Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Thing. All classic films that have lived on within our collective affair with pop culture and genre film.
It’s 1982’s – arguably the best single year in cinematic history for the b-list and c-list pulp fantasy/sci-fi genre film. And although you’re sure to remember those great movies listed above, do you remember The Beastmaster? Megaforce? The Dark Crystal? Swamp Thing? Of course you do. Hell, 1982 was downright awesome! And although I wasn’t old enough to see any of these latter films in the theatre, I caught them all on rented VHS using the family’s new cinder block of a video player.
Sure, some of those films haven’t aged as well as others, but there’s one specific fantasy film that I still return to, again and again – a cult film that everyone (specifically 1982’s teenage boys) will remember with excitement, delight and admiration (not to mention gawking enthusiasm over the female form). That film is Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer.
Why? Oh, there are so many reasons!
With the De Laurentiis family bringing Robert E. Howard’s fantasy creation Conan the Barbarian to the silver screen, first time director Pyun was able to sell his own sword and sorcery creation to producers and an independent studio. Not the most original of ideas, it was called, affectionately enough, The Sword and the Sorcerer, and it strategically predated the highly anticipated release of Conan in North America by one whole month. It was a good idea. Cashing in on the Conan buzz would see Pyun’s film go on to gross $39 million at the box office. With a budget of only $4 million, it was the most profitable independent film of the year.
The Sword and the Sorcerer tells the story of highborn, young Prince Talon, as his entire family is murdered and his kingdom seized by old enemy, King Cromwell, played with fiendish delight by the amazing Richard Lynch.
As an aside, you may remember Lynch from many television genre programs such as Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, T.J. Hooker and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He appeared in Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween and was set to appear in that director’s upcoming Lords of Salem but dropped out due to health issues. Sadly, Lynch passed away last June but he’s left a lasting legacy with so many great appearances in cult classic movies and television shows. His King Cromwell in The Sword and the Sorcerer is absolutely delicious!
Anyway, Talon grows to manhood (now played by a gregarious Lee Horsley of Matt Houston), becoming a roguish mercenary-for-hire in the process, and, with his ancestral three-bladed sword (that’s right – three blades!), aims to rid his land of the despot Cromwell and the evil Sorcerer Xusia (played by the gargantuan Richard Moll of Night Court fame).
Yes! There are so many appearances here by television genre stars. The late Simon MacCorkindale (Manimal, Falcon Crest and Counterstrike) plays the underground resistance leader, Prince Mikah. The awesome Robert Tessier (famous for his turn as the Midas Muffler and Brakes man in a host of commercials during the 1980’s) plays a menacing torturer in the film.
And then there’s Kathleen Beller, an early infatuation of mine, due, in no small part, to her young, feisty, and absolutely beautiful turn as Princess Alana in the movie. Known for her roles in the television soap operas Search for Tomorrow and Dynasty, Beller became the object of many a teenage boys infatuation after The Sword and the Sorcerer, a film she was actually dissatisfied with.
You see, there’s a lot of overt sexism in The Sword and the Sorcerer. It’s a light “T and A” movie, most likely because that’s the type of film that producer Brandon Chase liked to create and that the independent studio liked to distribute. Women are constantly called “wenches”, perform sexual favours for male warriors, and engage in ridiculous, if fun, forms of dialogue, rife with innuendo:
Princess Alana: Not so fast!
Prince Talon: But my sword is poised.
Princess Alana: What’s the matter is your sword too small?
Prince Talon: I can’t wait to bed you, wench…you raise my expectations!
There’s lots of that kind of cheesy banter in the film. Taken in b-movie context, it can be enjoyable. Take a shot of whiskey every time there’s a sexual connotation in the script and you’ll be blind before ever getting to the <a-hem> rousing crucifixion/wedding scene climax.
It’s no wonder teenage boys loved this flick and that those of us, of a certain age, still remember it fondly.
But fair is fair. Not only are there gratuitous shots of breasts and bottoms, but The Sword and the Sorcerer plays both sexes as equals in sexuality. Muscled men, too, are bare-chested and covered in only loincloths in this film. Everyone – and I mean everyone – seems rubbed down with olive oil, bronzed by standing too close to a fire for far too long. Even torture scenes are overtly sexualized.
And of course, there’s comedy. Lots and lots of comedy. When Talon’s band of mercenaries gather themselves alongside a group of pirates in order to save their imprisoned leader, there’s a tender and inspiring scene wherein they swear to Talon’s sword. Taking an escaped (and beautiful) female guide with them in order to sneak into the castle, the very next scene sees the somewhat incompetent group behind bars. “We should never have followed that bitch in here,” one of the pirates states coldly. He’s quickly slapped in the face by his compatriot Captain (who has a Jamaican accent) before their mercenary partners are blamed for the capture. The edit of the scene is so abrupt that the comedic timing is actually laugh-out-loud enjoyable.
From a design perspective, The Sword and the Sorcerer is a strange film in that there’s a definite mash of costume styling so that you’re never quite sure where or when this story is taking place. Is it barbarian times or a medieval era? In some cases, the garb worn looks almost elvish in design while in others it’s gladiatorial Rome. And then there’s the previously mentioned three-bladed sword. Not very practical in real life, this thing could actually fire its blades at enemies! It was absolutely over the top crazy! So popular was the prop that they even made a toy out of it, one I remember very, very fondly.
The film is a cross between all the other films you’ve probably already seen in this genre. It doesn’t break any new ground, but does incorporate some horror elements that seem taken from a Clive Barker movie. The special effects, although dated, are still effective. Blood runs as freely as water in The Sword and the Sorcerer!
The music score, written by British composer David Whitaker is a definite highlight. It’s at once heroic and playful, encapsulating the pulp fantasy feel of the genre with gargantuan horns, drums, strings and cymbals to the delight of both the audience and music lovers. The enduring cult classic love affair many have with this film is due, in no small part, to this composition.
One last enduring legacy that The Sword and the Sorcerer has created is that it finishes with the promise of a sequel. In fact, director Pyun, had hoped for a series of films starring Prince Talon. Right before the credits begin, audiences are told to “Watch for Talon’s next adventure, Tales of An Ancient Empire, coming soon”.
“Soon” ended up being twenty-eight years later. In a direct-to-video release, Albert Pyun directed Tales of An Ancient Empire (2010), starring Kevin Sorbo with Lee Horsley reprising the role of Talon in a cameo appearance only. It’s too bad, really, but maybe for the best that not many have seen it. By all accounts, the sequel is a poor film – but one that I’ll probably get around to seeing sometime in the future.
For all of its miss-steps, bad dialogue, plot holes, overt sexism and male chauvinism, The Sword and the Sorcerer has a good heart. It’s a fun romp with swords, and magic and evil and heroism with flashes of nudity and sex – a perfect recipe for cult classic status, fondly remembered by those that first saw it in 1982.
It’s a great movie for a Saturday afternoon, alone, or an evening amongst friends with shot glasses full of your favourite alcoholic poison. Just go easy on the booze.