Monday, December 31, 2012


James Dodson 1993
Starring: David Warner, Corbin Allred, David Kriegel, Olivia Hussey

I really hope Quest of the Delta Knights is not going to be my last movie of the year, but if it is, so be it. At least it stars David Warner. I know I said I was only going to write about 1980s sword and sorcery movies, but when I heard about this film and the lost treasures of Archimedes, I knew it had to be my one exception. This is also less a sword and sorcery romp and more a medieval knight-fantasy flick, but close enough. It is also unapologetically from the early ‘90s.

A young boy named Tee joins up with Baydool, who is secretly a knight of the Delta order and recognizes Tee from a prophecy. Baydool and Tee set off on a quest to find the Lost Storehouse of Archimedes. The treasures and knowledge therein will help them defeat an evil queen (the Mannerjay) and the sinister Lord Vultare. Tee is also helped by a princess and a young man named Leonardo. For some bizarre reason -- perhaps the abysmally low budget -- David Warner plays the narrator, the aged knight Baydool, and Lord Vultare. Interestingly, he is introduced to us when he throws a chamberpot full of piss on someone. How he thought he could live that down for the rest of the film, I don’t know. 

Director James Dodson (responsible for nothing I can recommend to you) hasn’t made a terrible film with Delta Knights, but I certainly can’t claim it’s any good. With some weird Enya-like flute music mixed in with almost midi-sounding “medieval” themes, that should be your first clue that this would be better off as a spoof than what I think is trying to be a serious movie. The acting doesn’t do it any favors. Other than Warner, we have Corbin Allred (Robin Hood: Men in Tights, actually a medieval spoof) playing the young knight’s apprentice, though for some reason he looks like a girl for most of the film. Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas) makes a brief appearance as the Mannerjay. The rest of the cast is forgettable. The funny thing is that it’s not a triple whammy of bad acting/bad dialogue/bad delivery. It’s some mystery mix of badness that only really appeared in the early ‘90s. Think Xena and Hercules even more so. 

The plot was apparently ripped off of Robert Heinlein’s Citizens of the Galaxy, which I haven’t read, but it does borrow many typical fantasy tropes. The theme song is also stolen from Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). In my opinion, other than many moments of sheer boredom, Delta Knight's worst offense is its awful sort of Renaissance Faire anachronism. There are elements from medieval England, Renaissance Italy and Viking culture. A good reason for this is that it was actually filmed at a Ren Faire in California, something equally impressive and horrifying.  

If you plan to watch Quest of the Delta Knights, I recommend you do so on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. It will be less painful. “Prince? Better than being captured by Morris Day, I guess.” Otherwise, it is available online, but is still unreleased on DVD. 


Fred Olen Ray, 1991
Starring: Lyle Waggoner, Russ Tamblyn, Blake Bahner, Heidi Paine

What an awful movie. I’m not really a Troma fan, so I sort of expected to dislike this, but I at least had a little faith in director Fred Olen Ray, the man responsible for such delightful trash as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988). That, apparently, was his high point, whereas this is what you would get if you remade Deathstalker II and took all the whimsy and enjoyment out of it. Melina’s father, Ulric, keeper of the mystical Sword of Aktar, is kidnapped and she is hunted by the guards of the evil Lord Khoura. She is rescued by the famous (in his mind anyway) swordsman Thane. He agrees to help her on her quest to retrieve the blade - which contains power to summon a terrible demon - and save her father. On the way they meet whores, a seer, some dinosaurs and another master swordsman. 

This movie is almost irredeemable. It is slow, utterly stupid and has some of the worst dialogue ever put on film. Short of quoting the movie, words cannot express how bad the combination of script and delivery are. And unlike the aforementioned Deathstalker II, it simply lacks the fun and charm that could have made it so-bad-it’s-good. I can’t think of a reason why anyone would have/want to watch Wizards of the Demon Sword. Come to think of it, isn’t a sword at all, it’s more like a dagger made out of plastic. There are also no wizards, only one would-be possessor of the “sword’s” magic, Lord Khoura, though he does deliver some great lines about how the titular blade allows the user to worship all evil, and things of that nature. Promising as that sounds, this is more the kind of film you want to turn into a drinking game than something you can actually sit down and enjoy. 

The best thing I can say about it is that it’s incredibly light-hearted and might please a trashy movie lover in the right sort of mood. There’s some amusing banter between Thane and another master swordsmen he meets along the way and some other things are unintentionally very funny. Like the fact that Russ Tamblyn (Twin Peaks) is Ulric, the supposedly venerable guardian of the sword, as well as the absurd claymation dinosaurs that come out of nowhere... twice. There is another useless scene in a brothel that at least affords us a few moments of belly dancing, which is about all the sexiness in this movie. Fred Olen Ray, what were you thinking? 

If you do watch it, keep your eyes peeled for a great scene where Thane punches Melina in the face after she tries to have sex with him. It’s justified, I promise. Also keep a look out for a cameo from Michael Berryman, who just can’t keep away from late ‘80s sword and sorcery movies. The acting is horrific. Lyle Waggoner (Lord Khoura) is really a sight to behold, but a sight you might only want to witness while intoxicated. 

Should you decide to subject yourself to Wizards of the Demon Sword, it is out on DVD from Troma. There is the usual intro from Uncle Lloyd, who goes on an amusing rant, but otherwise doesn’t take up much of our time. You know what? It’s New Year’s Eve, one of my least favorite days of the year, but still an excuse to drink whiskey. Which will hopefully erase the majority of Wizards of the Demon Sword from my brain. 


Fritz Kiersch, 1987
Starring: Oliver Reed, Urbano Barberini, Rebecca Feratti

I feel like sword and sorcery month is inevitably going out on kind of a bad note, but as I’ve moved chronologically through the ‘80s, there’s really no way to avoid that. Which brings us to Gor. Based on the first novel of John Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor series (now 25+ books), this is a sort of a bland, low budget cross between Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars novel and Deathstalker by way of Ator the Fighting Eagle

An awkward history professor, Tarl Cabot, is accidentally transported - via a magic ring passed down through his family - to the troubled planet Gor. The evil King Sarm is decimating the countryside in search of the Home Stone, a device that creates passageways between different dimensions, namely between Gor and Earth. Cabot accidentally kills Sarm’s son and is rescued by a barbarian tribe. Cabot accompanies their princess, Talena, in search of her father, who is being held in Sarm’s prison, and the Home Stone. 

The only real reason to watch this film is the participation of the great Oliver Reed. He embraces the role of Sarm with a real scenery-chewing gusto and seems to have had a lot of fun, even though this might be the lowest point of his career. The rest of the acting is abominable. I expected more from Urbano Barnerini, but I don’t really know why. He was good in Argento’s Opera as the creepy serial killer, but basically does no real acting in Demons other than yelling and running around. Here he is just inept, but certainly fits in with the rest of the cast. Though Jack Palance is given high billing, he only appears at the very end of the film, setting it up for a sequel. There’s also a surprise appearance from a young Arnold Vosloo (Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy), who I always enjoy. June 1986 Playmate of the Month Rebecca Ferratti is almost better than the rest of the cast, but for some reason keeps her clothes on throughout the film. 

The lack of sex or nudity is especially odd, because Norman’s series is known for its female slave fetishism, which has apparently become popular over the years within BDSM culture. There is some depiction of women as slaves in Gor, such as a slave girl auction scene, but it’s so cheesy that it doesn’t even really register on an exploitation level. 

Director Fritz Kiersch (Children of the Corn) doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing and honestly not a lot happens. I wish I had better things to say about a film produced by the wonderful Harry Alan Towers, but Gor will likely only appeal to sword and sorcery completists or Oliver Reed fanatics. As I am both of those, I suffered through till the end. This U.S./South African production is so low budget that it can’t boast much in terms of special effects, but there are some great costume designs, namely for Sarm and his henchmen, like those helmets... Though apparently they couldn’t afford pants for anyone. 

I can’t really recommend Gor. If you feel the need to watch it there is no DVD, but it’s floating around online. There’s also a sequel, Outlaw of Gor, in which Jack Palance has a much larger role. I couldn't bring myself to watch that one, though someone more motivated than I am could really make some fun drinking games out of both these films. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Ruggero Deodato, 1987
Starring: Peter Paul, David Paul, Richard Lynch, Eva La Rue, George Eastman

So far out of every sword and sorcery film I’ve watched and reviewed this month, this is my unexpected favorite. It’s not my ultimate favorite in the genre (Beastmaster), but it’s one of the films I expected to like the least and wound up loving. It’s also another sword and sorcery movie that would make an excellent double feature with Jack Hill’s Sorceress (1982) and in this case both films star twins. 

A nomadic tribe of magical circus performers (how could I make this up) is accosted by the evil Kadar, who lusts after a magical ruby in the possession of the tribe’s queen, Canary. She hides the jewel and though many of her people are killed, she pleads for the lives of two young twin boys she has taken in. While Canary is sent to Kadar’s private harem, the twins, Gore and Kutchek, are raised apart to be gladiators. When they are adults, they are set to fight against each other, but recognize one another and escape, with plans to free Canary. They rescue a young woman, who promises to help them find weapons, and set off to free Canary and locate the hidden ruby, which will restore their tribe to power and help defeat Kadar once and for all. 

I cannot stress how much I loved this film. Sure, it is utterly ridiculous. It was directed by Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park), which probably doesn’t win it any favors, but he made an entertaining, fast paced movie that embraces genre stereotypes whole heartedly. I can’t pretend that the twins - bodybuilders Peter and David Paul - are good actors, but they have a certain fun rapport that lends a lot to the film’s likability. Richard Lynch basically reprised his diabolical role from The Sword and the Sorcerer and chews scenery with abandon. Television actress Eva La Rue is better than the normal token female co-star as the fiery, clever girl who helps the twins locate the ruby and keeps them from descending into utter stupidity. There are also some welcome appearances from the wonderful (and insanely tall, which is illustrated in this film) George Eastman and Michael Berryman. 

Deodato makes the best of the low, low budget and emphasizes the fantasy angle as much as possible. There’s even a sad attempt at a dragon, as well as a lovely, creepy swamp set for the final showdown with some weird aquatic zombie creatures. The creature design is effective overall and the cinematography is decent, even if the film quality is poor. Deodato also contributes a healthy dose of gore, though this film has less sex and nudity than most sword and sorcery movies. The eye candy here is apparently the Paul Brothers. There’s also a fun score from Brian de Palm contributor Pino Donaggio, though I’m not quite sure how he wound up working on this film. 

The Barbarians comes with the highest recommendation I could possibly give it. There is no U.S. DVD release of the film, but it is available on the internet for the resourceful. I can't fathom someone watching this film and not having a great time, but if you hate sword and sorcery movies, avoid it. 


Gary Goddard, 1987
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Chelsea Field, Courtney Cox

It might not be the greatest ‘80s action/fantasy movie, but I have a very soft spot in my heart for Masters of the Universe. This live action adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is one in name only. It uses key characters like He-Man, Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Man-At-Arms, Teela, and a few others, but this is basically a completely new story. On Eternia, Skeletor has taken command of Castle Greyskull and the Sorceress. Only a few rebels stand against him, including He-Man, Man-At-Arms and his daughter Teela. They discover a small inventor, Gwildor, who has created a “Cosmic Key” to open portals throughout the universe. Skeletor used it to enter Greyskull, but Gwildor uses a second to help He-Man and the rebels escape. 

In a move that probably inspired Beastmaster 2: Through the Portals of Time (1991), He-Man and co. are transported to suburban California in 1987. They lose the Cosmic Key during landing and spread out to look for it, but a teenage girl, Julie, and her boyfriend Kevin find it. Kevin, a musician, thinks it is some kind of fancy Japanese synthesizer. After he plays around with it, Skeletor’s second in command, Evil-Lyn, is able to trace and follow the signal. She sends a team that includes Beastman to retrieve the key. Julie has an accidental run in with them, but is saved by He-Man. Julie and He-Man search for Kevin, who has the key, while Evil-Lyn and Skeletor are closing in. 

It is baffling that director Gary Goddard (known for his theater direction and attraction designs for Walt Disney and Universal Studios) and screenwriter David Odell (The Dark Crystal) chose to completely ignore the original He-Man story set up in the cartoon, but it’s also kind of bold that they wanted to do something new. There is no Prince Adam and, most upsettingly, no Battle Cat or Orko, but it’s an interesting ‘80s sword and sorcery flick nonetheless. According to Goddard, he was most inspired by Jack Kirby’s New Gods and also Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom. He was given He-Man to work with, but tried his damnedest to make a comic book movie. Even though it is a total cheesefest, I think he mostly succeeded. 

The acting is about what you would expect. Dolph Lundgren is wooden and seems confused for most of the film, but he has little dialogue and so completely looks the part that it doesn’t matter. Plus I would watch Dolph Lundgren in absolutely anything. Though it’s nearly impossible to tell, the wonderful Frank Langella is Skeletor. His make up is nearly perfect and though he wears a full mask, he is still able to facially articulate. Though he threatened to return at the end of the film, there is sadly no Masters of the Universe sequel. Probably for the best, though Lundgren has allegedly promised to reprise the role of He-Man if asked. The rest of the actors are pretty average. Meg Foster is suitably menacing as Evil-Lyn and Courtney Cox (in her first feature length role) and Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager) are only moderately annoying as the token ‘80s teenagers. 

The set looks great, but was obviously inspired by Star Wars. Skeletor’s soldiers all look like lesser Darth Vaders and, like the Stormtoopers, carry laser guns. I honestly don’t know why this is in the He-Man universe, but the fewer questions you ask, the more you will enjoy this film. I’m not sure if I should recommend it. I have to admit that I’m a big He-Man fan. I played with the toys when I was kid and watched the original cartoon (1983 - 1985) as well as She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985 - 1986), and then later came to love the reboot, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002 - 2004). Actually, if you’ve never seen He-Man, this is a great place to start. If you already love He-Man, keep in mind that this film is not a direct adaptation of the cartoon and changes many things. If you can get past that, it’s pretty fun. Masters of the Universe is available on a basic DVD from Warner, though it includes an audio commentary from Goddard. There is now also a Blu-ray

Friday, December 28, 2012


Alejandro Sessa, 1986
Starring: Penelope Reed, Ty Randolph, Danitza Kingsley, Joseph Whipp

This is the last of the Argentinian sword and sorcery films -- a genre unknown by many but loved by some -- produced by Roger Corman and Héctor Olivera. I expected little from Amazons, but have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it is low budget and practically everything about the film is unforgivably cheesy, but it is also surprisingly entertaining. The closest thing I can compare this to is Jack Hill’s Sorceress (1982), a movie I actually really love, mostly because it is so dumb you can’t help but enjoy it. There is a certain joie de vivre about both films, despite or because of their absolutely stupidity. The Amazons themselves seem to be right off the set of Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983) or Deathstalker II (1987) and there are a lot of typical sword and sorcery tropes.

Amazons was directed by the competent Alejandro Sessa, who produced a variety of sword and sorcery movies, including Deathstalker (1983), The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984), Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985), Barbarian Queen (1985) and even Highlander II: The Quickening (1991), though the latter is probably best ignored. Ozone, I ask you? Anyway, Amazons is about what you would expect. A tribe of scantily clad women warriors are attacked by an evil wizard. One of the Amazons, Dyala, has a vision about a magical sword, which is the only thing that can defeat him. She is sent on a quest with the daughter of a family rival, Tashi, whose mother orders her to kill Dyala and take the sword when their quest is complete. Will Tashi’s family loyalty win out over her love for her tribe?

Written by Charles R. Saunders and based on his story “Agbewe’s Sword,” which was part of a 1979 anthology Amazons! Interestingly, this collection was edited and mostly written by women and features primarily female protagonists, a first for the genre. I don’t think this is still in print, but the editor, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, also edited the interesting looking The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era

The plot of Amazons is typically convoluted and makes no sense. For example, why would Tashi’s mother use Tashi to get revenge? She’s the Amazon general and certainly has enough power, authority, and skill to carry it out herself. Instead, she betrays all of the Amazons to make an alliance with the evil wizard. Because that makes sense. The fight scenes aren't all that great, but we’re basically at the end of sword and sorcery month, so what did you expect? I hope the answer is topless ladies, because that’s all you’re going to get, though this isn’t quite as sexy as Deathstalker. There is one softcore sex scene, though there are many boob shots and a fair amount of violence.

There’s also a lot of the expected ridiculousness, including a traveling cage of women slaves, a werelion, a human sacrifice, etc. The acting is absurd, though all the actors take themselves very seriously, which helps with the humor. I have to recommend Amazons, but only to sword and sorcery fanatics. Fortunately there’s a DVD from Concorde/New Horizons, though it’s pretty basic.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Russell Mulcahey, 1986
Starring: Sean Connery, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown

I am perhaps not the best person to write objectively about Highlander, as it is one of my favorite films. I also grew up with a major love of the series. What began as one magic film has since developed into novels, comics, four more live action sequels and one animated film, two television series and an animated series, a card game and two video games. If you haven’t lived under a rock for the last 30 years, it is impossible not to at least have heard of Highlander and know that it means immortal swordsmen set about beheading each other left and right because there can be only one. 

Flashing back and forth between the 16th century Scottish Highlands and New York City in the present (the ‘80s), we follow the story of Connon MacLeod. In a parking garage, he sword fights with a man and then beheads him and receives the Quickening - a tremendous burst of energy - which attracts the attention of the police. He is arrested, but they don't have enough evidence to keep him. One of their consultants, Brenda, recognizes the rarity and value of his broadsword. 

We move back to the Highlands, where he is killed in battle by a fearsome warrior known as the Kurgan, who has travelled there specifically to cut off his head. The Kurgan is prevented from doing this, but Connor dies and reawakens to life as an Immortal. He is shunned by his village, who think witchcraft is responsible. He marries a woman named Heather and meets a third Immortal, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, who explains Immortal life to him and trains him to defeat the Kurgan in battle. 

Ramirez explains that the last Immortal to remain alive will win the Prize, and if the Kurgan wins this, it will spell doom for humanity. While Connor is away the Kurgan kills Ramirez and rapes Heather. Ultimately Connor and Heather live a long life together and she dies of old age. Back in New York, Connor must face his growing attraction to Brenda and find the Kurgan before the Kurgan finds and beheads him.

For some bizarre reason the film wasn’t well received, but has since become a cult classic. Deservedly so. Though it doesn’t follow the normal trajectory of a sword and sorcery film, it is certainly one of the best ever made and also ranks highly among the heavy output of ‘80s action flicks. It’s hard not to like Highlander. The setting is both medieval and noirish, there are plenty of great fight and training sequences, and Christopher Lambert’s brooding performance is perfectly balanced by Sean Connery’s roguish Spaniard and Clancy’s fantastic Kurgan, who absolutely steals the show. I wish the ending of the film had been ignored (as the sequels all do anyway) and the Kurgan had been given his own spin off series. 

Now would be a great time to mention that we have a Frenchman (Lambert) with a somewhat heavy accent playing a Scotsman pretending to have an American accent. And then we have a real Scotsman (Connery) with a thick Scottish accent playing a Spaniard who is actually an Egyptian. Anything goes. There are certainly some ridiculous elements, particularly from the subpar Roxanne Hart, but most of the film’s flaws just increase its overall charm. And it opens with a pro-wrestling match. This is pure '80s, all the way, and the fact that it is clearly dated should not be a deterrent.

The magic of this film is that it attempts to explore the question of immortality (and thus mortality). Connor is withdrawn, perhaps miserable and, at times, kind of creepy. But despite the film's B movie flaws, he is a compelling character that pulls us along against all odds. The score, by Michael Kamen and with several tracks by Queen, is one of the finest points of the film. Director Mulcahy is mostly known for his numerous music videos and matches up some of Queen’s hits perfectly with the film. I cannot recommend Highlander strongly enough. The film is out on Blu-ray (the director’s cut) from Lion’s Gate. Special features include deleted scenes and an audio commentary from Mulcahy.

I sadly cannot heap as much praise on any of the sequels. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991), the direct sequel to Highlander, is essentially the beginning of the end. Let me say here and now that all the live action sequels are completely lousy, though somehow The Quickening is even worst than the third film, which I will get to in a moment. Highlander director Russell Mulcahy returns, as do Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. The Earth's ozone is thinning dangerously, killing millions, including Brenda, Connor's wife from the first film. She makes him promise to solve the failing ozone issues. Because he is a scientist all of a sudden. And so he makes an artificial shield to protect the Earth, which plunges the world into darkness after a few years of stability. The Shield has been taken over by an evil company and, naturally, rebels spring up, hoping to take it back. 

You know what? I can’t even continue with a reasonable plot description. I can say that The Quickening involves an opera, a foreign planet, Ramirez (Connery’s character from the first film), Connor using some sly anti-aging tricks, and all sorts of other nonsense. Please don’t watch this movie unless you are incredibly drunk. Allegedly there is a director’s cut that is “better” than the version I’ve seen, but I don’t even know how that could be possible. 

Highlander III: The Sorcerer aka Highlander: The Final Dimension aka Highlander 3: The Final Conflict is another film that no one needs to see. Ever. Connor is back and journeys to Japan during the 16th century to train with a sorcerer, Nakano. Another Immortal, Kane, massacres the villagers and defeats Nakano. The ensuing Quickening traps him inside Nakano’s cave, though Connor is able to escape. There is a brief interlude to revolutionary France, where Connor is almost killed and is forced to leave behind his lover Sarah. In the present day, after the events of the first film, Connor believes the Game to be over. An archaeologist, Alexandra, who resembles his former lover Sarah, accidentally frees Kane. Alexandra tracks down Connor to help him fight Kane. Their showdown will now be the final end to the Game. This at least tries to return to the mythology of the first film, after the disaster of the second, but does so badly. As I said earlier, it's probably stil better than The Quickening

Highlander: Endgame (2000) is the fourth sequel in this awful franchise. Someone should have paid heed to the film’s motto: “There can only be one.” Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski and starring Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert, this is meant to continue Highlander: The Series, which is why it stars both Connor (Lambert) and his younger kinsman Duncan (Paul). 

Connor tries to save his mother from a rabid priest, Jacob, but he is too late and Jacob kills Connor’s mother after charging her with witchcraft. Though Connor kills him, Jacob rises again as an Immortal and swears vengeance against Connor, which apparently takes hundreds of years. Jacob gains a massive amount of strength by breaking the rules of the Game and kills anyone Connor cares about. Connor’s kinsmen Duncan gets involves and teams up with Connor to defeat the now insane Jacob once and for all. To say this film is bad would be too charitable. There’s a lot of sword fighting, but that’s the only positive thing I can say about it. I don't know why they kept making these, particularly when all of the sequels received such negative acclaim. 

The fifth film, Highlander: The Source (2007), is probably the worst of the sequels and fortunately is the last. It might be tied with the second, though that has a certain "so bad it's good" quality. Directed by Brett Leonard (Lawnmower Man) and starring Adrian Paul, this is a spin-off of the television series. It was supposed to be the start a SciFi Channel film trilogy (now offensively named SyFy), but bombed so badly that we were spared the final two films. Some Immortals are trying to find the source of their power, which irritates the protective “Guardians of the Source.” Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) and Methos (Peter Wingfield) must find Duncan so that they can all find the Source and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Seriously, the less said about this, the better. It's not bad in an Ed Wood kind of way, more in boring, pointless sort of way. 

Fortunately the sequels have been erased from my mind by Highlander the Series (1992 - 1998), one of my first loves growing up. Though Connor briefly appears, the series follows Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), who lives in Vancouver with his girlfriend Tessa, an artist, where they run an antique shop together. An Immortal, Quince, has been hunting Duncan, but is also being pursued by Connor. They have a show down in which Duncan decapitates Quince and gains the Quickening. A young punk and drifter, Richie, witnesses this. Sensing that he is a future Immortal, Duncan takes him in and gives him a job. Throughout the season they encounter other immortals, some bad, some good, including the former warrior, now monk Darius, who has sworn a vow of non-violence. He was Duncan’s teacher and remains his friend, but is being stalked by another Immortal. Season one introduces some of the reoccurring characters, like the beautiful but selfish thief Amanda, as well as the secret society of mortal Watchers that chronicle the history of the Immortals. 

Season two continues to develop the story of the Watchers and introduces the main Watcher, Duncan’s soon to be friend Joe Dawson. Duncan begins training Richie at a dojo and proposes to Tessa. Unfortunately this is interrupted by a group of renegade Watchers who hunt down and kill Immortals. Season three is a little more episodic. Duncan becomes better friends with Joe and finds a new girlfriend. Richie, predictably, gets into trouble. Season four focuses more on Duncan’s relationships with Amanda and my favorite reoccurring character, Methos, the oldest living immortal. The episodic season five moves further away from the Watchers (other than Joe) and is not as good as the previous seasons, though we learn a lot more about Methos. The less said about season six, the better. 

I don’t know if I can recommend it, but I really love this show. It was a staple of my youth and I spent a lot of hours watching it with my grandmother. I didn’t have the most highly developed critical faculties at the time. Regardless, it has received mostly positive reviews. Adrian Paul isn’t that great of an actor, but he brings a certain warmth and charisma to Duncan and has enough range to do exactly what the script demands of him. The strength of the show is that it continues to explore the difficulty of being immortal - of aging and not aging, the trouble of having power and remaining uncorrupted, losing loved ones, etc. Plus there’s a lot of sword fighting. It is by far a better sequel than any of the additional films. 

Seasons two through four are my favorite, though five also has plenty of strong moments. The sixth season is outright bad, partly because the series just went on for too long and Adrian Paul was desperate to finish the show. If you are expecting an extended version of Highlander, you will be disappointed. This has more swashbuckling, adventure and romance. It is also solidly planted in the '90s. It will please fans of historical fiction; because Duncan is 400 years old, many of the episodes cover his past adventures, as well as older characters like Methos and Darius. 

Highlander: The Series was so beloved that it didn’t just stop at the show. There were a lot of spin off novels, audio books and an animated web series focusing on Methos. There was also a further spin-off, Highlander: The Raven (1998 - 1999), which continued after the departure of Duncan MacLeod and followed his friend, sometimes lover and fellow Immortal, Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen). 

During Highlander: The Series, Amanda is introduced as a mostly amoral thief. In The Raven, she has a change of heart after a human police officer dies defending her. The dead officer’s partner is a soon-to-be Immortal and teams up with Amanda to solve some mysteries. This only ran one season and got mixed reviews. I personally disliked it, but the last two seasons of Highlander pretty much drove things into the ground for me and Amanda was one of my least favorite characters. 

The third television series, Highlander: The Animated Series (1994 - 1996), ran for two seasons and loosely followed Connor MacLeod. I’ve never seen this adaptation, probably because it was originally aired in Canada. Connor and the other remaining mortals stop fighting one another after a nuclear catastrophe on Earth. Of course, there is one immortal who refuses to follow this plan and still tries to win the Prize. Connor dies fighting him, but one of his kinsman, Quentin, takes up the charge. Ramirez also appears in the series to train Quentin. 

Because there weren’t already enough Highlander films, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007) was released. I haven’t seen this yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll), this anime-Highlander hybrid at least makes a more reasonable return to form that all of the live-action sequels. Colin MacLeod, a Roman Empire-era Immortal, is on a quest for revenge against another Immortal, the solider Marcus Octavius, who killed Colin’s family while trying to create a utopian society. In my opinion, revenge plots never get old, plus the Roman setting (with Stonehenge and druids) is a refreshing take. They also move to post-apocalyptic New York, another one of my favorite settings. 

Because the Highlander series does seem to be immortal, a remake of the original was planned in 2008 and continues to trudge along. I hope to gods this never gets made and, to make matters worse, Ryan Reynolds is currently signed on to play Connor. Watch this instead:

Monday, December 24, 2012


Héctor Olivera, 1985
Starring: Lana Clarkson, Victor Bo, Susana Traverso, Dawn Dunlap

"No man can touch her naked steel!"

If you were to scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel of U.S.-Argentinian Roger Corman produced sword and sorcery films, there you would find The Barbarian Queen. As Red Sonja was to Conan, The Barbarian Queen is a spin-off of Deathstalker, meant to capitalize on Lana Clarkson’s role as the bare breasted, no-shit-taking warrior accomplice and lover of Deathstalker. Clarkson’s character here is a scantily clad warrior, but otherwise bears no connection to the superior Deathstalker.

On the day of her wedding, a barbarian queen’s village is attacked by a band of marauding Roman troops, who rape her sister and kill or enslave her subjects. The queen, Amethea, and two of her warriors set off to rescue her sister and her husband, both of whom are imprisoned by the leading centurion. After killing a number of soldiers and infiltrating the city, they are captured. One of Amethea’s companions is raped, the other is killed and Amethea is tortured on a rack and then raped. She is eventually rescued by some local rebels, who join her in her quest for vengeance. 

I made it clear that Deathstalker has silly dialogue, a lousy script, absurd acting, cheap effects, and so on, but The Barbarian Queen makes Deathstalker look like Academy Award material. It takes out 90% of the action and replaces it with women being degraded in a variety of ways, rape being the most popular. One of the classiest lines of dialogue is surely, “Nothing like a virgin to brighten a man’s morning.” Followed closely by, "If it hurts, you have only yourself to blame."

This is more of a barbarian film than sword and sorcery, as it lacks the latter, but it’s so preposterous I had to include it in my set of sword and sorcery reviews. It contains a lot of genre tropes: scantily clad women, battles, an entire village being massacred, a revenge plot, etc. And some stern sounding guy with an eye patch. 

"Let me see you. With your clothes off."

I don’t know if I can say that Héctor Olivera does his best directing here, but it’s certainly better than his other sword and sorcery film, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985). He also produced Deathstalker, The Warrior and the Sorceress and Amazons, so he has plenty experience with lousy, low budget trash.  I don’t think I can recommend The Barbarian Queen, but you could certainly make a fun drinking game out of it. The film is utterly ridiculous and has some of the most absurd dialogue in the entire subgenre. It’s certainly funny, but none of the humor is intentional. Regardless, Lana Clarkson is beautiful and gave it her all. If it is worth watching at all, it is so because of her. It’s very sad that she will mostly be remembered for her murder at the hands of slime ball producer Phil Spector. At least there is a great scene where her torturer tries to rape her and she gets some serious vaginal revenge. 

“There are no little girls anymore.”

If you’d like to punish yourself with The Barbarian Queen, it is part of the excellent Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Sword and Sorcery Collection, which also includes Deathstalker, Deathstalker II and The Warrior and the Sorceress

There is a sequel, Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back (1989), which doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with the first movie. There is no empress in the original film, so I’m not sure how she can strike back. The only thing linking the films together is Clarkson and another scene of her being tortured on a rack. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Richard Donner, 1985
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, John Wood, Leo McKern

Ladyhawke might not be a traditional sword and sorcery film, but it does have both sword fighting and sorcery. I grew up loving it and decided to review this over the more popular Willow (1988), which everyone and their mother has seen (or ought to have). A young thief, Philippe Gaston, escapes the impenetrable dungeons of Aquila for the countryside, where he is barely a step ahead of the Bishop of Aquila’s fearsome guards. He is soon rescued by the black-clad Etienne of Navarre, former captain of the guards. Navarre travels only with his warhorse and a lovely hawk, but he rescues Philippe to lead him into the dungeons so that he can kill the Bishop. 

Not to ruin the surprise, though it is evident about half an hour into the film, but Navarre is cursed. He and his lady love, Isabeau, flaunted the Bishop, who is also in love with Isabeau. By day, Isabeau takes the shape of a hawk and by night Navarre is a black wolf. Determined to end their suffering, Navarre plans to kill the evil Bishop, but Philippe and an old monk, Imperius, have other plans.

In all fairness, I can’t recommend Ladyhawke. As I said, it isn’t really a sword and sorcery film. It’s an occasionally comic medieval romance that happens to have a little sorcery (the curse) and some sword fighting. If you are over the age of 20 and/or did not originally see this film in the ‘80s or early ‘90s, I can’t guarantee you will like it. Even though I have some nostalgic love for it, it’s not a very good film. I think my little kid mind was convinced that it was a romantic werewolf movie, which sounded great at the time. Actually, it still sounds great (and works in American Werwolf in London, 1981), they just didn’t do very much with it in the script. 

The best thing about the film is the cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (The Last Emperor, 1987). Filmed in Italy - though I think we are supposed to be in medieval France - every shot is absolutely gorgeous. Whether we are in the mountains, visiting a crumbling castle or stopping at a dingy inn, there is plenty of visual splendor. Unfortunately the visuals eclipse the acting, action and sorcery. This is basically a fairytale for adults and the only reason to see it is if you like the medieval fiction/romance genre. Seeing this many times at such an early age seems to have unfortunately shaped my adult perception of romance, where loving someone is a lot better when you don’t actually have to spend any time with them. 

Matthew Broderick has moments of charm and humor, but is mostly very annoying. The script has him constantly soliloquizing or making sarcastic asides to God. Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t really act much here, though her presence alone is breathtakingly beautiful. In case anyone forgot (hopefully you did), she was in another werewolf romance movie: Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson. I like Rutger Hauer in everything, though even I have to admit that here he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. This is absolutely the fault of the script, which gives him little to do other than be handsome and brooding. The gruff Leo McKern is great in a surprisingly big role as Imperious. Another one of my favorite actors, Alfred Molina, appears briefly as a filthy wolf trapper. 

I’m not sure what Richard Donner was going for with Ladyhawke, but he is a competent enough director that I can’t call this a bad film, even if it isn’t great. It certainly doesn’t touch the general excellence of his catalog: The Omen (1976), The Goonies (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987), Radio Flyer (1982), etc. Easily the most awful thing about this film is its score, which was composed by Andrew Powell and produced by Alan Parsons, really making it an Alan Parsons Project score. This was Donner’s idea, for which he at least deserve a kick in the shins. The beginning of the film has the worst music, though by the end you are mostly able to forget the fact that you’re listening to a mix of Gregorian chants, orchestral music and prog rock. 

If you decide to watch it for the first time or revisit it after many years, there is a basic DVD from Warner, though it is out of print and grossly overpriced. I recommend a rental first. For some reason the disc is double-sided and comes with both widescreen and letterbox options, which seems insane to me, but Warner does make a lot of bad decisions. 

Friday, December 21, 2012


Richard Fleischer, 1985
Starring: Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman

Red Sonja rebukes the advances of Queen Gedren and cuts the queen’s face. As a result, Gedren has Sonja's entire family killed and orders her guards to rape Sonja. After her ordeal, she is visited by a spirit who grants her incredible strength so that she can get vengeance against Gedren. She trains to become a master swordswoman and hates most men. Her sister, Varna, a priestess, is trying to destroy the Talisman, a magic orb that wields terrible power. 

All the priestesses are killed and Varna is mortally wounded when Queen Gedren and her men seize the Talisman. Her sister contacts Lord Kalidor and explains the situation to him; he immediately tracks down Red Sonja, who vows to kill the Queen and destroy the Talisman, though she refuses Kalidor’s help. Sonja journeys to the queen’s castle and meets the young, spoiled Prince Tarn and his only remaining guardian, Falkon. Gedren destroyed Tarn's kingdom and he also wants revenge. They set off together, with Kalidor following behind, determined to protect Sonja and help her fulfill her promise. 

This isn't a popular opinion, but I actually enjoyed Red Sonja. It may be dumb, but it’s entertaining and is sort of a loose third Conan film. Red Sonja was created by Roy Thomas for Marvel’s Conan series in 1973, based on Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino from “The Shadow of the Vulture.” Red Sonja is set in the Hyborian age and has several returning Conan actors, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Lord Kalidor and Sandahl Bergman as Queen Gedren. I think the film would have been a lot better if Brigitte Nielsen and Bergman had switched roles, but then it probably also would be a lot better with a competent screenwriter. It has a nice peplum feel to it and was actually shot in Italy and scored by Ennio Morricone, though it feels like he’s going through the motions a bit -- not that I blame him. The silly, fast paced nature of the plot makes it a lot more lighthearted than Conan the Barbarian and the lack of constant comic relief makes it a little less groan-worthy than Conan the Destroyer

The sad fact is that we’re lacking both Conan and Valeria. None of the characters are given any real story arc or characterization. Yes, Sonja learns to like Kalidor by the end of the film and they exchange what is surely the most boring kiss in cinema history. This is Danish model Brigitte Nielsen’s first film role and though she looks the part, it’s a bit rough to have the two main characters speaking heavily accented English. Nielsen, in particular, seems to be delivering some of her lines phonetically and has almost no change in facial expression throughout the course of the film. I can’t really say anything good about the acting, but that is one of the film's charms if you like trashy movies. 

Sonja’s character is probably going to offend a lot of people. Her family’s murder and her subsequent rape are rushed past in under a minute. She is supposed to be the greatest warrior in the world, but Kalidor has to save her most of the time. Kalidor is a pretty stand up guy, but when he expresses interest in her romantically, she explains that she’s made a vow only to give herself to a man who has bested her in a fair fight. Which means she will only have sex with someone who has defeated her. And this is the woman who was raped in the beginning of the film. There has also been some criticism that the film is anti-homosexual, because Sonja rejects Gedren’s advances. I took it more as Gedren is evil and corrupt and Sonja wants revenge because Gedren had her tortured and her family killed. If it had been King Gedren instead of a queen, the situation would be the same. 

There are actually a lot of things working against Red Sonja. The effects are very cheap. It would have been nice to see a few more monsters, but there is only a mechanical sea serpent that thrashes Arnold around in the water for what feels like 10 minutes. There really isn’t too much adventure and it's sadly a pretty straightforward quest that will bore a lot of people. I’m a little mystified as to why the screenwriters thought to include Prince Tarn in the plot (Ernie Reyes Jr. from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but I guess they didn’t want to recycle any of the characters from the Conan films. 

I’m not sure if I can recommend Red Sonja. Arnold himself claimed it is the worst film he’s ever been in and punishes his children by making them watch it when they’re bad. For some reason I liked it. If you want to decide for yourself, there's a serviceable DVD from Warner. There are barely an extras, but that shouldn't come as a surprise. A sequel was allegedly under consideration, first by Robert Rodriguez, meant as a vehicle for his then-girlfriend Rose McGowan, but he dropped the project and I’m not sure what the plan is for it now. It really doesn't need to be remade. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012


John C. Broderick, 1984
Starring: David Carradine, María Socas, Anthony De Longis, Harry Townes

A swordsman named Kain finds his way to a small village in the middle of a desert on the planet Ura. Two rivals, Zeg and Bal Caz, are fighting to rule the town and control the limited water supply. Kain manipulates both of them, promising to lend each man his sword against the other in exchange for increasing amounts of money. Zeg has imprisoned a sorceress, because he wants her to create a magical sword for him, so that he can gain complete control of the town. Kain, recognizing her power, sets her free and decides to destroy both Zeg and Bal Caz to free the enslaved villagers. 

A sword and sorcery film starring David Carradine and with the same exact plot as Kurosawa’s Yojimbo probably sounds amazing, but it’s not really. This is yet another U.S.-Argentinian co-production from Roger Corman, which means you should expect a vague plot, very low budget effects, poor acting and worse dialogue. Like Deathstalker, it has its moments, but fails to live up to the fun or insanity of either Deathstalker or Deathstalker II. David Carradine is a welcome addition to the genre in general, but plays an even more reticent version of his character from Kung Fu and is unable to save the film. Don’t get me wrong, I love David Carradine and will watch him in anything, I just think The Warrior and the Sorceress is only for die-hard Carradine fans. 

The film is really crippled by a lack of compelling central villain. Luke Askew (Easy RiderCool Hand Luke) is sadly not at all good as Zeg, the main villain, though he takes a lot of amazing pauses during his dialogue. María Socas barely has a developed role as the sorceress, but she sure spends a lot of time naked. There might even be more nudity in The Warrior and the Sorceress than there is in Deathstalker, which is really saying something. Plus there’s an exotic dancer with four breasts, one more than Total Recall

Director John Broderick was a supervising editor for The Exorcist, but The Warrior and the Sorceress is one of his few directorial credits. He does a serviceable job here, though I have to congratulate him on the excellent use of lighting, which is almost Mario Bava-like, and helps to distract from the very cheap sets. He also keeps the film moving at a good pace, alternating between fight and rescue scenes. After awhile you get a little tired of the sorceress constantly being rescued, even if she is only wearing a g-string. There is a relatively high level of violence and we even get a few monsters, namely a weird, but well-designed spider with tentacles type being. 

Even though it isn’t one of my favorites, there are some fun moments in The Warrior and the Sorcerer and enough cheese to to please lovers of trash cinema. There are a couple of DVD releases available, including the double feature with The Barbarian Queen, but I recommend Roger Corman’s Sword and Sorcery Collection. This includes Deathstalker, Deathstalker II, The Warrior and the Sorceress, The Barbarian Queen and a smattering of extras. If you want to get into Argentinian sword and sorcery films, this is definitely the way to do it. Good luck. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Ratno Timoer, 1984
Starring: Barry Prima, Advent Bangun, Gudi Sintara, Enny Christina

The Devil’s Sword ranks very highly on my list of sword and sorcery movies and might just be in my top five. Words can’t really do it justice, but I’ll try. If you’ve never seen any Indonesian horror/fantasy/exploitation films, you owe it to yourself to do so immediately. Start with Lady Terminator, Mystics in Bali and, of course, The Devil’s Sword

A meteor falls to the Earth and is made into a magical sword by an old man. He hides the sword after learning that it grants unimaginable power. Meanwhile, an evil goddess, the Alligator Queen, is kidnapping young men to fulfill her insatiable sexual appetite and to drain their energy to keep her young. Her henchman, Banyujaga, massacres a village in order to steal the princess’s new husband for the Alligator Queen. The warrior Mandala, once Banyujaga’s companion, vows to defend the village. He rescues the princess and takes her to retrieve her husband, but he must first locate the Devil’s Sword to stand a chance of defeating the Alligator Queen. 

Everything about this is completely insane and out of control. I can’t stress how bad the acting and dialogue are; so bad that they come full circle and help make the film the delightful mess that it is. The characters are constantly abusing one another - for example Banyujaga calls the princess a polluted bitch - and the dubbing makes for an even more surreal experience. There is nonstop violence and fighting, rivers of gore, decapitations and hacked off limbs, as well as an emergency double leg amputation. And lest we not forget about the laser crocodile, the Queen’s crocodile henchmen, unexpected cannibalism, etc. I couldn't even begin to list all the insane things that occur, nor would I want to ruin it for you. 

This isn’t technically a sword and sorcery film, but it borrows from the genre and from Italian sword and sandal movies, as well as from local myth. It just has way more people beating the living hell out of one another. In fact, when people get punched or hacked at with a sword they don’t just stumble or fall backwards, they fly several feet through the air. Star Barry Prima is associated with this loose genre of Indonesian action/exploitation films. Probably his most famous other effort is The Warrior or the amazingly titled Hijacked to Hell. I’m also dying to see Revenge of the Ninja. Co-star Advent Bangun also appears in some of these. 

There is an absolutely wonderful DVD from the great Mondo Macabro. It includes essays by founder Pete Tombs, trailers and an incredibly uncomfortable interview with Barry Prima. The Devil’s Sword comes highly recommended and I can guarantee it is not like anything else you’ve ever seen. Make of that what you will. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Jean Rollin, 1974
Starring: Joelle Coeur, John Rico, Willy Braque

The late French director Jean Rollin made a name for himself with a number of obscure erotic horror films, most of which are concerned with nude vampires – The Rape of the Vampire (1968), the aptly named The Nude Vampire (1969), Lips of Blood (1975), The Living Dead Girl (1982), etc. He also made a handful of dream-like, disorienting horror films not associated with vampires, such as The Iron Rose (1973), The Grapes of Death(1978), Night of the Hunted (1980) and 1974’s The Demoniacs, also known as Curse of the Living Dead.

The Demoniacs is an odd blend of rape-revenge, pirate fantasy and erotic ghost story. This is an excellent example of the French cinema fantastique, which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, blending horror, fantasy, erotica, and low budget production values and usually placing an emphasis on mood and visuals, rather than on linear narrative. Since Rollin’s death in 2010, many of his films have fortunately been released on DVD, including the ten now availablefrom Kino Lorber and Redemption. Though his work is not for everyone, it has languished in obscurity far too long.

A small band of pirates are looting a shipwreck when they discover two young female survivors. Encouraged by sadistic pirate Tina, the others rape and murder the two young women, who soon return to haunt them. The two speechless blonde women may still be alive, or they may be ghosts, but in order to revenge themselves against the pirates, they are temporarily given the power of a mysterious, satanic man kept prisoner in church ruins the locals believed to be cursed. They hunt down and terrorize the pirates, leading to a surprising, violent climax.

The Demoniacs’ nonsensical surrealistic plot is more melancholic than scary. Rollin refuses to answer any of the questions that arise – such as whether or not the girls are ghosts – but it benefits this odd, seaside tale of revenge. Though there is little graphic violence, there are a few murders and several rape scenes that are unpleasant, but fortunately tame compared to similar rape-revenge films from the period. There is almost constant female nudity and several softcore sex scenes, including a very lengthy scene of Tina masturbating on the beach while the two blonde girls are raped for a second time. The ending is anticlimactic, yet has an air of tragedy that suits the film. Look out for the guardian angel-like clown!

The undisputed star is Joëlle Coeur, the constantly nude, malicious female pirate. Her charisma moves this slowly paced, sometimes plodding film forward, as do the surreal set pieces. The acting is otherwise dull, or, at best, mediocre – typical of a Rollin film – and includes actors he worked with throughout his career, such as Willy Braque fromLips Of Blood and Paul Bisciglia from The Grapes Of Death. Leading lady Coeur also appeared in Rollin’s erotica films Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973) and Bacchanales Sexualles (1974). The Demoniacs’ lack of dialogue certainly helps this from descending into ridiculousness and is characteristic of much of Rollin’s work, which he wrote as well as directed.

The disc’s French language audio track is in LPCM 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles. The Demoniacs’ scant dialogue sounds clean, and though there is a slight hiss throughout the film, it is not too distracting. A wonderful score from Pierre Ralph is definitely one of the highlights of The Demoniacs, and also sounds well balanced here.
The Demoniacs was mastered in high definition from the 35mm negative and is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Kino and Redemption have not done any actual restoration work, so there are some occasional damages, white flecks and scratches. Though the print is not perfect, the non-interventionist transfer preserves the “film” look of the presentation. This is certainly the best available and is a big improvement over previous releases. The film’s odd, hallucinatory set pieces are enhanced by Jean-Jacques Renon’s absolutely beautiful cinematography. The Demoniacs’ haunting beach scenes are some of the best in the film, both poetic and threatening, and emphasize Rollin’s concern with style and mood over narrative structure.

There are a number of extras, including a three-minute introduction to the film from Jean Rollin, two lengthy deleted sex scenes presented in high definition and widescreen, and two minutes of unnecessary outtake footage. There are interviews with actors and Rollin-collaborators Natalie Perry and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, the latter of whom speaks about his years of involvement with Rollin, as both an actor and a crew member. This is completed with a collection of high definition trailers for eight different Rollin films, all of which have been released by Kino and Redemption. Also accompanying the DVD is a 16-page booklet with informative notes from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas.
In good conscience, I can only recommend The Demoniacs to Rollin initiates or seasoned Eurohorror fans, as it is certainly an acquired taste. This fantastical, surreal blend of erotica, horror and revenge will delight some viewers, but leave others confused and frustrated, particularly during moments that opt to be willfully confusing and nonsensical. Neither the best nor worst of Rollin’s work, The Demoniacs has plenty to offer in the way of lush, dreamlike imagery, which remains the primary reason to seek out this installment in his canon.


Richard Fleischer, 1984
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wilt Chamberlain, Grace Jones, Mako Iwamatsu, Olivia d’Abo, Tracey Walter

I’ve heard a lot of people talk shit on Conan the Destroyer, the somewhat more family-friendly sequel to Conan the Barbarian, but that’s a bunch of nonsense. Did you expect the same film to be made twice? Sure, it could have been darker, more violent and Conan could have dealt with his grief over Valeria’s loss in a different way. But this follows the Temple of Doom-style sequel: fun, light-hearted, and completely action packed, so relax, enjoy the ride and you won’t be disappointed. Beer might also help. 

Conan is roped into taking the Princess Jehnna on a quest to retrieve a magical jewel. Her aunt, Queen Taramis, promises Conan that the jewel will awaken their dreaming god, Dagoth, which will allow her to bring Valeria back from the dead. Taramis really plans on sacrificing the virginal Jehnna and killing Conan with the help of her bodyguard Bombaata. The small band is accompanied by a thief, Conan’s wizard friend Akiro, and the powerful woman warrior Zula. Conan must rescue Jehnna from a wizard, help her retrieve the jewel and a magical ivory horn, and brush off her sexual advances. They escape the blood-thirsty guardians of the horn, but Bombaata spirits Jehnna away and leads her to death. Can Conan save her in time and prevent the resurrection of Dagoth?

There are plenty of ridiculous moments, including a scene where Conan gets drunk and another, when he apologizes to the camel he punched in the first film, only to have it spit on him and get knocked out a second time. He also smashes the shit out of a room of mirrors and perhaps unadvisedly cracks a lot of jokes. The humor is the weakest part of the film and is laid on pretty thick, particularly from Mako Iwamatsu, who reprises his role as the sorcerer from the first film. The supporting cast is not as great as Conan the Barbarian, because of Sandahl Bergman’s absence and the lack of character development. There are also simply too many people on screen. Grace Jones is wonderful, as always. That woman is a powerhouse. Olivia d’Abo (cousin of Maryam d’Abo, my least favorite Bond girl of all time) pales in comparison and is simply annoying for the majority of the film. She can’t even get off of her horse without help. 

I’m really not sure why Wilt Chamberlin was cast in this film, but he is surprisingly good and somewhat ironic as the protector of the princess’s virginity. Who thought that was a good idea? But we’re all really here to see Arnold and he does not disappoint. 

The visual effects are a little subpar, particularly where the cheesy god/monster Dagoth is concerned. Andre the Giant allegedly plays the beast, hidden under lots of make up and padding. There’s no way to deny that there is less sex and violence than the first film, but it is still a lot of fun. The plot sort of goes through the motions, but it delivers what you would expect from a Conan sequel, namely lots of action sequences. Director Richard Fleischer (Red Sonja, The Vikings) does a decent, if uninspired job and there’s some nice cinematography from Jack Cardiff. 

Sadly, this was never followed by the planned third film, Conan the Conqueror, which was interrupted by Schwarzenegger’s commitment to Predator. The script for it was eventually turned into the lamentable Kull the Conqueror, starring Hercules’ Kevin Sorbo. Allegedly, now that the Governator is out of political office, he’s going to attempt a return to the series. 

Conan the Destroyer is out on DVD and Blu-ray. There’s a single disc DVD, though I’m reviewing The Complete Quest version, which includes both Conan films. None of these editions have many special features for Destroyer, though that doesn't come as much of a surprise. 

Monday, December 17, 2012


Lucio Fulci, 1983
Starring: Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Sabrina Siani

Though this can be said about many of Lucio Fulci’s films, Conquest is absolutely not like anything else. It may have borrowed a few things from Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, peplum films, and Quest for Fire, but it goes so far off the deep end that I can’t rightfully compare it to any other sword and sorcery movies. A young man named Ilias is given a magic bow and journeys to another land to find the evil sorceress Ocron, who has a tribe of cavemen convinced that she is the goddess of the sun. She has a vision of a faceless warrior with a bow and arrows and sends a pack of wolfmen to hunt him down. Ilias is saved my Mace, a lone warrior who has a close friendship with animals. They are repeatedly attacked by Ocron’s wolfmen, who eventually capture Ilias. Mace rescues him and eventually agrees to help Ilias defeat Ocron, even though he does not believe they will succeed. 

I don’t even know where to start. This insane Spanish-Italian-Mexican co-production could not have been made by anyone but Fulci. For fans of his horror films, there are some telltale signs: a catchy, if predictable score from Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti, plenty of gore, including a zombie attack, a few really disgusting moments involving infected pustules, and a woman being torn in half by Ocron’s wolfmen. The wolfmen, by the way, appear to be wearing wookie costumes. There is also a lot of nudity. A lot. In addition to a few cave women, Sabrina Siani (Ator the Fighting Eagle) plays Ocron nearly in the nude. A gold mask covers her face for the duration of the film and she wears a sort of loin cloth. Most of the time she rolls around, masturbating with a variety of snakes. It's not really family-friendly. 

The effects are all pretty silly, but some moments are a little creepy, namely the weird rock-men that try to capture Mace and the swamp zombies that he fights. Speaking of Mace, there are definitely some surprises where he is concerned, including the Mark of Eibon (from The Beyond), which is drawn on his forehead, though I guess it’s supposed to be a scar. He’s played by prolific Mexican actor Jorge Rivero (Rio Lobo, Evil Eye, Priest of Love) who does the best he can with the role, but if you’re expecting a lot of acting chops out of this film, look elsewhere. Fulci regular Andrea Occhipinti (New York Ripper, A Blade in the Dark) is well-suited to the role of Ilias, who looks more like he belongs in a Greek mythology-inspired peplum than in a caveman/sword and sorcery film. 

There are a lot of completely absurd elements: a plant that shoots poisonous barbs, Ilias’s bow that first shoots arrows but later activates to shoot laser beams, dolphins saving Mace from a watery doom, and so on. All of these things probably sound fabulous, but keep in mind that Conquest is surreal, disjointed, otherworldly, and utterly Fulci. If you like his other films, definitely watch it. Probably the most difficult thing to get through -- other than the inane plot, complete disregard for narrative structure, and strange pacing -- is the cinematography. Fulci wanted things to look hazy and dreamy, but it just looks like lube is smeared over the camera lens. 

There’s a nice, if basic DVD from Blue Underground that includes two trailers and still galleries. It seem insane to recommend this, but I do, wholeheartedly.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Umberto Lenzi, 1983
Starring: Sam Pasco, Elvire Audray, George Eastman, Pamela Prati

Also known as La Guerra del Ferro, Ironmaster follows Vood, a selfish, violent caveman who accidentally discovers iron after he is cast out of his tribe for killing both the leader and head priest. Vood figures out how to use the iron as a sword and takes the tribe back, then leads them to on a conquest of the area, killing and enslaving members of other tribes. His only enemy is Ela, second-in-command in Vood’s tribe, who teams up with a woman, Isa, after escaping a desert crucifixion. Isa heals him and leads him to her pacifistic tribe. He must teach them to defend themselves from swords, because Vood is soon coming for them all. 

Ironmaster is not technically a sword and sorcery film. It’s more of a sword-fighting caveman film, but I included it because of director Umberto Lenzi. He may not be the best Italian director of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but I have a soft spot for him. Seemingly in a race to beat Joe D’Amato at his own game - though failing, because D’Amato made an insane number of porn flicks - Lenzi churned out films in a variety of genres, including horror, giallo, crime, sword and sandal, spaghetti westerns, and war films, though he is best known for his cannibal movies. He kicked of the trend with Man from Deep River (1972), a film I love to hate. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, check out his cannibal efforts Eaten Alive! (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). He also made some interesting giallo films - Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972) and Eyeball (1975) - along with one of the most entertaining (because it’s so bad) zombie films to come out of Italy, Nightmare City (1980). 

I’m not really sure what he was thinking with Ironmaster, which is sadly boring, repetitive and never reaches the ridiculous heights of many of his other films. He made plenty of movies with cavemen and primitive tribes, but here it feels like he is just going through the motions. It’s also difficult to get past the film’s hero, Ela, played by the terrifying-looking Sam Pasco, body builder and porn actor. Also note that the titular ironmaster is not Ela, it’s his nemesis Vood. He winds up embracing a bizarre pacifist ideal at the end of the film, leaving things on a weird hippyish, anticlimactic note. 

Luckily there are a few lovely ladies, some gore and some totally cheesy, slow-motion fight scenes. It’s not the worst film of this sort, but it’s hard for me to recommend. Be forewarned that it has some of the standard animal cruelty from this period of Italian horror, though I don’t think any of it in Ironmaster is real. It seems unlikely that Lenzi could afford to have a lion killed. 

The only really exciting thing about Ironmaster is star George Eastman. Born as Luigi Montefiori, Eastman has acted in a number of horror, crime and spaghetti western films and has also written many, namely for Joe D’Amato. He wrote and co-starred in D’Amato’s Anthropophagus (1980), Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), Porno Holocaust (1981), Absurd (1981) and 2020 Texas Gladiators (1982). He also wrote one of my favorite films of all time, Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987) and has starred or at least appeared in many of my favorite Italian films of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Baba Yaga (1973), Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (1974), Enzo Castellari’s The New Barbarians (1982) and The Bronx Warriors (1982), Sergio Martino’s 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983) and Hands of Steel (1986), Ruggero Deodato’s The Barbarian (1987) and Lamberto Bava’s Delirium. Even if he only has garbage to work with here, he does the best he can and essentially just scowls ferociously for 95% of the film. He also spends the majority of the film wearing a ridiculous lion’s mask, though he still manages to look completely badass. 

I’m willing to consider that I may have misjudged Ironmaster. It would probably be a lot more enjoyable to see in a theater full of B-movie fans or, perhaps, on a day when I was not crushingly hung over and in need of a nap. If you’d like to watch it, it isn’t yet available on region 1 DVD, though my friends over at Diabolik have the very basic PAL region 2 disc