Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

Wizards_titleSo far, the ol’ Pit of Swords and Sorcery has focused on a wealth of material drawn from the gilded 1980s, but now I’m casting my memories back a few years, toward the days of Star Wars and Close Encounters, and the days when Jaws set the standard for summer blockbusters — to wit, the mid-1970s when I was writhing in the throes of adolescence, playing my first games of white box Dungeons and Dragons and reconciling myself to the notion that I would die a sad and pathetic virgin. In fact, I don’t think I actually started playing D&D until after I saw this flick, so believe me we are really talking about the dark ages here.

wizards_poster_01Into this depressing period in my life came a film that marked several milestones for me — my first viewing of a Star Wars trailer, my first experience with what might be called “adult” animation, and most importantly, my first case of lust for a cartoon character. So join us in the Pit of Swords and Sorcery for one of the more unusual entries — Ralph Bakshi’s cockeyed reflection on war, peace and jiggly boobs, as well as his homage to the great underground artist Vaughn BodéWizards.

Now I’ve been kind of hard on poor Ralph B on this blog. Not that it matters — my disdain for and amusement at Bakshi’s disastrous animated version of The Lord of the Rings isn’t really even a blip on the radar of popular culture. As the creator of numerous animated classics and a true innovator, Bakshi can easily shrug off the slings and arrows thrown his way by a minor-league rpg-writer like me, especially since in making fun of his movie I’ve derived enormous pleasure and enjoyment. So in a way, I guess Bakshi’s LotR was a smashing success, what?

Well, no. It’s still kind of a travesty, but back in 1977 when I went to see Wizards at a small theater in Portland I was sufficiently impressed that I looked forward to Bakshi’s take on Tolkien, and had high hopes for the future. Though my hopes were later to be brutally crushed, that day was a pretty good one.

Vaughn Bode’s Cheech Wizard — a short magician who likes to hang out with busty hippy chicks while wearing a big hat that hides his face. Sound familiar?

I went to movies by myself in those days. I didn’t have a girlfriend… Hell, I barely knew how to talk to women let alone ask them out on dates. My first attempt to do so took place when I was a freshman in high school, and consisted of my looking the girl up in the phone book and calling everyone with her surname until I got the right one, then nervously asking her if she’d like to go out with me. Unfortunately, she happened to be at her house with her football-player boyfriend, a couple of girlfriends, and their football-player boyfriends, and the sting of that humiliation still burns to this day. I will probably carry it to my grave.

My parents and I had somewhat similar tastes, but Wizards really wasn’t their cup of tea. Later that spring I’d take them to see Star Wars at the Westgate Theater in Beaverton, where it ran continuously for the next two years or so. A few years ago my friends and I went to the last show at the Westgate, Kung Fu Hustle, watching with lingering nostalgia before the whole place was torn down.

An interesting alternative poster for Wizards. Sheesh... She looks NOTHING like Elinore...

An interesting alternative poster for Wizards. Sheesh… She looks NOTHING like Elinore…

Anyway, enough rambling down memory lane — back to Wizards, which I saw all by my own little 16-year-old self several months before Star Wars. As noted, the trailers included a preview for George Lucas’ future classic, which didn’t suggest what a huge deal it would someday become, and after the trailers came a cartoon. Yes, this was in the days when they still ran cartoons before movies — this was an odd animation called Twins about two brothers who were totally different in temperament, ended up having various adventures, then were finally reunited (and as such was actually obliquely related to the main feature). I haven’t been able to find any reference to the cartoon anywhere, but I haven’t looked terribly hard. If anyone finds it, let me know — I wouldn’t mind reliving the experience, as it was actually pretty funny.

Before I throw myself into the cinematic acid trip that is Wizards, I’ll refresh our collective memories about Ralph Bakshi. He was (and still is) a premiere American animator, though he’s had mixed success over the years. Some of his best work was on TV, including a pretty cool animated series called The Mighty Heroes, which I watched as a kid in California, and of course the now-infamous Spiderman animated series, source of amusing gifs and memes to all and sundry.

WizBookBakshi broke a few taboos when he directed an animated version of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cata production fraught with legal difficulties. To this day there’s controversy over whether Bakshi really had Crumb’s permission to make the movie, with all parties having their own version of the story (personally I believe Bakshi, but that’s just my opinion). Fritz went down in history as the first X-rated cartoon, though today it’s relatively mild and Bakshi himself says that there’s more explicit material in an episode of The Simpsons than there was in this movie.

So when Bakshi obtained the rights to produce an animated version of The Lord of the Ringsalarm bells started ringing and people began grabbing their pitchforks and torches. My memory is a little sketchy from this period — God knows, I wish it was because of all the drugs and booze that I consumed during my wild teenaged years, but it’s actually just because I’m getting fucking old — but I seem to recall reading that Wizards was seen as a sort of “warm-up” to LotR, to test out animation techniques and reassure people that Bakshi wasn’t going to make Fritz the Hobbit. That Wizards turned out to be vastly superior to Bakshi’s LotR is one of those great ironies of film history. And not Alanis Morisette irony either. This is real irony.

The credits for Wizard are in that kind of odd computer-style lettering that was popular in the 60s and 70s for when you wanted to look cool and futuristic in movies like The Andromeda Strain. Using the style at the beginning of a fantasy movie gives us a clue that what we’re about to see is basically what would happen if J.R.R. Tolkien and Samuel R. Delaney had a misbegotten love child.

Our narrator... Rowrrr...

Our narrator… Rowrrr…

Our opening shot is live action, with the camera panning up to an open book with the words (once more in pseudo-computer font): An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of Technology and Magic. There’s a voiceover for those of us who have forgotten how to read, but it’s uttered by the husky and haunting voice of cult movie and TV actress Susan Tyrrell, so it ain’t all bad.

With Hawkwind-style prog-rock synth music moaning softly in the background, she goes on to tell the future history of Earth, and what a nasty future it is.

The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs. The first blast was set off by five terrorists. It took two million years for some of the radioactive clouds to allow some sun in. By then only a handful of humans survived. The rest of humanity had changed into hideous mutants. These mutant species floundered in the bad areas — radioactive lands that never allowed them to become human again, and made each birth a new disaster.

Queen Delia suddenly realizes that she's pregnant. Now how the hell did THAT happen I wonder?

Queen Delia suddenly realizes that she’s pregnant. Now how the hell did THAT happen I wonder?

Basically she’s telling us that the radioactive lands ended up resembling New Jersey. The tale is accompanied by still illustrations showing us what a nightmare things were for the benighted mutants. It’s effective, giving the sense of an ancient tale being told, and I think Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings would have benefited from this technique instead of showing live actors in silhouette, but I guess that’s all water under the bridge now.

Fortunately all was not lost for future earth: Then in the good lands there came back — arising from their long sleep — faeries, elves, dwarves — the true ancestors of man. They lived happily in the good areas.

So there you have it — 2,000,000 years of future history all rolled up into one nice neat minute or so of narration. Now, with more sepia-toned still images, we get to the actual meat of the story, with the tale of how Delia, queen of the faeries mysteriously gave birth to twin wizards on a stormy day a few millennia ago.

So Delia had these two kids — one was good and nice and sweet and cool and did kind things, and his name was (wait for it…) Avatar (normally a name reserved for kids born on hippy communes or conceived at Burning Man). The other was nasty, brutish, smelly, ugly, ill-tempered, repulsive, evil, wicked, mean, nasty and generally uncouth. She named him Blackwolf.

Even in the far future, tragic crack babies were still being born.

Try naming a kid “Blackwolf” some time and you see how well he turns out.

On my reviewing of the movie I sense a certain level of elitism bordering on racism, folks. First we’re told that the world is divided between the untermensch – the ugly mutants in their run-down radioactive wastelands, and the master race — the elves and faeries who live in sunshine and peace and niceness. Then we learn that wizards are born either good or evil, and can’t change their destiny or nature — one is evil and one is good and never the twain shall meet.

For a movie that later on portrays the bad guys using Nazi ideology and racism, Wizards has an odd sense of morality. Consider this — if certain individuals and races are born inferior and/or evil, then isn’t it a good idea to suppress or exterminate the “bad” ones? As with its philosophy of “Magic good/technology bad” (which we’ll explore in detail later) Wizards presents a slightly schizophrenic and contradictory worldview. And given Bakshi’s stated motivations for writing the film (see below), the whole situation seems even crazier.

Avatar in his younger days. Jesus Christ, what the hell HAPPENED to the poor guy anyway?

Avatar in his younger days. Jesus Christ, what the hell HAPPENED to the poor guy anyway?

So as he grew up, Avatar spent most of his time conjuring bunnies for his mom and bringing her flowers and nice greeting cards on Mother’s Day. Blackwolf on the other hand was a mutant and therefore naturally evil, and never visited Delia, choosing instead to torture small animals (no, really… that very line is in the movie), listen to Scandinavian death-metal and hang out with the cast of Duck Dynasty.

Finally, Delia snuffs it. Avatar tries to save her, but fails, grief-stricken. Where others see tragedy Blackwolf sees opportunity however, and he steps forward to take over as leader. Unsurprisingly, Avatar has a few things to say about all of this, and the two begin a ferocious battle, still in static images, but with a 60s rock-concert lightshow running in the background.

Of course Avatar kicks his brother’s ass and banishes him to the land of Scortch to hang out with all the other genetically-inferior mutants. Being the good villain that he is, Blackwolf doesn’t take his defeat lightly. “The day will come, my brother,” he declares, striding off into the shadow, “when I will return and make this a planet where mutants rule!”

Mom always liked YOU best, you jerk!

Mom always liked YOU best, you jerk!

Okay, I won’t belabor the point, but come on! Apparently a planet where mutants rule is bad and a planet where elves and faeries rule, keeping the mutants penned up in the fantasy equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto is good. Just because the elves are better looking than the mutants is no reason for them to lord it over everyone else… Unless of course you ask an elf in which case he’ll just silently stare down his long, aquiline nose at you, slathering you in disdain, knowing that in a half century or so you’ll be getting the senior discount at Denny’s and he’ll be barely out of adolescence.

Now, to the present, in the land of Scortch 3,000 years later. A lot of the backgrounds in Scortch were produced by fantasy artist Ian Miller, who illustrated (among other things) Michael Creighton’s Eaters of the Dead, and a whole mess of Warhammer novels and game books from Games Workshop. Wizards represents some of Miller’s early work, and these backgrounds are pretty kickass. Personally, I found that they clashed a bit with Ralph Bakshi’s more cartoony, Bodé-inspired images, but damn… They do give this flick a nice look.

Okay, I admit that you guys are three of the goofiest looking guys in all of Scortch, but hell... You're all I've got.

Okay, I admit that you guys are three of the goofiest looking guys in all of Scortch, but hell… You’re all I’ve got.

In the palace of  Scortch One, Blackwolf now sits on his throne, imperiously instructing his minions in a scene that kind of reminds me of Darth Vader talking to the bounty hunters in Empire, released a few years later.

Blackwolf’s not a bad-looking villain, though his animated incarnation is somewhat simplified compared to the painstakingly-drawn pictures from the prologue. He’s tall and emaciated, with grey skin, a long white beard and a hollow, red-eyed face. He’s gone pretty thoroughly bald, but hell what do you expect from a guy after 3,000 years? And oh, yeah — his arms are all bone, with no flesh on them. It’s an odd look, and one wonders how he actually moves his arms at all, unless he really does have muscles and tendons but, similarly to Venture Brothers’ Phantom Limb character, they’re simply invisible.

“The time has come,” he rasps. “Kill!”

Bode's Cobalt 60. Look familiar?

Bode’s Cobalt 60. Look familiar?

Damn, but Blackwolf’s got some pretty decent minions, since that’s all the instruction they need. There are three assassins and two of them — a clumsy-looking frog-guy and a horned devil wearing what appears to be a German pickelhaube, are expendable mooks. It’s assassin number three, the red android called Necron 99, who merits further attention.

Clearly, Necron’s design was inspired by Bodé’s character Cobalt 60, and when I was younger I was somewhat pissed off at Bakshi for appropriating the look in such a blatant fashion. Since then of course I’ve learned that Bodé and Bakshi were buds and much of Wizards’ look and feel is simply an homage by Bakshi to his friend. That said, check it out — it’s like Necron and Cobalt were separated at birth, man. What the hell?

(A side note here — during my research for this piece I discovered that we really dodged a bullet regarding Cobalt 60. A few years ago, hack director Zack Snider who brought us the atrocious but funny 300, the acceptable cinematic version of Watchmen and the crime against humanity and good taste that was Sucker Punch, was in negotiations to film a live-action version of Cobalt 60. Apparently the deal fell through, as I haven’t heard anything about it lately, so I hope we can count ourselves lucky that Snyder didn’t rape another batch of audiences with his subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face style of filmmaking.)

…Annnd here’s Necron 99. Separated at birth, perhaps?

The three assassins ride out through more Ian Miller backgrounds, past what looks like the unseelie court’s red-light district where disturbing faerie hookers solicit squat goblin-looking things, but draw back in fear as Necron slowly rides past. Necron proceeds out of Scortch, through battlefields and past Blackwolf’s gathering armies, finally entering the good lands where the elves and faeries have no idea what’s about to happen.

In a lovely sylvan grove, an old faerie wise man reads to his people from an ancient book: My children, the only true technology is nature. All other forms of man-made technology are perversions. The ancient dictators used technology to enslave the masses…

Okay, here comes my other rant about Wizards. All through the movie we hear about how horrific and “perverse” man-made technology is, and how nature and peace and love are the only things we need. Yet over and over again we see the “good” faeries using the very “man-made” technology that they supposedly abhor. The village elder himself is reading from a book, which is manufactured from paper, leather, twine and other “man-made” substances. Later on we see the faeries defending themselves with “man-made” weapons and armor, and at the very end of the movie…

Well, never mind. We’ll save that one for later. For now I’m just struck at how irritated, over three decades later, I am at the movie’s lack of internal consistency. Of course, it’s still a cool movie, but hell it can be frustrating.

...And so little elves, heed my wisdom. Shun technology. Avoid modern medicine, farming techniques, plumbing and electricity. THEN see how long you can hold out against the mutant barbarians.

…And so little elves, heed my wisdom. Shun technology. Avoid modern medicine, farming techniques, plumbing and electricity. THEN see how long you can hold out against the mutant barbarians.

So before the elder can give us more faerie propaganda about how evil “techology” is, Necron shows up and blows him and his followers to kingdom come. Mind you, I found his speech a bit annoying, but I think that blasting him with an automatic weapon was a bit harsh. I might have just walked out, or at least told the elder to shut up and stop reading from a goddamned book if he finds technology so fucking evil…

Never mind. Back to the movie. Necron and the assassins’ campaign of terror continues, snuffing out more elf and faerie leaders, preparing the way for Blackwolf’s forces while in the background a kind of merry jazz ensemble plays.

Necron enters a moonlit forest, seeking out more victims. In the forest are two elf scouts, Weekhawk and his friend whom everyone else knows as Deadmeat. Now to the untrained eye, it might seem that both Weehawk and Deadmeat look exactly the same, as if they’re both drawn from an identical character model (or perhaps all of Weehawk’s clan are clones? The possibility is never explored). However, if you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell them apart, as Deadmeat has an earring in his left ear, and Weehawk has an earring in his right ear. Simple, huh?

They're elven warriors/Identical elven warriors/and you'll find/ They laugh alike, they walk alike/ At times they even talk alike.../ You can lose your mind/When elven warriors.../are two of a kind!

They’re elven warriors
Identical elven warriors
And you’ll find
They laugh alike, they walk alike
At times they even talk alike…
You can lose your mind
When elven warriors…
Are two of a kind!

Given the criticism some leveled at Bakshi for making his movie look too much like Vaughn Bodé’s art, I think it’s only fair to point out the design of his elves. These are definitely not in the Tolkien mold. They’re short, dark and kind of tough-looking and a few years later the comic series Elfquest was sometimes taken to task for copping the look and feel of Bakshi’s elves. Of course, like the criticisms of Bakshi, such suggestions are a little off the mark. While there’s a superficial resemblance between the Pinis’ elves and those of Wizards, they also differ in a lot of areas, and if Marv and Wendy Pini used this movie for inspiration, so what? They took their creation in a different direction and made it theirs, regardless of its origins. In all fairness, the same can be said for Bakshi’s use of Bodé’s designs.

As they bounce through the forest on their weird two-legged mutant horses, Necron opens up, shooting Deadmeat out of the saddle and pursuing Weehawk. Our hero is no slouch. He manages to elude Necron, then draws an arrow and nails the assassin’s mount right in the eye. And yes, bow and arrow are both pieces of man-made technology, aren’t they? I guess if he really believed all that bullshit that the dead elder was spouting he’d have just thrown a rock.

Necron and his mount tumble into a ravine, but Necron is only wounded. He sneaks back and starts tracking Weehawk, finding him in a clearing where he’s set up a ring of torches and is praying over his mount Westwind, who has apparently dropped dead of exhaustion.

Damn. Those elves really love their hideous two-legged camel-horse things, don't they?

Damn. Those elves really love their hideous two-legged camel-horse things, don’t they?

Now I understand sentimentality as much as anyone, but if you’re being chased by a ruthless, relentless cyborg assassin, shouldn’t you wait before having an elaborate funeral for your loyal mutant horse? Well, who can understand elvish culture anyway?

(And actually it isn’t really a funeral anyway, since Weehawk’s mount Westwind comes back, sound as a new dollar, a few scenes later. Go figure.)

Necron muffs the deal though, stepping on a twig and triggering a ferocious attack by Weehawk, who throws himself at the assassin, sword whirling (sword? You mean a sword that was made by a blacksmith who used TECHNOLOGY??? Sorry…). Necron and the enraged Weehawk tumble over a cliff and into a river. Is it the end for Weekhawk? I think not.

The wizard Avatar's tower. Remind you of anything?

The wizard Avatar’s tower. Remind you of anything?

So now we’re in the kingdom of Montagar, at the disturbingly phallic tower of the now-ancient good wizard Avatar, where he lives in slobby splendor with his apprentice and the object of my adolescent lust, Lady Elinore.

While the years haven’t been kind to Blackwolf, they’ve been absolutely brutal to his brother. Avatar is now a short, paunchy dwarfish creature in a green smock and a floppy wizard’s hat pulled down over his eyes and held up only by his gross, oversized ears. His nose is swollen and red, his feet are gigantic (and prehensile, as he often holds his cigar with them), his hands clumsy meathooks, and he has taken up smoking.

In fact, Avatar has gone so far to seed that he looks a lot like Vaughn Bodé’s other signature character, Cheech Wizard. Another homage, I guess, but hell — couldn’t Bakshi have picked another Bodé character to copy? Cheech Wizard is kind of creepy.

Avatar’s voice is provided by veteran voice actor Bob Holt, who performed in more Saturday morning cartoons than I can count, and according to imdb based Avatar’s voice on Peter Falk’s Columbo.

(Now unfortunately I can’t get that last fact out of my head… I keep waiting for Avatar to start to leave a room, then turn around at the last second and say something like “Just one more thing… I got this nutty notion… Maybe you killed the professor, then framed Mrs. Johnson! Nah, it’s too far-fetched…”)

Lady Elinore, in a typical pose. Okay, okay... She's a total bimbo, but hey, I like her, okay?

Lady Elinore, in a typical pose. Okay, okay… She’s a total bimbo, but hey, I like her, okay?

Lady Elinore on the other hand… Woof, woof, woof! While she’s not based on any specific Bodé character, she’s a Bodé babe through and through, though I think one of her distant ancestors may also have been Betty Boop. She has purple faerie wings, thick black hair, big blue eyes, full red lips and the most alluringly buxom figure imaginable — melon-sized breasts straining against her flimsy white faerie-stripper-lingerie garment, softly flared hips, a shapely ass and pale, sculpted thighs…

Excuse me. I’ll be in my bunk.

No, never mind. Sorry, the teenaged me was in the driver’s seat for a moment there.

Elinore’s voice is provided by actress Jesse Wells, who had a decent run of TV roles back in the 70s and 80s but currently has no imdb entry, so I’m not entirely sure what she’s been up to since then. She gives the sexy elf babe a sultry but giggly voice which appealed to me at 16, but I now find a little annoying. Then again, I wouldn’t mind what she sounded like if she was saying something like “Hey, big fella… Wanna show a faerie princess a good time?”

Avatar and the president of Montagar, just clownin' around...

Avatar and the president of Montagar, just clownin’ around…

So Avatar is scanning the distance with a telescope, then shares his concerns with Elinore’s father the president of Montagar — a guy in a top hat wearing a clown mask (no political commentary here… no sirree Bob) — worried that his scouts haven’t yet returned from their mission.

“They’re really late now, aren’t they old wizard?” giggles Elinore. “Bad magic, isn’t it? And if they don’t show, you’ll know-no-more-than-you-did-be-fore [yes, that's exactly how she says it]. Tee-hee-hee.”

Or maybe, just maybe they’re effing dead and Blackwolf’s assassins are on their way. Have you thought of that Miss Faeries-don’t-wear-bras? Hm?

Okay, so Elinore’s a hottie, but that doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily portrayed as smart, which also kind of bugs me, as if a woman can be pretty or intelligent, but not both. Sigh. I have to keep reminding myself that this thing was made in 1976…

Avatar the wizard, ladies and gentlemen... the epitome of wisdom, knowledge and sophistication. And he smokes cigars with his feet.

Avatar the wizard, ladies and gentlemen… the epitome of wisdom, knowledge and sophistication. And he smokes cigars with his feet.

The president’s pretty concerned about all this, as frankly what sensible head of state wouldn’t be? He wonders — justifiably I think — whether Montagar should start arming up.

Avatar thinks this is just a waste of time. They’ll never be able to convince the people of the danger, and besides, he says, science and technology were outlawed “millions of years ago, and we must admit it’s been a peaceful world since then.”

Outlawed, huh? What’s that thing you were just looking through on your balcony, Avatar? The product of peace and love and magic? Hell, no. It was a fucking telescope.

Unaccountably the president then has a fit, demanding to know more lest he banish Avatar. Clearly Elinore has daddy wrapped around her shapely little finger, for she talks him down, explaining that Avatar’s teaching her all kinds of magic ‘n’ stuff, and can make her a “full-fledged faerie, and as you can see I’m only half-way there.”

Okay, I’m just going to leave that line alone. Some of my best friends are faeries.

Avatar starts explaining his past while below, the fearsome Necron 99 is clambering up the side of his tower.

Okay, at least Blackwolf’s minions LOOK cool. Of course they couldn’t fight off a troop of girl scouts armed with cookies, but at least they LOOK cool…

Now we’re back to still images and our sultry-voice narrator. Blackwolf lurked in Scortch for 5,000 years (wait, I though the title card said 3,000 years… Oh hell, I give up trying to keep track of what happened when), gathering an army and attempting to fulfill his promise to conquer the good guys and put the mutants in charge. Summoning demons from hell for generals, he unleashed his armies. Unfortunately, despite their demonic leadership, Blackwolf’s troops were pretty pathetic, getting bored or distracted before retreating in disorder, and the elves and faeries didn’t even have to use harsh language to drive them back.

Now we cut to one of the funnier pieces in the movie, a scene with a gas-mask clad mutant named Max mourning over his slain companion, Fritz (apparently a reference to Bakshi’s involvement in the Fritz the Cat movie).

“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They killed Fritz!”

Max and Fritz might have been an awesome comedy team if only Fritz had actually lived.

Max then opens upon the enemy with his pistol, screaming for vengeance, only to have Fritz stand up, tap him on the shoulder and explain that he’s fine (his voice is by our distinguished director, Ralph Bakshi, by the way).

Max doesn’t like this. “Damn. There you go again, stepping on my lines, raining on my parade, costing me medals! Damn!”

Of course in his frustration, Max then accidentally shoots Fritz dead.

“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! They killed Fritz!”

And so on. Yeah, it’s still funny even after all these years.

Blackwolf is unhappy with his army’s performance, and I certainly know how he feels (I played Wizard Kings this past weekend, and both Dale and Victor took me to the cleaners, slaughtering my elvish armies to the last unit, then dividing the world up between them. Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin…). He sends his legions out to scavenge for lost technology, eventually locating all sorts of cool tanks, bombers, missiles, guns, grenades and artillery. Everything’s in surprisingly good condition even after 10 million years, but no matter.

Blackwolf the Wizard frowns on your shenanigans.

Blackwolf the Wizard frowns on your shenanigans.

Unfortunately, even the best lost military tech means jack if you’ve got uninspired mooks to carry it, so Blackwolf keeps searching for something to motivate his legions and give them the edge they need to overwhelm a huge kingdom full of unarmed, inexperienced farmers and half-naked faerie babes.

Avatar believes that Blackwolf has solved his problem and now has what he needs to inspire his mutant forces, which is why he sent out Weehawk and Deadmeat. The clown-faced prez thinks this is a load of hooey, but before he can start ranting again, Necron 99 clambers over the balcony and shoots him full of holes.

Avatar responds quickly — not quickly enough to save the president, but quickly — zapping Necron with magic and knocking him out. Having just seen her father mercilessly shot down before her wide, expressive blue eyes, Elinore freaks out, throwing herself on Necron and tearing at his clothes.

Elinore shows her mean side.

Elinore shows her mean side.

(Now wouldn’t mind having Elinore throw herself on me and tear at my clothes, but I really don’t think I want to murder her father to get it.)

Weehawk now shows up a bit late to the game, rushing into the room and falling on his knees telling Avatar he’s failed both him and the president. Fade out on the scene of tragedy and fade back in on Scortch One, where Blackwolf’s minon, a lizard-man named Larry sees Necron’s little red light go out, then runs to go tell his master.

Blackwolf’s sitting on his throne in the middle of a huge swastika (a swastika! Aha! I think I know where this is going now!) playing with a couple of skulls. Larry tells him that Necron’s history. Blackwolf is delighted — that means that all of the free world’s leaders have been assassinated and his plan can begin in earnest.

“The remaining countries are now ruled by second-rate incompetents,” he says, “so confused that even now they blame the killings on those within their own ranks!”

These backgrounds kick so much ass...

These backgrounds kick so much ass…

Okay, enough about the current state of the Republican party. On to Blackwolf’s master stroke.

He strides through his fortress, past giant dynamos, swooping bombers, rows of armored vehicles and marching legions and lizard-guys throwing up Nazi salutes.

“It’s time to strike,” Blackwolf hisses as sirens blare ans summon his forces. “Sieg heil!”

And just in case Bakshi’s symbolism isn’t hammered home quite well enough, we cut back to Larry who’s wolfing down raw meat from a hanging side of beef, and when he scampers off we see that there’s a star of David branded on its side.

Okay, okay — we getit. We get it!

Blackwolf the Wizard grows weary of your tedious company.

Blackwolf the Wizard grows weary of your tedious company.

Two more of the gasmask mutants then discuss their mutual feelings. The fat one (it’s always the fat one, isn’t it?) says he doesn’t want to fight anymore, and has decided he loves birds and butterflies and flowers. His companion tells him not to worry, that Blackwolf has a secret weapon that makes them invincible, and then the fat gasmask mutant dutifully shoulders arms and happily marches off to Blackwolf’s Nuremburg Rally.

Blackwolf strides into his projection room where a couple of pixies are chained to a hand-cranked generator.

“It will never work!” declares the female. “People don’t want war. It destroyed this planet, it’s people and all records of past civilizations!”

“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh,” chuckles Blackwolf, uncovering what appears to be a 16mm movie projector. “Not all records, as you’ll soon find out!”

What follows is something of an acid trip. Blackwolf throws open the curtains of his projection booth (emblazoned with a giant swastika, naturally) and addresses the troops.

“Attention, members of tomorrow’s master race!”

And with that we get the first of many pieces of stock footage, repurposed to the world of Wizards. The first is a recolored segment from Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, that originally showed an evil Teutonic musician pounding away on a big pipe organ (no, really, it did… Go see the movie… It’s a long story).

In the name of Aleksander Nevsky... Wait... I mean BLACKWOLF THE WIZARD!

In the name of Aleksander Nevsky… Wait… I mean BLACKWOLF THE WIZARD!

The music gets everyone’s attention and Blackwolf’s legions stop shooting craps and picking up whores to listen. More processed footage from Nevsky follows (siege engines and knights with wings, devil horns and red eyes added, for example), as well as more repurposed sequences from (I kid you not) Zulu. While it’s all pretty trippy it is also far more convincing than the legions of rotoscoped guys in gorilla masks that passed for orcs in The Lord of the Rings.

Once the stock footage army has assembled, Blackwolf continues. “The time has come as I promised! The time when I reveal to you, my loyal followers, the ancient secret of war. The key to creating hysteria. Fear. GODDDDDSSSSSS!”

Yeah, that’s how he delivers it. Blackwolf’s voice, by the way, is from Steve Gravers, who passed away only a year or so after Wizards was released. Another veteran TV actor, Gravers was active in dozens of shows from the 1950s onward. Wizards was not his last role — he was active up until the very end, acting on Charlie’s Angels and a horrible possessed-auto movie called The Car before heading for the big retired actor’s home in the sky.

Having fired up his troops, Blackwolf then zaps the pixies, forcing them to crank the generator, powering the projector and providing his drooling legions with what they’ve been missing all these years — Nazi propaganda.

Always remember... The army that SLAYS together STAYS together.

Always remember… The army that SLAYS together STAYS together.

And so it is that, watching footage from Nazi newsreels and The Triumph of the Will, while listening to the Horst Wessel Song, Blackwolf’s troops are driven into a National Socialistic frenzy and thus driven to vent their righteous rage upon the elves and faeries who stand in the way of mutant lebensraum.

Yeah, we get it all. As pictures of Hitler, Junkers 88s, Panzer IVs and Focke-Wulf fighters scroll past them, the mutants throw their arms around each other, start foaming at the mouth, jumping up and down and praising Blackwolf, their beloved Fuhrer to the skies. Now I feel sorry for the elves and faeries.

Next we see an animated map of Blackwolf’s attack on East Elfland. It’s actually a pretty cool map, and it only appears on screen for a second or two. Fortunately, through the magic of modern DVD technology (there’s that word again, dammit), we can freeze-frame and learn more about the world.

For all you wargamers out there...

For all you wargamers out there…

East Elfland is the first victim. In the peaceful, tranquil forest, untouched by the evils of nasty technology and genetically-inferior mutants, a faerie leader gives a speech to her people.

“Blackmark’s armies come again!” she cries (and she does say “Blackmark” so it might be a misread or another word for Scortch… I like the latter myself). “Our cousin elves are already in the trenches. It’s our loved land too. For elfin and faerie-land united we fly!”

I believe that this was the slogan of Trans-Dimensional Airlines back in the 70s, wasn’t it? At least until 9/11, after which it became “Shut up and be grateful we’re even letting you on board.”

And so off fly the faeries in a rush of pixie dust. Now we dissolve to the trenches where grim but extremely short elves in armor attempt to peek over the edge.

Don't you worry, kid. Blackwolf's murderous demons won't even consider someone named "Peewhittle" dangerous.

Don’t you worry, kid. Blackwolf’s murderous demons won’t even consider someone named “Peewhittle” dangerous.

In one trench, a grizzled veteran named Alfie sucks on his pipe and reassures his greenhorn trenchmate Peewhittle (no, really… The damned elf’s name is Peewhittle. Jesus, if I was stuck with a name like that I’d want to die in battle too) that the enemy is a big pushover.

“Blackwolf must have lost one million men here the last time he tried to invade! And if Blackwolf’s stupid enough to try it again he’ll lose twice more! Them goblins and demons just look mean, but they’re yella! They got no cause to fight. They always give up and run with our arrows chasin’ ‘em all the way home! Hee-hee-hee! It’s always been that way and it’ll always be the same. In’t that the truth, boys?”

While I think that referring to Blackwolf’s troops as “men” is a little misleading, it’s obvious that Alfie’s confidence is misplaced, for a few moments later the fired-up neo-Fascists storm the trenches using classic Blitzkrieg tactics while wah-wah guitars play in the background.  World War II stock footage (with horns stuck on the German helmets) now runs, interspersed with images of Blackwolf’s demon cavalry and flying serpents.

The technology-hating elves now don their helmets (technology), strap on their breastplates (technology), string their bows (technology) and draw their swords (technology) and prepare to meet the assault.

I think I saw this guy at a Laser Floyd show back in '81.

I think I saw this guy at a Laser Floyd show back in ’81.

Things go okay for them until Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector, sending images of Third Reich mayhem directly over the battlefield, terrifying the poor wittle elfs and scaring them so much they throw down their weapons and run away like a bunch of pussies. The demons and mutants slaughter everyone but Peewhittle, who is left shivering in the trenches amid the slain bodies of his fellow elves.

Back in Avatar’s palace of phallitude, the good wizard is busy inspecting Necron 99 and denying Elinore’s pleas to torture information out of him. When Avatar tells her that torture is immoral and against the Geneva convention, Eliniore replies that all she wants to do is waterboard him, and that, as we all know, isn’t really torture.

No, Avatar says, he’s managed to extract sufficient information from Necron’s brain. Blackwolf has a magic dream machine that inspires his armies, and it must be destroyed. Elinore and Weehawk are both raring to go, but Avatar just climbs into bed saying he’s too old for this kind of shit and to wake him up when the world goes kablooey.

Avatar doesn’t take much convincing to change his mind, and immediately they start planning their next move. As Elinore crouches alluringly above him, Avatar asks her to sit there for a few hours while he figures it out.

Elinore poses alluringly. She’s sure gotten over the death of her father quickly, hasn’t she?

And of course, rather than punching him and calling him a sexist old man, Elinore complies, posing like a centerfold. Sheesh. There’s a part of me that’s kind of sorry that I notice this kind of sexist shit more easily these days, but for the most part I’m glad I’m a little more discriminating than I was at 16.

Avatar plans to reprogram Necron 99 and rename him Peace, “in the hopes that he will bring it” and use him to guide our three heroes to the machine’s hiding place.

More narration now. Weehawk spends a night saying goodbye to his tribe, while Elinore assures the other winged ones that she will return as Queen of Montagar (so men are presidents and women are queens? It’s an odd system they have in Montagar) and a full-fledged faerie.

Avatar leads the bound Necron… No, sorry, “Peace”… down the stairs, telling him to behave himself, lest he face painful consequences. “I got stuff that’ll take 20 years to kill you,” he says, “and you’ll be screaming for mercy in the first five seconds.”

Jesus. This is the wizard of peace and love and flowers and rainbows? I’m starting to sympathize more and more with Blackwolf and the mutants.

Peace doesn’t want this, though, and agrees to cooperate. “Peace,” he says, “wants love. Wants free. Will help.”

Avatar was forced to tie up Peace the robot after he threatened to leave if Elinore started singing.

Avatar was forced to tie up Peace the robot after he threatened to leave if Elinore started singing.

Avatar brings Peace to his old mount — the one that took an arrow through the eye — clearly resurrected through Avatar’s dark necromantic arts and relatively whole save some stitches and an eyepatch. Weehawk doesn’t trust Peace, but Avatar assures him that his powers are mighty while levitating himself into his horse-thing’s saddle but landing backwards.

Elinore, being the fluff-brained bimbo that she is, giggles and says (once more in an exaggerated girly voice), “He’s gettin’ older but not much bolder! Tee-hee-hee.”

Okay, I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers, but Elinore does have her annoying aspects. Damn you, age and maturity…

And so our slightly shorthanded Fellowship departs (reduced from nine to four due to the same budget restrictions that reduced the mutant mounts legs from four to two).

“Sing us a song, Elinore,” Avatar asks the suddenly-sulky faerie. (At this point during my original viewing back in ’77 I distinctly remember a woman in the audience loudly exclaiming, “Oh, brother!”)

“I don’t want to,” she pouts, apparently realizing that she hasn’t packed any hair care products.

Elinore's all pouty. Then again, wouldn't you be pouty if you had to put up with this guy all the time?

Elinore’s all pouty. Then again, wouldn’t you be pouty if you had to put up with this guy all the time?

“But that’s why we brought you,” Avatar says, busily digging himself in even deeper. “Come on!”

Oh, Jesus… This somewhat appalling bit of sexism goes unnoticed (most of the amazon-types I’ve known over the years would jam a foot or two of steel through my ear if I had the temerity to say something that patronizing, but I guess that Avatar and I move in different circles), and Elinore obliges, singing the following haunting tune (sung by Baywatch’s Susan Anton) over a brief montage of the devastation that the war has wrought:

Time renews tomorrow, 
When we’ve used today. 
It will find the sorrow 
And wash it all away. 

Love can play a new tune 
On this carousel. 
It may be tomorrow, 
But only time will tell. 

No one has the answer 
To give away or sell. 
Tomorrow holds the secret, 
But only time will tell.

Sorry, kid. No school today -- Blackwolf had your teacher flayed alive for teaching evolution.

Sorry, kid. No school today — Blackwolf had your teacher flayed alive for teaching evolution.

As we pan past a long line of elvish prisoners in the middle of a bombed out city, we see a family of faeries seeking shelter in a tree. The faeries’ child asks where daddy is and mommy tells him that he’s out guarding their home since their side has lost the war. When the kid asks why they lost mom tells him, “Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love.”

Oh, bloody hell… I’m going to resist the urge to start ranting again, but this whole sappy, saccharine scene with its sappy, saccharine music puts me in mind of a line from comedian Jack Handey, who said: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.”

Anyway, back to the comic relief. Hundreds of elves are standing in line, guarded by Blackwolf’s troops and tanks. Several of the gasmask-wearing mooks are trying to figure out what to do with all the prisoners, and want to ask the local priests how to proceed.

Sacreligious? Us? NEVER!

Sacreligious? Us? NEVER!

A couple of mooks kick down the doors of the temple, which is stuffed with “holy objects that they’ve saved for millions of years.” Yup, you guessed it — the “holy objects” include a Coca-Cola sign, a baseball glove, an Oscar (TM) statuette, jukebox, TV, old fashioned telephone, etc.

The two mooks eventually find the priests, two dwarvish-types in robes and bowlers who are snoozing in the back of the temple on an old tapestry bearing a CBS-TV logo.

“My sons, you say you are the victors, but there is only one victor” intones the first priest, pointing up, “and that’s Him.”

The mooks insist on an answer, but the priests tell them that they must first observe sundown and pray. And pray they do, howling and babbling, whacking each other with sticks, doing the old soft-shoe, wheeling each other back and forth on improvised crucifixes, dousing each other with water, bowing, bobbing, jumping, etc. Eventually, after five hours the mooks lose patience and just shoot all the prisoners and blow up the temple, which is what we pretty much expected from the beginning.

Back to Scortch One, where Blackwolf is talking to a hot dark-elven woman who lounges unhappily on a couch.

When you think about it, Blackwolf is kind of Scortch's equivalent of Hugh Hefner -- a wizened shriveled semi-human mummy who still gets all the hot babes because he's so rich and leads an army of killer mutants.

When you think about it, Blackwolf is kind of Scortch’s equivalent of Hugh Hefner — a wizened shriveled semi-human mummy who still gets all the hot babes because he’s rich and leads an army of killer mutants.

“Will the birth be soon?” he asks.

“Very soon, my lord,” says the not-pregnant-at-all-looking elf.

“You are young to be queen,” Blackwolf replies, “but deliver me a son and you shall help me rule this planet.”

“I don’t want to rule this planet, lord,” she says. “Just our kingdom is enough.”

“Enough?” Blackwolf demands. “Enough for mutants to stay in their place, huh? Laden with radiation so our bodies crawl with hell? We will live in the good lands. My son will grow where there isn’t death in the very waters we drink and the air we breathe.”

Now consider this exchange  – what’s Blackwolf asking for, really? A safe, clean place to raise his children in, free of death and disease. The Nazi allegory starts to break down here — a people’s desire to live in health and happiness is a long way from racist fascist lebensraum. But more on that later.

Blackwolf approaches his wise men, a trio of greenish mutants who make Python’s Spanish Inquisition look competent. He asks them whether his son will be human or mutant. They assure him that it will be a mutant, and Blackwolf displays his horrific lack of good judgment skills by believing them.

There’s at least two things wrong with calling these guys “wise men.”

“The next one won’t be!” he snarls, stalking off. His future queen rushes after him, crying out not to have her son killed.

“It is not his fault!” she sobs.

Whoa, my head is now spinning. We’ve been spending most of the flick talking about how inherently evil and inferior mutants are, and now we’re trying to create sympathy for them as victims of Blackwolf’s eugenics. The fact that he’ll kill his son if he’s a mutant is contradictory, but that doesn’t really bug me, since villains of this type are usually hypocrites, and Blackwolf’s worse than most.

Meanwhile, our heroes are now riding perilously close to the domain of the mountain faeries, which neither Peace nor Weehawk think is a good idea.

“Faerie bad. Not good. Go around,” Peace says, summing up my feelings very precisely.

Awwww... Isn't dey jus' da cutest wittle things? And don't you just want to set them on fire or something?

Awwww… Isn’t dey jus’ da cutest wittle things? And don’t you just want to set them on fire or something?

Avatar vetoes the suggestion and into the faerie domains they go. Weehawk notes that elves and faeries are bad blood cousins, which kind of contradicts the solidarity they’ve been showing all through the movie, but no matter.

A bunch of faeries now starts to follow the companions. These are somewhat different from the ones we’ve seen up to this point — they’re a bit more like Victorian flower faeries, and consequently even more irritating. Needless to say, Elinore thinks they’re cute but Weehawk sensibly tries to gut one with his sword, with little success.

The faeries get even more aggressive. One transforms into a giant pink rat and menaces Weehawk, while the others levitate Avatar and Elinore’s mounts into a tree. As they do, a rifle falls from Avatar’s pack, and Peace discreetly picks it up. Uh-oh? Is he contemplating mischief, or even worse… shenanigans?

So THAT'S what Mark Hamill looked like before the car accident...

So THAT’S what Mark Hamill looked like before the car accident…

By now Avatar’s had enough. He orders the faeries to stop saying, “Even in the houses of elves I’ve seen more sophisticated magic!”

Weehawk lets this slight slide by, but the faeries continue with their antics. Eventually Avatar calls up the powers of magic and nature to sweep the faeries away. In the confusion, Peace slips away and nearby meets up with his two fellow assassins.

Avatar continues whipping up a storm, knocking faeries left and right until at last one of the more sensible faeries whips out a magic wand and casts a counterspell, stopping Avatar’s magic cold. The faerie then smiles adorably (or at least he thinks he’s adorable. I just want to squash him with a flyswatter).

The sky clears and Avatar, Weehawk and Elinore find themselves in the middle of a faerie feast.

“Please forgive us for the behavior of some of our more care-free brothers,” says the faerie who thinks he’s so fucking cute. “I’m Sean, leader of the Knights of Stardust, protectors of Dolan, king of the mountain faeries.”

Actually, after dealing with Sean I’d have considered shooting him, too.

Sean’s voice probably sounds familiar, because it was provided by a young actor by the name of Mark Hamill, who would one day go on to fame in movies like Corvette Summer, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Eventually Avatar stops being annoyed, and discusses their mission with Sean while Weehawk walks away in disgust to go talk to the horses.

“We’ll eat alone, lest we sit with fools,” he says. Yeah, I knew I liked Weehawk, despite his dumb name.

Weehawk realizes that Peace has gone missing and raises the alarm, but it’s too late. From the forest automatic weapons fire cuts down Sean and next thing we know Elinore is magically imprisoned with her arms sunk in two blocks of stone, leaving Avatar and Weehawk to chase after her, knowing that Peace has turned on them. Or so they think, anyway.

Avatar and Weehawk race into the mountain faeries’ caves, but Weehawk falls into a pit, leaving Avatar to go on alone.

Evidently the mountain faeries take their bondage sessions VERY seriously.

Evidently the mountain faeries take their bondage sessions VERY seriously.

“You must save Elinore,” Weehawk’s voice echoes up from below. “Hurry, old fool!”

Avatar inches past the pit, muttering the mystic spell “Morrow-Krenkel-Frazetta” (a joke I even got when I was only 16).

While Avatar rushes off to save our zaftig heroine, Weehawk blunders around in the darkness, eventually facing a gigantic multi-legged insect-demon thing, but just as it’s about to finish him off, a volley of gunfire erupts from the darkness, killing the beast.

Badly wounded, Peace staggers forward mumbling, “Faerie bad. Not good.” He almost falls into the abyss, but Weekhawk pulls him back and they lie together, exhausted.

Now on to the faerie bondage scene, with the captive Elinore still trapped and surrounded by a crowd of faeries calling for her blood. The king, surrounded by his bodyguard of hot barbarian faeries, calls for calm.

Okay, the king's kind of a loser, but his bodyguards are dead butch. Especially that one on the right...

Okay, the king’s kind of a loser, but his bodyguards are dead butch. Especially that one on the right…

“Will it be brother against brother here, too?” he demands. “Only humans kill their own kind!”

(Let me take a moment to stew at this species-ist, ignorant remark… Okay, back to the movie.)

“She allowed technology and death into the golden circle!” shouts a rather haggish female faerie. “She is a traitor!”

Elinore takes umbrage at this, giggling (and Bakshi himself must have really enjoyed what giggling does to Elinore’s breasts) and telling the faeries that she doesn’t take this kind of shit from anyone, no matter how badass their king is.

Furious, Elinore blasts some of the angry faeries with magic, eliciting even more calls for her blood.

By now Elinore’s on a roll, realizing that she now has “full faerie power” and animating one of the statues on the column imprisoning her. The statue goes berserk, beating on faeries and threatening to provoke a massive riot.

I know this looks bad for Elinore, but believe me it's NOTHING compared to what female cosplayers have to put up with at Comicon.

I know this looks bad for Elinore, but believe me it’s NOTHING compared to what female cosplayers have to put up with at Comicon.

Avatar arrives just in time to throw himself on the faeries’ mercy while the animated statue starts humping Elinore’s leg. He didn’t kill Shawn, but is on a mission to save the world and if the king would be so kind as to let him and Elinore go, well, so that they can at least try to defeat Blackwolf, even though clearly the mission is doomed…

While he talks, the statue-thing starts clambering all over Elinore and she does her best to avoid it, without success.

“I have always been very good,” she says, kicking at it, “and can be even better sometimes…”

In the middle of Avatar’s speech, the image of Blackwolf appears, shouting, “My brother lies!” and a faerie arrow strikes Avatar in the arm. He takes it like a man, which impresses the king, who notes that he has kept his word not to use violence, and so can leave along with Elinore.

Hey, Avatar! This gives me an idea for my next poledance routine at the Crazy Horse!

With that Avatar and Elinore are transported into the frozen wastelands, where Elinore discovers that her somewhat abbreviated garments are inadequate to northern weather. Avatar conjures her a poncho, giving her the first decent clothing she’s managed for the entire movie. Note however, that he doesn’t bother to conjure actual shoes for either one of them, which strikes me as a bit of an inconvenience in a frozen wilderness.

The next day Avatar and Elinore dig themselves out of a snowbank and keep slogging on in the general direction of Scortch. When they’re confronted by riders, they prepare for a last stand, Elinore drawing her sword and Avatar preparing his magic (which I hope works better than it did on the faeries).

The riders are revealed to be Weehawk and Peace, who have been searching all this time, and finally get our happy couple off the glacier.

Hey, the mutants' wives are pretty cute, except for the fangs. And some of us are into that.

Hey, the mutants’ wives are pretty cute, except for the fangs. And some of us are into that.

More narration now, with an 80s montage of the rest of the journey. Traveling through the mutant lands, our heroes discover that the mutants are all gone. Well not all gone…

“All they left were their wives,” we are told, “hurling insults and rocks as the party passed through.”

Hey, don’t mutant wives get to fight, too? Well, I guess if the heroes are sexist, then the villains will be as well…

As they pass through the desert, Avatar and his companions are captured by a bunch of Arabic/Asian freedom fighters, led by a very loud viking-dwarf named Apu (no, really), who grabs Avatar and swings him around like a flag, bellowing, “AVATAR! FATHER! MOTHER! PEACE! LOVE! GRANOLA! HIPPIES! WEED! BURNING MAN!”

Surprise brohug!

Well, not quite that bad, but close. It seems that the companions have stumbled upon the last surviving elves, who have taken weapons from Blackwolf’s forces and are massing for a final assault on Scortch One.

Avatar doesn’t think much of this. He smacks Apu out of frustration with his suicidal plan, but the general takes it well, telling his followers not to hurt Avatar, and telling them that in the old days Avatar traveled the land, curing sickness and helping the bereaved. Why he never helped the mutants isn’t really explained, but I guess no one’s perfect, huh?

“And now,” Apu continues, “we have our messiah back again! He’s going to destroy his brother for us. With what? A woman-child, one elf, and a moron robot.”

Hey, you have to admit it’s a pretty accurate description. Disgusted, Apu stalks into his tent, leaving Avatar to walk sadly into the night, feeling totally pwned.

It seems that the elves have finally realized that to defeat cool-looking enemies you have to look cooler than they do.

Later that evening as Elinore and Peace look out to sea they’re attacked by one of Blackwolf’s spells, a massive red-eyed cloud that tries to seize Elinore. Avatar drives it off and then becomes Mister Buzz-kill, telling Elinore that it’s all her fault — her kind words took Peace’s mind off his internal battle with Blackwolf, allowing the wizard to attack.

We don’t have much respite after that, as one of Blackwolf’s tanks attacks. Peace tries to defend Avatar but — Surprise! Surprise! — Elinore draws her sword, kills Peace, and jumps into the tank, riding away with the gasmask mooks and leaving poor Avatar to wonder what the hell went wrong.

Shattered by Elinore’s betrayal, Avatar accompanies the rebel army on their awesome Ian Miller-designed ships as they sail to attack Scortch, but wanders around mumbling to himself, in full Heroic BSOD mode. When Weehawk tells him that they have to swim to Scortch to complete their mission, he pretty much goes along with all the enthusiasm of a damp dishrag.

Screw you losers... I'm heading off for a hot three-way with Blackwolf and that dark elf babe. (And by the way... EWWWW!)

Screw you losers… I’m heading off for a hot three-way with Blackwolf and that dark elf babe. (And by the way… EWWWW!)

Fortunately we aren’t subjected to the sight of Avatar swimming in that ridiculous outfit of his — we cut to the action after he and Weehawk have made it to Scortch and are both completely dry. Of course Avatar is still vapor-locked, mumbling nonsensically and generally carrying on like Mitt Romney after election night.  As they approach Scortch One, Avatar decides to brighten the place up a little by conjuring some nice flowers, an approach which Weehawk finds slightly objectionable.

They sneak through the lower city past the by-now expected images of Nazi-esque atrocities and nasty mutants wearing swastika armbands, and so on. Eventually Avatar completely breaks down and strides out, doing tricks for a mutant feldmarschall and his creepy looking doxy. Larry the lizard-man (remember him?) tries to warn the guy, but being a dumb Nazi mutant he ignores the danger until Weehawk shows up, gutting him with a sword and going all Wuxia action hero on the mutants who try to pile on and even going so far as to kick a fuckin’ mutant’s head off. Holy shit — Weehawk continues to blaze a trail of badassery all the way from Montagar to Scortch.

Weehawk shows what a badass motherfucker he really is. Provide your own Wuxia sound effects.

Weehawk shows what a badass motherfucker he really is. Provide your own Wuxia sound effects.

Larry the Lizard jumps Weehawk and slices his arm. Once more the mutants prove themselves to be pretty dumb, as Larry now thinks he’s killed Weehawk and rushes into the castle, muttering “Master! The enemy is dead! Master loves Larry! Master feed Larry!” Say what you will about Larry the Lizard, you have to agree that he is at least extremely goal-oriented.

Avatar is standing next to the fallen fieldmarshal, and looks distraught, but he allows Weehawk to lead him as they follow Larry into the heart of Blackhawk’s fortress.

Meanwhile on the beaches it’s D-Day as elvish resistance forces storm ashore. There’s a brief shot once more adapted from the movie Zulu in which a couple of Blackwolf’s scouts (Zulu warriors with horns painted on — what kind of message is that sending?) spot the enemy before all hell breaks loose. The elves have pretty much given up their crappy WWI tactics and now advance, fully armed and armored in Conan the Barbarian style, against Blackwolf’s tanks and artillery. Yeah, the elves may be doomed, but they’ve finally learned how to dress themselves stylishly.

Okay, assholes... No more "Peace-lovin', flower-power, tech-hatin' elf" crap. Come 'n' get some!

Okay, assholes… No more “Peace-lovin’, flower-power, tech-hatin’ elf” crap. Come ‘n’ get some!

More footage from El Cid, Alexander Nevsky and Zulu follows, interspersed with shots of Blackwolf’s mutants as the bad guys moves to engage our now totally-badass mofo elf army.

The rotoscoped enemy army from three other movies finally attacks and the elves give a fine accounting of themselves, standing firm and sending the enemy reeling back, chopping down demons, mutants and gasmask mooks and fighting to the last. And just when it seems that they might win the day…

Three guesses, folks.

Death to the British imperialists who have invaded our homeland! Oops... I mean death to the elves and faeries! Blackwolf Rules!

Death to the British imperialists who have invaded our homeland! Oops… I mean death to the elves and faeries! Blackwolf Rules!

Yes, Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector and the rotoscoped stock footage from El Cid and Zulu is replaced by rotoscoped stock footage from Patton, Kelly’s Heroes and WWII newsreels. Stunned by the terrifying images and blown apart by superior weaponry, the elves are slaughtered and Blackwolf’s armies advance in triumph.

Keep in mind that, despite the extensive use of stock footage and other varied cost-cutting measures, the battle scenes in Wizards are far more effective than those in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, released just a few years later. I admit that the images from other movies are a little jarring (especially if, like me, you’re a big fan of the movies that were used for the footage), but the battle scene is still action-packed and quite comprehensible, as opposed to the cinematic trainwreck in the later film.

This is what happens when you try to open a Wal-Mart in an elvish neighborhood, so be warned.

This is what happens when you try to open a Wal-Mart in an elvish neighborhood, so be warned.

Blackwolf himself doesn’t seem to be terribly happy with all this, and just watches grimly as Avatar and Weehawk creep up on him. Weehawk’s pretty much given up on the mission by now, telling Avatar that he can’t fight Blackwolf — he’s just too strong. Avatar agrees, but hell, it’s in the script… He has to face his brother down in single combat. Luke Skywalker wasn’t due to face Darth Vader for a few years yet, so someone has to act as an example after all.

Avatar urges Weehawk to find the projector and destroy it, and tell Elinore that “Avatar will die with her tonight. Even if we win.”

And so with that jolly thought swimming through his age- and drug-addled brain, Avatar stands up, whistles and shouts, “Hi!” to his brother.

And so it begins…

“You have aged, old fool,” Blackwolf says. “The world is mine!”

And just as he’s about to snarl, “Shall we dance?” we cut back to Weehawk as he scurries through more Ian Miller backgrounds, eventually spotting Elinore crouching, weeping in a cell. He leaps down on her, shouting, “Slut!”

Weehawk's kind of channeling his inner Simpson when he slaps Elinore, wouldn't you agree?

Weehawk’s kind of channeling his inner Simpson when he slaps Elinore, wouldn’t you agree?

Okay, okay… I really don’t think “slut” is the best thing to call her right now… Bitch maybe (though it’s kind of rude). Traitress definitely. But not “slut.” I mean, what the hell’s wrong with being a slut? Some of my best friends are sluts. And faeries. And some are slutty faeries.

Just as Weehawk’s about to gut poor Elinore like a trout, Blackwolf’s queen (remember her?) shows up, cradling her infant son in her arms (he’s swaddled so we don’t see what kind of mutant he is… it probably turns out that he’s one of the gasmask mooks, which means that Blackwolf’s queen might strayed from the path slightly).

“Stop, elf!” she cries. “Blood on blood! Fathers and sons dying! Brothers and lovers spilling false hate and rivers of life flowing away! Fool elf! Think your sword is always quick? But what else? Think!”

My god. Something tells me she’s been rehearsing that speech for weeks.

All is forgiven. Fortunately Elinore didn't tell Weehawk that she's also been torturing elf prisoners and watching Fox News ever since she got to the fortress.

All is forgiven. Fortunately Elinore didn’t tell Weehawk that she’s also been torturing elf prisoners and watching Fox News ever since she got to the fortress.

Weehawk hesitates at this, as who wouldn’t, giving Elinore a chance to explain. Blackwolf was able to control her mind and forced her to kill Peace, and she was unable to prevent it.

Aw, come on… You knew that all along, didn’t you?

And so Blackwolf’s unnamed queen and son flee the fortress, and out of the movie. Unfortunately we don’t see them again, though they certainly look like interesting characters to follow.

(And if I were writing this as a Wulf story or something, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d have written a scene in which the queen comforts Elinore in ways that only a woman can… But then again, I make no bones about my various perversities…)

Meanwhile, Blackwolf is still busy monologuing.

“The trouble with you, my brother, is that you’ve always been too good.”

(Now isn’t that just the quintessential “evil brother” line of dialog? It deserves some kind of award, I think.)

Avatar takes this in stride. “That may be,” he says, “but I still think I look more like ma than you do.”

And so it begins... The two rival wizards face each other at last, presaging a magic duel that will shatter the very foundations of reality. Or not.

And so it begins… The two rival wizards face each other at last, presaging a magic duel that will shatter the very foundations of reality. Or not.

Blackwolf isn’t amused, and is still in villain speech mode.

“There is no need for me to destroy you,” he continues. “Surrender. Surrender your world.”

Yeah, like the elves would go along. They’ve already decided that Avatar’s kind of a dork and are busy outside fighting to the death.

Avatar replies with a slow clap. “You always did need an audience, you sap. Let me tell ya. I ain’t practiced much magic for a long time. I wanna show you a trick mother showed me when you weren’t around, to use on special occasions like this.” He rolls up his sleeves. “Oh, yeah. One more thing. I’m glad you changed your last name, you son of a bitch.”

And with that, Avatar, wizard of peace, lover of nature, hater of technology, defender of magic and foe of destructive engines and machines, draws a Pistole Parabellum 1908 Luger and blows a couple of nine millimeter holes in his brother’s chest.

Fortunately for civilization, Avatar had maintained his NRA membership for the last 5,000 years.

Fortunately for civilization, Avatar had maintained his NRA membership for the last 5,000 years.

(And what’s that about his last name? Hell, they have last names? And if they do, what the hell are they?)

Yes, after our near-feverish anticipation of a massive wizard’s duel, Avatar goes all Indiana Jones on Blackwolf and pops a cap in his wizened old ass. Blackwolf doesn’t even get a death speech before he falls and — predictably — his massive villain-fortress begins to crumble.

Avatar ditches the luger and gets ready to die, but Weehawk shows up just in time to tell him the truth, that Elinore’s not a traitor, and together the trio escape just as the magic movie projector blows up, taking Scortch One along with it.

“It is done!” Weehawk yells, providing some of the most unnecessary plot exposition in cinema history. “It is done! The world is free!

You shot me. You motherfucker! I can't believe you actually SHOT me! God damn it! You fucking asshole! You SHOT me!

You shot me. You motherfucker! I can’t believe you actually SHOT me! God damn it! You fucking asshole! You SHOT me!

And now with one last narrative interlude, we’re told that the shadow creatures faded away or crawled back to hell, and the mutants fled or were mercilessly cut down by the vengeful, genetically-pure elves. While there was some rejoicing, we’re told, most simply wanted to return home. Hitler, the narratrix says, once more pounding home the message with an oversized plot hammer, was dead again!

They could live once more in peace in the land they loved so much! God-given. Amen.

And, might I add, free of the threat of genetically-inferior mutants to mess up their perfect world since, after all, only the beautiful and the pure should be allowed to live in health and safety. The rest of us get to scrape out our existences in the living hell of Scortch.

Amen.

In the epilog, back in the green and lush good lands, Weehawk captures Larry the Lizard, but Avatar tells him to just set him free. Larry goes bounding happily off into the forest, where he is probably shot a week later by the elvish purity squad.

Elinore informs Weehawk that she and Avatar are going off on their own now, to form their own kingdom. Weehawk’s the new king of Montagar, and he can just ignore the dictates of those stupid presidents and “elected” legislators.

Weehawk skillfully hides his disdain for Larry the Lizard.

Weehawk skillfully hides his disdain for Larry the Lizard.

Weehawk thinks this sounds ridiculous and just the tiniest bit creepy. “You and Avatar married, my queen?”

Avatar doesn’t think that marrying a hot busty brunette who’s young enough to be his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (etc.) granddaughter is at all strange. He has at least 1,000 years or so left, and he intends to fill them with the fleshy delights of Elinore’s voluptuous body.

Well, he doesn’t say that exactly but I know just what he’s thinking. At least it’s what I’d be thinking in his place.

Weehawk just shrugs and rides off to go be king, leaving Avatar and Elinore to contemplate the complexities of their future life together.

“Come on,” Avatar says, “let’s make it.”

Weehawk reacts with bemused horror as he imagines Avatar and Elinore's wedding night.

Weehawk reacts with bemused horror as he imagines Avatar and Elinore’s wedding night.

Elinore giggles (of course) and says, “Avatar, you’re getting older and much bolder.”

“C’mon!” Avatar replies. “I mean let’s make it out of here!”

“Suuuure you did,” Elinore says, and we cut to credits and an encore of her elf song from the beginning of the movie sung by that Baywatch actress.

Wizards is an odd movie, and I found the whole thing downright schizophrenic on many levels. Above all else, it’s both a good movie and a bad movie at the same time. Good for its images, animation, voice acting and overall mood, but bad due to the ham-handedness of its story and its contradictory messages.

One more final shot of Elinore being Elinore.

One more final shot of Elinore being Elinore.

And it’s the messages that bug me more today than they did in 1977.

Let’s see. We establish a world where there are some races born good (elves and faeries) and some that are born evil (mutants). There are two wizards who represent the same good and evil, and came into the world that way. Good will always be good and evil always evil with no hope for redemption.

So the good, pretty people get to live in the nice lands, where there’s sunshine and green grass and forests and flowers. The ugly people get to live in the blasted, radioactive wasteland, and if they try to leave and live in a better place, they are mercilessly slaughtered.

Then the evil wizard takes over the bad guys’ land and indoctrinates them with Nazi ideologies that claim just what the movie’s story espoused — that some races are genetically superior to others and that they must exterminate the “inferior” races to gain enough room to live and prosper.

It seems to me that the good, kind elves were the ones practicing Nazi eugenics, isolating mutants and forcing them to live in apartheid-style homelands from which they could never leave. Yet it’s the “evil” mutants who adopt the Nazi’s ideologies and the “good” elves who kill them for trying to find better lives.

There’s a lot of cool material about Wizards on the net (for example, it was originally called War Wizards, but Bakshi changed the name at George Lucas’ request in deference to the upcoming Star Wars). Bakshi himself says that Wizards was partially intended as an allegory of the founding of the state of Israel, which gives that whole “God-given” line at the end a somewhat unhappy political twist.

Apparently someone (http://fooray.deviantart.com/ to be precise) has done some kind of Elinore/Zaphod Beebelbrox crossover. I don't even want to know...

Apparently someone (http://fooray.deviantart.com/ to be precise) has done some kind of Elinore/Zaphod Beebelbrox crossover. I don’t even want to know…

I won’t get into the details of the mid-east situation because it’s complex and controversial, but I will at least say that all sides have their own point of view, and valid and rational arguments can be made for everyone. Reducing the mind-numbingly labyrinthine Arab-Israeli conflict to a story as simple-mindedly black and white as Wizards seems to do the entire situation an injustice. And if Bakshi is portraying the Israelis as peaceful elves and faeries who shun violence and weapons, and the Arabs as murderous mutants who embrace Nazi ideology, I really have to take exception.

And that’s all the dancing in that particular minefield I intend to do today, ladies and gents.

I won’t get too mad about the whole “technology vs. magic” dichotomy, but it’s a very flimsy device. As noted, the elves do use technology, and they use it quite extensively. Had Avatar said that “technological weapons were banned thousands of years ago,” I might not be quite so upset, but the story didn’t make any subtle distinctions. “They have weapons and technology, and all we have is love.” Riiiiight…

Yes, Cosplay Deviants has an Elinore page. Can you expect anything less from them?

Yes, Cosplay Deviants has an Elinore page. Can you expect anything less from them?

And so it is that, at the end, all the love and magic in the world is helpless against technology. The elves on the beaches were on the verge of annihilation before Avatar blasted Blackwolf with his Luger (which he probably lifted from the dead mutant fieldmarshal, though we didn’t actually see him do it). It’s something of a turnaround and a contradiction, but it could have been a very interesting story element, that in order to defeat your enemy you have to take up his own weapons, even though you hate yourself for doing it. However, that kind of subtlety wasn’t adequately explored.

In the years since its release, Wizards has remained a solid cult favorite, even as the far more ambitious Lord of the Rings has been either forgotten or (as in our case) laughed into obscurity. Its psychedelic imagery and magic vs. technology plot still appeal to younger audiences, while its sexy heroine and Bakshi’s homage to his friend Vaughn Bodé attract comic book and anime fans. Elinore herself remains popular with fan artists and (as you can see) cosplayers.

Why is Avatar smiling? I'll give you three guesses.

Why is Avatar smiling? I’ll give you three guesses.

In 1992, Whit Publications even came out with a Wizards rpg, and produced several supplements (for Montagar, Scortch and other locations), but today the game got at best mixed reviews and is hard to find today — I myself have yet to score a copy, and I like to think I’ve got a nice collection of obscure rpgs. I’d be interested to see it, if only to learn some of the details of the world that the writers developed.

More recently, in 2004 there was talk of a Wizards graphic novel, with chapters produced by various famous underground artists, then in 2008 Ralph Bakshi himself started discussing a cinematic sequel to the original. Though neither project seems to have borne fruit, rumors of Wizards 2 continue to circulate, and despite my now-mixed feelings about the original, I’d probably be first in line when it finally sees the light of day.

So like most things that I loved in my youth, my fondness for Wizards has been tempered somewhat by the experience and cynicism of old age. Though a few rough patches show, the movie still appeals to me, so strong was its influence over my teenaged years.

And Elinore. I mean, come on people. Elinore. Rowwf!

And again we’ve reached the end of another installment — too soon for some, too late for others. Stay tuned — I hope to review some bizarre rpgs soon and look forward to looking at the two competing versions of Conan the Barbarian very soon. Peace out, homies.


Sword and Sorcery Rating:

3Swords3 Broadswords

Though it has many of the tropes and expresses them well — blood, violence, swordplay, wizardry and voluptuous women (though there isn’t much beefcake on display… sorry, ladies) – Wizards hews more closely to the Tolkien model than that of Robert E. Howard, so I’m limiting it to three swords. On the other hand, what’s there pretty much satisfies this reviewer’s craving for sword and sorcery mayhem.

Comedy Rating:

2Swords

2 Broadswords

While not intended as a comedy, Wizards is fairly light-hearted and has some very good comic moments, especially the gasmask mook scenes such as “They killed Fritz!” and the scene with the two wacky dwarf priests. Overall however, the movie’s pretty grim and serious but isn’t bad enough to merit unintentional comedy.

Violence Rating:

3Swords

3 Broadswords

Wizards, for all its discussion of peace and love and non-violence, is actually pretty much soaked in blood. I mean hell — six billion people die in the first minute or two. Then there’s war, mayhem, assassination, sword fights, kung fu, stabbings, shootings, immolations, mass murder… Hell, Weehawk fuckin’ kicks a guy’s head off! Yeah, this gets three swords.

Titillation Rating:

2Swords2 Broadswords

Though in places Wizards is pretty sexy, it’s mostly in terms of window dressing. Elinore is one sexy faerie, and until Jessica Rabbit came on the scene, was the hands-down winner of my personal “What cartoon character would you most like to have sex with” competition. Most of the other women such as Blackwolf’s queen and the faerie king’s bodyguard, are also gorgeous and Bodé-esque, but as I noted, there aren’t that many sexy and underclad guys (I really have to be equitable here) and despite all the cute female flesh, there’s no sex at all. Still, kudos to Bakshi for introducing me to Lady Elinore in all her fleshy glory, so an extra half sword for that.

Awesomeness Rating:

3Swords3 Broadswords

Despite my more nuanced view of the movie as I get older and less interesting, Wizards still has that certain something, and remains pretty engaging. Perhaps the pieces fit together roughly and the message is contradictory, but Wizards continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Bakshi accomplished something with Wizards that he failed to do with The Lord of the Rings, and the world is a better place for it.

KrullTitle

Bilbo Bagshot: I was like you once. Blonde hair. Scraggly little beard. Childlike ears. Full of beans, and spunk. I let my principles get in the way of things. I once punched a bloke out once for saying Hawk the Slayer was rubbish.
Tim: Good for you.
Bilbo: Yeah, thanks. But that’s not the point, Tim. The point is I was defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity, when what I should have said was “Dad, you’re right — but let’s give Krull a try, and we’ll discuss it later.”

– Spaced, Season 2, Episode 2: Change


It’s been way too long since I’ve posted, and even longer since we’ve ventured into the bloody depths of the Pit of Swords and Sorcery. Time to change that — here’s my view on another classic blast from the past. And oh yeah — this one’s squeaky clean, so you can read it at work without fear.

Return with us to a time in the forgoten past, when men were brave and women beautiful, when a mighty warrior armed with naught but sword and honor could right the wrongs of a cruel world, when dark beasts stalked the land, and the true and noble were forced to fight for justice and freedom, and the land suffered under the yoke of a cruel tyrant. I’m talking, of course, about the 1980s, the era that gave us President Ronald Reagan, trickle-down economics and A Flock of Seagulls. It also gave us a real glut of fantasy movies, some of which were incomprehensible low-budget potboilers with lots of stage blood and naked breasts (I’m talking to you, Deathstalker), and others of which were slick, expensive productions with major directors, established actors and thrilling scores by prominent composers like James S. Horner.

Onlyamodel
“It’s only a model…”
“Sh!”

The problem was that, despite these huge advantages, most of the high-budget fantasies stumbled and fell just as hilariously (or in the current case, as dully) as their low-rent brethren. Case in point – Krull, an attempt at mythic high fantasy that shoots itself in the foot in the first five minutes. Combining the talents of director Peter Yates (best known for the thrill-a-minute cop classic Bullitt, Murphy’s War, the Deep and others), a skilled if largely unknown cast, and the aforementioned composer James S. Horner, Krull sure looked as if it had everything going for it. Too bad it actually turned out to be two hours of leaden dialog, predictable plotting and an ending that roars out of left field like a runaway minotaur on steroids.

A heavenly chorus and soaring orchestra herald the opening of the film as a spinning, bladed octopoidal thing flashes past the camera as credits roll and we are greeted by shots of a vast tree stump flying through the void of interplanetary space. Hey, wait a minute! This is supposed to be a fantasy flick and we’ve already got a Star Wars homage as the opening shot? Not a word of dialog has yet been delivered, and already Krull is lurching off the rails.

At length, the tree stump descends to the surface of the titular planet, crashing down and shattering the very earth with its passage. A voiceover informs us that “many worlds have been conquered by the Beast and its army of Slayers.” Now if any of you are expecting Hawk or Buffy to ride out from the evil tree stump (aka “The Black Fortress” — hey, Beast – Very original name for your black fortress. “So we have this fortress, and it’s black. Waddya think we should call it?”), you’re going to be disappointed, since the Beast’s invincible army seems to consist of about 20 or so armored guys on horseback. These, apparently, are the Slayers, and they must be pretty badass, since there seems to be about enough of them to play a softball game, but not conquer entire worlds.

It was, of course, prophesied that the Beast would one day unleash his slayers against the peaceful world of Krull, so here they are, right on schedule. The narrator goes on to tell us that the prophecy also says that a girl of ancient name shall become queen, that she shall choose a king and that together they would rule Krull. So far, so good — that’s a pretty standard prophecy. But he goes on to note that their son will then go on to “rule the galaxy.”

Princessndad
And when he arrives, daddy, PLEASE don’t call Prince Colwyn a “candyass” again.

Here we go again — how did we get to ruling galaxies from this one podunk, severely underpopulated fantasy world with a dumb name? I strongly suspect that some studio suit insisted that they punch up the script with sci-fi references, as well as shots of the Black Fortress flying through space, to make sure that they brought in the Star Wars crowd. Well, take it from me — it’s bloody confusing.

Okay, on to the palace, garrisoned by guards who appear to be wearing motocross armor, and the cute and charming Princess Lyssa, swanning about and looking adorable but worried, as her true love, Prince Colwyn, is late for the wedding. Her father reassures here that traffic is a bitch since the Beast showed up, and that Colwyn may have had to take an alternate route to get to the lonely castle. Like most fantasy castles, Lyssa’s crib is located in the middle of nowhere, with no roads, no supporting villages, farmland or administrative structures. How do the people inside survive? Magic, I guess.

Sure enough, Prince C and an escort of a half-dozen armored cavalry gallop through the wilderness as Lyssa and her father deliver the requisite lump of plot exposition. You see, dad is nervous about the marriage, but Lyssa says that an alliance between her and Colwyn’s kingdoms is vital to defeat the slayers. Marriage, she insists, is the only way to “guarantee” the alliance.

The king seems a little dubious about this, and given how his army performs in battle against the Slayers a couple of scenes hence, I can’t say that I blame him. As far as I can tell, all that an alliance between the two kingdoms does is give the Slayers twice as many incompetent warriors to kill mercilessly. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of the story. You know what’s coming, though, so why bother?

So Colwyn and his father (I believe his name is King Tull, and they never establish whether his first name is “Jethro” or not, but it really isn’t going to matter) arrive and the two kings imediately fall to bickering. True love will triumph, however, for it’s obvious that Lyssa and Colwyn are nuts for each other. Even though it looks as if they’ve just met, they immediately fall into a liplock and all seems well.

kingtull
And for the last time STOP CALLING ME “JETHRO”!

That night, Krull’s two moons rise and the two kings declare that they’re forming a single kingdom under their children’s rule. Prince and Princess proceed to the nuptuals, unaware that a vast army of, well, ten or eleven slayers, is on its way, bent on ruining what should be the happiest day of Colwyn and Lyssa’s lives.

Blissfully unaware that death is riding nigh, the happy couple prepare to take their vows, surrounded by more of the motocross-armored guardsmen, who tap their swords against their shields, sounding very much like one of those prison movies where the prisoners all start banging simultaneously on their tin cups.

Krullian marriage ceremonies are interesting. Colwyn douses a torch in a font of water, saying that the fire will not return save from the hand of the woman he chooses as his wife. Lyssa takes a handful of water, and it immediately starts burning. Instead of screaming in pain, she hands it to Colwyn. Exactly what kind of magical powers marriage gives Krullian couples isn’t made clear, but it looks pretty cool. Or rather, it would have looked cool if the flame effect didn’t look incredibly cheap and tacky. At any rate, before Colwyn can seal the alliance by snatching the flame from Lyssa’s hand, the Slayers attack and all hell breaks loose.

The fortress’ heavy doors don’t really help much as the Slayers just blow them open, allowing all ten or twelve of them to mount a fearsome charge, sweeping away the motorcross-armored guards. There’s lots of colored laser fire and more thrilling James Horner battle music, lots of innocents perish, Slayers leap through windows, Colwyn fights like a tiger, and so on. At one point, Colwyn cracks open a Slayer’s helmet, revealing a writhing little slug-like thing that reminded me of the alien from The Hidden, but once more we don’t really have any explanation as to exactly what this thing is.

Lyssa attempts to flee to safety elsewhere in the castle but is captured by the slayers. What a surprise. Elsehwere there is great derring-do as Colwyn dispatches various Slayers, swings across the room on a rope, engages in exciting acrobatics and generally showboats it while the remainder of the defenders, including both kings, are butchered like orcs in a dwarf shooting gallery. Colwyn is knocked out while trying to save Lyssa but — thank all the gods! — not slain, and the battle is pretty much over.

CnLWedding
Hey! Keep that flame away from my wedding suit, chief! It’s due back at the rental place tomorrow!

The dozen or so Slayers, their cute but helpless captive in tow, ride heall for leather back toward the Black Fortress. Happy, happy Slayers are they, cheering and shouting, waving torches around and celebrating their victory even though they’re actually a bunch of alien slugs in armor.

The next morning, a lone rider approaches the castle, a day late and a dollar short to warn the occupants. The rider, who turns out to be someone named Ynyr (not pronounced “Whiner,” though it really should be) the Old One, treats Colwyn’s wounds and assures him that Lyssa’s still alive, but beyond his reach. Colwyn apparently recognizes Ynyr, and notes that he must be “down from the Granite Mountains.” That’s about all the explanation we get, but it looks as if Colwyn trusts him and is ready to go off adventuring with his guidance, so I guess he’s someone important.

Needless to say, after some minor baiting from Ynyr (“I came to see a King, but found a boy instead” — snap!), Colwyn declares his intention to save Lyssa from the Beast, and we’re off to the races. It isn’t quite that simple, Ynyr tells him (is it ever?), and Colwyn’s going to have to be prepared to face the Beast itself. No man, he says, has ever gazed upon the Beast and lived. With this kind of encouragement, most would-be heroes would probably say something like “Well, I wish ‘em all the best, and I’ll send a gift certificate to the wedding,” but Prince C is made of sterner stuff, and he immediately agrees to do whatever it takes to bring the Beast down.

First thing’s first — Ynyr tells Colwyn that he will need “the power of the Glaive” if he expects to fight the Beast mano-a-mano. Of course! It’s so simple! The power of the Glaive! Why didn’t think of that? All we need to do is get the Power of the Glaive and everything else falls into place!

What the hell is the Glaive, anyway?

SlayersAdvance
When the slayers advance, I keep wanting them to chant “Yo-we-yo… Yoooo-yo!” like the Wicked Witch’s soldiers.

According to Colwyn, the Glaive is only a symbol and doesn’t exist. Ynyr poo-poos this notion and tells him that the Glaive is in a cave on the highest peak of the Granite Mountains (whoever named Krull’s geographical features didn’t have a lot of imagination — calling something the Granite Mountains is kind of like calling a huge body of water the Wet Ocean, but who am I to judge? The only thing I ever had named after me was a wimpy NPC in a Battletech scenario book). Without it, Prince C’s life will be worth less than a wheelbarrow full of dead ratlings in an elven brothel. Or words to that effect anyway.

So, once more — what the hell is the Glaive?

It was once a great weapon, Ynyr says, and in the hands of the right man, it can be again.

Yeah, but what the hell is it?

Oh, never mind. Clad in the world’s tightest pair of grey-and-black striped breeches, Colwyn hikes up into the mountains and easily retrieves the Glaive. It is, in fact, the spinny bladed octopoidal thing from the opening credits, though we never find out exactly why it’s so powerful, what it was doing hidden in the mountains, and why Colwyn’s the only man who can wield it. Krull manages to do this quite a lot — pulling mythic elements out of its own ass without explanation, foreshadowing or foundation, and the Glaive is only the first time we’re forced to deal with this terribly unsatisfying plot device.

(A word about glaives, by the way — as all of you loyal D&D players know, the glaive isn’t really a magical bladed throwing star. It’s a medieval polearm that features a single-edged blade, sometimes accompanied by a hook along the opposite edge. The whole throwing-star angle seems to have taken on a life of its own thanks to this flick, however, and this version of the glaive is used by the dark elves in World of Warcraft as well as some other places. Thanks, Krull for making weapons terminology even more confusing…)

TheGlaive
The glaive. From the cave.

We’re wondering at this point what happened to poor Princess Lyssa. She has been imprisoned, it seems, in a giant eye-shaped cell, and the Beast is saying that he wants to make sweet, sweet love to her flawless alabaster body. Or that he wants to marry her, which amounts to the same thing. Once again, we have no real explanation of the Beast’s motives in making his generous offer, and once more the Evil Dark Lord wants to marry a hot chick who hates him, when any number of women on any number of other worlds would probably jump at the chance, even if he isn’t much in the looks department.

Colwyn then comes bounding down the mountain slope, grinning triumphantly and displaying the Glaive to Ynyr. Rather than congratulate Colwyn on a job well done, Ynyr — aka Mister Buzzkill — then tells him that there’s more work ahead. The Black Fortress, you see, vanishes each sunset and reappears in another location the next morning, and no one knows for sure where that is. All is not lost, however. Get ready for another random plot element yanked out of the screenwriter’s nether orifice. To find the location of the Black Fortress, they’re going to have to seek out the blind Emerald Seer, who dwells but a day’s journey distant. Come, let us ride!

(Another side-note — this particular style of storytelling has been described as the “Plot Coupons” format. To quote Wikipedia: A plot coupon, and the somewhat less-well-known plot voucher, are the names Nick Lowe gave to specimens of plot devices in his essay “The Well-Tempered Plot Device,” which was published in Ansible in 1986. A plot coupon is an object whose possession or use is necessary in order to resolve the conflict upon which the plot hangs, when this necessity clearly springs from the arbitrary decision of the author to make it so necessary. (The name is derived from a joke: When the characters have collected enough plot coupons, they can trade them in for the denouement.) For example, if the main plot of a novel concerns an ancient artifact that was broken into several pieces, and which must now be collected, reassembled, and activated in order to defeat an alien threat, the separate pieces of the artifact are surely plot coupons.)

ErgoArrives
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your comic relief for the evening.

The intrepid pair ride out of the mountains and into the forest primeval, and while setting camp are startled when a meteor streaks out of the trees and lands in a nearby pool. Yes, apparently things like this happen all the time in Colwyn’s kingdom, for neither of them seem terribly perturbed, even when the meteor turns out to be the film’s comic relief, a would-be shapeshifter and wizard named Ergo the Magnificent (by his own admission, he is “Short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose and wide of vision”). When he threatens to turn Colwyn into a bat but rolls a one on the miscast table and turns himself into a goose, we know that this is going to be a very long movie indeed.

After rejecting the idea of travelling with the hoi-polloi, Ergo takes leave of Colwyn and Ynyr and strides into the forest, only to encounter a hulking, one-eyed figure and run screaming back. Remember that hulking figure — he’ll be important later.

Back at the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, the Beast continues suavely chat-up the princess, giving her leave to wander anywhere she wants, and telling her not to worry — he’s really not such a bad guy once you get to know him. That’s such an old ploy — I think Morgoth used it on elf women back in the First Age. It didn’t work for him, either.

Our intrepid duo — now a not-so-intrepid trio now rides through a narrow pass that Ynyr says will save a half-day’s travel. Hold up a minute — I thought he said the Seer was a day’s journey from the Granite Mountains? They’ve been traveling for a full day already, and now he says he can save a half day? Sheesh, don’t take directions from this guy. Mapquest might not be perfect, but it’s better than Ynyr.

InYourEye
Uh, excuse me, Mister Beast? You have someone in your eye…

It only gets worse — Ynyr leads the party straight into the clutches of Torquil and his bandits — as scurrelous a band of rogues, scalawags and ne’er-do-wells as ever swashed a buckle. After the usual give and take, Colwyn persuades the whole scurvy lot to join him in his heroic quest to face and defeat the Beast. Torquil’s a bit reluctant, but in the end he throws his lot in with the good guys, along with his entire untidy band, which just incidentally includes a young actor named Liam Neeson, fresh from playing Gawain in Excalibur. Though he was to go on to be the celebrated star of many films, some great (Schindler’s List) and some not-so-great (The Phantom Menace), here the celebrated Mr. Neesom was just another bandit, cannon-fodder for Prince Colwyn’s campaign to rid Krull of the Beast.

(Also among the bandits Rhun, played by a young Robbie Coltrane, today best known as Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, who was also in a ton of other kickass flicks and TV series, including playing the title role in the classic BBC detective series Cracker. He was also the voice of the title character in Gooby, but we won’t speak of that here.)

Insert your own Qui-Gon Jinn reference here.

Insert your own Qui-Gon Jinn reference here.

The Fellowship — oops, I mean, company of adventurers — rides on through the still-depopulated wilderness, encountering no one besides some more slayers and the mysterious cyclops guy from the forest, who kills the slayers with his tri-pronged spear then disappears. This is the signal for another exposition bomb from Ynyr, who tells everyone listening that the cyclopses originated on another world, made a deal with the Beast, trading one eye for the ability to see the future. Needless to say, the Beast screwed them over, allowing them only to see the time of their own deaths, and from that point forward the cyclopses have really had it in for the Beast and his buddies.

End of exposition. Back to the adventure. Colwyn, Ynyr, Torquil and Ergo hike into the forest, where Ynyr locates the Emerald Seer behind a wall of sheer rock. Ynyr tells the Seer that they’re seeking the Black Fortress, the Seer tells them where it’s going to be, and off they go, riding to rescue the princess.

Oops, nope… That would be too easy. Once more, the movie throws down another beartrap, and the Seer can’t help right now. He levitates his magic emerald and gazes into it, but unfortunately the Beast catches wind of his presence and smashes the damned thing. Yup, we’re SOL again, and once more we have to go to another ass-born location that has never been mentioned before. Only in the Emerald Temple, located in the treacherous heart of the Great Swamp (yes, yet another imaginative place name) can the Beast’s power not interfere with the Seer. Okay, everybody — off to the Emerald Temple!

seer
If only the Emerald Seer would just open his eyes, he wouldn’t be blind anymore.

In a trice, the adventurers are on the edge of the swamp, along with the Seer himself and his acolyte, young Titch, who seems to be there only to fulfill the movie’s “cute kid” quotient. They venture into the swamp, but things don’t go well, as they’re ambushed by slayers. All seems lost despite still more swordplay and derring-do, but the intervention of the mysterious cyclops turns the tide of battle and wins the day for the forces of good and niceness.

The cyclops is named Rell and sports a fine and cultured British accent. He’s been lurking in the background since reel one, and now Colwyn, recognizing Rell as an excellent spear-thrower despite an obvious lack of depth perception, invites him to join his merry band. Yup, we got us another companion, though if this were an rpg, the GM would be complaining about how difficult it is to run large parties.

Rell is played by none other than Bernard Bresslaw, a fixture of the classic British Carry On series. Swords and Sorcery fans will also recognize him as Gort the Giant in the peerless Hawk the Slayer.

On into the misty (but surprisingly level and easy-to-walk-through) depths of the swamp. Ergo babbles on about wanting a gooseberry pie, Titch says he wishes he had a puppy, and we all say we wish we were watching Bullitt.

Why the Emerald Seer has us all "seeing" double!

Why the Emerald Seer has us all “seeing” double!

Meanwhile (this movie has a lot of “meanwhiles”), Lyssa continues to run, lithely and sexily of course, through the various tunnels of the Black Fortress, which look a lot like someone’s small intestine. That’s it! She’s actually imprisoned in the Beast’s duodenum… Beastly shows her a vision of the crown and cloak she’ll wear when she’s his better half, but she still doesn’t want to be married to an evil overlord, especially when he’s from a radically different species.

Meanwhile (what did I tell you?) Prince Colwyn’s party encounters yet another complication (in addition to “meanwhiles,” Krull is absolutely fill to overflowing with complications as well) in the form of the requisite quicksand pit. Up to this time the “swamp” has been as flat and dry as the Jersey Turnpike in July, but now it actually becomes swampy — due, the Seer tells us to “the power of the Beast.” Our adversary, it seems, has the power to make swamps actually swampy.

All the party escapes. save of course one minor cast member whom no one really cares about, but it was all a ruse, allowing a Slayer-spawned double of the Seer to sneak up, kill the real Seer and hide the body in the space of about 30 seconds. The unsuspecting Colwyn orders the advance but fortuitously leaves Rell behind to guard the rear. Once the party has vanished, Rell discovers the real Seer’s body concealed beneath the surface of the swamp and races off to warn Colwyn. He needs to be careful as he runs headlong through the swamp — that depth perception problem would probably cause him to run right into a tree or something.

goodside
Hey! Make sure you’re shooting me on my good side!

Okay, we’re within sight of the temple. Now the fake Seer informs Colwyn that only the seeker of knowledge can accompany him to the temple, which is very convenient if you happen to be an evil magical clone seeking to murder the heir to the throne of Krull. Prince C readinly agrees, and off they go. As soon as they’re out of sight, the fake Seer grows claws, snarls “Here is the knowledge you seek!” and reaches out to throttle Colwyn.

Wham! Rell’s spear is again right on target, the fake Seer cries out, and Colwyn draws his sword and guts the imposter. The imposter collapses into a mess of goo, which Ynyr informs us was a changeling, proving himself to be a wealth of useful information as soon as it’s not useful anymore.

We’re sunk, right? The Emerald Seer was the only guy on the whole of Krull who could possibly help find the Black Fortress, wasn’t he? I mean, if there was someone else who might help, Ynyr would have mentioned it before, right? Now that the Seer is worm food, Colwyn needs another plot coupon to save his planet, but if they came up with one now, out of the blue, wouldn’t it obviously be another maguffin born magically from the screenwriter’s ass?

“There is one who might help,” Ynyr says.

Oh, god damn it… How many more times does this have to happen? It’s as if the writer looked at his pile of finished script pages and said, “Oops! We’re only half-way through this thing — how the hell else can I complicate the story and pile another 20-30 minutes onto the running time? I know! The Seer will be killed and Ynyr will tell them that what he said before about how the Seer was the only one who knew the location of the Black Fortress was wrong, and there’s one more place they can go for help!”

puppy
I’m sure you agree that Ergo is a hell of a lot cuter as a puppy.

Okay, I give up. Who, you ask is the one who might help? Actually, Colwyn asks for you, and Ynyr replies, “The Widow of the Web.”

Of course! The Widow of the Web! What was I thinking? Of course, she can…

No wait. Who the hell is the Widow of the Web (and no, she’s not a woman whose husband spends all of his time on line surfing for porn), and why wasn’t she ever mentioned before?

Sorry, I got carried away. I know who the Widow of the Web is. She’s another ass-born NPC that the DM comes up with because the party is so incompetent that they got their main plot-hook NPC killed, that’s who.

The rest of the party seems to know the Widow, however. Torquil snaps “That creature helps no one, and none who go there return!”

I guess the Widow’s a pretty cranky babe and kills anyone who dares approach, but Ynyr has a solution for that problem too. You see, Ynyr knows her name. It is, he says, an ancient and powerful name.

And that’s that. We’re off to see the Widow, the Wonderful Widow of the Web (all you geeks can feel free to insert a WWW joke here). In the fading light of the twin suns (Krull has two suns and two moons, which doesn’t strike me as a terribly efficient arrangement), the party marches out of the swamp, and Ergo, showing what a big heart he has concealed beneath his gruff exterior, transforms himself into a puppy for Titch’s benefit. The kid loves his new pet, and appears to have totally forgotten the tragic death of his beloved master.

bigtrees
I’ll give you three guesses what this forest is called. And no, it’s not called “The Forest of Undersized Trees.”

In the Forest of Giant Trees (and yes, Liam Neeson actually calls it that — Krullian naming conventions remain as obvious as ever), Ynyr takes his leave and heads off to meet up with the Widow on his own. The others make camp, grumbling about the lack of food. Torquil asks Liam Neeson’s character Kegan whether “one of your wives” lives in a nearby village, and if she can provide food. He has seven or eight, you see. This is, by the way, the first and only suggestion that Krull consists of anything other than castles and wilderness, and unsusprisingly we never actually see the damned village.

Mareth, the wife in question shows up with tons of provisions, and throws herself on Kegan while a cute blonde chiquita who accompanied her from “the village” makes doe-eyes at Colwyn and persuades him to eat. That’s plot material, I imagine, but we’ll just have to wait to find out, as we cut to Lyssa as she continues her exploration of the Beast’s gastrointestinal tract.

The Beast shows up in silhouette, to continue his campaign to win Lyssa’s affections. “You have chosen a paltry kingdom on an insignificant planet,” he says. Hey, genius — if it’s so freaking insignificant, why are you bothering to conquer it? Answer me that one, Einstein.

Lyssa says something about love, to which the Beast replies “Love is fleeting. Power is eternal!” Yeah, that was one of Morgoth’s old lines, too. The princess is still being all stuck-up and snooty, so the Beast adds that while he may be kind of ugly in his native form, he can assume any shape that she wants and — wait for it — appears in the form of her beloved Prince Colwyn.

“But there’s no love in that form!” Lyssa protests. I’d point out that this doesn’t bother Hugh Hefner’s various 20-year-old girlfriends, but Lyssa’s from another planet and probably doesn’t understand the gold-digger mentality, or the fact that there are scads of eligible, attractive females who don’t give a rat’s ass what a guy looks like as long as he can keep them in expensive cars and designer dresses. But hey, Krull’s a different world, right?

EvilPrinceC
Either this is Prince Colwyn’s evil doppelganger or he’s developed a serious eye infection.

“And you think there is love in your boy-king?” the Beast chuckles, showing her an image of Colwyn in the arms of the blonde hottie at the campfire. Lyssa doesn’t buy it, of course and an instant later Colwyn confirms it — he was only helping her find a contact lens, it seems, as she suddenly develops a severe case of redeye, informs him that “My master said ‘make him betray her and if not, kill him’” then immediately grows long fingernails and attacks. Whew! I was afraid that Lyssa might actually think Colwyn was unfaithful! Good thing we got that out of the way.

Well, the blonde succubus doesn’t really do much. In fact, just the opposite — she confesses that she didn’t kill Colwyn because she loved him the moment she set eyes on him. He is, after all, such a loveable guy, with no visible personality traits to speak of… Some chicks dig that, especially the cute minions of evil dark lords.

“Nyah, nyah, nyah!” Lyssa says smarmily. “It is you who are betrayed! Power is fleeting! Love is eternal!” Yeah right. Tell that to my ex-wives…

The Beast isn’t too happy with this assessment, and seeing how pear-shaped his plans have gone, kills the blonde hottie with his remote Villain-o-Matic skills. Revealing himself to be a large-headed Giger-alienesque freak, he plays his hole card. If Lyssa will consent to be his bride, he’ll stop the Slayer attacks and let all of Krull go free. More of that dark lord blame-the-victim crap if you ask me.

Meanwhile (there’s that word again) Ynyr has made it to the Web, where presumably the Widow lies in wait. What follows is a pretty cool FX sequence in which he clambers over the webs, only to be menaced by a big see-through stop-motion spider. Okay, here comes death incarnate. Time to call the Widow by her true name.

“Lyssa! It is I, Ynyr!”

Lyssa? Isn’t that the heroine’s name? Isn’t that kind of odd, that the Widow and the princess have the same name? Is there some mystical connection between them? Is the Widow perhaps Lyssa’s unknown mother or sister?

WidowNotHot
Okay, which do you prefer? The old and bitter Widow of the Web…
widowhot
…Or the new and improved, sexy Widow of the Web?

Actually, I think it’s part of that prophecy from the start of the film in which the princess is supposed to have an “ancient name,” but that was so obscure that none of us remember it, and just think it’s weird. However, hearing it, the Widow Lyssa freezes time for a while with a magic hourglass, allowing Ynyr to make his way to her love nest, a sphere in the midst of all that sticky webbing.

Time for some more exposition. It seems that Ynyr and Widow Lyssa had a thing going a long time ago, but he dumped her because he had a lot of responsibilities, he was a workaholic, he didn’t have time for a family, etc., etc., etc. The Widow then informs Ynyr that they had a son that he didn’t know about, but that she killed him when he was born. Being imprisoned in the web was, she says, her punishment.

Oh piffle, says Ynyr. Killed our son? Think nothing of it! I forgive you and all is well. And oh, yeah — you’re now young and beautiful again because my love for you is undiminished. And by the way, where is that nasty Black Fortress going to appear tomorrow?

Oh, that’s easy, Widow Lyssa replies. It’s going to appear in the Iron Desert.

Hot damn! We’ve finally got a place name that sounds vaguely creative. I guess “Sandy Desert” and “Hot Desert” were already taken. Unfortunately, she says, Ynyr is screwed, since no one can leave the Web alive. Au contraire, Ynyr tells her. He’s got to — a young girl is in danger. A girl, he says “with your name.” This seems to sway the Widow somewhat, and she comes up with something.

She can’t freeze time again, since the hourglass only works once, but if Ynyr takes the hourglass’ sand with him, he can escape, though his own life will run out with the sand. And so will the Widow’s, but that’s okay. She’s tired of living in a big ball in the middle of a web with only a see-through spider for company. She will, she says, give her life to the girl who bears her name.

spider
Okay, I have to admit that the spider is pretty cool.

Hey, sounds like a deal! Bearing the sand in one hand (hey, I’d have put it in a pouch or something, but then again I don’t live on Krull), Ynyr races across the web toward safety as the Widow passes away into the great beyond. He heads down toward camp, tells everyone that the fortress will appear in the Iron Desert and conveniently dies, eliminating the need to bring him along any further.

At last we know where the Black Fortress will appear! The Iron Desert! But that’s a no-go, Colwyn says. The Iron Desert is a thousand leagues distant. There’s no way they can make it there in time!

Oh, for another ass-born plot coupon, another twist, another previously-unmentioned aspect of Krullian mythology that the writer made up on the spot to keep the story going! If only someone could –

“Fire mares!” Rell declares. “Fire mares can travel a thousand leagues in a day!”

Oh dear gods of law and chaos, if they invent one more plot device out of thin air, I’m going to eat a Glock, I swear.

(And, just incidentally, isn’t “In the Iron Desert” a bit vague? The Black Fortress is huge, but is it that huge. Just think — “The Empire State Building will appear tomorrow at dawn… In the Sahara Desert!” My first question would be, “Yeah, that’s great, but exactly where in the Sahara Desert? There’s about ten million square miles of nothing out there, and it’s not likely that I’ll just stumble across the thing, is it?” Needless to say, none of our heroes brings this up. They all seem to feel that “In the Iron Desert” is all the location data they need, and all immediately start programming their GPS devices.)

Clydesdales
Ride, firemares, ride! Ride to freedom! Or, if you can’t do that, ride into a box canyon and get yourself trapped, while completely forgetting that you can actually fly as well as run as fast as a Bugatti Veyron.

Okay, now we’ve got to capture fire mares. We cut to the admittedly thrilling image of a herd of Clydesdales charging into a box canyon, pursued by Torquil’s bandits. As they do, Colwyn and his boys rush from surrounding rocks, swinging lassos and grabbing a nice selection. They tame down pretty quick, and presto! We now have a herd of fire mares of our very own, and are ready to ride to the Black Fortress and our final date with destiny.

How the fire mares, which can run a thousand leagues in a single day and, as we later discover, can actually fly, are so easy to capture and tame is a question best left unanswered. Right now, it seems that Rell the cyclops has to stay behind, as he knows that it’s time to die. If a cyclops opposes his fate, Titch says helpfully, he will bring down a terrible fate upon himself.

Now we all know what’s going to happen, don’t we?

Colwyn and the company ride forth, sans both Ynyr and Rell, and trigger the ability that the fire mares didn’t bother to use on their own. The mares’ hooves burst into flames, they shift into high gear and — yes — they soar into the air, accompanied by thrilling James Horner music, riding across the sky like ET on Eliot’s bike.

myass
Help! My ass is on fire!
(And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a joke that works on so many levels…)

Just as the sequence is starting to grate on the audience’s nerves, Colwyn trots into the Iron Desert, looks up and says, “There it is!”

Yup, with no searching whatsoever, he’s found the Black Fortress, looming on the horizon like a great carbuncle of doom. It is, however, almost dawn, and “we must get in before the twin suns rise.”

The company makes it to the fortress and immediately starts to scale its handily-stepped walls as various doors open and slayers emerge. They fight their way up the walls in a desperate race against time.

(Parenthetically, I’d actually love to have seen what happened if the fortress shifted while they were still climbing the walls. One wonders — would the fortress vanish beneath them, causing them to fall to their deaths, or would our heroes go careening through space, clinging to the side of the fortress like Captain Jack on the Doctor’s TARDIS?)

It looks bad for our boys. The suns are almost up, and they’ve found the enemy’s fortress — surprise! — heavily defended by a well-entrenched, well-armed garrison force. Who’d have thunk it? But all is not lost, for across the plains, mounted upon his own firemare, comes the mighty cyclops Rell, who has chosen to defy his own destiny and aid his friends in their time of need! Gee, we never saw that coming, did we?

As they desperately try to advance up the fortress walls, poor Rhun gets in the way of a slayer bolt and dies in Colwyn’s arms, telling him “I was wrong. The journey was worthwhile.” As he really didn’t put up much of a fuss throughout the movie, and was never more than a spear-carrier, this statement doesn’t really mean very much, but then neither does Krull.

holddoor
Rell learns that in Krull as in many first-person shooters, you take damage simply by standing in a doorway.

Our boys’ bacon is saved when Rell arrives, clambers up the walls to join them, and charges single-handed into one of the sally-ports, bashing on the defending slayer and holding the gate open for Colwyn and his warriors to storm inside just as the suns rise. The doors slowly slide shut on poor Rell. Colwyn tries to save him, but the Slayers attack and suddenly the Cyclops is much thinner.

Oh well, que sera sera, sacrifices are often necessary for the greater good, he’s in a better place now, life’s unfair sometimes, he died a hero, we’ll never forget him, we could have sworn there were WMDs in Iraq, we’ll be welcomed as liberators, mission accomplished, and other useless, stupid excuses for failure, and on into the heart of the Beast’s fortress!

There are more slayers to fight, bridges to cross and intestinal passages to race down. A few nameless bandits perish in the ensuing struggle, and a dramatic high point is reached when Kegan pushes Torquil out of the way of a slayer bolt and takes one for the team. Dying in his captain’s arms (that happens a lot in this movie, too), Kegan says to tell Merith (the wife who provided all the provisions) that he loved her, and that those other seven or eight wives meant absolutely nothing to him. Insincere to the last, that’s our Kegan.

Our heroes are separated by the old retracting floor trick, leaving Ergo and Titch to face a squad of slayers. For once Ergo’s magic works, and he transforms himself into a tiger, defending the innocent kid while ripping the slayers a new one, while on the next level up, Corwin, Torquil and the surviving bandits make their way to the center of the fortress, a giant glowing golf ball of doom where I guess Lyssa’s been imprisoned all this time. How did she go wandering all over the fortress, then? Logic begins to show signs of wear and tear.

khazad
To the Bridge at Khazad Dumb!

But there’s no way in! The golf ball of doom is impenetrible! There is one way, Colwyn declares, whipping out the Glaive (remember that thing?), which he tosses at the golf ball. Faithfully, the Glaive snaps out its blades and begins to buzz saw through the golf ball.

Elsewhere, Titch and Ergo make their way through the intestines — I mean “passages” — while Torquil and his men get sucked through a wall and caught in a room with — are you ready? — crushing, spiked walls. Ranulf (another anonymous mook who gets a name when he dies) gets skewered, but the walls stop closing as soon as the Glaive breaks through the prison walls, reuniting Colwyn with his best girl. Unfortunately, Torquil and his sole surviving bandit are stuck amid the nasty spikes and effectively out of action for now.

Colwyn’s now ready to take on the beast in heroic naked single combat, but Lyssa advises him to fight him someplace else where his power isn’t so great. I guess hanging out in the Black Fortress had some advantages after all. Colwyn smashes up some corridors for no apparent reason, then they fall back from the golf ball, knocking off a few slayers on the way and await the Beast’s attack.

If you think that the story’s making less and less sense as we go on, you’ve got no argument from me. I think it’s probably best to sit back, let the last ten minutes or so unspool, and not ask too many questions.

The giant golf ball explodes, and the Beast emerges. He’s kind of blurry, still has the big Giger alien head, and can spit fire at Colwyn. Prince C flings the Glaive a few times and appears to score a hit, sending the Beast toppling over onto his back. Colwyn scrambles forward to retrieve the weapon but the supposedly dead Beast goes all Jason Voorhees on his ass and comes back to life, pursuing the fleeing prince and princess through the intestine corridors and into a stalactite-filled cavern.

BigHeadBeast
Sorry, folks… This is about the best shot of the Beast we get in the whole fraking movie.

As he was unable to retrieve the Glaive, Colwyn believes that they’re now defenseless. Lyssa, however, knows better.

“Colwyn,” she says. “It’s not the Glaive, it’s you!”

“No, Lyssa,” Colwyn replies. “It’s us! It’s us he can’t defeat! It will not return to me except from the hand of the woman I choose as my wife.”

flameon
Colwyn tries out his cool new Johnny Human Torch Flame-On powers.

Now while the rest of us are scratching our heads and wondering if Lyssa and Colwyn have completely lost it, Lyssa herself gets the idea. “I give it only to the man I choose as my husband,” she says. And before you start sniggering about exactly what “it” is, recall that these were the wedding vows from the beginning of the movie, though what happens next doesn’t even make sense in that context.

She opens her hand up, and behold, there’s the badly-animated fire effect from the start of the film.

“Take the fire from my hand,” she says, and he does, while the Beast roars in frustration and unleashes his own deadly fireballs. But he hasn’t reckoned with the power of Krullian wedding vows, for now Colwyn has his own magical powers. He counters the Beast’s attack with a toasty fireball of his own, overwhelming his foe’s puny assault and setting the Beast aflame. In a few moments, the Beast is the center of a raging inferno that not even John Travolta, Joachim Phoenix and the entire crew of Ladder 49 can put out.

EyeExplodes
My eyes felt just like this while I watched the end of Krull, and so will yours.

Okay, what the bloody freaking hell just happened? Out of absolutely nowhere, we learn that Colwyn has super fire powers, and to use them all they had to do was finish the marriage ceremony? Is this common on Krull? Or is it just these two lovebirds who can do it? Where, oh where, in the vast universe of unlikely plot developments, deus ex machina endings, ass-born characters and bad storytelling did these “flame” powers come from, and why wasn’t there any foreshadowing or suggestion of it before he decided to use it?

Oh, hell. I give up on this movie. Just get it over with.

The Beast is slain and, as always, his fortress begins to collapse. In the crusher room the spikes retract, freeing Torquil and company, while Titch cuddles Ergo the tiger, who apparently took a wound while fighting the slayers. Locating Titch by the sound of the bells on the Emerald Seer’s staff, our heroes link up with little effort and flee. Colwyn uses his new human torch powers to blast an opening in the wall, and they escape just as the fortress just as it collapses into ruin.

(You know, just once I’d like to see an evil dark lord’s fortress that doesn’t collapse when its master perishes… Some of those places are pretty prime real estate, and the heroes could make a real killing by selling the property to investment capitalists. Just a thought, mind you.)

Out into the green fields they flee, to watch the show as the last remnants of the Black Fortress get sucked back up into the sky. Good thing the Black Fortress decided to show up in a relatively pleasant spot this time, wasn’t it? If it had been in an arctic wasteland or the middle of the ocean, our heroes would have been royally screwed.

And so our heroes — the five who survived, that is — savor the triumph. Ergo’s going to live (unlike other comic relief characters, who shall remain nameless, though their names are usually “Snails”, you actually don’t mind that Ergo survives, since he was actually vaguely entertaining and effective), Torquil is to be Colwyn’s new Lord Marshal, the land is at peace, and justice reigns.

picnic
The dark lord is overthrown, his fortress has fallen in ruins, and we have lost many bold companions. Time for a picnic!

In case we forgot, the narrator (who sounds like the late Ynyr, actually), now provides us with a voiceover of the orignal prophecy: A girl of ancient name shall become queen. She shall choose a king and together they shall rule our world, and their son shall rule the galaxy! The audience groans, then sighs in relief since the entire affair is finally over.

Despite its impressive production values and promising cast and crew, this film should probably have been called Krawl given its sluggish pace and predictible storyline. You can’t blame the director, the actors, the crew or the composer, since they all do what I consider to be excellent work. The fault here lies with the script and the relentless Plot Coupon cliches. Once we’ve accomplished something, we need to do something else. Once we’ve done that, there’s another complication, which sends us off in yet another random direction. We need the Glaive. Why? Because we need it. We need to go to the Emerald Temple? Why? Because we have to. We need to talk to the Widow of the Web. Why? Because she’s the one we need to talk to. And so on, and so on. The story seems to have been made up as the writer went along, rather than working from any kind of coherent vision or outline.

dragged
Colwyn and Rell later found out that the critics’ response to Krull made being dragged over stones behind firemares seem almost pleasant.

Sheesh, what a letdown. The flick bombed when it was released, and it wasn’t until Ron Howard made Willow that anyone attempted a high fantasy type movie again. And then Willow tanked, too, and we had to wait in the wilderness until Peter Jackson came along and rescued everyone.

One infamous anecdote listed on imdb.com states that the movie’s producer, a suit by the name of Frank Price, thought that Krull would do better if the heroine had an American accent, so all of British Lysette Anthony’s dialog was dubbed by Laura Crouse, who played Maggie Walsh on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as numerous other TV roles. Another signature British actor, the soon-to-be-famous Robbie Coltraine, had his voice dubbed by English TV actor Michael Elphick. Why is a question often asked about Krull (why Krull? Why the space sequences? Why the static, predictable plotting? In fact, why was it made at all?), and as with all those other questions, we’re unlikely to ever get an answer.

Krull died a quiet death in theaters, making back only about $16 million of its $27 million budget. While it has its adherents, and as bad fantasy movies go, is not too bad, it’s been largely forgotten and neglected, at least until its recent release on DVD. The DVD, by the way, features comentary by Peter Yates, star Ken Marshall and none other than Lysette Anthony, who must be a hell of a good sport about this, since if that had been me who’d had my voice dubbed by a damned yank, I’d have been good and pissed. (I am told that after the short shrift she was given, the good Ms. Anthony still refers to Krull  as “the movie that shall not be named” by the way.)

And so ends another catastrophic and traumatic film review of a movie that isn’t even bad enough to be good. Next time we’ll get back to broadswords, pecs and naked breasts, and leave the world of high falutin’ fantasy to the Tolkien geeks. See you soon.


Sword and Sorcery Rating:

2_half

2-1/2 Broadswords

Though it is not without its charms (for once the comedy relief is actually tolerable and you kind of like him), Krull is really kind of a train wreck. It’s paint-by-numbers fantasy that doesn’t know whether it’s Star Wars or Excalibur, its plot is dull and predictable, and its ending is downright incomprehensible. It uses all the right cliches and concepts, so it gets an extra sword for its good intentions, but I think even that is pushing it somewhat.

Comedy Rating:

No Broadswords

This movie is not funny. Not even when it tries to be.

Violence Rating:

2_swds

2 Broadswords

Okay, there’s a pretty good body count, and there’s a decent battle or three. Despite all the mayhem, sword- and laser-fights however, I never really felt a lot of excitement or concern for the characters. Also, for a S&S movie, the deaths are kind of bloodless. Let’s be generous and give it two swords. 

Titillation Rating:

No Broadswords

Again, I’ve failed in my efforts to bring you a titillating sword-and-sorcery flick. Nothing even remotely sexy in this film, unless you count Lysette Anthony running around in a gauzy wedding gown, or Ken Marshall’s perfectly toned ass displayed by his grey and black striped trousers. And the Beast wants to marry Lyssa? That’s not sexy… It’s creepy.

Awesomeness Rating:

half_swd

1/2 Broadsword

I’m beginning to feel kind of bad for this movie, so I’m going to give it a half-broadsword out of pity. It had everything going for it but failed on about every level. I can’t even say that there was much to enjoy, save for an interesting glimpse at Liam Neeson’s early career.

You know, based on the above ratings, Krull is the worst movie we’ve reviewed so far. I really wouldn’t go that far  – the honor of worst probably belongs to Dungeons and Dragons, but there’s a lot of competition — as it does have its moments, but it just ain’t the kind of flick that we at the Pit live for. I’ll see if I can come up with something a little more to my liking next time. Or maybe more bizarre roleplaying games. Or just pictures of cute cosplayers. Hell, I don’t know — work’s been hell and I’m trying one more rewrite of my novel to please my kickass would-be literary agent. I promise I’ll be back. No, really…

The Shadow Out of Hollywood, Part 2

HPLMarqueeThe HP Lovecraft Film Festival is a long-running tradition here in puddletown, dating all the way back to 1995. Until last year it ran under gloom-tinted skies during dank, rainy, fungus-infested October, but now for some reason its set during the bright and sunny temperate days of May. Though I don’t approve of the date change, the fest has grown better and more sophisticated with each passing year.

The event takes place at the Hollywood Theater, a Portland movie palace from the 1920s that now houses a repertory company and shows a wide range of art films. The place maintains its ancient ambience quite nicely and is, I am told by people who actually worked there, definitively haunted. I myself — normally Mister Rational Thought who rolls his eyes at “Ghosthunter” shows on Discovery — felt some moments of being watched and glimpsed shadowy figures in dark corners, so I can’t conclusively say that I don’t believe that something still lurks there.

I can’t say that I’ve attended every single festival (I started around ‘02 or so I think), but I’ve attended enough to know that it’s a blast every year. It’s a great opportunity to meet both HPL writers like S.T. Joshi and W.H. Pugmire, and to actually discuss filmmaking with the creators themselves. I think the high point for me was when I had the pleasure of meeting the great scream queen Barbara Crampton, from Reanimator and From Beyond. It was in Reanimator that she participated in one of the most disturbing sex scenes of all time, being molested by the severed but still living head of the late David Gale. Like pretty much all of the actors I’ve met, she was a class act and it sounded as if she had a blast being menaced by extradimensional monstrosities.

The fest includes feature-length films as well as shorts from around the world, and though the works are of varying quality they’re always pretty fascinating. I managed only two of the four short blocks this year, seeing such varied flicks as the awesome George Jones and the Giant Squid, Seizures and Grasshopper. As you might note, sometimes the connection to the great HPL is a bit tenuous, but there’s always at least a slender thread binding them.

Members of the HPL Historical Society performing "At the Mountains of Madness."

Members of the HPL Historical Society performing “At the Mountains of Madness.”

Non-film highlights included witnessing the members of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society presenting their radio-play version of At the Mountains of Madness, live and in person. These guys are all theatrical actors with amazing voices, and their live play included a cool newsreel-style film that they created entirely out of old newsreel footage, portraying the supposed Miskatonic Antarctic expedition. For a real treat, check out these guys’ radio plays.

I managed two feature films that I have not seen for years, and both of them were pretty awesome. First was John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which I think is one of his best works. I’d recommend anyone who enjoys SF and supernatural cinema to check it out — it’s clearly inspired by Lovecraft and the works of Nigel Kneal, specifically the Quatermass movies (Carpenter himself wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym Martin Quatermass, and characters in the movie have Lovecraftian names like “Marsh” and “Danforth”). A science professor and his students are asked by representatives of the Catholic church to investigate a mysterious object that has been discovered beneath a church in Los Angeles — an object that has been there for centuries and has been watched over by a secret order of priests called the Brotherhood of Sleep. The malevolent entity inside the cylinder reaches out, possessing first the street people of the area (led by a pale-faced Alice Cooper) then members of the team in an effort to summon its “father” from his prison in an alternate dimension. To call the entity “Satan” is a horrific understatement. There’s plenty of creepiness and philosophical discussion of science vs. faith, good vs. evil, and the ending is creepily ambiguous.

The crown jewel of the festival however was what is being called the “Cabal Cut” of Clive Barker’s neglected masterpiece Nightbreed. In a story that I fear is far too common in Hollywood, Clive Barker directed the film in the wake of the successful Hellraiser, then presented it to studio execs, who stared at him blankly, said “I don’t get it,” and told him to reshoot half the movie. While the result was not a bad film by any measures, it also wasn’t quite what Barker had in mind. The movie flopped due to studio indifference, but a VHS copy of the rough cut was found a couple of years ago. The rough video footage was then spliced into the existing film, pushing it to 144 minutes in length (the final edited studio cut was a mere 102 minutes), and making the story quite a bit more coherent. According to Russell Cherrington, the gentleman responsible for the new cut, there is real interest in seeing the Cabal version released to video, and with up-to-date digitization techniques, the rough video footage can be restored to crisp, clean DVD/Blueray quality.

The official "Nightbreed" poster kind of made it look like "The Breakfast Club" for mutants...

The official “Nightbreed” poster kind of made it look like “The Breakfast Club” for mutants…

In brief (and there are awesome resources for this film to be found elsewhere), Cabal (spoiler warning) is the story of Aaron Boone, a young man tormented by dreams of an underground city inhabited by bizarre monsters. His psychiatrist, Dr. Decker (director David Cronenberg in one of his few appearances as an actor) manipulates Boone and frames him for a series of brutal murders, which Decker himself actually committed. Shot dead by police, Boone returns to live as a “Nightbreed” and finds the city of Midian, “where the monsters live” apart from humanity. The “monsters” are actually the Tribes of the Moon, the last survivors of ancient races who once inhabited earth but were exterminated by the violent humans. Boone joins their community but soon after his girlfriend Lori follows and discovers Midian for herself. Dr. Decker in turn follows Lori, learns about Midian and is determined to destroy it and its inhabitants, aided by the police and by violent local humans. In the battle that follows, Boone releases the Berserkers, a band of savage Nightbreed, which destroy the human attackers. Dr. Decker dies in the battle as well, and Midian is destroyed. Now given the name Cabal by the ‘breed’s god Baphomet, Boone is charged with finding a new city for the outcasts. Lori is still in love with Boone, and kills herself rather than lose him, but he restores her to life, transforming her into one of the Nightbreed. Roll credits.

That really glosses over a lot of the story, and the entire thing should be seen in its entirety. As I said, the original cut wasn’t really all THAT bad, and tells sorta the same story, but with more of an emphasis on Dr. Decker’s murders, giving it more of a “slasher flick” feel, rather than a horror/fantasy/love story as Barker intended.

Though I loved the film, it wasn’t without its faults — some of the plotting is a little jumpy. The scenes where Boone returns to live and escapes the hospital are confusing, and they are followed almost immediately by scenes of Boone and his companion Narcisse in Midian, with Boone having already been more or less accepted by the Nightbreed. Most of the humans, particularly the cops, are portrayed as fairly one-dimensional rednecks (First cop: “I think we’re only killing ‘em ‘cause they’re different!” Second cop: “Isn’t that reason enough?”). Nightbreed can easily be seen as a movie about racism, sexism and homophobia, but the  allegorical elements are laid on a bit thick.

Honestly, that’s all beside the point, I think that Nightbreed’s strengths, especially in the new cut, overwhelm its shortcomings. I can see what a heartbreaker this whole project must have been for Clive Barker — after trying to make the Star Wars of monster movies, he had his work taken away and chopped down into a truncated little remnant of itself, misunderstood by studio execs (who hadn’t even watched the entire movie) and promoted as a slasher flick. To add insult to injury, many critics laid the blame at Barker’s doorstep, suggesting that the uneven pacing and incomprehensible plot (a result of studio cuts rather than Barker’s direction) proved that he was a hack director. Barker pretty much stayed out of Hollywood until Lord of Illusions in 1995 (another pretty awesome movie that tanked at the box office, unfortunately).

The remainder of the festival went as smoothly as I’ve come to expect, with crowds of alternative types surging from tiny theater to tiny theater (I skipped a whole short block because the theater was at least 90 degrees and humid), a small dealer’s room in the lobby upstairs, an adjoining structure renamed the Esoteric Order of Dagon and given over to readings and game demos (including Sandy Peterson’s Cthulhu Wars, which I regrettably did not see), speed painting contests, panels for Lovecraft enthusiasts and after parties at Tony Starlight’s Lounge.

HPLNightAbout my only real complaint is that while I usually have companions on Friday and Saturday, most of my friends end up abandoning me on Sunday leaving me to attend the festival solo. Sunday morning i did my electronic bill paying and discovered that I was kind of broke for the rest of the month, so I attended the event feeling pretty glum, even going so far as to consider not seeing the Cabal Cut, which was one of the main reasons I attended the fest in the first place. Rescue came in the form of friendly artist Lee Moyer, creator of some awesome literary pinup calendars and more book covers and posters than a normal human can count, whom I got to hang out with before the flick and who shared some of his newest art with me, so it ended up being a decent time after all.

Unfortunately, I ate too much popcorn and pizza and spent the night with severe indigestion, so today I’m feeling a little unsteady. I think that after a lifetime as a popcorn connoisseur I’m probably going to have to swear off the stuff and maybe smuggle in bananas or something when I go see movies.My diabetes simply isnt forgiving enough for me to overwhelm it in that fashion.

So that pretty much encapsulates the spirit of the HPL film fest for me — I have a great time every year even though I usually have to go stag on Sunday, and the celebration of Lovecraft and his works gets bigger and more impressive all the time. One of these years I’m hoping that John Carpenter or Guilermo del Torro joins us. And if anyone reading this wants to go, by all means let me know. Maybe we can hang out on Sunday.