off silly when Mike and the bots are roughhousing aboard the satellite. Its all fun until Tom Servo gets hurt. The intro segment has the mad scientist showing off their time machine. It’s pretty goofy. Then Mike and the bots become Fabio, with the instant Fabio kits. Remember him? The first break has Mike going over his acting career in an album. It’s an odd segment. The next is a hilarious song number as Crow, Tom and Mike sing in old 20’s style about Tubular Boobular Joy. This is one of the best songs of the Comedy Central years. The next segment has the boys reviewing Jack’s autobiography called Palance on Palance, which includes a whole chapter on Tango and Cash. The movie ends and the boys show the Mads how many crotch shots there were in the movie – yeah it’s a long montage. The show ends with the Mads dancing. Kinda odd really.

"Freedom!!!!... oh wrong movie."
All told, this is a pretty funny episode. I enjoy it, but not as much as Cave Dwellers or Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell. The flagging in the middle and the couple of weak host segments keep it from the top notch, but I can easily recommend it for anyone who gets a kick out of the 80’s low budget fantasy film.

I give Outlaw four buffalo shots out of five.

And now I present the Madness of Queen Lara.

She's working up the crazy eyes. Don't look directly at them!

"Get out of my sight, you disgusting woooormmmm."

I think the voices in her head won't stop singing
"Let it Go" from Frozen.

One of her many dramatic arm gestures and yelling.
Did I mention she's a bit over the top... just a smidge.

Why won't anyone listen to the bellowing crazy woman
in the throne? Because her hat isn't goofy enough.
(seriously her performance makes the movie)
This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXX.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

And Then This Happened... Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell

Sometimes you head to an old friends house to catch up with him. His girlfriend is over and you guys all reminisce about old times. But then he tries to cast a curse on you and it turns out his girlfriend has practiced the black arts too. Pretty soon you are trapped on the coffee table as they sneer and loom over your alarmingly.

What do you mean this isn't a shared experience?

Well this kind of thing happens to poor old Nicias. I guess when you're a wizard it is just the kind of peril you might run into. Of course would you actually trust a guy named Troxartas in the first place? Anyway, this little moment from Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell or Deathstalker III is one of my favorites, and I figured I'd share it with you for caption fun.

And then this happened...

Friday, November 17, 2017

Barbarian Queen (1985)


Straight from the barbarian age of fantasy films in the 1980s comes this Roger Corman produced sword and sorcery extravaganza. I love this stuff: the awesome puppet monsters, the babes with blades, the fight choreography that ranges from decent to hilarious, the slave rebellions and the musclely heroes. Yes my friends it’s all here and it’s oh so bad and oh so good.


Amethea (Lana Clarkson) is in her barbarian village on the day of her wedding. Everyone is happy and celebratory so we know something horrible is about to happen. Sure enough Evil Lord Arrakur (Armando Capo) rides into the village with his soldiers. They promptly slaughter all the men and carry off the women they didn't rape right there.

Amethea survives with three other deadly gals and they vow vengeance. They pursue the army having topless adventures along the way. At the Arrakur's castle they are promptly captured, stripped, and tortured or flung into a harem. Of course they escape, gather a rebel army and attack again. And yes they are mostly nude while doing all this. I’m sure Corman wouldn’t have it any other way.

Good Points:
  • Clarkson gets into the role of the sword-swinging avenger
  • Some of the action scenes and handled well
  • Gets you cheering for the barbarians to take down the vile overlord
Bad Points:
  • Some of the acting is so painfully bad
  • Very misogynistic and exploitative
  • That torture scene goes on way too long and is pretty unsavory

I'm torn with this movie. On the one hand Lana Clarkson seems game not only diving into the battles but has no problem running around without clothes. She's not a good actress, but you can tell she's going all in. And that was the general spirit of the whole film, everyone seemed to be having a good time. The cast and crew knew exactly what type of movie they are making. But man is this movie misogynistic. Women get raped at the drop of a hat, women are tortured, women are sex objects. It gets a bit too much. The film is only 71 minutes and moves at a brisk pace, so that helps. In the end, Amethea doesn't need a man to save her butt, she does it all herself - and that was refreshing in a film like this. I got to admit I was laughing at all the ways director Hector Olivera  devised to show the maximum number of naked breasts on the screen at once.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting:  3
Script:  3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Don't let the 80s hair fool you. She is still ready
to kick ass.
Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Warrior an the Sorceress (1984)


This is a bad movie - no nice way to put it. It is low budget excuse to show women without clothing, have hulking men swing fake swords around and every cast member spout horrible dialogue with the skill of a plank of wood. It’s a perfect sample of no-budget 80's fantasy and produced by Roger Corman no less. So you know I’m going to have to watch it. I’m just a masochist that way.


The Warrior (David Carradine), is never named in the film, but is billed as Kain. Seriously? Of Kung-fu fame? He carries a huge sword, scowls a lot and doesn’t say much of anything. Basically if you’ve seen Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo then you have a pretty accurate idea of his performance. Anyway, he shows up in a village where two rival gangs are battling it out over control of the well.

On the one side is Zeg (Luk Askew) with his militant forces and captured, titular Sorceress (Maria Socas). He keeps his men in line with discipline and rage. On the other the bloated Bal Caz (William Marin) and his band of freaks and puppet monsters. This group is much more chaotic and fun loving. They remind me of Jabba the Hutt and his crew from Return of the Jedi, but with fewer puppets. Kain plays both sides against each other to save the town, save the sorceress and get a magic sword.

Good Points:
  • Carradine does a pretty good imitation of Toshiro Mifune
  • Some of the puppet creatures are funny
  • Some of the fight scenes are handled well
Bad Points:
  • Is a remake of Yojimbo or Fist Full of Dollars with no surprises
  • The acting is really wooden for most of the film
  • Missing that sense of fun that makes these films work

Most of these 80s barbarian age flicks work for me on some level. But the Warrior and the Sorceress falls flat. Part of it is because of the lifeless performances by just about everyone. There just isn’t any energy here. The other issue is that this movie is almost a shot for shot remake of Yojimbo. Seriously, Director John C. Broderick even uses some the same camera angles and blocking. Sure, the samurai flick didn’t have a puppet dragon advisor or a four breasted slave dancer, but Kurosawa wasn’t thinking outside the box enough. The whole time I’m realizing I could be watching a samurai film classic, instead of this low budget and halfhearted remake. I quote Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000 on this one: Never remind an audience of a great movie in the middle of your crappy one.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting:  2
Script:  2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

If you combined their outfits, you'd have one
complete look!
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Nostalgia Nugget: The Barbarian Age

"Don't blame me for 'Red Sonja'!"
What happens when you combine Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons? You get Conan the Barbarian of course. Ok, so that was kind of a trick question, but there is a method to my madness.

I like to think of the early 80s as the Barbarian Age of Fantasy. Within the years of 1982 and 1985 or so, we got a ton of fantasy films that featured muscular tunic-less guys wielding swords, fighting wizards, saving the (usually topless) girl from some evil creature (who may or may not be a puppet). Some of these films were backed by big budgets and major studios.  Others were made outside of Hollywood for a pittance and forged a name for themselves in the burgeoning world of direct to VHS releases. I’ll readily admit that I have a nostalgic place in my heart for these fun and often silly films. But I always wondered what caused this sudden explosion of fantasy films that hit hard and then faded away by the time 1989 rolled around.

The 70s were rough, even for Sinbad.
Like many things that occurred around this time in film history, I think it all starts with the astounding popularity of Star Wars in 1977. Prior to that film science fiction was seen as a low profit genre for major studios. There were some hits over the years, but they were few and far between. 20th Century Fox was hoping Star Wars would bring in a quarter of what Planet of the Apes made for them in merchandising and spin offs. But I don’t think they were holding their collective breath. Instead the film exploded in popularity, and a whole new group of filmgoers were exposed as a new target audience. Make a film packed with fun adventure, exotic visuals and a rollicking sense of fun and you had something.

D&D: 80s style!
Many studios took the most obvious route here, mimicking Star Wars as best they could with their own science fiction films. Disney unleashed The Black Hole. Paramount resurrected their television series into Star Trek:The Motion Picture and even Roger Corman’s production company got into the act with Starcrash and Battle Beyond the Stars. But a few other studios decided to expand their sights outside of science fiction and target another genre that had been forgotten: fantasy films.

Fantasy was always around in some form in filmmaking. But by the time the 1970s rolled around, audiences were demanding gritty and less glitzy. Fantasy films reminded them old Hollywood. It’s not hard to see why, when you watch the films like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad or all the sword and sandal films from the 1960s. They feel a bit stagey even if there is plenty of fun to be had with them. Not that the 70s were devoid of fantasy films. You still had movies like TheGolden Voyage of Sinbad, The Land Time Forgot and a handful of others. But they never brought in the money like other films did.

The other element that may have played a part in this was rise in popularity (infamy in some cases) of Dungeons and Dragons. The tabletop role playing game had been around for a while, but more and more folks were picking it up. Who could resist dungeon delving with your friends and slaying goblins by the dozen with fireballs? This same crowd was part of the group that made Star Wars the huge success it was. A fantasy film of the same caliber could also be a moneymaker.

Hawk's party is ready for dungeon delving.
One of the first of these new waves of fantasy films actually feels like a Dungeons and Dragons adventure brought to life. It is called Hawk the Slayer (1980) and hits all the requirements. You have a band of adventurers including a Hobbit sized thief, a towering giant, and an elf who can shoot rapid-fire arrows. Our hero, Hawk swings a sword with skill, and leads his band into a castle to face a deadly overlord played by Jack Palance. The movie is played pretty straight, but ends up being amusing because of the over the top acting, low budget special effects and wobbly sets. All in all it is one of my favorite fantasy films of the era, and I’m very sad I didn’t discover it until the 2000s. I’m not the only one who missed out on this flick, because it didn’t’ do well enough to deliver on a much hinted at sequel.

There was a breakdown in communication.
Right behind it was a bigger budget and much more impressive film, even if it did feel like a throwback to the 1950s style of filmmaking: Clash of the Titans (1981). Ray Harryhausen’s swansong features his amazing blend of stop motion animation and other visual effects that compete for screen time with Harry Hamlin’s hair and Laurence Olivier as Zeus. The movie is sluggish at times, but hits all the fantasy/mythological sweet spots. That Medusa scene manages a wonderful blend of suspense with the lighting, the effects and spine tingling music making it all work. As a kid, this movie was one of my absolute favorites, and I watched it over and over again. I wasn’t the only one, because I’ve seen quite a few writers, directors and artists talk about this movie being their gateway drug to all things Harryhausen and Greek mythology. That said, the film did Ok in its theatrical run, but not enough to convince other studios to jump on the bandwagon.

It wasn’t until the one-two punch of 1982 that we saw fantasy really take off. We got The Beastmaster and Conan the Barbarian in the same year. Both films were more entrenched in the sword and sorcery feel of pulp fiction by masters likes Robert E Howard and Fritz Leiber. The two films featured physically strong characters seeking out revenge against tyrants who slaughtered their families. Both include magic, monsters and scantily clad women aplenty. Both films avoided the stodgy feeling of the earlier Hollywood fantasy style and went for a healthy dose of blood and nudity. The two films shared many stylistic similarities, and were successful in different ways.

"Ok, which one of you stole her fur bikini?"
The Beastmaster did moderately well in theaters, but really boomed in on home video and cable reruns. It has quite a bit of humor woven into the story and while it can get violent the film never gets too dark. It didn’t have the budget for stop motion effects, so it used animal actors and creative costume and makeup to delve into the magical aspects of the story. I think there were just as many fans of Tanya Robert’s bathing scene as there were for the cute ferret companions in the film. The Beastmaster stays fun all the way through, but also keeps a pretty solid tone of adventure.

He just had to wear the helmet for tribe picture day.
Where Conan the Barbarian exceeds is in the way it makes the world feel real. The film has a darker, more serious tone, and the violence is brutal at times. It captures the untamed savagery of the original stories, even if it isn’t based on any one of them. Director Milius keeps the dialogue to a minimum, focusing on visual storytelling and avoiding some of the poor acting that would infuse later fantasy films. Let’s not forget the wonderfully primal and powerful score by composer Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian would be much less effective without tracks like Anvil of Crom and Riders of Doom. This film was a big success in theaters and on home video and cable. It was this film that brought about a boom in fantasy films in the early 1980s.

"If I don't make eye contact, maybe he'll go away."
Both films did eventually have sequels and spin offs. The Beastmaster didn’t see its sequels till the 1990s, well after the fantasy boom had ended. But there were enough fans to make The Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time a success on home video and get the sequel The Eye of Braxus five years later. Conan the Destroyer managed to arrive only two years after its original film, but suffered in a major shift in tone. Going for more of a mix between Hawk the Slayer and The Beastmaster, you end up with a film that ups the humor and tones down the brutality and sensuality of the previous film. It wasn’t received well, and plans for the third film were scuttled in favor of the spin off Red Sonja a year later. Sadly that film was even worse. This is one of those films that so much potential but a weak script, a jumbled tone and bizarre performances just keep the whole thing from coming together. It’s not even that riffable.

I couldn't make this up if I tried.
But many of the films that flooded the market afterwards are very riffable indeed. It seemed like every few months a new muscular hero exploded onto screens to fight monsters and save half naked women. Some films like Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982) featuring Miles O’Keefe were lower budget retellings of Conan the Barbarian. Others went to other sources, like Corman’s The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) which is based on Akira Kuroasawa’s Yojimbo, but with evil puppets and a four breasted witch. Sometime we got women warriors swinging swords like Hundra (1983) or Barbarian Queen (1985). In fact Corman's production company made quite a few of these films. Most popular were the Deathstalker movies, which started out as blatant Conan retells, but turned into more lighthearted films, with Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell even making it to MST3K. Speaking of the riffing puppet show, they also tackled Outlaw a sequel to the movie Gor which was based on a sword and planet series written by John Norman.Other times we got a film that managed to balance everything just about right, even on a low budget. The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) is a lot of fun, and manages to keep things moving and amusing for most of the running time. There were oddities like the ultra-dark Dragonslayer in 1981, where baby dragons devour a helpless princess. Then there were the odd fusions of robots, and lasers with fantasy that lead to movies like Krull (1983) and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules (1983). You also had movies that were more inspired by fairy tales like Ladyhawke (1985) and of course the wonderful Princess Bride (1987). Even Arthurian legends got a new coat of paint with the dreamlike Excalibur (1981) and Sean Connery as the sparkly Green Knight in Sword of the Valiant (1984).

"I know I dropped my eight sided dice somewhere."
A few fantasy films of the era dropped the muscly barbarian archetype and went for more Dungeons and Dragons inspired fantasy. You have a movie like Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985) which is aimed at a younger crowd, but filled with magic and action (as well as hilariously bad dialogue, goofy costumes and some wonderfully ripe acting). The animated film The Flight of Dragons (1982) actually includes a character who loves D&D and gets pulled into a fantasy world to fight wizards and monsters. The movie The Dungeonmaster (1984) fuses arcade games (inspired by Tron) and D&D into a weird anthology-kinda film with Richard Moll chewing scenery as the titular villain. And then there is the ridiculous television movie Mazes and Monsters in which a young Tom Hanks plays a teenager whose obsession with D&D drives him insane. Hilarious for all the wrong reasons.

Eventually the interest in fantasy films died down. While many of the low budget ones did all right on home video and cable, big studios were losing money. Films like Willow (1988) necessitated a lot of money for visual effects, costumes, location shooting and even with big names behind the camera (Ron Howard directing a story conceived of by George Lucas) they movie just didn’t make as much money as they wanted. This was really the last hurrah for the fantasy boom of the 1980s, and the genre once again sunk into the mists of time outshone by cheaper to make action flicks.

Hard to say which one is making the goofier face.
In the early 90s fantasy fans had to get their fix from anime like The Heroic Legend of Arislan (1991) and my favorite of the era The Record of Lodoss War (1990) (which wore its D&D roots on its cloak). But then a funny thing happened, a little movie called Jurassic Park (1993) showed that visual effects could be made to bring a whole new dimension of realism to fantasy films. Creators didn’t have to rely on puppets or stop motion any more – CG could bring dragons to life! Sure enough we got Dragonheart in 1996 And while the film wasn’t all that good, the dragon was fairly impressive for the time (and voiced by Sean Connery no less). But it was the Lord of the Rings trilogy helmed by Peter Jackson that brought fantasy films and television to the mainstream in a big way. And while I love where we are going visually with these fantasy films, I will always enjoy taking a trip back to the Barbarian Age of fantasy.

Don't mess with the Barbarian Queen!