After the great Ray Harryhausen gifted the world with the vibrant 7th Voyage Of Sinbad back in 1958 (the first colour movie to employ his magical talent of using camera trickery to make little models fight B-list actors to the death), it wasn’t until 1973 that the visual effects auteur decided to lend his talents to yet another movie featuring the world’s most virulent seaman (steady now…).
However, during this sizable passage of time, Harryhausen had further perfected his craft with pulp schlock (Valley Of The Gwangi), legitimate classics (Jason And The Argonauts) and a mixture of both (One Million Years B.C.) and together with his producing partner, Charles H. Schneer, the two would return to the monster filled worlds of dashing “Arabian” heroes and sultry damsels in little dress…
Sinbad (a hero with more faces than Doctor Who) and his crew of men are travelling the seven seas one day when they spot a bizarre, bat-like imp creature in the sky. Naturally they shoot an arrow at the thing and it drops part of a large gold necklace that looks like it would be at home around the neck of Mr T, and after a large storm blows them off course, Sinbad comes into contact with Koura, a bug-eyed, evil magician and the Vizier, a man who has been acting as regent of the kingdom of Marabia ever since the death of the heirless sultan and who hides his scarred visage behind a mask of gold (good way to divert attention, that).
Agreeing to go on a quest because – well, that what he fucking does – Sinbad heads off to find the lost land of Lemuria using his gargantuan necklace as a map with the Vizier, a work shy layabout and a pneumatic slave girl in tow for exposition, comic relief and phwoar value respectively. With Koura in pursuit (totally in view of his prey the whole time), the race is on to connect the necklace with it’s other pieces to create something that even Flavor Flav would balk at wearing and get to the Fountain Of Destiny and receive their ultimate prize.
Harryhausen and Schneer, despite sounding like the least trustworthy lawyer firm that ever existed, were very much the Marvel Studios of their day (with a hint of James Bond’s Eon Productions), creatively putting together these movies before cherry picking a director to film the human bits. This usually results in a double edged blade (or scimitar, if we’re being patronising) where the monster scenes are a proven commodity but the film around it has a 50/50 chance of sucking more than a Kraken-sized Dyson Hoover.
Thankfully, director Gordon Hessler (helmer of the lurid Sceam And Scream Again and guffaw inducing 80’s ninja flick Pray For Death) manages to keep the rudder straight enough for this adventure to be a fairly memorable – if not perfect – old school monster mash.
The plot is standard Harryhausen. Everyone hops on a ship and every now and then, what there exists of a story halts so the special effects can strut their stuff, but even though this is a noticable step-down from the previous Sinbad movie, the sheer randomness of the cast keeps the narrative barreling along until those monsters can pick up the slack and the plot can take five and go out for a smoke.
John Phillip Law is perfectly acceptable as our hero who now is actually bearded, wearing a turban and sporting an Arabian accent to round out the questionable brown face (is that the scent of cultural appropriation I can smell ?) but ever since I found out he was the constantly chuckling villain in the legendary sci-fi stinker Space Mutiny – mercilessly made famous thanks to a mauling by Mystery Science Theater 3000 – I just can’t take him seriously (oh, like I could before…). In the villain role, Tom Baker, who’s never put in a normal performance in his life, puts those bulbous eyeballs of his to good use as he tirelessly gurns and leers his way through his villainous role as if he was being paid a hansome bonus for every intense facial expression he could contort across his distinctive face – but then, what else would you expect from a man who spent his tenure as Doctor Who running around in a gargantuan scarf demanding to know if people wanted a jelly baby. His bad guy is so unsubtle he makes Jafar from the animated Aladdin look as proficient in villainy as frickin’ Lassie.
Sinbad’s crew, while hardly memorable compared to the kind of ensemble seen on the deck of the USS Enterprise is nonetheless far more distinct compared to other Sinbad films. Female lead (actually, she’s the ONLY female) and focus of every leering dad who took their kids to the cinema in 1973, cult actress Caroline Munro spends virtually the entire film barely avoiding having her heaving (and permanently oiled) bosom exploding from a selection of super-tight croptops and an unrecognizable Martin Shaw (Doyle from the Professionals) is buried under a porn star ‘tasche and mullet as Sinbad’s number two but unfortunately doesn’t fight monsters by rolling over the bonnet of a brown Rover.
Shifting attention over to those various mythical creatures and Golden Voyage has a somewhat less memorable batch of sailor mauling beasties, but a moment when the figurehead at the front of Sinbad’s ship comes to life is genuinely creepy and echoes a similar moment in Jason And The Argonauts when a giant bronze statue turns to look at a couple of men who promptly soil their togas. Elsewhere, an odd centaur/cyclops hybrid, who proudly wears the tousled barnet of a young Rod Stewart and has a bigger taste for Munroe than the dads in the audience obviously did, has a final reel fight with a Griffin, who just nonchalantly wanders into the film with no explanation like it just missed it’s cue, which is short but sweet. However, first place (aside from an uncredited cameo by Robert Fucking Shaw under a ton of demon make-up the Oracle Of All Knowlege) goes to the reanimated six-armed statue of Kali, who first dances and then gets down to business with some multi-limbed sword play that would even give General Grevious a terminal case of appendage-envy. It’s a stop motion fight sequence that unfortunately doesn’t get the same plaudits as the skeleton fight from Jason And The Argonauts despite being mind blowing in it’s complexity.
While The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad may not match the classic heights of the 7th Voyage, it’s director gives it a Hammer Films sense of schlock with rampant cleavage and freakish imagery scattered all over the place – a prime example being when a fatally stabbed Baker satisfyingly turns a fountain into a massive blood geyser which curiously slipped past the censor and eventually (and amusingly) popped up in films like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Evil Dead 2…
But as Sinbad himself states, every voyage has it’s own flavour and this golden one may be rough around the edges, but it gets the job done.
File under Sinbad, it’s good…