Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS (1984)

Roger Corman can be accused of a lot of things. Mainly, that he was cheap. It’s a fair point, because it’s true, but it’s not really fair because unlike modern skin-flints, Roger made sure that he made up for the lack of production values in other very creative ways. If you are one of those hipster kids who thinks that Corman is dumb because his budgets were slim-to-none, there’s the door. Use it, don’t let it hit you in the ass, we’ll wait. Ok, are the skinny-jean-wearing slackers gone? Good.

Sure, Roger was cheap, he was running a business and didn’t have the capital of the major studios, so what money he did have had to be used to the best effect, but instead of simply slapping a cookie cutter script, amateur actors and CGI blood on to the non-existent production values, he sought out talented writers, actors and directors and pushed as much imagination into his projects as possible. Granted, this wouldn’t pan out 100% of the time, but Corman’s ratio of hits to misses is freakin’ legendary. Case in point: THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS. The most expensive thing about this film is David Carradine, and if you know anything about David Carradine, you know he wasn’t exactly pulling in the big bucks.

Set almost entirely in a very small village on the desert planet of Vra, a wandering stranger (Carradine) dressed in black (whose beard stubble magically comes and goes), named Kain, err… wanders into town only to witness some guards brutally cut down a woman with a baby who simply wanted a drink from the village well. As it turns out the well is the only source of water in this parched wasteland and right now it is being held by the evil warlord Zeg the Tyrant (Luke Askew), one of two rival factions who use the town as a cold war battleground while vying for control of the well. The other faction is headed up by Bal Caz (William Marin), an obese coward who takes strategic advice from what appears to be a Komodo dragon and, like any sensible lord, fills his court is entirely with naked women and a couple of guards.

After getting the skinny on the situation from an old man who recognizes Kain as something more than a simple wanderer, Kain decides to slaughter all the well guards and let the, literally, unwashed masses rejoice. Which they do. By having topless girls in loincloth thongs dance around on the well. Seems perfectly reasonable to me!  This, of course, is merely a message being sent out that his sword is for hire and he knows how to use it. Zeg chomps right on the bait (via a pair of deformed, giggling idiot twins that look like Roberto Begnini after a Freddy Krueger makeover) and hires Kain to kill Zeg. After leaving the Bal Caz’s court Kain overhears the lizard giving Bal Caz some advice: have Kain kill Zeg, then kill Kain and take back the assassin’s fee! Naturally this doesn’t go over so well and Kain decides to help out Zeg.

Zeg, on the other hand spends his time trying to get the sorceress/priestess Naja (Maria Scoza, owner of the world’s smallest wardrobe trailer) to make him the fabled Sword of Urah. Apparently she is the only one with the power to create this mystic sword. What does it do, you ask? Well let me tell you… it doesn’t break! What do you mean “that’s it”? It’s fucking magic ok? Geeze. To accomplish this task Naja is kept chained to a wall and only allowed to wear a thong. Yep, that’s it. Through the entire movie. Sure there may be some hotter women in the Corman stables, but Scoza is still pretty damn attractive and you have to give her props for even doing a wall climbing stunt clad only in a thong. Seriously, the woman is a trooper.

A mutant slaver named Burgo (Arthur Clark), who drives into town on a giant cart that actually uses one of its wheels as a torture device with a slave lashed to it, adds some complications to the plot. Zeg decides he doesn’t like Burgo’s recent deal and he figures he can kill two birds with one water bottle by poisoning Burgo’s soldiers with a waterskin (that is clearly a red-rubber hot water bottle) that bears Bal Caz’s coat of arms. Kain also keeps things nicely acrimonious by kidnapping both Naja and Bal Caz’s lizard and forcing an exchange. You may have noticed that the plot here, Machiavellian lizards and naked sorceresses aside, bears a striking resemblance to a little movie called YOJIMBO (1961). Writer-director John C. Broderick must have known that in the future there would be wannabe movie hipsters, and to avoid being accused of ripping off FIST FULL OF DOLLARS (1964), he’d have to make some serious overtures to the source material. An early scene in the film is completely lifted from YOJIMBO, including the amusing face-off in which both sides do a lot of shouting, but are afraid to attack each other. The only thing keeping this from being a YOJIMBO remake is the fact that Kurosawa’s seminal film isn’t even alluded to in the credits! Who do they think they are? Quentin Tarantino?

Personally, I get a kick out of this movie and always have. I mean, you have to love the fact that it decides to capitalize on the success of CONAN to do a remake of YOJIMBO and then just drop acid and run screaming off into the horizon. Ok, so it’s not whacked like SHE (1982), granted, but it’s definitely touched in the head. When the mandatory celebration occurs before our hero gets the shit kicked out of him by Zed’s goons who have figured out that Kain is the kidnapper, Zed brings out a dancing girl who does an erotic dance… a dancing girl with four breasts! Why four bare breasts? Because a) it’s twice as good as two and b) because it will keep you from noticing that the stone sets are actually made of plaster and nobody even bothered to re-paint the cracks and chips! Incidentally the dancing girls breasts are the only things that are actually true on the poster. Everything else is a lie. She doesn't even wear that outfit. Still, that is, without question, the best part(s) of the poster! Corman knew how to get asses in seats. The other best part of the poster is the way Carradine is holding the sword… hmmmmm, I think I will avoid the pitfall of a tasteless joke concerning the way he died in real life. Yeah, I know, you are stunned by my restraint.

Also of strange interest is the scene where Zed decides to show Kain that he understands irony by dropping a fully naked slave girl into a glass watertank so that she can drown. See they are in a desert and she’s drowning. Funny guy this Zed. Also, Broderick feels that unlike other films, just having Kain free Naja in order to initiate the prisoner exchange is just not quite good enough on its own, so he decides to have her imprisoned in a cage, in a room that is guarded by a squishy, toothy tentacled monster! C’mon, that’s cool! In every other movie the hero just kills a guard and steals his keys! On the down side, the movie appears to have been run through the mid-'80s MPAA grinder as there is a lot of bits that look like they have been tampered with. The one bit of gore that is present is very quickly edited and is obviously censored. It seems a shame that in this enlightened age of relaxed censorship, we still have to pay for the crimes of the past.

Pasting in his famous shot of twin suns over an alien landscape for his opening credits, Broderick lets you know that the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. It should be noted that this is technically not a Corman film per se, as it is made under his production banner, while he had no active involvement, but his hallmarks are there all the same. It’s cheap as hell and twice as fun. Loaded with enough female nudity, odd references to things that are never fully explained, weird people, strange situations and plenty of action, you’ll completely forget that the movie is made on about three sets, and really cheap ones at that.

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