The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Monday, June 27, 2011
The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)
This movie is almost as far from DTV as we can get: made in 1982, grossed almost $40 million at the box office (only movie it couldn't catch that year was Porky's, which, let's be honest, it's Porky's, nothing could top that). But the distinguishing mark it has is that it was the first film of DTVC Hall of Fame director and friend of the blog Albert Pyun, and this post will make his 30th tag, so I wanted to commemorate it with what is his most successful and one of his best known films. Also, we're closing in on the release of the film's sequel, Tales of an Ancient Empire, and considering I hadn't seen this one in a while, I wanted to get a refresher.
The Sword and the Sorcerer has DTVC favorite Richard Lynch as Cromwell, an evil conqueror who brings back to life the evil sorcerer Xusia, played by Richard Moll, so he can use his power to conquer the richest city in the world. He succeeds, kills Xusia, and then kills the ruling family, with only the king's son Talon (Lee Horsley) escaping. Talon grows up to be something of a heroic rogue, and he returns to the city of his birth to get his revenge, right at the time a young prince and princess are planning a rebellion to overthrow Cromwell. The prince is captured, and the princess hires Talon to save him, for which he'll be paid with a night with her, Skin-a-max style. Can he defeat the evil Cromwell? And what happened to Xusia? Will he come back for his revenge as well?
This movie is excellent. I usually don't go in for the fantasy genre, but Sword throws a lot of its conventions on its ear. First off, it's much more graphic, with some excellent kills, and a lot more bare flesh, including nudity. Second, it's less concerned with inundating us with the minutiae of its plot, and more concerned with the bare bones of the story, told in broad strokes, combined with some great action. Third, as far as that action goes, the sword fights aren't a bunch of dandies clanking around with épées, it's like swing once, then blood, and lots of it. This is an R rated movie, and gets the most out of that R rating. Finally, I like the film's overall message, that there is a real karma out there based on how we treat people. Throughout the film we come into contact with characters who in some fashion owe a debt to Talon, and its Talon's selflessness in helping others that ultimately saves him as many of those people come to his aid; while Cromwell selfishly and brutally seeks out power, doesn't care who he hurts, and in the end, he can't trust anyone.
If we can draw anything from Pyun's first directorial effort, it is his want to mix genres and turn them on their ears. Having been born in 1979, and first coming into contact with this in the late 80s, that is well after Star Wars and Indiana Jones, so for me it's easy to say The Sword and the Sorcerer drew from those; but it's probably more accurate to say that Pyun had the same influences that Lucas and Spielberg did, and that's where the similarities lie. You can see the 50s-60s pulp influence, the Japanese samurai influence, and the swashbuckling Three Musketeers style influence, all things we also see in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. One Japanese movie connection I saw with the overall story was with Sansho the Baliff, though that might be a stretch. What I like about Sword though, is that Pyun really makes it an R rated film, and isn't afraid to get gory, get naked, make sexual jokes-- in short, take the fantasy genre and give it the edge it so rarely has from people who are too hung up on emulating Tolkien.
Loved Richard Lynch as the baddie. While he maintained his great New York accent, he also brought his classical training as an actor to the table, and both were excellent. We have this idea of him here at the DTVC as the baddie in a ton of really bad flicks, like the recently reviewed Werewolf, so it was good to see him get after it with a role that really played to his strengths. He's one of the ultimate baddies, and nowhere is that more evident than in The Sword and the Sorcerer
Lee Horsely played the hero-- yes, that Lee Horsely, aka Matt Houston, the womanizing, Texas oil man who would chopper into LA and solve various crimes. There really is no Texas accent to speak of here-- though that might have been funny-- and I thought he kind of looked like Peter O'Toole. It's like he brought the Matt Houston larger than life persona into the role of Talon, without making him obviously Texas, if that makes sense.
There were other great performances in the film too, including Kathleen Beller as the princess, Richard Moll as Xusia, Joe Regalbuto as Talon's buddy (you may remember him as Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown, and/or the DTVC reviewed flick Schizoid), Robert Tessier as the prison guard, and Anthony De Longis as a villager/budding warrior, and whose sword fighting prowess ironically wasn't on display. Everyone seemed to get what was tongue-in-cheek, what was R rated, and most importantly, what was an attempt to change our preconceived notions of the fantasy genre.
One actor that wasn't used as well as the DTVC faithful would've liked, was one of our favorites, Reb Brown. He has a couple scenes, then his character is captured along with the rest of the gang, and off screen his tongue is cut out, after which he's paraded in front of the other prisoners as a threat that they should talk, when he tries to take out Tessier the prison guard, and is killed off. I understand that this was a big screen production, and Reb Brown was probably not on the top of the list of actors they wanted to center the film around, but he's Reb Brown, our guy, so I gotta at least throw it out there that more of him is always better.
Anyone who's been rockin' with the DTVC for a while knows that I'm not the biggest fan of computer effects, and a movie like this is a big reason why, because there were a lot of great effects that came off with no CGIs whatsoever. The best was the very end, where Xusia reveals himself as Cromwell's second in command, and breaks out of his skin. Really great stuff that I don't think translates well at all if the thing is done with CGIs. I understand that it's probably cheaper and quicker to go the CGI route, but it doesn't look quite as nice, at least not to me.
This is a definite gem. Unfortunately the Anchor Bay DVD that I borrowed from my friend is no longer in print, and can be fairly costly on Amazon in the secondary market, which I will say here, based on the version I'm looking at, while it's a great transfer, it's not worth paying more than $10-15 new for, considering there aren't any great extras or anything. This is truly a cult classic of the 80s and a great film that deserves a high quality DVD release, which will hopefully come sooner rather than later.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084749/