With the success of John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian the movie going public were treated to an onslaught of Conan rip-offs of varying degrees of quality (mostly ranging from poor to terrible), but the very first one was Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer and it surprisingly doesn’t suck. I’m not saying it’s a great example of the genre, the plot makes little to no sense, but there is a lot of fun to be had with this flick.
The movie has your prerequisite narration to give us a taste of the world we are about to enter, “Know you now of days long past. The time when the world was young, when sorcery thrived and wild adventure was forever in the offing.” This narration is heard over the opening scene of the villainous King Titus Cromwell (Richard Lynch) and his men rowing ashore Tomb Island (Tip #1 do not visit places called Tomb Island), and with the help of a witch they resurrect Xusia of Delos (Richard Moll), a long dead sorcerer who Cromwell needs to further his plans of conquest.
It turns out that the awesome kingdom of Ehdan has been able to fend off the armies of King Cromwell so he was forced to turn to the dark arts to defeat King Richard (Christopher Cary), the noble ruler of Ehdan. With the help of the Xusia and his evil magic the armies of King Richard are defeated, and instead of preparing for a siege Richard tells the Queen to take the royal heirs and flee the kingdom while he himself will ride off to face Cromwell. But before he rides off to certain doom he entrusts his youngest son Talon with his magnificent triple-bladed sword, instructing the boy to avenge his death should it occur.
Meanwhile Cromwell, a complete moustache twirling dick, is concerned about having an evil sorcerer on the payroll so while Xusia is weak, battle conjuring magic takes a lot out of you, he tries to kill the sorcerer with a good ole treacherous stabbing. Xusia me have been weakened but he certainly wasn’t down and out so he is able to escape by jumping off a cliff to the raging seas below. Talon on the other hand rushes out to find his father to see if he needs any avenging, he does. Richard has been killed and Talon even sees Cromwell murder his mother and make off with his younger sister. With the use of the triple-bladed sword Talon manages to escape Cromwell’s men.
Note: Not only can this triple-bladed broadsword launch the two outside blades like pneumatically powered missiles but the thing even has a fourth blade hidden in the hilt. Resurrected evil sorcerers are more easily believable than this being a weapon anybody could wield successfully.
The film’s narrator returns to tell us, “For years the boy was to be hunted, but Cromwell’s assassin found not a trace. Talon had simply vanished into the void.” We get a fade to black than the narrator tells us that years have passed and that rumors are passing among the outland kingdoms of a fearless adventurer, “These rumors grew into legend about this man who was at once a buccaneer, a slave, a rogue, a general!” Strangely enough this awesome man, who seems to have co-opted Conan’s life story, goes by the name Talon. So somehow he has managed to elude Cromwell’s assassin yet never changed his name and carries that same freaky triple-bladed sword the king owned? I think Cromwell’s assassins were taking the money and just hanging out in bars because Talon was being about as circumspect as James Bond.
It’s a day before the eleventh anniversary of Cromwell’s conquering of Ehdan and General Talon (Lee Horsley), along with his band of mercenaries, postpones their mission to help a neighbouring kingdom so that the General can pay an old debt. Do even his men know that he is the lost prince honor bound to avenge his dead father? This little tidbit never came up during their previous adventures? We never find out for sure, he’s apparently just this awesome guy that everyone loves to follow. He keeps everything so on the “down low” that even after winning the day at the end of the movie he still doesn’t tell anybody that he is “That Talon” and the rightful heir to the throne.
During all these years the sorcerer Xusia slowly healed from the treacherous attack he suffered at the hands of Cromwell, and his machinations to avenge himself on the traitorous king are just about to bare fruit. The once peaceful kingdom of Ehdan is now fraught with rebellion; Prince Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale), cousin to the late King Richard and claimant to the throne, is not so secretly gathering men to help him take the throne (and I mean “not so secretly” as in the bartender asks any knuckle dragger that enters the bar if they want to join the rebellion), and with the aid of Cromwell’s own chief advisor Machelli (George Maharis) they hope to see Cromwell overthrown the very next day.
But it turns out that not only does Machelli betray Prince Mikah to Cromwell but he’s actually Xusia in disguise and this is all part of his plan to destroy Cromell. He’s been playing both sides against each other. Political maneuvering and fermenting rebellion isn’t what one expects from a practitioner of the dark arts which is really what makes the sorcerer the most interesting “person” in this movie.
When Prince Micah is betrayed and captured by Cromwell’s men his sister Alana (Kathleen Beller) finds herself about to be raped by some of Cromwell’s guards, but then Talon shows up and defeats them with nothing but half eaten leg of mutton. Alana offers to pay Talon to rescue her brother but he isn’t interested in gold coins, he wants one night of sexual bliss with Alana as payment. A desperate Alana agrees but even before Talon can leave the room to fulfill his end of the deal they learn that a group of Micah’s rebels are trapped in a cave and are about to be killed by Cromwell’s Red Dragon Archers. Alana asks Talon to go and help them and when he asks “What am I to be paid for this small chore?” She tells him, “You are being paid enough for a thousand such tasks.” Talon responds, “I can’t wait to bed you wench. You raise my expectations.”
Talon is the film’s other saving grace as Lee Horsley just oozes roguish charm and imbues the hero with a great devil-may-care attitude that reminded me of Errol Flynn in his swashbuckling roles. He constantly runs into danger without giving it much thought, and you kind of buy into the idea that this man has earned the respect of men across the land. My one question is, “Why come to Ehdan now?” We hear that he has helped other kingdoms that were in peril in the past, and was just on the road to offer his services to another kingdom in need when he suddenly decided to make a pit stop in Ehdan, so why and the hell has he waited this long to avenge his dead father and save his homeland?
For a Conan the Barbarian rip-off this film doesn’t just go with a simple boy grows up to get revenge story, but instead it is one of the most complicated Sword & Sorcery movies I’ve ever seen. The script to this movie is so over plotted it’s quite amazing that they managed to fit it all into the movie’s 104 minute running time. Here’s a “quick” breakdown:
• Cromwell raises dead sorcerer to defeat rival kingdom.
• Rival kingdom is defeated and Cromwell tries to kill off sorcerer.
• Son of defeated king flees after seeing his father and mother killed and sister captured.
• Prince Micah forms a rebellion to overthrow Cromwell.
• Micah is aided by Cromwell’s chancellor who turns out to be the not dead sorcerer.
• Chancellor betrays Micah and the Prince ends up in the dungeon.
• Talon arrives and saves Micah’s sister Alana from being raped.
• Talon and the rebels stage a dungeon break.
• The Prince is rescued but Talon is captured and to be crucified.
• Alana is captured and is being forced to marry Cromwell.
• Talon’s younger sister Elizabeth (Anna Bjorn) turns out to be one of Cromwell’s concubines.
• Elizabeth finds Talon’s men and asks them to stage a prison break.
• They fail immediately and end up in the dungeon.
• Elizabeth gets stabbed by the dungeon’s torturer.
• Cromwell plans to murder all the visiting kings during the wedding ceremony.
• A couple of the visiting kings recognize the crucified Talon as a friend of their’s.
• A group of Cromwell’s concubines help break Talon’s men out of the dungeon.
• During the ceremony Talon rips his hands off the six inch spikes holding him to the cross.
• Massive fight ensues between Cromwell’s men and the supporters of Micah and Talon.
• Machelli/ Xusia spurries Alana away from the fight.
• Xusia reveals his true nature and is about to kill Cromwell when Talon arrives.
• Talon can’t let Xusia kill the man he vowed to kill so they fight.
• Xusia gets a propelled blade to the chest.
• Talon and Cromwell then have their own long drawn out sword fight.
• Alana is menaced by a big snake while the two bozos fight.
• Talon wins and gives the crown to Micah.
• It’s then payment time so Talon swings away with Alana.
Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff to happen in a movie that’s less than two hours long. I’m guessing the reasoning behind this is that with so much happening the audience won’t have time to ponder if any of it makes sense. Any time the audience may be thinking such thoughts as, “Why hasn’t Talon shown the slightest interest in rescuing his sister after all these years?” We get a nice distraction.
“How can Talon wield that massive triple-bladed broadsword with hands that were seconds ago nailed to wooden crossbeams?” Cut to half-naked concubines racing to free his comrades. As tactics go it is quite effective, and even more so on any teen-age boy watching. Albert Pyun clearly knew who his target audience was and gave them exactly what they wanted; heroic musclebound men wielding improbably large swords, villains to hiss and boo at, and plenty of gorgeous women to keep our hormones percolating. Certainly worked on me as I practically wore the VHS tape of this movie out when I was but a lad.
Watching The Sword and the Sorcerer, now through older eyes, it has lost a little of its lustre, but there is still lots here to offer the modern viewer. Alana is not the standard damsel in distress; even though she does get captured and almost married to the villain she is still a bit of a badass. She repeatedly takes out lascivious guardsman by getting them to lower their guard just before she knees them in the junk. And her offer of sex to Nolan as payment for his help seems way less creepy than it should. Basically without the remarkable chemistry between Kathleen Beller and Lee Horsley this film would not have worked at all.
What I particularly love is that after they defeat Cromwell, and Nolan swings away with Alana via a well-placed tapestry, the movie then cuts to Nolan and his mercenary buddies heading off to help the kingdom that they had detoured away from so that Nolan could “pay his debt” to Cromwell. “The End” Nolan could have stayed and taken the crown for himself, as he is the rightful heir, but instead he sleeps with Alana (guy’s got to get paid) then rides off with his men into the sunset. That is certainly not your traditional “guy wins day and gets the girl” ending we tend to see in these types of movies. You’ve got to respect that.
And about that sequel…
The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)
Albert Pyun has made many terrible movies over the years so it’s quite amazing to look back and see that his very first film was his best. The cast is good, easily overcoming the mess that is this movie’s story, and making this worth checking out.