Sunday, October 25, 2009

Interview With Albert Pyun


A couple days ago I received an email from director Albert Pyun in regards to a review I did last October on his wonderful Sword & Sorcery fantasy film, THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982). I was both shocked and overjoyed to receive an email from a cinema personality. I asked Mr. Pyun if it would be possible for an email interview and he kindly agreed. I was quite ecstatic as I have never performed an interview of any kind. I sent my questions to Mr. Pyun and he quickly answered much to my delight for receiving such a speedy response from him.

Below is the interview with one of the most interesting and modest directors working in genre cinema today. You may not enjoy some of his films, but even his lesser pictures contain entertaining qualities. He has kept himself busy and has delivered several memorable action films such as CYBORG (1989), the hugely entertaining NEMESIS (1992) and BRAINSMASHER: A LOVE STORY starring Andrew Dice Clay.

Now, Albert Pyun is currently filming the sequel to THE SWORD & THE SORCERER which was promised during the closing credits of the 1982 film. Entitled TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE, the film has something of a SEVEN SAMURAI vibe about it. It's about a beautiful princess who recruits a number of formidable swordmasters in an effort to free her kingdom from an evil sorceress.

The new movie stars Kevin Sorbo as the lead hero, the alluring Melissa Ordway as Tanis and the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert. Lee Horsley also returns as Talon. After the interview, I have provided links to pictures and video clips for the new film. In addition, pics from the first film are sprinkled throughout this post.

Talon brandishing the fanciful tri-bladed sword with projectile blades

Venoms5: How did you initially become attached to direct THE SWORD & THE SORCERER?

Albert Pyun: SWORD & THE SORCERER was my conception. It took me 4 years to attach an investor. The same is true for most of my films.

Believing Talon to be Xusia in human guise, Cromwell engages him in a duel to the death

Was there any reservations at directing such an ambitious film?

None. After spending a year on the storyboards, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Did producer, Brandon Chase direct any of the film? I notice it says during the opening credits, 'A Brandon Chase Film'.

No, he did not direct any portion of the film. Brandon Chase's company put up the money which gave them control. I was too young to know better.

Despite CONAN being very different, was Milius's film ever an intimidating factor during the production of TS&TS?

No intimidation. Communication about who was making what and how was slim in those days, compared to now. I knew the Conan film was in the works and held admiration for Milius. I personally hoped the film would be tremendous and did not realize SWORD & SORCERER was in competition until later.

Lee Horsley as Talon from the 1982 production

What are your memories of working with Lee Horsley? Judging by his performance, he seems to have enjoyed himself as the lead, Talon.

Horsley was terrific. However, the wig gave him a scalp infection. There was too much blood and he hated being put on that cross. When I asked him to be in TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE, he said, "Only if you don't crucify me again."

A wide shot showing Talon crucified (the sequence noted in the above response) during the wedding sequence between Cromwell and Princess Alana

Richard Lynch as Cromwell, one of two villains in THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982)

Richard Lynch is an icon in genre cinema and one of the screens most memorable villains. Was it a pleasurable experience working with him?

Yes, pleasurable and intense. He was a very complex actor for a first time director to collaborate with.

The opening resurrection scene in the tomb of Xusia, the demonic sorcerer as played by Richard Moll, who had a career in genre cinema playing evil characters such as EVILSPEAK (1981) and THE DUNGEONMASTER (1985)

What are your memories of Richard Moll? Judging by his propensity for doing comedy, was he a cut up on set?

No, he was not comfortable with the makeup and contact lenses. His cornea got scratched when he emerged from the tomb and he was taken to hospital.

Xusia, betrayed by Cromwell, plots his evil revenge.

Was there a moment that you, or any of the production crew considered not completing the film after the tragedy that befell stuntman, Jack Tyree? I can only imagine what that must have been like.

We were all terribly shaken and upset. I was not involved in the discussion of what would happen next. I waited with the crew while the decisions were made. It was tragic and it taught me a lesson. I never had another death on one of my sets.

The stunning Kathleen Bellar

Did Kathleen Bellar have reservations about her characters (tastefully done) nude scene? I am assuming it was a double during the shot where the camera slowly pans over her body as she is being massaged.

Yes, she had a body double. I don't remember any discussions or reservations.

One of many bloody scenes during the gritty, but lively THE SWORD & THE SORCERER.

Were there any problems attaining an R rating? The film is rather gruesome at times.

Not that I'm aware of.

Earl Maynard (Morgan) has a bone to grind with Robert Tessier (Verdugo)

What was the initial critical reaction to the film overall? The public seemed very receptive to the film.

Gene Siskel loved it and Roger Ebert hated it. That's indicative of the overall critical reception. Fan reception was very enthusiastic and long lasting.

Looking back at the movie now, what are your thoughts about the picture and is there anything you would change about it given the opportunity to go back and do so?

I have my opportunity now with TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE. In a sense that's why I'm making this film at this time. I want to bring forth the version of SWORD & THE SORCERER closer to the version I wanted to do in 1981.

Are there any memories, good or bad, while shooting the picture, that you would like to share?

I enjoyed the cast very much. As my first experience directing seasoned actors, it was really fun and magical to see them bring the characters to life.

Why was there such a huge gap between the first film and its sequel? The original was a surprise success, so the amount of time that has passed between the two is a surprise in itself.

The world of 1981 and '82 after SWORD came out there was a proliferation of cheesy and cheesier fantasy films and the audience got burned out. At the time I didn't feel I had anything more to say on the subject. It's just that it's taken me this long to come up with the ideas and approach to the S&S genre and to make it vital again. Now I know I'm in competition with the upcoming CONAN, CLASH OF THE TITANS, PRINCE OF PERSIA and more and I'm enjoying it.

How is the new production coming along and are you generally satisfied with its progress?

I'm thrilled with the project, but the process as most indy films are experiencing these days, is very difficult.

Compared with the first film, do you have more resources at your disposal in terms of time and budget?

Less time, less money, but more experience and resources. I have relationships that have built up over the last 27 years that give great support. I like to think that I am a slightly better director than back then (most people may not agree).

Another shot from the crucifixion/dinner sequence

What can the numerous fans of the first film expect from this upcoming sequel?

I think all fans of S&S movies will welcome this return to the spirit of high adventure when the worlds are still bloody, gory and rife with evil, but we can all have a good time, cleaving our way through it.

A scene from the opening of the film within the tomb of the demonic Xusia.

Are there any sequences in the new film that you are particularly proud of and would like to share?

I can't really speak to that yet, because we're in the middle of the visual and action effects and there's still time for plenty to go wrong. TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE is the culmination of everything I've wanted to do in film. It benefits from all I've learned through my many filmmaking experiences.

An immense thanks to Mr. Pyun for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer questions regarding one of my favorite movies, THE SWORD & THE SORCERER and its eagerly awaited sequel, TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE. The best of luck to you and your crew on this new production. I'm sure all fans of the original that are reading this are just as anxious to check out the sequel to one of the best fantasy films of the 1980's.

Below are links to filmed footage as well as pics taken from the set of the new film...

Various pics from the set including Horsley as Talon...

Albert Pyun Facebook, twitter and Myspace pages. There are two clips from the film as well as interesting information about the director on these pages....

And finally, for those interested, or anyone new to the site, below is a link to the review posted last October for THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982) found here on

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shock Waves (1976) review


Brooke Adams (Rose), Luke Halpin (Keith), Peter Cushing (SS Nazi Commander), John Carradine (Ben)

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn

"We created the perfect soldier...from cheap hoodlums and thugs...and a good number of pathological murderers and sadists as well. We called them...the 'Toden Corps'...the 'Death Corps'. Creatures more horrible than any you can imagine...not dead...not alive, but somewhere in between."

A group of vacationers on a tour ship are stranded on a seemingly deserted island after their boat smashes into a huge ocean liner that appears mysteriously out of nowhere. The next morning, the ship is revealed to be the rotted out hull of an old vessel. Exploring the island, the group find an old hotel; the remnants of a forgotten era and its sole occupant, a former Nazi SS Commander left there in involuntary exile during the closing days of WW2. The Commander spins a terror tale to the unwitting visitors that the Nazis were working on a group of super soldiers amassed from serial murderers and homicidal maniacs. These killers could survive in any uninhabitable environment. The Commanders group was designed for the water and now that the island has fresh victims, the waterlogged Nazi undead have returned.

SHOCK WAVES is one of the most vivid experiences I ever had watching Shock Theater as a small boy. I remember this film being shown on two different occasions and both times I was unable to finish the movie as it scared me half to death. Years later I managed to buy the Prism tape after catching the trailer on the HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD VHS also out from Prism. It has since become a favorite of mine and when it debuted on DVD from Blue Underground, it was one of my most eagerly awaited DVD's of 2002. Upon seeing the film once more on the digital format brought about some minor discontentment as the print was in average shape. The print seen on the Prism tape was much better (the same print was utilized for the EP mode tape from Starmaker). Nonetheless, I was ecstatic just the same to have the film on DVD and with some welcome extras explaining the production.

Director, Ken Wiederhorn handles the film well building on the suspense creating a truly pervasive atmosphere of dread. It's one of the most chilling horror pictures I've ever seen made all the more effective by the oppressive musical score from Richard Einhorn. The music adds a whole other level of fear to the proceedings. The original trailer for the film captures this sentiment perfectly (The faster you run, the quicker you die!) so if it doesn't grab you, then the movie will likely do little to nothing for you. Possibly Wiederhorn's best film, he ported over some of the creepiness factor into his next feature, EYES OF A STRANGER (1981). Wiederhorn no doubt brought down the disdain of horror fans everywhere with one of the worst and most unwelcome sequels ever with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 2 (1987).

Having seen SHOCK WAVES (1976) multiple times over the years, I've often wondered if John Carpenter hadn't seen it prior to making HALLOWEEN (1978). The shots of the Nazi zombies just standing stationary watching their victims from afar is very reminiscent of similar shots of Michael Myers doing the same throughout Carpenter's seminal classic. One sequence has two of the creatures watching the vacationers after they find the corpse of their cook. They slowly walk away never taking their eyes off the people.

Another scene has Peter Cushing attempting to regain control over his former troopers. A group of them emerge from the trees and begin to enter the water. Cushing yells to them in German ordering them to halt. From a distance, you can see the Aryan undead looking at him ignoring his order as they slowly submerge below the murky depths.

"The sea spits up what it can't keep down."

There were around 8 actors playing the various Nazi zombies. There are skinny ones, fat ones, tall and short ones. The way some of the scenes are edited, it appears there are far more than eight. These zombies do not just ascend from the oceans brine. They lie in wait beneath any body of water whether it be a small pond or river. The numerous scenes showing them rising from their watery graves recalls scenes of vampires awakening from their coffins.

These eerie sequences are made all the more effective by the music and the silent, emotionless goggle faced visage of the Nazi undead as they stalk the stranded travelers. Unlike the zombies of more famous and well known movies, these creatures do not consume human flesh preferring to drown or strangle their victims. The fact that these monsters were designed for the water, it is used as their main method of murder. Alan Ormsby, make up artist and actor in CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), provides the effective zombie effects here. A scene that was discarded featured a rotted corpse found adrift in the sea by the boaters. Stills of it are found on the DVD.

Brooke Adams was a beautiful actress who featured in a handful of television programs and had good roles in other genre pictures such as the classy remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from 1978. She was also in THE DEAD ZONE (1983) and the creepy evil baby movie, THE UNBORN (1991) for producer, Roger Corman. She shows off her lovely frame regularly here in a bikini. Luke Halpin from FLIPPER is okay as the hero of the film, but the scene stealer aside from the zombies, is Peter Cushing. He's in relatively few scenes, but his are some of the most memorable.

Just hearing Cushing talk commands attention. His dialog recounting who and what the water dwelling murderers are makes for spooky storytelling. Cushing's presence adds an air of respectability the production otherwise may not have had. It no doubt would still be an effective chiller, but with Cushing and Carradine (who plays the grumpy ship captain) on board, it adds something special to the movie.

With a number of eerily efficient scenes found in the picture, the ending of SHOCK WAVES (1976) is truly shocking in itself ending on a somber note. Wiederhorn also infuses the picture with an air of the supernatural. Such is the case with the haunted vessel that bears down on the small tourist boat. After the boat has been damaged, it's discovered that the liner is nothing more than an old wreck despite the previous scene detailing otherwise. Also, once the tourists make their way to the island, underwater photography reveals the hull of the old wreck creaking and rumbling below the depths.

It is here we see the first glimpse of the Aryan army of Nazi zombies. It's one of many startlingly well done scenes of impending horror. One difference between this zombie film and others is that shooting them in the head isn't the preferred method. Simply removing the creatures goggles exposing them to the rays of the sun (years of being underwater proves fatal when their eyes are exposed in the daylight in another vampire parallel) does the trick.

SHOCK WAVES (1976) may put off more impatient horror fans with its relatively slow pace and lack of gore (these zombies prefer to drown their victims in whatever body of water may be in the general vicinity). The only instance of any type of grue is some close up shots of the decomposing zombies. But those who can tolerate a more slow building sense of terror filled with many tense moments will find much to enjoy here. Wiederhorn's directing debut remains an underrated cult gem and deserves some additional attention.

This review is representative of the Blue Underground DVD.
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