Tag Archives: Sword and Sorcery

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s – Part V

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

Part V

Film #21

~ Flash Gordon ~

Director:  Mike Hodges
Year:  1980
Cast:  Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed
Language:  English
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 ( 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

Film #22

~ Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back ~

Director:  Joe Finley
Year:  1989
Cast:  Lana Clarkson, Greg Wrangler, Rebecca Wood, Elizabeth A. Jaeger, Cecilia Tijerina, Alejandro Bracho
Language:  English
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

Film #23

~ Excalibur ~

Director:  John Boorman
Year:  1981
Cast:  Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Nicol Williamson, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne
Language:  English
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 ( article) will take that into account?

My Rating**** / B

Available from Amazon: Excalibur

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Excalibur

Film #24

~ Heavy Metal ~

Director:  Gerald Potterton
Year:  1981
Cast:  John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Rodger Bumpass
Language:  English
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)

Film #20

~ Frazetta: Painting With Fire ~

Director:  Lance Laspina
Year:  2003
Cast:  Frank Frazetta, Forrest J Ackerman, Simon Bisley, John Buscema, Bo Derek, Joe Jusko, Ralph Bakshi, Neal Adams
Language:  English
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…

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Posted by on October 1, 2010 in Movies


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25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s – Part IV

In my reviews of 25 Fantasy Films of the 1980s, I feel a bit like a broken record.  Of course, there are a few gems in the list of films that I chose, but there are many more that I seem to point out the same exact issues again and again, as if they all came from the same mold.  I’m sure there is a crowd for many of these films, but box office numbers, awards nominations, and critic reviews of those days certainly seem to agree with many of my opinions.

It is to be hoped that in this list, many will find some films they may have missed and check them out for themselves.  Perhaps a revisit to a film not seen in many years is in order.  Whatever the outcome, I hope you have been enjoying my articles.

With that, I give you…

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

Part IV

Film #16

~ Willow ~

Director:  Ron Howard
Year:  1988
Cast:  Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Billy Barty, Pat Roach, Kevin Pollak, Jean Marsh
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  126 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Willow (Davis), a dwarfish farmer, finds a baby floating in the river.  He soon learns that the baby is the rumored answer to the prophecy of the child who will grow to slay the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Marsh).  He begins a quest, aided by the human thief Madmartigan (Kilmer) and a couple of fairy-like creatures, to deliver the baby to a nearby kingdom, where she can safely grow into the warrior she’s to become.  However, they are soon thwarted by Bavmorda’s troops, and begin a game of cat and mouse, where they eventually must face Bavmorda themselves.

A fun little film, though flawed in a number of ways.  The film requires a liberal dose of suspension of disbelief throughout to fill in a number of holes in the story.  Once past that minor hurdle, the film delivers an amusement park ride in droves.

To start, the film opens with the wicked Queen’s minions killing every baby in the land to prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled.  However, when it comes to baby Elora, they never choose to kill her on sight.  Rather, they decide to kidnap her a number of times, for an apparent ritualistic killing (of course if they chose to kill her on sight, the film is over very quickly, but still…)  There also is little time inconsistencies that could be baffling if taken seriously.  For instance, the storming of the fort scene has the Queens soldiers chopping down a tree with an axe, cutting off all its leafs and branches, and carving it into a battering ram, all in the matter of minutes!  In addition, Willow and his crew somehow dig tunnels under the earth for a surprise attack, again, all in a matter of a couple of hours!

The biggest whopper is that the film has little to do with the prophecy at all, since SPOILER ALERT:  the ending shows that the prophecy was wrong the entire time!  However, the film is fun nonetheless.

Nominated for an Academy Award of Special Effects, the film sports some truly amazing effects, all courtesy of producer and story writer George Lucas and ILM.  The Rancor looking two headed dragon, the morphing sequences, the transformation of the army to pigs, the trolls running up walls, and other spectacular looking effects.  Most of these mentioned sequences (as well as a few minor potty humor jokes) do seem a bit intense for the intended audience of young children, but to this adult it was action packed and gripping all the way.

While not all the acting was top notch, the performance by the always delightful Billy Barty, and Jean Marsh were worth the price of admission!

Overall, a welcome change to the sword and sorcery genre.

My Rating**** / B

Available from Amazon: Willow (Special Edition)

Film #17

~ Sheena ~

Director:  John Guillermin
Year:  1984
Cast:  Tanya Roberts, Donovan Scott, Ted Wass, Trevor Thomas
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  117 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13

Orphaned as a child deep in the African jungle, Sheena (Roberts) is taken in and raised by a local Shaman tribe, where she is taught to telepathically communicate with animals.  Years later, an American reporter named Vic Casey (Wass), travels to Africa to do a story on former pro-football player, and now ruler of the kingdom of Tigora, Prince Otawani (Thomas).  He comes across Sheena, and learns of Otawani’s evil intentions on eradicating all the native peoples to gain access to their mineral-rich land.  Together, he and Sheena begin a quest to stop the diabolical monarch and his powerful military, thus rescuing the idyllic land and saving its people.

More like “Sheena: Queen of the Sahara”.  Actually, I would guess that to be the reason they lost the “Queen of the Jungle” tag on this film.  This female “Tarzan” (creation of comic book legend Will Eisner) film has little more purpose than to feature a naked Tanya Roberts bathing, riding bareback on a Zebra, and prancing around in little more than a loincloth.  The blank stares on Roberts’ face do little to prove her acting prowess.  In fact, I am going to take a risk and say the directing of this film is at fault, as a number of the performances are so over the top bland, they come across as comical, unintentionally I’m sure.  Surprising as the director has a lengthy history of directing other Africa set tales, including a few Tarzan films.

The film has a story more full of holes than a package of Swiss cheese, let alone the obvious problems with the aforementioned directorial decisions.  The helicopters not being able to hover over one location, the zebras being overdubbed with horse sounds (Zebra’s sound more like the cross between a jackal and a donkey, in actuality), the fact that everyone in Africa apparently speaks American English, and the not so subtle anti-oil (gasoline)/pro-”animals are innocent, peaceful beings” stance does little more than prove that this film belongs to the late night cable channel showings (where this original box-office “bomb” has gained its cult following throughout the years).

Of course, the script isn’t any better.  The dialogue alone is so banal, the actors couldn’t have hoped to come across as anything more than amateurish.

My Rating** / D+

Available from Amazon: Sheena

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Sheena

Film #18

~ The Warrior and the Sorceress ~

Director:  John C. Broderick
Year:  1985
Cast:  David Carradine, Luke Askew, Maria Socas
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  81 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Kain (Carradine) a wandering mercenary for hire, wanders the planet Ura, when he comes upon two warring factions, led by Zeg and Balcaz.  Noticing a beautiful sorceress, Naja (Socas), he decides to take residence in order to win her hand, hiring himself to both sides simultaneously, in the endless battle over the towns only watering well.

An uninspired remake of “Yojimbo”, this time set in the world of the sword and sorcery genre.  Sadly, it falls into the formula of all too many films in this vein, that being sub par acting, soppy special effects, and an unabashed overuse of aimless nudity.

Had the film anything resembling an interesting story (how does one mess up the excellent tale so wonderfully redone in “A Fistful of Dollars”?), perhaps the aforementioned would be forgivable.  Regrettably, the most exciting aspect of this tale is in the (unintended?) homage to “Return of the Jedi’s” Jabba the Hut, complete with slimy little green creature.

Of course to give this film as much credit is balderdash.  If only it had as much originality as that…

My Rating* / F

Available from Amazon: Warrior & The Sorceress

Film #19

~ Masters of the Universe ~

Director:  Gary Goddard
Year:  1987
Cast:  Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox, Chelsea Field
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  106 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

When the evil Skeletor (Langella) attacks Castle Grayskull of the planet Eternia, barbarian warrior He-Man (Lundgren), along with a ragtag motley crew, attempt to defend the castle and its inhabitant, the Sorceress of Grayskull.  When outnumbered, they flee through a portal, where they land on planet Earth, losing the portal key in the process.  When two young teenagers inadvertently find the key, the heros hurry to regain the key, and return to Eternia to destroy Skeletor and his minions, once and for all.

“Superman” style opening credits?  Check.  Horrible 5-and-dime style Halloween masks on the characters (little to no lip movement)?  Check.  Storm trooper-ish henchmen that shoot “Star Wars” laser guns?  Check.  Does any of this destroy the film?  Nope.

A fun romp, albeit an inaccurate portrayal of the original characters and universe, can be found in this little film.  While the acting is pretty bad at times, the choreography is bland and amateurish looking, and the strange one-off implication ‘that vegetarianism is “normal” and meat-eating is barbaric’ stuck into the middle of the film, the pacing of the film, as well as the interest level in that campy 80’s “Monster Squad” type of way, is properly timed, thanks in part to the wonderful score by Bill Conti and the exceptional editing by Anne V. Coates, I’m sure.

The film, loved by children upon its release, but panned by the critics, is easily friendly to the generation it is geared towards (sans one use of a four letter word!).  Nice sets, the performance by the unparalleled Billy Barty, and the adorable Courtney Cox in her “Misfits” stage all add to the enjoyment of this film that is memorable in every way.

By the power of Grayskull, I’d watch this again…

My Rating*** / C+

Available from Amazon: Masters of the Universe (Keepcase)

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Masters of the Universe

Film #20

~ The Barbarians ~

Director:  Ruggero Deodato
Year:  1987
Cast:  Peter Paul, David Paul, Richard Lynch, Eva La Rue, Virginia Bryant, Michael Berryman
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  87 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Twin brothers (‘The Barbarian Brothers’ Peter and David Paul) attempt to save their people of entertainers against Kadar, whose lust for the ruby that produces their talents has forced him to take them captive.

One thing I’ve noticed after watching the films in this genre is that I’m becoming dumber (at least I feel that way).  This silly campy story is more humorous watching the two “Barbarian Brothers” attempt to delver their horrible dialogue with a straight face than the written intended humor.  The lack of continuity or realism is also mind-numbingly humorous.  For instance, the two brothers are kidnapped as young scrawny boys along with a multitude of others the same age/build.  Interestingly, in a montage that takes us 15 years later, we see all the children slaving away in the rock mines, etc.  Amazingly, the two boys are the only ones who build out to Herculean size, complete with long permed hair with 80’s headbands around their head, and a constant supply of baby oil to define their sculptured burly bodies.  None of the other children are blessed with such superhuman physiques, nor do any of the other characters (adults) age a day.  In fact, the storyline picks up exactly where it left off before the montage of passage of time, as if the “Barbarian Brothers” had stepped through a time portal.

Of course, there aren’t such a thing as unattractive women in the world of the barbarians either, right?  Every female character could easily have stepped out of the pages of the recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.  To top off the already spoiled ice cream Sunday, the film is replete with 80’s synth music in all its “glory”, lest anyone wonder if the music may possibly be worthy of saving grace.

All in all, surprisingly, not horrible, just not worth the time to dig out of storage my well worn VHS tape.  Save it for the late Saturday night cable viewing (if that channel happens to already be on).

My Rating** / D+

Available from Amazon: The Barbarians (Import)

To Be Continued…

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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Movies


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25 Fantasy Films of the 80's – Part III

2008 SDCC poster for the as yet unrealized remake of Red Sonja, starring Rose McGowan

Robert Rodriguez is all set to remake two sword and sorcery tales originally made in the 80’s.  While his take on Red Sonja has seen many delays (MTV Article), and the previously announced remake of Fire and Ice I mentioned in Part 1 has yet to see the light of day, he continues to comment that they are indeed coming.  When compiling the list of films for this 5 part blog, I decided to include the original films in my list of 25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s.  Of course, he apparently will be working on a sequel to Sin City ( article) (better known as Sin City 2), and the next installment in the Spy Kids franchise ( article) (Spy Kids 4) before tackling the world of barbarians and magicians.  Thankfully, given his success with most of his other films, I’m highly confident they will be above average pictures.  What chance do they have of being better than the originals?  Read on to see…

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

Part III

Film #11

~ Red Sonja ~

Director:  Richard Fleischer
Year:  1985
Cast:  Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Paul L. Smith, Ernie Reyes, Jr.
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  89 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13

After her entire village is brutally murdered, a young woman named Sonja (Nielsen) begins a quest to seek revenge on the evil queen (Bergman) responsible.  Along the way, she meets up with Kalidor (Schwarzenegger), a barbarian who secretly aids her in her quest, which also entails rescuing the magical orb from the hands of the queen before she can use it to destroy all mankind.

Having enjoyed Conan so much, I went into Red Sonja with expectations to match.  Moments in, when the film opted for a narrated flashback montage in lieu of a linear pre-credit sequence, I knew that I was in for an entirely different beast.

There were a number of factors that prevented me from truly enjoying this foray into the world of the scarlet savage.  I never was quite sure which was worse, to be honest:  the dialogue or the acting?  The best and most interesting part of dialogue came not because of clever writing, but because of its connection to another film starring Nelson.  In Rocky IV, just as here, we get to hear the line (or a variation thereof) “I can’t kill it.  It’s a Machine!”  (In Rocky the line is “I can’t beat him.  He’s not a man, he’s a machine!”)  The story itself doesn’t help.  For reasons likely found elsewhere, the character of Conan has his name changed here to Kalidor.  Such nonsense as a zip line across a chasm conveniently in the middle of nowhere just outside the fortress walls, Sonja is in some Asian Sword Training Camp as the only female (how or why she was taken in is a mystery?), the magical “throne” room is filled with thousands of lit candles (who took the time to light all these, and why?), the glowing orb (what exactly is that?).

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this film, however, is the completely out of place and random shot of the evil queens magic mirror and the reflection of the nude dancer.  Was this supposed to be a humorous scene of the magician conjuring up the wrong spell?  It comes across completely gratuitous, bringing an otherwise goofball children’s movie out of that age group.  Why do I assume its geared towards children?  Why else would they feature, as comedic elements, the fat guy who is always after food, the young boy who is a complete brat and worthy of a spanking (as Sonja points out repeatedly through the film), the goofball servant to the queen, and as previously mentioned, the bumbling wizard who conjures up the wrong spells?

Were the choices in effects any better, I may have nicer things to say.  However, the strange backlit myst simply to have a “cool” shot in the doorway (they are in a dungeon.  Where is all that backlight coming from?), the comically chintzy looking glowing green orb, and the few random dismemberments (for shock value, no doubt) all left me scratching my head.

Remarkably, the film isn’t unwatchable.  No, that film would be “Conquest”.  It’s simply silly.  Which is unfortunate.  Especially since Fleischer has proven he is capable of much finer fare.

My Rating*** / C-

Available from Amazon: Red Sonja [Blu-ray] and Red Sonja

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Red Sonja

Film #12

~ Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes ~

Director:  Hugh Hudson
Year:  1984
Cast:  Christopher Lambert, Ian Holm, Ralph Richardson, Andie MacDowell
Language:  English
Country:  United Kingdom
Specs:  143 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Orphaned as a boy in the jungles of Africa, young Tarzan (Lambert), heir to the Earl of Greystoke, is raised by apes as one of their own.  Years later, an expedition led by Philippe D’Arnot (Holm) comes across Tarzan, and, realizing who he is, tutors him in English and other civilized mannerisms, before bringing back to his family’s estate.  However, Tarzan finds it difficult to assimilate into the new life, even as he begins to fall in love with the young ward of the estate, Jane (MacDowell), and must make one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

I’ve always been a fan of the Lord of the Jungles adventures on the silver screen.  Without question, one of the most famous sounds in the world would be the “call” of Tarzan, so wonderfully created by Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films of the 1930s and beyond.  So it was with great surprise when the closest thing to a “call” that this Tarzan delivered was the grunts of a silverback gorilla, or the grumbling roar of a tiger.

The films opens with truly stunning cinematography of the lush and exotic jungles of Africa, with enough waterfalls, animals, and vegetation to fill the largest of HDTV’s.  The beautiful score echos across the landscape in the most pleasant way.  However, the film never quite lived up to the expectations that I had.

While the make-up effects of the gorillas was rather impressive, I did find myself a number of times in the film noticing that it was a man-in-suit, briefly pulling me out of the experience.  A nude Tarzan parading around the jungle leant an air of believability to the film, until we see him grow into a young man.  For some zany reason, this jungle man who had no reason to wear clothes of any kind, didn’t have any hair on his body, sans the top of his head!  No facial hair or chest hair whatsoever.  I easily could have looked over this one inconsistency, had the filmmakers themselves not brought attention to this in one of the most confusing segments of the film.  When the wild man is found by the explorer D’Arnot, he sits down for a lesson in shaving, even getting a straight razored massage himself!  BUT HE HAS NO FACIAL HAIR!

Also, for some reason Tarzan not only learned to live like an ape, he also miraculously was imbued with the strength of these powerful beasts.  In one scene, he is brutally attacked by a silverback gorilla, with not one broken, or bruised, part on his body.  To top it off, near the end of the film he lifts and carry’s a full grown dead silverback male gorilla as if it were no more than a small sack of potatoes.  Anyone with half the sense would easily understand that these large animals weigh nearly 400 – 500 lbs!

The film did lose some of its luster once Tarzan entered the civilized world, but not enough to label it boring.  Generally, an enjoyable, but flawed, film.

My Rating*** / C+

Available from Amazon: Greystoke – The Legend of Tarzan

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

Film #13

~ Ladyhawke ~

Director:  Richard Donner
Year:  1985
Cast:  Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern, Alfred Molina, John Wood
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  121 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13

Philippe Gaston (Broderick), a thief facing execution, escapes from the Bishop of Aquila’s (Wood) dungeons with the help of a mysterious knight (Hauer) who travels with a hawk at his side.  When an even more mysterious woman (Pfeiffer), who is accompanied by a shadowy dark wolf, appears on the scene, Gaston learns a terrible secret, which requires that he return to the Bishop to set right the dark magic that has bewitched the trio.

Apart from the very dated 80s soundtrack, there is little in this film to not like.  This wonderful fairy tale sword and sorcery pic is an example on excellence in filmmaking.  The subtle mix of action with comedy is something Donner does well, and the director doesn’t deter from his proven formula here.  Broderick shines in his role as a “Mousey” character who is tasked with an impossible task.  Pfeiffer is stunning, and makes it very easy to see how, as it is told in the film, that all who see her character become smitten with her.  Hauer, as always, is commanding in his performance as the mysterious man in black with the hawk at his side.

Shot entirely in Italy, the film has scenery that any filmmaker would covet.  The costumes, sets, and locations are all excellently chosen, completely allowing the viewer to immerse themselves in the world of 12th Century Europe.

Low on anything that sadly is all too common to films in the fantasy/sword and sorcery genre, this film is a wonderful treat for the family to gather around and escape to a land of magic and intrigue.

A very pleasant palate cleanser, indubitably.

My Rating***** / A

Available from Amazon: Ladyhawke

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Ladyhawke

Film #14

~ Barbarian Queen ~

Director:  Héctor Olivera
Year:  1985
Cast:  Lana Clarkson, Katt Shea, Dawn Dunlap, Susana Traverso
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  70 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: R

When Roman forces invade her village, Queen Amathea (Clarkson) helplessly watches as her entire village is either massacred or taken as slaves.  Accompanied by two of her best female warriors, Amathea sets out to rescue her people, and bring vengeance upon those responsible for the travesty.

Where is Joel Robinson and his trusty robots when we need them?  The tone for this film is set seconds into it as we are witness to a topless young maiden frolicking about near a lake picking flowers, whereupon she is accosted and raped by a couple of barbarians.  We then travel to a small village where the people have the most primped and proper of 80s style haircuts, but for some reason cannot afford the leather to cover up even the smallest of breasts!  Were I to state that the dialogue is much better, I’d be accused of the gravest of lies.

The film plays more like a prison sexploitation film set in the world of sword and sandals than a swashbuckler.  The most obnoxious and degrading scene in the whole film comes during the “torture” scene with the barbarian queen herself and her bespectacled captor, proving that this film has little purpose beyond the aforementioned.

My Rating* / F

Available from Amazon: Barbarian Queen/Barbarian Queen 2: Empress Strikes

Film #15

~ Fire and Ice ~

Director:  Ralph Bakshi
Year:  1983
Cast:  Randy Norton, Cynthia Leake, Steve Sandor, Sean Hannon, Leo Gordon
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  81 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

In the midst of a fierce battle between the two countries, Evil Queen Juliana and her son Prince Nekron of Icekeep kidnap Princess Teegra of Firekeep for Nekron to take as his bride.  However, Teegra is able to escape her captors and meets up with Larn, a wandering warrior without a home.  When Teegra is recaptured, Larn, along with the mysterious barbarian Darkwolf, set out to rescue her, and destroy the evil royals, ending their destructive rule over all the land.

It becomes apparent moments after the opening credits that this animated film is not your average Thundarr the Barbarian animated fare.  The wonderful musical score by William Kraft kicks in, with an equally excellent sound effects track to enhance the audible experience.  The photo realistic animation from director Bakshi and famed painter Frank Frazetta only solidifies that this wonderful little film stands head and shoulders above most other animated fare (as well as the live action entries in this category) of this period.

The barbarian tale with the scantily clad heroine features a story not too uncommon to this genre, however, the writing skills of comic book writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (the latter no stranger to these type of stories, having penned hundreds of Conan the Barbarian stories for Marvel Comics) bring it a step above the others (which is only enhanced by the aforementioned elements) in a way that is both intriguing and absorbing at every turn.

The film did end rather abruptly, and the interiors of the glacial castle of villain Nekron did resemble Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, but these are minor quibbles to an otherwise above average sword and sorcery tale.

My Rating**** / B

Available from Amazon: Fire and Ice [Blu-ray]

Or Amazon Video on Demand: Fire and Ice

To Be Continued…

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Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Movies


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25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s – Part II

In watching 25 Fantasy Films from that glorious decade that was the 1980’s, I noticed one thing.  I noticed that there is a trend amongst most of the films that seems as though the films scripts came from a book on how to make a film in that genre.  For many of these films, the elements that are all too similar are:

  1. Girl gets kidnapped, boy must gather a group of other characters to kill the evil mystical sorcerer and rescue his love.
  2. Show many beheadings, dismemberments, and disembowelments
  3. Nudity.  Must contain loads of pointless nudity.  (But only women with perfect hair)
  4. Dialogue?  Doesn’t matter.  Write whatever comes to mind.
  5. Main character must stand on top of a mountain and flex his muscles while swinging his sword/axe/etc.
  6. Main character must never have facial hair, although the rest of his appearance has to look like he’s never heard of grooming before.
  7. Did we mention loads of Nudity?  Well, add more.

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

Part II

Film #6

~ Conquest ~

Director:  Lucio Fulci
Year:  1980
Cast:  Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martín, Sabrina Siani
Language:  English (Dubbed)
Country:  Italy
Specs:  88 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: NC-17

Ilias (Occhipinti), armed with a magical bow, embarks on a journey through a mystical land to rid it of the evil sorceress Ocron (Siani), and all the evil she brings.  Along the way, he joins forces with Mace (Rivero), a nomadic outlaw also intent on ridding the land of all evil.  Together they dodge the many attacks of Ocron and her minions, until they reach the wicked enchantress for a fateful battle not all will survive.

When trying to find a word to best describe this film, I nearly settled on one word thats origins can be found in early Yiddish.  Unfortunately, dreck would be too kind of a word to use for this so-called work of art.  This repulsive, vile, disturbing piece of drivel is nary deserving of the few minutes it takes to compose this brief reaction to the film.  In fact, I’m sure I’ve spent more time in writing this short article than the filmmakers did in devising a coherent script with any semblance of an intriguing story.

The film opens on some baffling scene of a ritualistic pagan ceremony in which a naked woman with a metal mask (a la the Hasbro GI Joe character of Destro, were he a female {and were he naked}), along with an assortment of beastly half-man/half-creature beings, tear apart another naked woman, and eat her innards and brains.

Classic art at its finest.

Were it that the film continued on without repetitive scenes of dismemberment or cannibalistic bestiality it may have been worth the “ink” this article is written with.  Sadly, that cannot be said.

To further muddle up the films appeal, the entire thing is shot in a foggy, dark, only just distinguishable light.

The best thing to be said of this waste of celluloid is the musical score.  Haunting, unusual, and vivid in every way.  Too bad the picture accompanying it is not.

PS.  In case you were still wondering if I thought this film were any good, you, along with the director of this film, need serious psychiatric help.

My Rating* / F (Is there a rating lower?)

Available from Amazon: Conquest

Film #7

~The Beastmaster ~

Director:  Don Coscarelli
Year:  1982
Cast:  Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  118 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

After witnessing the slaughter of his entire village by an evil tribe of barbarians led by the a diabolical cult leader Maax (Torn), barbarian warrior Dar (Singer), who possesses an extraordinary ability to communicate with animals, embarks on a perilous journey to seek revenge. Along the way, Dar takes in a number of exotic creatures and joins with a skilled hunter (Amos) and beautiful slave girl (Roberts) who also have fallen victim to the villainy of Maax and his followers.

I remember as a child loving this film about a sword carrying barbarian who could communicate with animals (á la “Tarzan”) and carried a boomerang style “knife” weapon.  How a little maturity and age can remove the rose-colored glasses!

This B-movie, while surely a late night cable cult classic, is nary worthy of the multiple viewings, nor sequels/TV series foisted upon the unsuspecting masses.  There is simply too much in the way of even the most liberal application of suspension of disbelief for this camp-fest to rise above the mediocrity that it is.

It begins with the bewildering intro of a demonic witch using some perplexing sorcery in which a young child is transported from his mothers womb into the womb of a nearby cow.  The mother dies, the witch cuts open the cow, and begins to offer the child to a large bonfire as a sacrifice in some unexplained ritual (why didn’t she just cut him from the mother, who died anyway?).  Flash forward a few years, and this child, now a young boy, can communicate with animals (never explained, but I would assume it’s due to his being born of a bovine?).  We are then treated to a series of pointless meanderings in the story, such as a random unexplained attack from some black mask wearing tribe on Dar’s small village in which the people are all impaled on giant upright spears, to get us to a few scenes of topless women, a gratuitous nude bathing Tanya Roberts, and birds eye POV of the landscape, which switches from lush overlands similar to those of Scotland to vast desert canyons similar to those found in Arizona.  We get to see Dar communicate with nearly every animal he comes across (including the black painted tiger who’s stripes are clearly visible underneath the black paint in a number of shots) while deciding to go from a tunic and sandals to a loincloth and barefoot barbarian, complete with a falconry arm guard (even though he had yet to come across the hawk he would “befriend”).

Of course the giant, hawk-worshipping, eyeball-treehouse living, embryonic bat-like creatures, and the green-eyed, spiked armband wearing, brainless “zombie” creatures are interesting characters, but rather pointless to the overall arc of the “story”.  Even more baffling to comprehend is why in the scenes with the horses, Dar doesn’t seem to be able to use his abilities to communicate with animals much at all?  Couldn’t he simply tell them to buck off the murderous marauders?

Lastly, anyone who finds incest wonderful will likely have a different opinion, but why in the world should I find romantic and believable the continued love story between Dar and Kiri once they learn they are cousins?  Cud.

However, contrary to what my review may imply, the film is watchable, and campily entertaining in an unhinged sort of way.  Perhaps I’ve seen too many of these sword and sorcery films now that even the most feeble of films seems sublime?  More likely it has to do with the childhood memories thing.

My Rating*** / C-

Available from Amazon: The Beastmaster (Special Edition)

Film #8

~ Conan the Barbarian ~

Director:  John Milius
Year:  1982
Cast:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Mako
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  129 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: R

After witnessing the slaughter of his entire village at the hands of the evil cult leader Thulsa Doom (Jones), a young Conan is taken as a slave where he grows into a hulking young barbarian (Schwarzenegger).  Escaping from his masters, Conan begins a quest, aided by fellow vagabonds Valeria (Bergman) and Subotai (Lopez), to find Doom and bring justice to the land, while fighting off various creatures and cretins along the way.

“Crommmmmmm!”.  The film that set the bar for all the rest.  The original.  This film starts off with a display of excellence in filmmaking.  The opening scene of SPOILER ALERT: Conan’s mother being killed is so excellently framed and edited, that the viewer is instantly privy to the caliber of film about to be seen.  The excellent score also sets the tone for this film as an epic tale of swords and sorcery, with tinges of classics such as “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Bridge on the River Kwai”.  Pure excellence.

The wonderful thing about the story is that there is an air of believability to it all.  The darkness.  The dankness.  The dirtiness.  The characters are rarely out of place, complete with unkempt hair, grimy costumes, and aged equipment that solidifies the barbarian lifestyle Conan would have lived.  Of course, as is often a staple of this genre, there is plenty of beheadings and other gruesome violent acts, as well as a number of topless scenes.  However, contrary to many of the other films in this genre, they lend itself to the story, and only occasionally seem gratuitous and exploitative.  They truly display what one can imagine the life of a barbarian (granted, in a fantastical environment) would have been like.

The story rarely meanders off into pointless plot points, and does an excellent job of answering any questions that the viewer may have.  An entertaining film from a member of the “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” era of Hollywood.  Easy to see how so many copycats (and a sequel) were spawned from this tale.  Sadly, it seems the copycats missed what made this film so enjoyable.

With Conan, it appears it may truly have been lightning in the bottle.

My Rating**** / B

Available from Amazon: Conan – The Complete Quest or
Amazon Video on Demand: Conan the Barbarian

Film #9

~ Deathstalker ~

Director:  James Sbardellati
Year:  1983
Cast:  Rick Hill, Barbi Benton, Richard Brooker, Lana Clarkson, Bernard Erhard
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  80 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Deathstalker (Hill), a barbarian warrior, is sent on a quest to find three magical items (a chalice, an amulet, and a sword) in order to defeat the wicked sorcerer Munkar (Erhard).  Along the way, he partners up with Kaira (Clarkson), his female counterpart, and a ragtag group of misfits.  Together, they decide that entering a tournament held by Munkar will be the best way to gain acceptance to his inner chambers, where they can kill the cantankerous ruler.

I am a fan of sword and sorcery tales.  I thoroughly enjoy a well written tale of magic, dragons, warriors, quests, and the rag tag group of races usually associated with tales in this genre.  Unfortunately, films such as this one are likely to ruin any kind of appreciation I or others may have for this genre.

For starters, the story itself is the most banal form of entertainment to grace the silver screen.  Better yet, there is no story.  Instead, this atrocity is little more than an excuse to make a soft-core barbarian tale.  Loads of gratuitous nudity, unintentionally laughable love scenes, the most featureless acting I’ve ever witnessed (were these actors stoned the entire production?), the most absurd of violence (decapitated heads, arms, fingers, etc.) (violence that is so phony looking even Tom Savini must have thought it amateurish), and make-up effects that any high school production would have one up on, fill this poorly directed, framed, and (written?) waste of celluloid.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this film is that the two women leads (who spend the film in some form of undress, natch) are none other than former playboy playmate Barbi Benton, and Phil Spector murder victim Lana Clarkson.  Even that, however, is akin to watching the latest reality TV star in their big screen debut (“From Justin to Kelly” anyone?).  In fact, the best thing about this film is the magnificent poster by the fantasy artist Boris.  Stunning.

I wonder how this film ever was shown on the classic USA Network on the Caroline Schlitt/Gilbert Gottfried/Rhonda Shear hosted show “USA Up All Night”?  It must have either been edited down to 10 minutes, or was a screen full of black bars for nearly the entire 80 mins.

Even more of a mystery is how this stinker warranted not one, not two, but THREE sequels?  Perhaps the filmmakers (Roger Corman is the executive producer after all) just wanted to see more T+A, and wrote a “story” around it.

Two swords down.

My Rating* / F

Available from Amazon: Deathstalker

Film #10

~ Krull ~

Director:  Peter Yates
Year:  1983
Cast:  Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, David Battley, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  121 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Princess Lyssa (Anthony) is about to form an alliance with another kingdom by marrying Prince Colwyn (Marshall) when she is attacked and kidnapped by a ruthless alien monster known only as The Beast.  Armed with a magical boomerang, and accompanied by a mystical group of characters, Colwyn sets out to infiltrate the Black Fortress, lair to The Beast, thus rescuing his young love, and bringing an end to the evil creature and his horde of murderous followers.

Goofy unmotivated plot mars this fantastical foray into malarky.  In fact, it felt as though complete scenes had been excised, or truncated, in order to “move” the picture along.  Unfortunately, little in this film is engaging, from the mediocre special effects to the smiling one dimensional performance of the Prince.  Why oh why, one must ask, would anyone choose to follow this prince into anything, let alone sure death against an alien that has chosen to teleport to a different location location every day for no apparent reason, other than to show the shoddy special effect of the “meteor ship” disappearing/reappearing?

There are so many plot holes in this film, that at times I felt I were watching a mystery instead of a fantasy pic.  The mystery was why did this get the green light?  Why didn’t it make it past a first draft on the screenplay?  Why do the characters do what they do?  How did they know which tunnels to go down in the ship?  How did he know how to kill “The Beast” (don’t get me started on how anticlimactic that scene was).

On the positive side, the score by James Horner, as well as the appearance of Neeson and Coltrane, are welcome additions.

Seeing this as a child, I remembered little of it beyond the cool and exciting knife boomerang weapon the prince carried, and how intriguing that was.  I only wish that I had not re-watched this film.  Some things are better left to memories, as this film surely will testify.

My Rating** / D

Available from Amazon: Krull or
Amazon Video on Demand: Krull

To Be Continued…

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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Movies


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25 Fantasy Films of the 80's – Part I

Frank Frazetta's Conan of Cimmeria

It’s been very busy in the world of Hollywood news since last spring.  Particularly, the world of Fantasy Films has been ripe with news and proclamations since the spring flowers began to bloom.  We had wonderful announcements regarding classic sword and sorcery staples such as Conan of Cimmeria returning to the screen ( and rumors of attempts to bring Flash Gordon back to the big screen.  There was even the pronouncement on May 10, 2001 that one of the masters of fantasy art, Frank Frazetta, had passed away (NY Times article).

Frazetta's Buck Rogers

The news of Frazetta passing saddened many fans of the genre the world over.  From his beautiful paintings of Buck Rogers, and his fantastical portrayals of Amazonian Jungle Women, to his barbaric depictions of Conan and Tarzan wrestling with the most ghastly of creatures, the imaginative portrayals of fantasy’s biggest characters inspired many to delve into the world of fantasy fiction themselves.

The 80’s saw many of these characters, and more importantly, this genre of fantasy/sword and sorcery, brought to life in a slew of feature films.  In fact, Frazetta himself, along with famed filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, worked on an animated feature, “Fire and Ice”, which itself was responsible for inspiring future filmmakers, such as Robert Rodriquez (who himself announced days after Frazetta’s death that he is going to remake the film (

Frazetta's Tarzan

Frazetta's Sheena-like Jungle Queen

Because of all this news, I’ve decided to bring to the masses my personal reviews of 25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s, in a 5 part blog (all of this leading up to the 31 Days of Howl-oween!).  There are some true gems, as well as some steaming piles.  I hope you enjoy the posts, and let me know your thoughts (as well as any I may have missed!).

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

Part I

Film #1

~ Hawk the Slayer~

Director:  Terry Marcel
Year:  1980
Cast:  Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, William Morgan Sheppard
Language:  English
Country:  United Kingdom
Specs:  90 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Voltan (Palance), evil older brother to Hawk (Terry) kills their father for refusing to give him a magical sword.  When he then raids a convent and kidnaps a nun (Crosbie), Hawk recruits a ragtag group of warriors, including an elf, a giant, and a dwarf, to try to stop him.  In possession of the sword and its powerful amulet orb, Hawk engages in a battle of good vs. evil, and brother vs. brother.

To begin, this film features 80’s synth music at its “best” (is there a symbol for sarcasm?).  This British sword and sorcery tale is not to be confused with an episode of “Dr. Who”, though it is of the same video quality and cheesy effects as the esteemed Dr. is known for.  At times, it is unclear if this kooky film were intended to be a spoof of the sword and sorcery genre, or it simply came across that way.  Matte paintings that are noticeably obvious, edits that are so horrendous it appeared my scratch-free DVD had gouges deeper than the Grand Canyon many times throughout the film, and character acting that makes even the looniest of Terry Gilliam films seem like chef-d’oeuvre.  The obvious reuse of footage is droll, as is the most basic of sets and costumes.  The hammy acting is either enjoyable or excruciating to watch (the robotic performance of the elf character is case in point), for reasons I’m certain the filmmakers never intended.

In fact, the film is so memorable for its corny production, it has been spoofed and/or mentioned in other productions, such as the wonderful British show “Spaced”, from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

No question, this film is one I’ll never forget.  Sadly, it is for all the wrong reasons.

My Rating** / D+

Available from Amazon: Hawk the Slayer

Film #2

~ Tarzan, the Ape Man~

Director:  John Derek
Year:  1981
Cast:  Bo Derek, Richard Harris, Miles O’Keefe
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  107 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Jane Parker (Derek) visits her estranged father James (Harris) on an expedition for the mythical “white ape” in the jungles of Africa.  They learn that the beast is actually Tarzan (O’Keefe), a beastly man of the jungle raised by apes.  As the expedition seeks to track and capture Tarzan, Jane is kidnapped by the “Lord of the Jungle”, where she introduces him to a world of sexual experience, and decides to protect him from her maniacal father.  Once Jane is captured by a leading tribe to be the sex slave to its tribal leader, Tarzan must seek out and rescue his mate and protector.

The only cool thing about this film was the opening card of Bo Derek’s “Jane”, beautifully painted by Frazetta.  Sadly, this is a very very strange film from start to finish.  For starters, James Parker does little more than run around screaming at the top of his crazy minded lungs the entire film, to the point of utter annoyance (especially given the stifling of the 2x Oscar nominated actor.)  The dialogue he is given, as well as the rest of the cast, is arguably the most hackneyed dribble every captured on film.  The actions of the characters are just plain silly and uninspired in every way (Jane “falls” off the dock into the water, Jane strips naked any chance she can get, the photographer “falls” off the dock into the water, Jane strips naked even more, Jane wrestles topless with an orangutan, Jane gets naked yet again).

Direction of the film is equally puzzling.  Common with many productions found on the local cable access, there is an abundance of strange video toaster wipes and star zooms, apparently to pay homage to the serials of long ago.  Adding to that already bungling editorial decision, there is the use of slow motion EVERY time Tarzan swings through the air, the 3 MINUTE slow motion dissolving mess that is the snake wrestling scene, the absolutely dreadful framing (Harris is “mourning” the death of his ex-wife he “hated” in what is supposed to be a pivotal point to his character, while the framing of his face is obscured by a piece of cloth hanging from the tent!”)

Simply put, I am amazed at how this film got made, other than the pitch must have been “Bo Derek standing, bathing, and running topless through visually stunning landscapes”.

The Gap Band said it best.  BOMB.

My Rating* / F

Available from Amazon: Tarzan, The Ape Man
or Amazon Video on Demand: Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)

Film #3

~ Clash of the Titans~

Director:  Desmond Davis
Year:  1981
Cast:  Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Burgess Meredith
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  118 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Perseus (Hamlin), son of Zeus (Olivier), is smitten with Princess Andromeda (Bowker) of the kingdom of Joppa.  Once she is kidnapped by Calibos (Neil McCarthy), the jealous son of a fellow god, Perseus, along with winged horse Pegasus as his steed, undertakes a series of perilous quests, where he must answer puzzling riddles, slay the beast Medusa, and destroy the Kraken, the beast controlled by Poseidon, god of the sea, before she becomes another of the monsters sacrificial vestal virgins.

What can be said of Ray Harryhausen’s work in any film?  Simply put, one word can be used to describe it.  Spectacular!  This film based on ancient Greek Mythology (with some liberties taken, natch) is a wonderful tale of monsters, creatures, fables, and flying horses.  While some of the acting is rather stale and one dimensional (does Perseus have any emotions?), the story is engrossing and stimulating, enhanced by the wonderful creature effects of the talented Mr. Harryhausen.

As I’ve written before, if certain elements of a film lend to the character development in an intelligent way, or propel the story forward in a way that excising the scene would impede, I have little problem.  Unfortunately, this film is hurt in a number of scenes by what amounts to little more than unneeded, gratuitous, and perplexing additions.  The opening montage of Perseus as a boy and his mother features a topless shot of her and a full rear nude shot of her walking down the beach, sadly completely out of place and unneeded.  There is a brief side topless shot and full rear nude shot of Andromeda getting out of a bath in preparation for her virginal sacrifice at the end of the film, which is equally as out of place, taking the film completely out of the realm of viewing for children (which otherwise feels like a film to whom it is geared).  A few lines about virginity and a graphic scene of a man being burned at the stake round out the only other content that may be too much for younger viewers.

It is without question that the film holds up well after nearly 20 years.  The costuming, the sets, and as mentioned, the special effects are wonderful, lending a realm of believability to this film.  A treat and joy to watch, with the exceptions of the previously mentioned content.

My Rating **** / B

Available from Amazon: Clash of the Titans [Blu-ray]
or Amazon Video on Demand: Clash of the Titans

Film #4

~ Dragonslayer~

Director:  Matthew Robbins
Year:  1981
Cast:  Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  109 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Young magicians apprentice Galen Bradwarden (MacNicol), after witnessing the murder of his master, Ulrich (Richardson), takes on a quest to slay the evil dragon Vermithrax Pejorative, thus ending the yearly ritual of sacrificing an unsuspecting virgin to the fire breathing beast.  Standing in his way is the pacifist monarch, who captures and confiscates Galen’s magic amulet.  Once the kings own daughter is chosen to be the next sacrifice, Galen determines to steal back his amulet and rescue the princess while completing his initial crusade.

Upon this films opening scene, I commented to myself how wonderful the sound was.  I wrote down in my notepad how this film, just minutes in, was proof how sound can propel a film into excellence on it’s own merits (not that this film needed the help).  It came as little surprise at the end of the film to see just why the films sound was so spectacular (I’ll get to the rest of the aspects of the film in a moment).  Francis Ford Coppola.  Not his name, per se, but his company, American Zoetrope. Coppola was an ardent fan of sound, and recognized the importance of it himself.  He in fact pushed his protégé, George Lucas, to embrace this fact on his first directorial efforts (“THX-1138”, and of course, “Star Wars”).  Simply stated, Zoetrope delivered in this film.  The cavernous echos, the dragons breathing in before he delivers his scorching flame, even the footsteps on the rocks are all excellently mixed and recorded, delivering a true gratifying experience to the senses.

The epic tale was so spectacularly photographed, so beautifully scored, and so amazingly realized through the wonderful work of Phil Tippett and Dennis Muren, that it is no wonder how it garnered so many award nominations upon its initial release.  The “go-motion” developed by Tippett and Lucas’ ILM is spectacular, and puts to shame any modern CG effects that surely would be used to create the dragon Vermithrax Pejorative were it to be remade today.

The film is said to be the first from Disney to feature nudity (a partial and very brief shot of a rear-end and breast under water), and violence of the nature it is seen here (some baby dragons eat the body of one of their victims).  However, to label this film with such fanfare is unjust, as the film is one of the tamest sword and sorcery fantasy tales of it’s era.  The film was a joint effort by Disney and Paramount (noteworthy that just a few years after this films release, second in command at Paramount, Michael Eisner, would become CEO at Disney).

While the film did not earn back its budget on its initial release, it surely has and will continue to on the many forms of home entertainment for years to come.  A true gem of a film.

I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t announced their plans to remake this film.  Hmmm….

My Rating***** / A

Available from Amazon: Dragonslayer: When Dragons Were Real
or Amazon Video on Demand: Dragonslayer

Film #5

~ The Sword and the Sorcerer~

Director:  Albert Pyun
Year:  1982
Cast:  Lee Horsley, Richard Lynch, Richard Moll, Kathleen Beller
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  100 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Eleven years after King Cromwell (Lynch) summons and betrays the evil demonic sorcerer Xusia (Moll) in his quest to seize the distant land of Ehdan, lone Ehdanian survivor Prince Talon (Horsley) returns from hiding to avenge his fathers death.  Armed with a special three-bladed sword bequeathed to him by his father, the King of Ehdan, and accompanied by a rag tag group of mercenaries, Talon races to face Cromwell to the death, while concurrently a long dormant Xusia plots his revenge from his underground lair.

Such an interesting title (and poster) wasted on such a stinker of a film.  The film is so cheesy, I’m tempted to compare it to a box of Kraft Cheesier Macaroni.

The acting in this tawdry flick is worthy of the D-list.  The story, directing, and special effects don’t fare much better, if at all.  For starters, we are treated to graphic gore that is so over-the-top unbelievable, the original “Friday the 13th” film looks like a masterpiece in comparison.  Furthermore, the wire-fu in this film is so out of place, unrealistic, and poorly executed the Shaw Brothers must be spinning in their 5 Deadly Graves.  Couple that with the dialogue given the actors (which would easily have made Robert De Niro look bad), the choreography of fight scenes straight from an episode of “Knight Rider”, the comical elements, sound effects, and musical score more befitting of an episode of “Voyagers!”, and the blatant attempts to model the character of Talon off of a cross between Harrison Ford’s Han Solo (or Nathan Fillion’s Mal (“Firefly”)) and Indiana Jones, and you have yourself an accurate description of this “Mystery Science Theater” fodder.

The worst (head scratchingly) part of this film is the odd crucifixion scene, where we are witness to the most spectacular of recoveries ever caught on film.  SPOILER ALERT:  Talon, having hung on a “cross” for the length of a wedding feast/wedding, suddenly yanks his hands off the contraption, nails and all, whereupon he grabs a sword, fights the most comically intense battle (the climax of the film here), jumps up one floor onto a balcony from a standing position, and nearly single handedly saves the day by destroying the demon and the evil king, all the while finding time to “bed” the heroin as a reward.   Classic.

To think a sequel was planned (and teased in the end credits)!  I only hope the stated revisiting of those plans ( is ostensible at best.

If that happens before the long delayed “Hobbit”, Xusia help us all.

My Rating: ** / D

Available from Amazon: The Sword and the Sorcerer

To Be Continued…

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Posted by on September 27, 2010 in Movies


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