What can I say? I’ve enjoyed the experience of watching 25 Fantasy Films from the 1980’s, even if a number of the films were horrendously bad. I did see quite a few films, however, that I had never seen before, and thoroughly enjoyed them, even if they weren’t worthy of 5 stars. In choosing the films, I knew that there were some I’d not be able to view. Films like “Legend”, “Dark Crystal”, and “Labyrinth” are three that come to mind. In choosing the films I did, I attempted to keep it as close as possible to films that seemed they were influenced by Frank Frazetta in some form or fashion.
I hope you enjoyed the list. I’m interested to know if there are any I should have included, but didn’t. I’m also interested what you think?
At any rate, we count down the last five of our films. And now, please enjoy…
25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s
~ Flash Gordon ~
Director: Mike Hodges
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed
Country: United States
Specs: 111 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG
When football star Flash Gordon (Jones) boards a plane headed back to NYC, he and reporter Dale Arden (Anderson) find themselves in a otherworldly hail storm, that forces a crash landing into the greenhouse of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol). Zarkov deceives them into boarding a rocket ship, where the three of them soon find themselves on the planet Mongo, ruled by a diabolical ruler named Ming (von Sydow). Soon Flash finds himself on the run, in an attempt to escape from Mings soldiers, and rescue the kidnapped Dale before she is wed to Ming, and find a way home.
This sci-fi fantasy opens with a very interesting title sequence. From the start, I was amused by the B-movie camp factor of a Buster Crabbe serial. Once Flash and Dale land on Mongo, however, the film takes a turn into a mind boggling acid trip (specifically, at the football fight scene). While the film did continue to hold interest on some zany level, it never rose above average in my opinion. One particular scene that caught my attention was the wedding scene, in that I secretly desired to travel back in time to my own wedding day in order to use the Queen version of “The Bridal Chorus”.
For those fans of film flubs, you ought to enjoy the fact that Dale and Flash “love” each other, when they had just met hours before. When Prince Barin is firing his laser rifle, he hits the smallest of intended targets from across the room with ease (i.e.. The light switch, the door sensor), yet cannot for the life of him seem to hit the aliens when only a few feet away. Flash apparently has been to Mongo before, because he runs down a shaft, jumps onto a flying Sea-Doo looking device, and knows how to fly it flawlessly, even use the communications system to contact Prince Vultan on his wrist communicator, planets away (he also knows that it’s called a Rocket Cycle, but I don’t want to appear nit-picky!).
My favorite part of the whole film was realizing that if it were to be remade today, Katy Perry, Dolph Lundgren, John Rhys-Davies, and Dr. Doom (from the Fantastic Four movies) would make perfect casting choices (if you see the film you’ll know what I mean!).
I won’t spend time about how corny it was. However, I will say this. The costumes, although there were a few exceptions, were truly marvelous to see. Ornella Muti was stunning, and it was as believable as ever that Princess Auro could control any man she desired. Lastly, any look at a comic panel from the old Flash Gordon comics would substantiate that Max von Sydow was PERFECT as Ming. I only wish the same could have been said for Joe Namath, I mean, oh forget it.
Let’s hope the rumored remake (firstshowing.net article) will learn from the mistakes of this film, and give us the consummate Flash.
My Rating: *** / C+
Available from Amazon: Flash Gordon [Blu-ray]
Or Amazon Video on Demand: Flash Gordon
~ Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back ~
Director: Joe Finley
Cast: Lana Clarkson, Greg Wrangler, Rebecca Wood, Elizabeth A. Jaeger, Cecilia Tijerina, Alejandro Bracho
Country: United States
Specs: 80 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: R
Betrayed by her brother, Princess Amathia (Clarkson) finds herself imprisoned and sentenced to death. Luckily, she escapes and befriends a group of female rebel warriors led by Ziela (Wood) where she embarks on a bloody campaign to regain her throne and overthrow her ruthless brother.
This not a sequel “sequel” is humorous for one thing: The trailer. When it says, “Lana Clarkson like you’ve never seen her before” I waited for the announcer to say “With clothes on!”. She stars in the titular (I couldn’t resist) role in this late night Cinemax fare.
This film has zero with “story” to do with the first film, and everything in substance. That being, not much worth writing about. I didn’t aim to review sequels in this blog series, but as I learned that it wasn’t a true sequel, I went ahead and rented it along with the others. Anyone familiar with my review of the first “Barbarian Queen” may be wondering why I then chose to inflict upon myself the pain associated with that film by watching the “sequel”? I had already rented it, heard it wasn’t a true sequel other than (as I later learned) a sequel in the sense it’s a pointless sexploitation film dressed as a sword and sandal epic, and, as I always do, tried to enter into the viewing of each film with as much of a clean and unadulterated (again, I couldn’t resist!) preconception as I could by steering clear of any other reviews prior to my viewing.
My Rating: * / F
Available from Amazon: Barbarian Queen/Barbarian Queen 2
~ Excalibur ~
Director: John Boorman
Cast: Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Nicol Williamson, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne
Country: United States
Specs: 140 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R
Arthur (Terry), a lonely squire, pulls the fabled sword, Excalibur, from its resting place in a giant stone, thus becoming king as foretold by the magician Merlin (Williamson). He rules from his castle Camelot for many years, seeing both joy and heartache though his Knights of the Round Table, Queen Guenevere (Lunghi), the wicked sorceress and half-sister Morgana (Mirren) and friend and master knight Lancelot (Clay).
At times beautifully engaging, and at others excessively bloated and convoluted, this tale of the mythical kingdom features an excellent cast wearing the most spectacular of costumes. The image of Camelot is brilliantly captured by the excellent cinematography of Alex Thomson, with a wonderful score by Trevor Jones.
Boorman has added a flair of eccentricity, to be sure, but the film never truly loses its luster, (even if it does feel a tad bit too long.) Fans of gruesome battle scenes, and sexual encounters to boot, will not be disappointed. Certainly not your Disney version of the valiant king and his famous kingdom.
It was very apparent that Boorman’s work on Conan secured him the job on this addition to the sword and sorcery genre. He certainly understands action, I only wish he had tightened it up a tad. As mentioned for “Flash Gordon”, perhaps the rumored remake (comingsoon.net article) will take that into account?
My Rating: **** / B
Available from Amazon: Excalibur
Or Amazon Video on Demand: Excalibur
~ Heavy Metal ~
Director: Gerald Potterton
Cast: John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Rodger Bumpass
Country: United States
Specs: 86 mins. / Color / OAR 1.37:1 / MPAA Rating: R
A series of animated shorts from the minds of Dan O’Bannon, Richard Corben, Juan Gimenez, Angus McKie, Thomas Warkentin, and Bernie Wrightson, all centering around an alien meteorite green orb, that causes otherworldly experiences for all who come into contact with it.
What can be said? Great storytelling. Great artwork. Memorable score. Great voice talent. Graphic in every way. In fact, there are moments when I was tempted to reduce this film to porn with a plot. It’s a shame really, simply because the film features some of the best fantasy work to ever be animated, yet is not even close to being suitable for the children. Now granted, neither is the graphic novel magazine that the film is based on. Guess that’s why I never was allowed to add that title to my list of Batman’s and Superman’s my parents would take me to get as a young boy. Guess that’s also the reason I won’t be allowing mine to either.
The best part is that I was reminded of two other films I may revisit for Halloween. “Strange Invaders” and “Creepshow” both may soon be reviewed in this very space! As for Heavy Metal, I did find it entertaining, in spite of the aforementioned.
My Rating: *** / C+
Available from Amazon: Heavy Metal (Collector’s Edition)
Or Amazon Video on Demand: Heavy Metal (1981)
~ Frazetta: Painting With Fire ~
Director: Lance Laspina
Cast: Frank Frazetta, Forrest J Ackerman, Simon Bisley, John Buscema, Bo Derek, Joe Jusko, Ralph Bakshi, Neal Adams
Country: United States
Specs: 93 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: NR
Considered by many to the the godfather of modern day artists, this documentary provides a window into the life and career of Frank Frazetta. Through interviews, photos and clips, this documentary explores the little-known world of the private artist, from his Brooklyn childhood to his painful disease to his filmmaking endeavors.
A truly wonderful documentary on undeniably the largest influence on the world of fantasy art and the sword and sorcery genre. In the film, we are able to see many of Frazetta’s most famous paintings, along with variants of many of them that preceded the versions we all know and love today, but the master deemed unworthy for public eyes at the time, and continued to at the time of the doc.
Some truly wonderful moments in the film are getting to see the maestro’s work at an age when most were learning addition and subtraction, as well as seeing how there was a stage in his career when even HE could not get work (after he was already established and famous!). Certainly stories such as that give hope to any other creatives out there!
To see how he continued to produce wonderful work, with the opposite hand he had always used, after suffering a series of debilitating strokes, is simply amazing. It’s very easy to see, as John Milius (Director of “Conan The Barbarian”) so eloquently states, how so many films came about in the 80’s because of this true artiste. He says, and I paraphrase “They all wanted to be a live action Frazetta, and that’s where they fell short. There is only one Frank Frazetta”. Certainly explains how the elements didn’t work that I’ve stated over and over. In a Frazetta painting, everything fits. Looking at his work, you feel as though you could step into the painting, and be a part of the scene. They lived, breathed, and portrayed character.
Simply a wonderful documentary, and an excellent film to end this series on.
My Rating: ***** / A
Available from Amazon: Frazetta – Painting with Fire
Or Amazon Video on Demand: Frazetta: Painting with Fire
Check back later for the beginning of 31 Days of Howl-oween…