The Sword And The Sorcerer

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Before Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter made fantasy big business in Hollywood, if you wanted to indulge in a cinematic adventure overflowing with wizards and derring do then your choices were truly bizarre. Sure, you have the bigger budgeted stuff like Legend or Willow but ploughing through the bargin shelves of the old video rental shops would unearth a pantheon of films that hid their bafflingly stunning tonal choices beneath lurid box art. Don Coserelli’s The Beastmaster and the magnificently wonky Hawk The Slayer are two such examples of memorably questionable oddities that persevere as cult experiences but the one that sticks in my mind the most is the laughable 1981 freak show known as The Sword And The Sorcerer.
In a time of dingy lighting and questionable British accents, the sadistic Cromwell enlists the aid of lizard-skinned sorcerer Xusia to use his black magic to help overthrow a prosperous rival kingdom. Achieving this off screen (it saves on the budget dontcha know) Cromwell manages to slaughter the king and queen while their son, Talos manages to survive but eventually returns years later as a highly skilled mercenary with the aim to avenge his parents (it’s good to have goals, I guess). He hopes to achieve this with his weapon of choice, a huge, triple-bladed sword that can launch two of the blades like javelins for extra hit points, and gets involved with the anti-Cromwell rebellion by casually rescuing Alana, a female freedom fighter from sexual assault by mocking the size of the lead rapist’s penis and then bludgeoning him with a vast leg of mutton. He then brazenly follows this up by then making moves on her barely 10 minutes later by claiming he’ll only aid her and the rebellion if she agrees to bone him later (RIP chivalry). Worryingly, she actually agrees, and thus an adventure is set in motion that is morally questionable to say the least as the main character is only doing good because he really wants to get laid – imagine if Luke Skywalker made similar desicions using his not-so-light saber…
Working to rescue her brother from the clutches of Cromwell while the evil sorcerer Xusia plots under the guise that everyone (including the audience) has forgotten he exists, Talon recruits the help of the similarly horny resistance to messily murder anyone that stands between his dick and Alana… and rescuing the kingdom… I guess…

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This grainy lump of cheesy schlock comes courtesy of virtually forgotten trash factory Albert Pyun – the man best known for letting Jean Claude Van Damme do the splits in a post apocalyptic future in Cyborg. Pyun was a director obsessed with creating low budget fantasy worlds loaded with violence that were mostly set either in the distant past or the near-future.
To this day I’m a genuinely uncertain whether The Sword And The Sorcerer suffers from the fact that it’s a childish concept filmed for adults or if it’s a mature subject scripted by excitable children. Your basic fantasy ingredients are all here (it veers drunkenly between riffing on the works of Tolken and Robert E. Howard) but it’s curiously presented with vast amounts of astonishingly cruel hardcore gore that no doubt traumatised many an unsuspecting child whose parents plonked them in front of the thing blissfully unaware of the adult rating emblazoned on the chunky VHS case (Believe me… I speak from first hand experience…). In the first five minutes alone we are treated to a coffin lined with screaming living faces and a heart torn out of a woman’s chest via some nifty telekinesis (let’s see Darth Vader pull THAT one off) and it gets only more extreme from there as the film seems to be amusingly obsessed with it’s own hyperbolic lunacy. Take the aforementioned triple-bladed sword, the movie’s rapidly ridiculous answer to Star Wars’ lightsabre, a weapon so laughably unwieldy, even Schwarzenegger’s Conan would do himself a mischief while trying to swing the fucking thing. Speaking of Conan The Barbarian (interestingly released in the same year), there’s proof you can actually make a hard-edged fantasy film for adults and retain some cinematic integrity but instead The Sword And The Sorcerer chooses to solely market itself to those surly looking 80’s teenagers who drive a dodgy van with a bitchin’ paint job of a dragon or a wolf on the size an who wears a single, fingerless, black glove on one hand.
The action violently pinballs between awkward swashbuckling comedy (a fight through the villains harem insists on cutting away to nude women being oiled) to gruesome violence (the hero is messily crucified at one point) but despite being laughable in every sense of the word, one thing you can’t accuse the film of is being dull. Screaming faces are spit in half, skin is torn off in a bile soaked transformation scene and a we’re eventually treated to a final battle that hilariously reveals that hero and villain have more hidden blades on their person than a swiss army knife. The cast hurl themselves into the mire with admirable aplomb – destinct villain actor Richard Lynch – who built a magnificent career out of shit like this – made brutal 80’s bad guys cover his resume like a coat of murderous paint and gives Cromwell the sneering gravity the movie doesn’t really deserve. So does Manimal and Jaws 3 actor Simon MaCorkindale and Richard Moll, a seasoned actor of monstrous heavies usually buried under tons of latex, sporting uncomfortable finger extensions as the evil wizard that make you wonder how he managed to got to toilet on set…
While poorly plotted and desperately shot (big battle scenes and long shots of castkes are a definite no-no) there’s a distinct so-bad-it’s-good vibe that’s only enhanced by it’s vehemently non-PG leanings that will endear itself to long term trash fanatics like me. Definitely the kind of movie they don’t make anymore (both a good AND a bad thing in my opinion) the end credits even brazenly announces a sequel, James Bond style, that even has the confidence to name it’s title: Tales Of An Ancient Empire which Pyun unbelievably DID actually get made… in 2010 with Kevin Sorbo.
As violent, stupid and as creepily horny as it’s musclebound hero, The Sword And The Sorcerer’s frenzied attempts at legend only succeeds at being legendarily fucking weird and while the years have rightfully written it off as trash, it’s still a forgotten curiosity that’s well worth a watch if you’re up for a boozy night of questionable shite.

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For a film such named, it’s sword may have an over abundance of edge but it’s sorcery is severely lacking in magic…
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