Retro Sword and Sorcery Fun!
by Kristin Battestella
Surprisingly well told tales, scantily clad ladies galore, or terribly juicy shlock – either way these vintage fantasy yarns provide some enchanting entertainment.
Erik the Conqueror – Epic music and coastal waves open this 1961 viking adventure directed by Mario Bava (Black Sunday) and starring Cameron Mitchell (How to Marry a Millionaire). Maps and scrolls hear tell of 786 A.D. Dorset invasions before longboats, bloodthirsty blonde giants, horses, axes, and village fires. Scottish rivals and coups against the British king separate the rescued viking sons, establishing the personal rivalries amid up close action and well choreographed sword fights. Although the long arrows, shields, crossbows, and costuming are probably inaccurate and the English audio and subtitles don't match, this is well filmed for its time and budget with red lighting, fiery forges, and tree motifs making the viking rituals wild and otherworldly. Festive dances to Odin by vestal virgins create pageantry – a touch of magic and fantastics contrasting the regal chorales, reverence, bright tunics, and trumpets of courtly England. The visuals parallel each brother's circumstances twenty years later with grand pink and gold interiors and wide overhead shots of the divine cathedral versus forbidden love and deadly tribunals as the vikings challenge one another in fights to the death to be the king's successor. Though apparent, the pagan and Christian conflicts don't beat the audience over the head, making room for the two fold man versus man, man versus nature, man versus himself layers alongside North Sea battles, onboard spies, and betrayals. Who's savage or civilized questions and nature versus nurture debates rise as the unknown to each other brothers switch locales, trade hostages, and swap babes amid seasonal feasts, daring escapes, and twin sisters. Sometimes the misunderstandings are bemusing – people wash ashore in exactly the right place or sail between the coasts with such ease yet the right pair can't quite both be in the right country at the same time. With all the open furs and bare chests, how has no one seen the brothers' matching tattoos? Fortunately, the tale becomes darker, intermixing its distinct worlds with green lit dungeons, spider booby traps, and evil villains making for some serious moments and dramatic twists. Rival rescues, castle raids, and a big battle finale keep what is actually a simple little story entertaining. The lively blend of historical, sword, and sandal does what it says on the tin with an extra touch of Bava panache.
Sorceress – Ye olde titles, epic music, torches, horses, and red hoods provide the fantasy atmosphere opening this 1982 romp directed by Jack Hill (Spider Baby) and produced by Roger Corman (House of Usher). Bad acting with clunky deliveries, poor dubbing of the laughable dialogue, and weird fantasy-ish names hamper the sacrifices to the gods, evil warlocks, and mystical old man in white before the usual celestial prophecies and enchanted infants growing up to exact warrior revenge for low budget village massacres and typical, unnecessary violence against women. Fortunately, there's barbarian action, women wearing inexplicable see through armor, and playmate twins Leigh and Lynette Harris skinny dipping before running in slow motion with their heroic theme and bemusing magical blue glow. Sure, they aren't doing a lot of the actual fighting thanks to sped up camerawork and compensating editing – despite the mystical girl power, their male pals come to the rescue, too. Also never mind that the ladies are supposedly disguised as men because clearly they are not, and likewise ignore any of the weak explanations on light versus dark magic, full moon rituals, and ancient temples. At only eighty-two minutes, there's no time to think on these fast moving, derivative quests complete with separation ambushes, evil princesses, fiery trials, and forbidden forests. Most of the precious little money here seems spent on the exotic bazaar with belly dancing, scoundrel princes, gambling, meddling hookers, and brothel brawls. Cruel sword slashes, arrows in the back, creepy red eyes, and horny beastly things stir up the saucy palace intrigue alongside magical green visuals, catacombs coming to life, and bewitching nectars. Twin connections, however, are able to overcome any deceptions or fire in their loins – the prince has the key to her “wonderful secret” but her moaning sister feels all the hot reactions! This could have been something if it had a proper production budget or a polished script, and not, you know, camp villains, monkey suits, or a convenient, borrowed, science fiction movie light show finale. These twin twists have fun with themselves, and if you don't expect anything, you can laugh at this late night, so bad it's good lark.
The Warrior and The Sorceress – Producer Roger Corman strikes again with this short seventy-seven minute 1984 tale starring David Carradine amid interstellar mercenaries, magic swordsmen, and rival clans. The flat print is VHS poor with low volumes contributing to the whispering olde speaketh meets eighties modern and mumbled made up names. The dawdling dialogue doesn't really get the story going, and already the ensemble seems so weary of the script they can't be bothered with the typical, thin premise of tyrants controlling water rights while poor villages suffer. Mountainous wastelands, bewitching babes wearing nothing but ribbons, mystical weapons, and suave hooded cloaks can't compensate for the cheap looking prehistoric walled city. This is taking place on another planet to excuse the abysmal, embarrassing production design, and the sword and sorcery meets Kung Fu knockoff tone makes this tough to watch. Fortunately, some of the aimless fighting can be fun, with Grasshopper chopping off arms and swiftly handling the jerky soldiers before the half naked dancing babes give him a bath at the well. The castle interiors are better, and fire, green lighting, red accents, and evil orgies create more magic atmosphere alongside poisoned supplies, gluttony, and vengeance. However, any kind of social commentary gets lost – most of the story seems to be missing amid muddled action scenes and meaningless mobs. Why is this devil may care warrior telling each side when it's their time to use the well? It's not mysterious if his angry scowling has no motivation; we don't know how this planet got this way or why. Terrible armor, lookalike dirty rag costuming, and crawling men captioned as “fools laughing maniacally” don't tell us much, and it takes half the picture before the too few and far between rescuing babes from dungeons, heroic music, reptiles, monsters, and a killer four breasted woman. Although this is disappointingly slow, dry, and lacking in personality, it could be a doze worthy midnight yarn if you like the campy and nonsensical.