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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Sword & the Sorcerer (1982) review


Lee Horsley (Talon), Richard Lynch (Cromwell), Richard Moll (Xusia), Kathleen Bellar (Princess Alana), Simon MacCorkindale (Prince Mikah), George Maharis (Machelli)

Directed by Albert Pyun

The evil Titus Cromwell journeys to Tomb Island to resurrect the vile black sorcerer, Xusia. Cromwell plans to overthrow King Richard, the ruler of the prosperous kingdom of Ehdan with the aid of the wicked magician. After seriously weakening Richard's forces, Cromwell decides to eliminate Xusia fearing the sorcerer will soon be too powerful to deal with. That bit of business out of the way, Cromwell finally kills Richard wiping out his forces and overtaking his kingdom in the process. Richard's son manages to elude Cromwell's grasp and seemingly vanishes. Years later, a rebellion stirs in Ehdan and two forces vie for revenge on the villainous Cromwell-- Talon, Richard's son and the evil reptilian sorcerer, Xusia.

Director Albert Pyun, known for low grade dreck including CYBORG (1989) and CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990), directs the best film of his varied career. Interestingly, at the opening of the film, a credit states "A Brandon Chase Film". Chase was a producer on the film and judging by Pyun's later fluctuating directing style, it would seem that Chase may have directed some of this movie as well. THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982) is a well made, controlled production while many of Pyun's other movies are scattershot and erratic in execution. However, his 1993 sci-fi/martial arts actioner, NEMESIS, is a lot of fun and very ambitious showcasing some accomplished Hong Kong style action scenes. SWORD features some ornately and artistically composed sequences unlike anything seen in Pyun's oeuvre.

Lee Horsley (a popular television actor from the time) plays the roguish hero, Talon. He excels in this part displaying much charisma. Unlike Schwarzenegger in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982), Horsley gets lots of dialog and some of it is seriously funny. One exchange in particular involves princess Alana about to be raped by a group of miscreants in an alleyway. Talon shows up and the leader of the gang tells him to get lost. Talon looks at the pants-less man and says, "That's a small threat...that's a very small threat", before comically dispatching the thugs.

Horsley plays his role as both a swashbuckler and a barbarian. One of the best adventurous moments during the film has Talon chased throughout Cromwell's castle by his guards from one end of the fortress to the other. He ends up in a harem full of oiled up and naked women. Landing virtually in the lap of one of the beauties, Talon is distracted by the woman's assets. He kisses her passionately stating, "I'd love to stay, but..." before the chase resumes again.

One of the most appealing features in the movie is Talon's sword. Given to him by his father, it is a tri-bladed weapon that can fire two of its blades as projectiles with enough force to enter a man's body and exit out the back. Such a cool invention recalls similar articulate weaponry seen in countless Shaw Brothers productions. There is also another smaller blade concealed within the swords handle. The sword first comes into play near the beginning when Cromwell kills Talon's parents and siblings. This fight scene is handled exceptionally well and like the entire movie, is rather gory.

Perennial bad guy, Richard Lynch is suitably sadistic as Titus Cromwell. He is also a formidable villain and possesses an almost honorable air of respectability for his opponents. On several occasions, he refuses to allow his men to either slay or arrest his enemy preferring instead to duel with them. The big chase scene with Talon through the castle culminates in he and Cromwell having a one on one duel. Cromwell, paranoid with the fact that Xusia is planning revenge against him, believes Talon to be the wicked wizard in human form.

A fascinating and ironic twist is that Cromwell is totally unaware who Talon is never realizing till the end that he is the son of Richard; the young boy he hunted for years but never found. Lynch is, as always, a tough and intimidating antagonist. His career is littered with such roles. He also played a similar role in Ruggero Deodato's THE BARBARIANS (1987). Lynch also menaced Chuck Norris in the ultra violent actioner, INVASION USA (1985).

Richard Moll features in the role of the sorcerer, Xusia. A reptilian creature whose nauseating talents include being able to rip peoples hearts out from a distance with a sort of gruesome take on the Force powers seen in the STAR WARS films. The opening scene where Cromwell and his crew resurrect Xusia with the help of a witch and the resultant display of his power is one of the best sequences in the entire movie. However, you see him during the first 10 minutes before Cromwell "kills" him.

Xusia pops up sporadically till the last 10 minutes of the movie where he gets involved during the final duel between Cromwell and Talon. Moll will most probably be forever remembered for his hilarious portrayal of Bailiff "Bull" Shannon on the long running hit show, NIGHT COURT. Moll was also a regular in low budget horror and exploitation cinema usually playing creatures or daunting villains of some sort. These include, EVILSPEAK (1982), METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983) and THE DUNGEONMASTER (1985).

The stunning and curvaceous Kathleen Bellar plays the spunky and rebellious princess Alana. A running gag has Alana in a compromising situation about to be ravaged by various male characters. She seduces them into believing she is succumbing to their desires only to give them a stiff knee to the groin instead. During the harem scene, there is a slow panning shot of an oiled up and naked Alana being rubbed down just as Talon enters the room. When her face is in frame, her buttocks is now covered. Apparently, she didn't feel comfortable doing a nude scene and presumably the actress used was a double. Towards the end during the big battle sequence, Bellar is decked out in a luscious outfit that perfectly shows off her elegant and curvaceous body.

Theater performer Simon MacCorkindale is good in the supporting role as Prince Mikah. A fine actor who has appeared in numerous American and British tv shows. He starred in the short-lived program from the early 80's, MANIMAL about a doctor who could transform into any animal of his choosing. MacCorkindale also had a supporting role in the monster hit, JAWS 3-D (1983) and was given the honor of being swallowed whole by the huge, man-eating shark. Among the cast of supporting players is Reb Brown. He plays one of Talon's followers. Brown would play in the awful cheese-fest, YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983) and also starred in the Cannon Films misfire, CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990), also directed by Pyun.

The action sequences are generally exciting and well choreographed. There's a gaggle of colorful and curious characters seen throughout. There's enough of them for several movies and if the proposed sequel had been made, it would have been interesting to have gotten to know some of them more. Considering the tragedy of Jack Tyree's death during filming, that may explain why the sequel was never filmed. Tyree was a stuntman who performed a jump from a cliff and missed the airbags he was to have landed on. The film is dedicated to his memory. Also among the large number of stunt performers is Buddy Van Horn who had previously helmed the popular Clint Eastwood action comedy, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980), the sequel to Eastwood's then biggest hit, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978).

There is also a generous amount of gore on hand such as a heart erupted from a chest cavity, impalements, blood sprays, heads sliced in half and a man grimly shedding his skin to reveal a creature underneath are among the gruesome delights in Pyun's movie. But there is also a good amount of humor on display. One of the funniest bits has Talon's men getting fired up to rescue their leader. The heroes side with some pirates for this rescue mission. The moment they are in agreement on the job, the scene dissolves to the group now in a dungeon within Cromwell's castle walls.

The magnificent score is from British composer, David Whitaker. An unjustly neglected musician who was capable of creating some baroque compositions and larger than life scores. Two of Whitaker's most notable works were in the Hammer films, VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971) and DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE (1971), both lively and vibrant film scores. His score for THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982) is possibly his most famous and was finally released to CD in 1999 from Supertracks, a now defunct company that also put out a 2 disc complete score for KRULL (1983).

As already briefly mentioned above, a sequel had been planned from the beginning. To have been called TALES OF THE ANCIENT EMPIRE, there are rumors that this long mooted sequel is preparing to finally be shot with director Pyun in the drivers seat. It's doubtful that a sequel (if it's made) will be anywhere as memorable as the original but it will be interesting to see the outcome. THE SWORD & THE SORCERER was an unexpectedly huge hit upon its release in the summer of '82 and nearly equaled the domestic take of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) by just a few hundred dollars. There are a number of fans who feel SWORD is the better movie. It is definitely the more lively and colorful of the two films.

Although they both share similar story conceits, the two movies share little in common with one another. CONAN is a bleak and gritty film told predominantly through a desolate landscape of pain and death. SWORD is likewise gritty, but is told in a fairy tale fashion melding different elements from pirate films and Errol Flynn style heroism. CONAN has virtually no humor while SWORD is peppered with some spirited exchanges. CONAN utilizes an almost monochromatic color scheme from beginning to end while SWORD paints its canvas in vibrant and bold colors. CONAN's soundtrack is a jingoistically brooding, ominous and testosterone fueled set of compositions. SWORD on the other hand, is a boisterously bombastic collection of audaciously rousing and romantic themes that nearly overpowers the film.

One brilliantly conceived sequence is during the finale when Talon has been captured and is crucified with large nails hammered into his hands during the dinner and wedding procession of Cromwell. He rips himself free and the big battle begins. There is a slow motion montage showing Talon hacking, slicing and wrestling his way through an onslaught of attackers to get at Cromwell. The music heard here is married beautifully to the on screen action lifting an otherwise exploitation picture into the realm of respectability. The last shot of this scene has one of Talon's men throw him his tri bladed sword as he leaps heavenward in an operatic fashion silhouetted atop a mob of dueling warriors.

THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982) is the type of movie they don't make anymore. Some viewers may be put off by the violence and gore but it is bolstered by a lively spirit of adventure lacking from other similar movies. A low budget film that refuses to look and act like one, it was a prime example of a film not needing a huge budget to rake in substantial box office returns. While not as downbeat as CONAN and not nearly as misogynistic as DEATHSTALKER, the film contains enough gore and nudity to satisfy exploitation fans and those who remember numerous tv shows from the late 70's and 80's will reminisce from all the familiar small screen faces found in this picture. One of the best of the barbarian adventure films and a warranted cult following that will hopefully continue to grow.

DVD availability: Anchor Bay Entertainment

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