Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

ConanPosterMany (many, many…) years ago I ventured to the Clackamas Town Center with a gorgeous redhead whom I happened to be married to at the time. The marriage didn’t last, as so few do, especially when you get married right out of the gate in the same year that you’re allowed to drink legally. I still feel huge regrets over the whole mess that my first marriage became, even now so many years later, and kind of wish I hadn’t been such an insufferable little twerp. Then again, I guess it takes two people to have an argument, but I’m the only person whose behavior I can change, and with the perspective of three decades, I kind of want to go back in time and beat the living crap out of myself.

That said, it was a day that would change my life in many ways. We were at the mall to see the new movie, Conan the Barbarian, starring the Terminator himself, former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role. When we showed up, a guy walking out of the movie said to his friend, “I didn’t like it — they cut off too many heads.” Well, my friends – that was just one man’s opinion, as the proper number of decapitations in a single motion picture has yet to be determined.

Well, the day ended up being a pretty awesome one, as we had chosen a particularly auspicious showing – Conan had been cancelled, and a sneak preview of another new movie was being shown in its place. Since there was no advertising and we originally wanted to see Conan, management kindly allowed us to see both movies for the price of one. And so it was, on that day in late May of 1982, that we got to see John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as Conan the Barbarian. Such a deal!

As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of Robert E. Howard and his most famous creation. Mind you, over the years I’ve become something of a purist, and I definitely prefer the original Conan tales written by REH, complete and in their original form, not “modified,” “improved,” “edited’ or otherwise butchered by the host of revisionists who have been nibbling at the canon for decades. While I remain a big fan of both L. Sprague deCamp and Lin Carter, I do take serious issue at how they’ve monkeyed with Conan — adding, subtracting, revising, putting stories in “chronological order,” writing entirely original stories, and expanding on fragments of other stories, turning them into Conan yarns.

Conan vs. the Ant God. Not one of his better-known adventures.

Conan vs. the Ant God. Not one of his better-known adventures.

Comics, especially The Savage Sword of Conan (said to be Barack Obama’s favorite comic, by the way), have done similar things, taking stories such as The Fire of Asshurbanipal and The Hawks of Outremar and changing the setting and characters to make them Conan stories. Given that Howard’s heroes were mostly interchangeable and the settings could be anywhere from prehistory to the 1930s, this was a relatively easy task, and one that Howard himself often engaged in, changing an unsold western into a swords and sorcery story with a few minor tweaks. In the days of manual typewriters of course, this was harder than it is today, so even that endeavor involved a fair amount of work. Howard’s second most famous character — Red Sonja, whom I’ve written about here before — was born in this fashion, as a supporting character in a story about the historical siege of Vienna. Now of course, she’s a fully fleshed-out member of the Conan milieu, transformed from a Renaissance mercenary soldier into a chainmai-bikini wearing amazon who won’t sleep with a man until he’s defeated her in battle.

As much as I like Red Sonja, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the various pastiches that were created to honor Conan and his multifaceted creator, I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy the originals, and they’re the only ones I consider to be the “real” Conan. Conan’s film career followed as meandering a path as its titular star. Its screenplay is credited to both man’s man director John Milius and the controversial Oliver Stone, who went on to give us Platoon, The Doors, JFK and of course the timeless epic Alexander the Fabulous… Oops, I mean Alexander the Great. 

It was produced by the equally controversial Dino DeLaurentis, famous for backing some of the most celebrated flops in screen history. The first and only choice for Conan was always Arnold Schwarzenegger, though the Austrian bodybuilder knew nothing about the character and prepared for the role by reading comics (probably the aforementioned Savage Sword among others).

The screenwriter seems equally oblivious, as Oliver Stone’s original concept was for the movie to be set in a post-apocalyptic future instead of the past (maybe he was getting Conan confused with this guy.) Fortunately for all of us, this idea was scotched very quickly and Conan the Barbarian was set in what at least approximated Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria.

What do you mean, I don't appear in any of the Conan stories???

What do you mean, I don’t appear in any of the Conan stories???

For a fan of Conan, the movie is something of a mixed bag. While the spirit of Conan is certainly present, the story is a mish-mash of sources, from an origin story that would have outraged REH (Conan as ex-slave) to scenes and incidents from a half-dozen other stories, some of them not even about Conan (imagery from The Thing in the Crypt, a deCamp/Carter pastiche, scenes from the Howard Conan story A Witch Shall Be Born and Worms of the Earth, another Howard story, this one about the Celtic warrior Bran Mak Morn, other Conan stories like The Tower of the Elephant, Red Nails, etc.), welded to an unwieldy story of vengeance and very modern-seeming religious cults.

The villain, Thulsa Doom, is drawn from Howard’s King Kull stories, the iconic tale of Conan being born on the battlefield is entirely absent, etc. Still, one has to take what one can get. When I recently saw Desolation of Smaug, for example, I simply pretended that The Hobbit didn’t exist and that the movie was an entirely original fantasy-action tale penned by Peter Jackson. This at least dulled the pain I felt while watching Legolas shooting arrows while standing on the dwarves’ heads in the barrel scene. As such, if you consider Conan the Barbarian to be a largely original film inspired by Robert E. Howard, the whole thing goes down a lot smoother, and you can actually sit and enjoy yourself.

I will also note that the last time I watched CtB was with my girlfriend and she cautioned me not to make too much fun of it, as it was one of her favorites. And now, after all of that, and keeping my endless babbling caveats in mind, I think I can say that Conan the Barbarian is a pretty damned fun ride. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I won’t make jokes the whole way. On with the show!

Our tale opens with a famous quote from Nietzshe, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” suggesting that if you survive watching this flick, you’ll be a stronger person for it. We open on on a black screen as our narrator (awesome Mako, who also plays the Wizard) raspily intones: Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And onto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

Well, aren't we just off to the most uplifting, not-at-all-depressing start?

Well, aren’t we just off to the most uplifting, not-at-all-depressing start?

Okay, in addition to being somewhat ungrammatical, the prolog is  also an abridgment of Howard’s original quote, a prolog to the story “The Phoenix on the Sword” (and interestingly enough the first published Conan tale). That quote is admittedly a bit wordy for the motion picture milieu, but I do kind of miss it. What follows, however, is a whole movie just like that. And now begins what I consider to be the best part of Conan the Barbarian. No, not the credits — the music. While the film itself is far from flawless, the score by the late Basil Poledouris (Robocop, Hunt for Red October, Starship Troopers among many others)  is one of the finest and most evocative that I have ever heard. In many ways the music alone elevates the movie from routine swords-n-muscles fare into the realm of memorable cinema, which is exactly what movie music should do.

Some sample Youtube comments about this score:

“Chuck Norris cries to this song.”

“I was going to play airsoft to this music, but the guns turned real.”

“My toy poodle listened to this music, and now it’s a wolf!”

“I just shaved and this music made my beard grow out again!”

“Anvil of Crom is a snow-shoveling song and everyone knows it!” …And so on.

ConanTitleAnyway, while Poledouris’ thunderous main theme — the Anvil of Crom — plays on, we watch the forging of a sword. According to stories published at the time, director Milius took a keen interest in swords and sword-making, and used this as his central theme in the movie. In my humble opinion, he took the whole thing just a tad too far, as we shall soon see. So, while Conan’s hot B-MILF (Barbarian Mom I’d Like to… Well, you get the idea…) mom looks on, his dad forges a mighty sword and cools it in a convenient snowdrift, then takes his young son up to the mountains to bore him to tears telling him about gods and steel and related barbarian stuff. Here we have the first mention of a recurring theme in the movie — the Riddle (or as dad puts it “enigma”) of Steel. The frost giants, he says, stole the secret from the Cimmerian’s god Crom, which of course pissed him off royally. In their rage however, the gods forgot about steel and left its secret on the battlefield for men to use. Young Master Conan, he says, must learn steel’s secret, and its discipline, since you can’t trust men, women or beasts, but you can trust your sword, goddamn it!

OK, son... When a barbarian warrior and a hot red-haired amazon love each other very much...

OK, son… When a barbarian warrior and a hot red-haired amazon love each other very much…

Okay, this aspect of the movie has always puzzled me. It appears nowhere in Howard’s works, and in the movie itself, no one really explains what is meant by “The Riddle of Steel.” Do Milius and Oliver mean the riddle of making steel? Of using steel? Of being like steel? I assume that it’s a practical matter — the crafting of steel from iron, which was a valuable thing to know in those days. However, there seems to be a huge amount of philosophical baggage attached to the concept, to the point (as we’re about to find out) that evil warlords are willing to exterminate entire peoples to learn it.

I think it all goes back to Milius’ obsessions, as he was known to be quite the manly man (screenwriter for Conan, Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, Clear and Present Danger, Apocalypse Now, Rome, Red Dawn, director of The Wind and the Lion, Conan, Red Dawn, Farewell to the King, Flight of the Intruder, and more), and the whole “man-as-sword” motif. And so it is, the Cimmerians — whom the movie portrays as a fairly peaceful, provincial race of villagers, rather than the bloody barbarian warriors of Howard’s vision — have the secret of steel, and lots of people want it. Particularly the next batch of guys who ride over the hill — savage, black-armored horsemen beneath a serpent banner who appear while Conan is out ice-fishing (though if you look closely there is no actual hole in the ice as the poor kid isn’t anywhere near a lake — I guess young Conan was a little slower than the other kids) and a dramatic choral piece plays.

Hey, kid... You're supposed to cut a hole in the ice first. Kid...? Hey! Kid!

Hey, kid… You’re supposed to cut a hole in the ice first. Kid…? Hey! Kid!

Conan spots the baddies’ scout, a tattooed Celtic-type with limed hair and a dog-like expression, then rushes home as the raiders reach his defenseless village. Now only the truly petty observer would note that the rampaging barbarian horde numbers perhaps 15 and appear to be badly outnumbered by the peace-loving Cimmerians. No matter, they run through the little settlement like Jabba the Hutt at the buffet table.

A few villagers — notably Conan’s father — fight back and take some of the raiders down, but it’s all to no avail. The raid’s commander, a thug in an elaborate helm (the production design was by talented Britisher Ron Cobb, who also did the non-HR Giger design for the original Alien), points at Conan’s father and shouts “Kill that one!” They don’t succeed — at least not immediately, even though our commander (whom we later learn is named Rexor and is played by ex-Oakland Raider defensive end Ben Davidson) sends in his best men, including Thorgrim, who is portrayed by muscle-man Sven-Ole Thorson and is armed with the biggest motherfucking hammer you ever fucking saw. The battle (well, massacre actually) goes on for long minutes, with women screaming, people getting axed and hammered, huts burning, blood splashing, until at last Conan’s father is taken down by a pair of wardogs. It’s pretty unpleasant, especially since Conan and his mom watch.

Conan's mom. RRROWF!

Conan’s mom. RRROWF!

Now at last the fight’s over and the victorious raiders are carrying away their booty. And speaking of booty, Conan’s hot mom refuses to surrender, even as a still-more ominous figure in black armor rides up. Rexor holds Conan’s father’s sword and hands it to the newcomer, who removes his helmet to reveal… Yes, it’s the villainous wizard-warlord Thulsa Doom, portrayed by the mellifluous-voiced James Earl Jones, and before you can say I… am your father or This… is CNN, he takes the sword and lops Conan’s mom’s head off with it.

As much as it pains me to say it, James Earl Jones simply does not fit the role of an ancient snake-controlling wizard. He’s kind of puffy-faced and the production hairdressers have saddled him with an ugly black wig with prominent power bangs that put me in mind of a male, black and middle-aged Katie Perry. There is simply no sense of menace or majesty to him, and his favorite expression seems to be one of melancholy befuddlement. None of this makes any difference to young Conan, who has just watched his mother’s head fall bleeding into the snow. In an event that would probably have enraged Conan’s creator, he is led off in chains. And, at least according to the narrator, the Cimmerians themselves have been utterly exterminated.

Hey, Thulsa! Your mom cuts your hair funny!

Hey, Thulsa! Your mom cuts your hair funny!

The ashes were trampled into the earth, and the blood became as snow. Who knows what they came for — weapons of steel or murder? — it was never known for the leader rode to the south while children went north with the Vanir. No one would ever know that my lord’s people had lived at all. His was a tale of sorrow. Also a tale never once mentioned in the works of Robert E. Howard, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that Conan gets carted off as a slave and sold to a guy who uses children to push a big wheel out in the middle of the desert. Why? Presumably they’re grinding grain, though no grain is ever actually seen, but as for me I prefer to think that some crazy coot has built this wheel and just enjoys watching people push it.

And push it Conan does, growing up strong and muscly, until he ends up looking kind of like an Austrian bodybuilder. Eventually Conan is pushing the whole farkin’ wheel all by himself, attracting the attention of a red-haired bearded guy who trains gladiators. He buys Conan and leads him off to the fleshpots of Hyboria. Conan retains a medallion in the shape of the wheel he was chained to, presumably symbolic of his servitude, but again this is something that seems totally out of character and not consistent with the literary character that Conan is supposedly based on.

Okay, so Conan — who has never fought, never been unchained from the wheel and as far as I can tell, never spoken — is tossed into the blood-pit and expected to fight. Well, he does fight. And he grunts. He grunts a lot. He makes lots of those funny Austrian-accented grunts and screams that we have become so fond of over the years. And eventually he wins, by pulping his foe’s head against a wall.

Ladeeeez and gentlemen! Your fight card for tonight's gladiatorial battle! In this corner, wearing leather trunks, it's Kang, the Kushite Killer!

Ladeeeez and gentlemen! Your fight card for tonight’s gladiatorial battle! In this corner, wearing leather trunks, it’s Kang, the Kushite Killer!

So begins Conan’s glorious career as a slave pit-fighter. Wait… Wait… What’s that spinning sound? My God — it’s coming from Robert E. Howard’s grave! The guy must be spinning — Jesus — at least 15,000 rpm! Well, ignore the sound. He’ll spontaneously combust any minute now. We are now treated to a montage of blood and action, with Conan (in a wide variety of strange and exotic Ron Cobb-designed armor) dispatches foe after foe, making his owner rich and himself famous.

Our narrator tells us that by killing so many people and making so much gold for others, he decides that he matters. Well, it was a savage and barbaric age — if messily killing dozens of foes in the blood-drenched slavepits is what you need to improve your self-esteem, so be it. Personally I prefer daily affirmations or something similar.

Next, in yet another radical departure from the original works, Conan is taken east “where the war-masters would teach him the deepest secrets.” Apparently this involves repeatedly slapping Conan while grunting “Ung! Yr-Ng! Ngrr!” until he does what you want him to do. Conan also learns to read, given poetry and philosophy, and he’s also thrown the occasional hot slave girl (or as the narrator charmingly puts it, “bred to the finest stock”) for his entertainment. To his credit, Conan remains chivalrous, wrapping the naked human brood-mare in a blanket before having sex with her. The swordplay in the film has a very authentic feel to it, once more due to the director’s interest in weapons and martial arts, and many of the sword katas that Conan practices are quite real, though I suspect that they are not normally performed with Atlantean broadswords.

And in this corner, wearing the bearskin loincloth it's newcomer Conan "The Kid" Barbarian! I want a brutal, dirty fight with lots of gouging and biting! Now touch gauntlets and come out stabbing!

And in this corner, wearing the bearskin loincloth it’s newcomer Conan “The Kid” Barbarian! I want a brutal, dirty fight with lots of gouging and biting! Now touch gauntlets and come out stabbing!

Well, Conan is soon the toast of Hyboria and his master is eager to show him off at parties. At one such gathering, Conan is serving as a decorative centerpiece while a bunch of guys argue about what is best in life. “The open steppe!” declares a bearded Mongol-type. “A fleet horse! Falcons at your wrists, and the wind in your hair!” Well, that’s all well and good, but the feasters’ living table decoration sets him straight. When asked what he thinks is best in life, Conan replies, “To crush your enemies, to see dem driven before you, and to hear da lamentations of der vimmen!” which of course gets his owner lots of slaps on the back and free drinks.

And those, dear friends, are the first words to pass Conan’s lips for the entire first 25 or so minutes of the movie. And he won’t speak again for a while. In fact, Conan the Barbarian is actually quite remarkable in how little dialog it really has, especially from its two stars, Conan and the yet-to-be-seen Valeria. For the record btw, this quote is not original — the entire exchange is taken from the book Genghis Khan: The Emperor of All Men by Harold Lamb:

One day in the pavilion at Karakorum he [Genghis Kahn] asked an officer of the Mongol guard what, in all the world, could bring the greatest happiness. “The open steppe, a clear day, and a swift horse under you,” responded the officer after a little thought, “and a falcon on your wrist to start up hares.” “Nay,” responded the Kahn, “to crush your enemies, to see them fall at your feet — to take their horses and goods and hear the lamentation of their women. That is best.”

Hi, slave girl. I guess I'm supposed to have sex with you. Here. Let me cover you up with this filthy, matted hide first.

Hi, slave girl. I guess I’m supposed to have sex with you. Here. Let me cover you up with this filthy, matted hide first.

Which is a variation on the original reputed quote: “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy and drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters.” Now that’s pretty hard-core, but I’m also a little disappointed that, rather than actually use a quote from Robert E. Howard, Milius chose to strip-mine history for dialog.

Mind you, the movie that we’re watching is a bit of a mish-mash itself, drawing scenes from many different stories and events, of which we will discuss more presently. At length, Conan’s master grows weary of his muscle-bound cash cow and drives the poor guy out into a stormy night, drunkenly declaring that he’s now free. “It has been surmised,” says our narrator, “that perhaps my lord was like a wild animal that had been kept too long. Perhaps. But whatever — freedom, so long an unremembered dream — was his.”

Well, this is an unexpected development, especially for poor simple-minded Conan who just doesn’t seem to understand why his generous master kicks him out like that. The next scene is of him fleeing through the wilderness, only a few steps ahead of a pack of wild dogs. According to legend, the actual dogs used in the movie were extremely vicious — Arnold really is fleeing from them, fearful of losing a limb or two. Heh. And you thought he was just acting scared.

Just add this chained barbarian to your table and you've got a festive holiday centerpiece for all occasions!

Just add this chained barbarian to your table and you’ve got a festive holiday centerpiece for all occasions!

Conan makes it to a big stone monolith just ahead of his pursuers, then immediately falls down a hole, with a series of classic Schwarzenegger grunts along the lines of, “Ahrrr… owww… ngyang… anggggg…” before finally hitting bottom in the middle of and ancient Atlantean tomb. The tomb set is cool, especially the big skeleton clad in Ron Cobb-designed armor and clutching an ancient, encrusted sword. Conan spends some time looking at the old corpse and finally takes the sword, knocking off all the crud.

At this point every single person in the theater expected the mummy to come to life and fight Conan, but damn were we disappointed when the damned thing just collapses into a heap and lies there, dusty and useless. The disappointment is even greater when one realizes that this is the first scene cribbed directly from a Conan story, though not from Robert E. Howard, and there lies a bit of controversy. Back in the 60s and 70s, SF writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague deCamp took it upon themselves to essentially rewrite and reorganize the entire Conan saga, putting the stories in what they took to be “chronological order,” and also filling perceived gaps in the tales with stories of their own, some original and some adapted from other Howard stories, finished and unfinished. The result was a series of paperbacks with titles like Conan the Buccaneer, Conan the Wanderer, Conan the Rotarian and Conan the Librarian, eventually culminating in the little-read and unloved Conan the Octagenarian, about the barbarian’s sad last days in a nursing home. Among the stories that deCamp and Carter foisted off as Conan tales was “The Thing in the Crypt” which is basically this portion of the Milius movie.

Look out, Conan! Don't take that sword! It's a hideous, ferocious, undead... Oh, wait. Never mind.

Look out, Conan! Don’t take that sword! It’s a hideous, ferocious, undead… Oh, wait. Never mind.

In the story however, the Atlantean corpse does exactly what we want it to do — it comes to life and fights young Conan, but apparently this was too elaborate a scene for the SFX budget or something, as there’s no fight with a reanimated corpse anywhere near this movie. Again, a disappointment, but at least Conan is away from his life as a slave, has his sword and is finally on track to start acting like fucking Conan instead of a guy from a totally different series.

The next sequence should be familiar to Howard fans, since it was lifted from one of REH’s stories. Not from a Conan tale, however… Conan’s next mini-adventure is a scene from the Bran Mak Morn story “The Worms of the Earth,” a very effective historical fantasy/horror piece published in 1932, and available for your reading pleasure here. Conan, now equipped with his Atlantean sword and some warm-looking wild dog hides (hm… I wonder where he got those) wanders through some very disturbing rock formations, listening to loons cry out in the distance, and encounters a small hut, with a hot-but-kinda-creepy woman alluringly clad in furs standing outside.

“It is warm by the fire,” she whispers sultrily, giving Conan the once-over. “Do you not wish to warm yourself? By my fire?” Oh, what the fuck, Conan thinks. I’ll give it a shot. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, really. As soon as Conan sits down and starts to unwind, the hot witch-lady starts crawling around on all fours, throws flash powder into the fire and says weird shit like, “They said you would come. From the north. A man of great strength. A conqueror. A man who would someday be king by his own hand. One who would crush the snakes of the earth…”

Hey there, wandering barbarian... Want to play parcheesi or something?

Hey there, wandering barbarian… Want to play parcheesi or something?

“Snakes?” Conan interrupts, demanding that she explain the whole “snake” thing and tell him the name of the asshole who rides around with the serpent standard, burning down villages and chopping off hot mom’s heads. Hey, I know that guy, she declares, crawling closer and almost speaking into Conan’s nostrils. I’ll tell you all about him, but “there is a price.” Well, gee whiz Ma’am, what kinda price were you askin? Two bits? A whole dollar? Well, shucks, I ain’t got that kind of…

Nope. It’s the other price she’s asking for. Instantly we cut to Conan and the creepy-sexy witch woman doing the horizontal mambo. Instead of moaning “Oh god, yes. Don’t stop,” the witch instead tells Conan to go to Zamora, then starts howling and shrieking as we slap a blue filter on the scene, which can’t be good. And it is not good for Conan. She continues to scream, sprouts fangs and cat’s eyes, alarming Conan so much that he throws her into the fireplace.

She then reacts like most women would under such circumstances — she turns into a shrieking sentient fireball and shoots right out of the hut and into the night. Oh well, Conan thinks. At least I have the place to myself for the night. The next morning Conan straps on his sword, wraps himself in furs and steps out into the fresh morning air, then instantly encounters his boon companion, the Hyrkanian warrior-thief Subotai, chained to a rock just outside the witch’s hut.

Enter Subotai...

Enter Subotai…

Okay, wait a minute — if Subotai was chained up there, how come Conan didn’t notice him last night? He’s maybe 10 feet away from the witch’s door. And why didn’t Subotai ask the witch for help? I mean, she’ll help you, but there’s a price.And all things considered, the price really ain’t that bad… Just remember to throw her into the fireplace if things get too wild.

After some banter, Conan frees Subotai and the two of them set off across the plains to the exotic city of Zamora. On the way, they discuss religion and philosophy, giving Conan a chance to tell Subotai that his god Crom is strong and admirable, but never answers prayers, never listens and is always too busy at the office to play ball with him. Apparently absent fathers were a problem back during the Hyborian age too.

Okay, I’m going to stop the narrative for a moment here to dwell once more on my favorite aspect of Conan the Barbarian –  Basil Poledouris’ amazing score. And the piece that plays during this and the subsequent scene, simply called Theology/Civilization, is easily one of the most beautiful and moving instrumental pieces I have ever heard. If you haven’t, please check it out here. Of all the fine themes in this film, Theology/Civilization captures the exotic allure of Robert E. Howard’s world and evokes images of staggering beauty. Now, back to the movie. As this lush and gorgeous music plays, Conan and Subotai run across the Hyborean plains toward the fleshpots of Zamora and their date with destiny.

Okay, now we know where they got the opening for "Lothar of the Hill People."

Okay, now we know where they got the opening for “Lothar of the Hill People.”

“Civilization,” Subotai says. “Ancient and wicked. Have you ever seen this before?” “No,” Conan replies. “Let us waste no time!” And with this slightly cryptic utterance, Conan and Subotai go on a quick tour of the cities of Zamora and wander for a bit, marveling at the elephants, buying swords, noting how bad pigs smell and snacking on some lizard-on-a-stick (a favorite delicacy of Zamoran food-carts I’m told).

In each city they pass, we see a great snake-tower, which our heroes ignore at first, but we know that they’ll be important soon enough. The snake towers also show the fine hand of the great Ron Cobb, and are quite beautiful to behold, despite being — like all towers — slightly phallic. They quiz the locals about that two snake standard that the raiders carried when they destroyed Conan’s home and killed his oh-so-hot-mom. They have no luck on the standard, but one native tells them, “The only snakes I know are those of Set in those accursed towers. They have spread to every city. Two or three years ago it was just another snake-cult. Now… Everywhere.” Which of course begs the question of exactly how many fucking snake cults there are in Zamora, if the locals can dismiss them so casually. Oh, Jeez! Not another snake cult! Christ on pogo stick, where the fuck do they come from, anyway?

Quick! What does this remind you... Oops. Sorry -- I already used that joke in "Wizards."

Quick! What does this remind you… Oops. Sorry — I already used that joke in “Wizards.”

“It is said they are deceivers,” our expository peasant continues, “that they murder people in the night. I know nothing.” Our Hyborean equivalent of Sergeant Schultz now tries to sell the boys some Stygian black lotus, which we are assured is the best you can get. Later as our bold pair strides through the temple district, another local tries to sell them an amulet to protect them against evil, to which Subotai laughs, “I am evil!” which frankly is a pretty damned good comeback.

At this point Conan blunders into a camel, leaps in surprise, and decks the poor beast, which bears some resemblance to a similar scene in Blazing Saddles, but is pretty funny nonetheless. This attracts the hostile attention of the worshipers, and a priest who looks to be wearing a funny horn-covered hat that he bought from Archie McPhee’s or ThinkGeek. Well they don’t much like hanging out with sanctimonious religious types, so Conan and Subotai head for a less snooty part of town, consuming their stash of black lotus as they go. The wisdom of this course of action proves slightly questionable, for while they’re busy getting stoned, Subotai suggests that they rob one of the snake towers, which he claims contains the fabulous “Eye of the Serpent.” How he knows this is never explained, but as far as Conan is concerned, if his ol’ buddy Subotai says there’s a big fat priceless gemstone in the ominous snake tower, then by golly we should go check it out right away! Just say no to drugs, kids. If you don’t you’ll end up robbing the local snake cult, and that can’t end well.

Enter Valeria. Even though she bears no real resemblance to her literary namesake, she's still a landmark of sword and sorcery femininity since she stays decently dressed for most of the move. Except when she's having sex with Conan, of course.

Enter Valeria. Even though she bears no real resemblance to her literary namesake, she’s still a landmark of sword and sorcery femininity since she stays decently dressed for most of the move. Except when she’s having sex with Conan, of course.

As our heroes creep into the tower they encounter a fellow thief — it’s none other than Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, heroine of the classic REH story “Red Nails.” Here, however, she’s a bit different, though Sandahl Bergman plays her with dash and very little dialog. I think that the choice of Bergman was great, as she is a tough, athletic-looking woman and far from your average sword and sorcery bimbo. She wears sensible fighter-thief armor, and is every bit Conan and Subotai’s equal. Her connection with Conan appears to be largely instinctive, for despite their passionate affair (oh, come on, you knew it was going to happen the minute you saw her), they exchange only a handful of lines throughout the whole movie. In the first, Conan spits “You’re no guard!” as he and Valeria face each other warily, swords drawn. She replies, “Neither are you,” Subotai notes that she’s a thief like them, come to rob the tower, she says, “You don’t even have a rope. Ha! Two fools who laugh at death — do you know what horrors lie beyond that wall?” Conan replies, “No,” and Valeria replies “Then you go first” (another great line, really).

Hi folks... I'm a really big snake and I guard this temple. Have a nice evening, and god bless.

Hi folks… I’m a really big snake and I guard this temple. Have a nice evening, and god bless.

And that, dear reader, is the last line that Conan utters to Valeria for the entire movie. Mind you, she talks to him quite a bit, but for the rest of the damned flick he just sits in stony silence and never actually talks to the love of his life. Great boyfriend you are, Conan. Communication is supposed to be the most important thing in a relationship. So the dynamic trio now ascends in a scene reminiscent of another classic Conan tale, REH’s “Tower of the Elephant.” The snipping of small scenes and images from Howard’s works continues.

Once at the top they see that there’s a well that goes down into the temple proper. Subotai complains about the smell and Valeria says “Do you want to live forever?” before venturing down ahead of the boys. Once inside they observe some white-clad snake acolytes (snake-o-lytes?), plus the high priest, whom Valeria tells them is second only to Thulsa Doom himself. “They say Thulsa Doom’s a thousand years old!” she continues, providing us with still more questionable exposition. This is, however, the first time that villain Doom has actually been named, so I guess it’s important. LolConan

Valeria sends the boys down to the stench-ridden lower level while she sneaks up on the high priest, proving that she’s got them both wrapped around her little finger. Upstairs she knocks out a priestess and takes her place, while below Conan and Subotai encounter the infamous Eye of the Serpent, with a real giant serpent slumbering an curled up around the altar. The giant snake is quite a work of art, and in those days before we could animate anything with CGI, practical effects were the rule of the day. Unfortunately, since everything had to be mechanical — a network of cables and hydraulics, wires and pulleys — they didn’t always move realistically. And sometimes, as Bela Lugosi discovered in Bride of the Monster, they didn’t move at all. In this case, the snake certainly looks good, but the big question is, can it act? Initially the answer seems to be “no,” as Conan and Subotai scramble over its scaly hide, seize the Eye of the Serpent, and are about to make a clean getaway, just as the naked sacrificial maiden is about to be…

Did I ever tell you that I used to play all-pro defensive end for the Oakland Raiders?

Did I ever tell you that I used to play all-pro defensive end for the Oakland Raiders?

Hold on a second! There’s a naked sacrificial maiden? Hey, we forgot about Valeria, now disguised as an acolyte and watching the ceremony above the snake pit. Here, the chosen sacrifice to Set is led forward and of course she’s a cute young woman who is immediately disrobed. Why she has to be disrobed is anyone’s guess — maybe linen robes give snakes indigestion. In any event, our naked (or, as this is the 80s, semi-naked, for she keeps her slightly diaper-like lower garment on) victim kneels and is doing the snake-hypnosis hoochee-koochee up above as Conan and Subotai scramble away from the chamber, gem in hand.

Conan however is distracted. Hanging conveniently on the wall is a big jade medallion that depicts the exact same icon as the raiders bore when they destroyed his village! Holy Crom! He may have finally found a real clue (as if the snake motifs everywhere in the temple weren’t sufficient). As he stares in fascination at the medallion the serpent wakes up and realizes he’s been robbed and slithers toward the distracted barbarian.

Hey, Conan! Look out for that snake!

Hey, Conan! Look out for that snake!

Uh-oh. It looks as if we’re gonna have a real fight on our hands — a Frazetta painting come to terrifying life! The serpent rises up, only a little bit clunky and somewhat smoother than the animatronic shark from Jaws, horrific and bloody battle is about to be joined… And then Conan shoves a sword through it and Subotai shoots it with an arrow and the fight is basically over.

Oh sure the snake flops around a little, but it looks as if 1980s SFX weren’t quite up to the task of a thrilling extended hand-to-hand struggle with a giant constrictor. Conan then chops the head off the now-lifeless practical effect and they flee just as the naked sacrificial maiden reaches the height of her hoochee-koochee ecstasy and, as high priest Ben Davidson looks on approvingly (probably thinking, “Hey, if the guys from the Raiders back in ’67 could see me now… Heh, heh… I’m no some crappy all-pro defensive end anymore… Fuck that… I’m Rexor – high priest of Set, bitches!“)

"Naked snake sacrifice" is probably not the top item in this actress' resume.

“Naked snake sacrifice” is probably not the top item in this actress’ resume.

And so of her own accord, the hypnotized sacrifice plunges to her supposed doom in the snake pit, only to find that everyone’s favorite constrictor has been cruelly decapitated and the Eye of the Serpent stolen by a couple of barbarian mooks. She screams, the temple erupts in chaos, Conan and Subotai climb up the central well back toward the top of the tower, and Rexor looks really, really pissed off. Just as Rexor directs his temple guards to loose arrows at the fleeing barbarians, Valeria casts aside her disguise and starts stabbing, casts one of them into the pit with the rope wrapped around him, and rides the line up to join Conan and Subotai.

Once they’re at the top, she casts a quick glance at her companions, shouts, “Do you want to live forever?’ and leaps from the tower. Wheeeeeeeeee! After a moment of Butch-and-Sundance style hesitation, Conan and Subotai join her and we’re away, scott free with the Eye of the Serpent! Now quick, before the cult finds out what we did and sends hordes of shape-changing snake assassins after us, let’s get the hell out of Zamora and go spend our ill-gotten loot on ale and whores in Shem or Hyrkania or someplace…

Conan and Valeria finally share a little sexy time. And absolutely no conversation.

Conan and Valeria finally share a little sexy time. And absolutely no conversation.

Well, no. It seems that this course doesn’t occur to our heroes, who stay right there in Zamora where they stole the gem, and then blow all their loot on ale and whores. Conan and Valeria continue their largely-wordless courtship, with Conan giving the Eye of the Serpent to her, giving her the burning Austrian bodybuilder eye (much like the way Arnold regarded his frumpy housekeeper before knocking her up while he was still married to newscaster Maria Schriver, well before his celebrated term as governor of California… but that’s a tale for another time). They of course fall into each other’s arms and commence boinking like bunnies, but still don’t actually talk to each other.

It’s all very sexy and romantic, we get to see soft-focused details of Sandahl and Arnold’s striking physiques, and it pretty much ignores the fact that in the single Conan story that Valeria appeared in, she and Conan never did the mattress mambo. Oh well, it’s the magic of movies… All manner of pleasures and diversions were indulged, says our narrator over a montage of Conan and Valeria blowing every last copper of their stolen riches. Wealth can be wonderful. Heh, heh, heh. But you know — success can test one’s mettle as surely as the strongest adversary!

In the dark days before Alka-Seltzer.

In the dark days before Alka-Seltzer.

At this point we cut to Conan and his new girlfriend nursing the great grandfather of all hangovers until Conan falls, face first into his bowl of porridge. Seeing the big guy helpless, a bunch of soldiers show up and arrest our two lovebirds, taking them to see the brooding King Osric, played by none other than the great Max Von Sydow — one of both Sweden and the world’s most distinguished thespians. Fortunately for us, his performances in classic cinema such as Shame, the Night Visitor, The New Land, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Exorcist and Voyage of the Damned didn’t stop him from taking roles like this, and also appearing in gems like Dune, Flash Gordon and Needful Things, as well as doing voicework for the awesome video game Oblivion: Skyrim and appearing in the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII. Keep at it, Max. You are a god of the cinema.

And so Von Sydow brings his usual gravitas to this role, congratulating our heroes on their success against those damned snake-fuckers, the Set cult. “What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!” he bellows, as Conan and Subotai look ashamed and Valeria looks defiant (I’m beginning to think she’s the real hero of this movie, but that’s just me). “I salute you!”

King Osric demonstrates how they do body piercings in Zamora.

King Osric demonstrates how they do body piercings in Zamora.

Now that we’re all friends, Osric sits down to a nice cup of wine with our heroes and complains about this wacky snake cult that’s taking over everywhere and drawing in all the naive young people with promises of free love, drugs and non-stop partying. Even Osric’s own daughter has joined up, and gone out to live in Thulsa Doom’s desert commune with all the other filthy hippies. “She follows him like a slave, seeking for the truth of her soul,” Osric complains. “As if could not give it to her!”

He offers Conan and his buddies all the riches they can carry to get his daughter out of the clutches of them danged longhairs and their danged rock-n-roll. Osric says, “There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.” The line is delivered with absolute sincerity and emotion, and in the middle of our silly movie about barbarians and giant snakes, Max Von Sydow manages to utter a few words of truth that still resonate decades later. And it’s indeed the truth, take it from me.

Conan broods. And STILL won't talk to Valeria.

Conan broods. And STILL won’t talk to Valeria.

Anyway, how can our heroes resist such an offer? Go rescue (or at least kidnap) a hot princess, get all the treasure you can carry, and get revenge for the destruction of Conan’s village and the death of his sexy mom? Sounds good to me. Once more proving her position as the brains of the operation, Valeria thinks this is a bad idea. Despite all the cool gems and gold, she really doesn’t think they should be taking on a thousand-year-old sorcerer in an impregnable fortress with an army of fanatics determined to die in his service. After all, there’s much easier targets elsewhere, right?

Well, Conan’s having none of that. They killed his family and sold him into slavery, and Thulsa Doom chopped off his mother’s head right in front of him. You just don’t get over something like that. Even after an impassioned plea from Valeria, Conan sits in stony silence and the next morning his place beside her is empty. Yup, he’s going up against Thulsa Doom alone. And so we’re back to Conan, riding through deserts and mountains, toward the fortress of Thulsa Doom, and probably not really sure what he’s going to do when he gets there. Finally he encounters what he’s been looking for — a procession of whacked-out hippies wandering in the desert with flowers, beating on tambourines, bound for Thulsa Doom’s groovy pad, where they can lie around smoking pot, listening to the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and never bathing.

Dirty counter-culture types wandering around the desert, sniffin' your damned flowers, bangin' on your damn tambourines... GET A JOB, HIPPIES!

Dirty counter-culture types wandering around the desert, sniffin’ your damned flowers, bangin’ on your damn tambourines… GET A JOB, HIPPIES!

“The Children of Doom… Doom’s Children,” intones the narrator. “They told my lord the way to the Mountain of Power. They told him to throw down his sword and return to the earth… Ha! Time enough for the earth in the grave.” Are you beginning to see a theme here? Do you get the impression that John Milius doesn’t like hippies very much? The juxtaposition of modern Moonie/Scientology style cultism with Howard’s Hyborian mythology feels very clunky to me, and just isn’t a very good fit.

Again, the look and feel of the story are very much classic Conan, but the subtext is uncomfortably contemporary and more than a little off-key. (I also wonder how much of this “Set-worshippers-are-just-like-those-stupid-hippies” themes were in Oliver Stone’s screenplay, given that he himself is kind of a counterculture type, creating the great anti-war movie Platoon and the controversial and semi-fictional but still-entertaining Jim Morrison biopic, The Doors.)

Near the Mountain of Power, Conan rides through ancient ruins, mummified armored warriors and stone monoliths, where he is confronted by a crazed-looking old man who talks just like the narrator… Hey, wait a sec… It is the narrator, listed in the credits only as “The Wizard,” played by the late Mako, a distinguished character actor with roles stretching back to 1959 that included classic TV shows like McHale’s Navy, Gidget, I Spy and F-Troop. Mako was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the Robert Wise’s The Sand Pebbles in 1966, and passed away in 2006 soon after providing the voice of Splinter in the (really bad) 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Raaar! I'm a wizard!

Raaar! I’m a wizard!

Conan  and the wizard hit it off immediately. Conan is amused by the Wizard’s threats of demon-summoning and vengeful spirits, and the Wizard just plain likes the cut of Conan’s jib. They hang out by the fire and the next day Conan hides his sword and armor and uneasily mounts up on a camel, armed with beautiful flowers so he can fit in with the cultists. ‘Cuz they’re, like, groovy, man. You know? (Arnold must have really hated camels by the time he finished this flick, because the one he’s riding is being very uncooperative.)

In the camp of the Moonies… Oops, I mean Doomies… I mean Set-worshippers… Conan rides past the beautiful people, most of whom are just sitting and grooving, until a bunch of priests arrive and start distributing acolyte’s robes. As Conan tries to puzzle out what to do, a walking, talking homosexual stereotype… I mean a priest of Set approaches him. Conan confides that he is afraid. “Afraid?” lisps the priest, pulling open Conan’s tunic to reveal his barrel chest. “Afraid to bare yourself? Why? You’re so big and so well-grown. You should be proud of your body. How do you expect to reach emptiness without knowing your own body?”

In the ancient past I guess Hyboria had the same problem with gay stereotypes as we do today...

In the ancient past I guess Hyboria had the same problem with gay stereotypes as we do today…

It turns out of course that the priest is only too willing to help Conan know his own body, so Conan leads him away from the crowd, where our unfortunate Set worshipper clearly expects to get a little barbarian-lovin’. Unfortunately for him, Conan only clobbers him and steals his robes, then returns, doing a very unconvincing impersonation of a priest. No one notices or says, “Hey! That’s not Charlie! He’s thin and slightly effeminate and likes to skip and dance about! This guy is big, burly and kind of clumsy! Imposter!” and he fits in with all the other acolytes on their way to Thulsa Doom’s big temple of grooviness, where the squares never harsh your mellow.

My God! It's the Temple of Doom! No, really... It's the actual Temple of Thulsa Doom.

My God! It’s the Temple of Doom! No, really… It’s the actual Temple of Thulsa Doom.

On the way, he presents the jade medallion that he stole from the temple as ID, which proves to be a big mistake, for who should come out of the temple as the acolytes are gathering but good old Rexor and his buddie Thorgrim, neither of whom have aged a day since exterminating the Cimmerians all those years ago. But Conan isn’t aware of this. He’s seated beside a reflecting pool and when a priestess asks him what he sees, he replies, “Infinity,” which seems to satisfy her, the dumb hippie chick. All seems to be going swimmingly until a guard points him out to Rexor and Thorgrim as the guy who’s carrying that unique, specific medallion that was stolen from our temple in Zamora. Honestly, Conan has a lot to learn about covert ops.

Where did I get this medallion? Well, I... uh... I FOUND it! Yeah, that's the ticket! I found it... In... In my sock drawer! Yeah, that's it!

Where did I get this medallion? Well, I… uh… I FOUND it! Yeah, that’s the ticket! I found it… In… In my sock drawer! Yeah, that’s it!

Now Thulsa Doom appears on a balcony above the multitude in a really wacky outfit with a long, scaled cloak. “I see you!” he shouts. “I have watched you! For a thousand years, I have watched you! Who among you will not face death? Who will not face emptiness?” Conan’s pretty intrigued by now, but suddenly someone shouts “Infidel!“, he is grabbed by Rexor and Thorgrim, and whoop-whoop-whoop, out go the lights. The proceedings are observed by Thulsa’s snake-priestess, whom we later learn is King Osric’s wayward daughter. So now Conan is subjected to a little freeform torture before Thulsa shows up for the big interrogation.

“I wish to speak to you now,” Thulsa says, looking about as threatening as your grandfather, but still sounding like Darth Vader. “Where is the Eye of the Serpent? Rexor says you gave it to a girl. Probably for a mere night’s pleasure. What a loss. People have no grasp of what they do. You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants. And my pets, and that is what grieves me the most! You killed my snake. Thorgrim is beside himself with grief. He raised that snake from the time it was born!” Thorgrim then looks sorrowful as the movie gets about 20% wackier.

“You killed my mother!” Conan shoots back. “You killed my father! You killed my people! You took my father’s sword!”

Thorgrim! You've broken the prisoner! Shame on you!

Thorgrim! You’ve broken the prisoner! Shame on you!

(Well, at this point in his career, before he got his current politician’s grasp of the English language, the line comes out more like “Yu kilt my mudda! Yu kilt my fadda! You kilt my pepul! Yu tuk my fadda’s sort!” which to me suggests that Conan is at least part LOLcat.)

Anyway, I guess that makes them even, huh? Maybe Thulsa should just call it good and let him go. No such luck, I fear. Confronted with this horrific accusation, Thulsa Doom only sighs nostalgically. “Ah, it must have been when I was younger. There was a time, boy when I searched for steel. When steel meant more to me than gold and jewels.”

“The riddle of steel?” Conan asks.

“Hm. Yes. You know what it is, don’t you boy? Shall I tell you? It’s the least I can do.” Thulsa smiles. “Steel isn’t strong, boy. Flesh is stronger!” To prove this, Thulsa has one of his female acolytes throw herself off a cliff (the fall, by stuntwoman Corrie Jansen, was at the time a women’s freefall record, 182 feet, and unlike the stuntman in The Sword and the Sorcerer, she didn’t die in the process). Presto. Game, set and match. This battle of wits is over, sir!

The princess watches dubiously.

The princess watches dubiously.

Thulsa throws out a few bon mots about the strength of flesh versus that of steel, sighs and tells Conan to contemplate his words on the Tree of Woe. And so Conan is crucified on a gnarled tree in the middle of the desert. This, and the entire sequence that follows, is another scene lifted from a Howard Conan story, A Witch Shall Be Born. While it isn’t one of the greatest Conan stories, it does contain what is probably the most famous scene from a Conan tale, and it is duplicated here in loving, somewhat nauseating, detail.

Conan hangs on the tree for quite a while, his barbaric constitution keeping him alive where lesser men would have perished. And while he isn’t a manly man like Talon in The Sword and the Sorcerer, who manages to decrucify himself, Conan does prove that he’s the badass’ badass when a vulture flaps down and tries to take a bite. Still alive, and in no mood to be eaten just then, Conan turns the tables, seizing the luckless creature in his mouth and biting it to death, letting its corpse fall to the foot of the tree.

Conan begins to wonder whether he should have possibly considered a career in chartered accountancy.

Conan begins to wonder whether he should have possibly considered a career in chartered accountancy.

This really is a harrowing scene, made worse by the knowledge that the bird Schwarzenegger was expected to bite was a real, dead vulture, and that he washed his mouth out immediately after biting it to make sure he hadn’t caught some horrific disease. Though Doom’s strategy here is really horrific — leaving your enemy to die of thirst and starvation, nailed to a tree — it really reeks of Bond villain/evil dark lord stupidity, doesn’t it? Conan — Doom’s sworn enemy and clearly a capable foe — was in his grasp, and instead of having him beheaded immediately, Doom has him put into a deathtrap that, as always doesn’t work. After a blunder of this magnitude, Thulsa Doom has lost what little sympathy he may once have had. Everything that happens from this point forward is his own fault.

And so Conan hangs for hours or days, until at last just as all seems lost, a lone figure appears in the distance and we hear a familiar theme playing faintly. It’s Subotai, and the theme is once more the familiar Theology/Civilization. And by the gods, this sequence is genuinely moving, dammit.

Mmmm! Yummy, yummy vulture!

Mmmm! Yummy, yummy vulture!

Of course, Subotai and Valeria couldn’t leave Conan to face the lord of evil alone, and so followed along. They showed up late, and Conan is near death as they bring him to the Wizard. Will he make it? Will he recover and return to seek vengeance against Thulsa Doom and his savage cult? My guess is that he will, but let’s find out, shall we? The Wizard can save him, he says, but there’s a price. Valeria is, naturally, willing to pay the price, and so the Wizard paints Conan’s body with mystic runes, casts his spells, and as night falls our heroes prepare to fight for Conan’s soul.

The sequence that follows is very exciting, with the spirits of the dead trying to carry Conan away, and his three companions fighting them. The spirits are hand-animated, resembling the Creature from the Id in Forbidden Planet, and the struggle is long and fierce, but as we all expected, by morning Conan is still with us and the spirits of the dead are defeated.

Keep your paws off  him, you evil spirits, you! He's MINE!

Keep your paws off him, you evil spirits, you! He’s MINE!

“All the gods, they cannot sever us,” Valeria declares. “If I were dead and you still fighting for life, I swear I would come back from the darkness, back from the pit of hell, to fight at your side!” Remember that. It will be important later. Conan recovers quickly, gaining strength and doing his awesome sword kata, and prepping for the big fight that we all know is coming. At the fireside our heroes plan their next move. Subotai and Valeria insist that Conan agree to only kidnap the princess and deal with Thulsa Doom some other time. He doesn’t answer, which suggests that things might not go well, but the next morning they’re off and the Doomies need to start worrying.

I'm too sexy for my sword... Too sexy for my sword...

I’m too sexy for my sword… Too sexy for my sword…

Pausing near a convenient back door that the Wizard told them about, our heroes don warpaint, then sneak in to yet another rousing Basil Poledouris theme, this one a thundering Wagnerian chorus whose lyrics appear to be a choir singing “Deewa nooga wawa naga, needa wawa nooga deewa!” though if there is a real language in there somewhere I sure as hell can’t decipher it. They sneak through a red-filtered cavern way too easily, passing where fetish leather-clad guards are loading up a cauldron with a stew of human flesh. Yup, I knew it! Them hippies wuz just a buncha dirty-ass cannibals!

Dude! They're havin' orgy in there! They are TOTALLY havin' an orgy, dude!

Dude! They’re havin’ orgy in there! They are TOTALLY havin’ an orgy!

They follow the cauldron-bearers, who are delicately swaying back and forth as if they’re doing the bunny-hop, into what can only be described as the orgy chamber, where the music now changes to a lilting ethereal theme as naked and semi-naked cultists roll around on silken cushions, snacking on their human flesh hors d’oeuvres. In the middle of it all is another snake priestess, mostly naked and chained to a column, but clearly getting into the whole groovy orgy scene herself. A gimp-masked guy with a big ladle serves up more fleshy snacks from the needlessly large and heavy cauldron, while Thulsa Doom and the lost princess watch the proceedings from a throne above it all.

Seriously, though... What kind of lame-ass orgy is it where no one actually gets naked?

Seriously, though… What kind of lame-ass orgy is it where no one actually gets naked?

Now I have to say something — when I saw this back in the 80s, the whole orgy seemed incredibly decadent and sexy, but on rewatching I realize that not very much actually happens. None of the orgy participants besides the chained priestess are actually naked, and all they really do is lie around and writhe a little bit. In the end, it’s probably one of the most disappointing screen orgies ever. Of course, it could be worse — it could be Caligula, which featured a very explicit orgy scene that made me not want to have sex ever again.

Thulsa Doom seems strangely unmoved by all of this, and while he watches, he slowly (and not terribly convincingly) turns into a giant snake, then slithers away. Well, I guess that takes care of him, huh? Another big disappointment.

Well there's her I guess, but for fuck's sake, she's chained to the fucking pillar! Goddamn it, this is the worst orgy ever...

Well there’s her I guess, but for fuck’s sake, she’s chained to the fucking pillar! Goddamn it, this is the worst orgy ever…

While everyone is all orgy-pated and not paying attention, our three heroes move into position, ready to begin the slaughter. Moments later, Valeria sets the gauzy curtains afire, Subotai slashes the gimp-mask guy’s throat, and we are off to the fuckin’ races. There are a couple of problems with what has come to be called the “orgy battle” however. As the thematic center of the movie, it is nonetheless kind of mechanical and predictable. No one — and I mean no one – even causes our heroes to break a sweat. Sword-wielding mooks rush up, there’s a clang-clang, and then our hero slashes the bad guy across the gut or throat, he falls and the next one runs up… clang-clang, stab… clang-clang, stab… Though the choreography and swordplay are fun, they are also kind of rote and mechanical. Still, with its piles of dead bodies, booming Poledouris score and exciting setting, it’s still impressive.

Now if Thulsa Doom had looked like THIS for most of the movie instead of a somewhat paternal middle-aged black man, THAT would have been a hell of a lot scarier.

Now if Thulsa Doom had looked like THIS for most of the movie instead of a somewhat paternal middle-aged black man, THAT would have been a hell of a lot scarier.

The guards are also apparently members of the Hong Kong villains union, forced to attack one at a time while their hordes of fellows mill around in the background, wondering what the hell to do. No wonder so many cultist corpses stack up… Their group battle tactics just plain suck. Things pick up when Thorgrim and Rexor appear. As Valeria incapacitates and hog-ties the princess (ooh, girl-on-girl bondage action), Conan upends the cauldron of human stew on the bad guys, demonstrating that the only reason it was so big and heavy was so that the heroes could use it as a weapon. Rexor sees Conan, alive and hardy, with the blood of a dozen or so mooks dripping from his sword, mutters “You!” and battle is joined.

Jesus CHRIST, what a fucking mess! Are we gonna have to clean up AGAIN?

Jesus CHRIST, what a fucking mess! Are we gonna have to clean up AGAIN?

It’s disappointingly short, and it ends after only a few exchanges between the combatants. Trying to smack Conan, Thorgrim accidentally hits the big central column with his big-ass hammer, causing a big chunk to land of Rexor’s head, felling the entire column and allowing Conan to follow his companions back into the cave with the princess. Valeria engages in some more clang-clang, stab… clang-clang, stab as they escape, but eventually they get back to the gorge, mount up with the princess in tow and ride for freedom. None of this is to Thulsa Doom’s liking. Back in human form, and in a completely different set of clothes, he helps Rexor to his feet.

Heh-heh. Me break big rock. Heh-heh.

Heh-heh. Me break big rock. Heh-heh.

“Infidel defilers!” he says, showing a serious overabundance of sour grapes. “They shall all drown in lakes of blood. Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark. Now they will learn why they fear the night.” Honestly, his Doomship is overstating the case just a little bit, because apparently “drown in lakes of blood” means “I’m going to turn a snake into an arrow and shoot Valeria,” which he does, and our bold, blonde pirate-lass doesn’t make it out of the gorge alive. Cradled in Conan’s loving arms, she whispers “The Wizard! I told him I would pay the cost! Hold me! Kiss me. Let me breathe my last breath into your mouth.”

Well, honestly, that’s kind of icky, but Conan as always says nothing and she’s gone. Looks like Thulsa Doom has yet another strike against him. That night they rest Valeria on a funeral pyre (dressed in a really awesome suit of black leather armor that we haven’t seen before), and our surviving heroes watch, pretty much agreeing that Thulsa Doom is dead meat, snakes or no snakes. Subotai brushes away tears and the Wizard asks why he’s crying.

Yeah, Valeria kicks so much ass in this movie. Too bad she has to die.

Yeah, Valeria kicks so much ass in this movie. Too bad she has to die.

“He is Conan, the Cimmerian,” Subotai replies. “He won’t cry. So I cry for him.” As he watches the flames, Conan pulls off his slave-wheel necklace and throws it away, then hangs the Eye of the Serpent from his neck. Yeah, Thulsa Doom is totally fucked. The next day Conan chains the princess to one of the monoliths and begins to fortify the ancient ruins. “He will kill you!” the princess declares, ever clueless. “He has seen your fires, and when he comes for me he will kill you!” Conan, true to his performance so far, does not dignify this with an reply.

My love... I will avenge you... And I'm... I'm sorry I only said four words to you for the entirety of our relationship...

My love… I will avenge you… And I’m… I’m sorry I only said four words to you for the entirety of our relationship…

As they prepare, Conan reminisces about picking blueberries with his father, and for all his thick accent, he does a pretty good job with it. They gather up weapons from the old warriors, dig pit traps, set stakes, build traps and generally get the place ready for slaughter. And well they do, for soon Thulsa Doom and his minions are on their way.

Once more, Thulsa Doom shows himself to be the most inept evil dark lord since Lord Voltan in Hawk the Slayer, for his words again don’t really match his actions. They’d drown in lakes of blood, he promised. They would learn why they feared the night, he declared. Given such assertions, I’d expect armies of black-clad assassins, summoned demons and creatures of the night to assail our heroes and pursue them to the ends of the earth, creeping in shadows and attacking when they least expect it.

Let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! All six of us!

Let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! All six of us!

Nope. It’s just Thulsa Doom and a dozen or so of his already-beaten mooks (apparently all that’s left of his once-mighty horde), with Rexor and Thorgrim along for comic relief. Does anyone expect them to do any better than the last batch? In the words of Mystery Science Theater in response to the evil Lord Phantom of Krankor: “The fool! He has defeated us many times! What makes him think he can do it again?”

Now, as Thulsa’s less-than-impressive multitude draws near (why didn’t he call up his thousands of acolytes to go kill the infidels, anyway? No, never mind… that would have been logical), Conan turns his eyes skyward and utters the best line of the entire movie.

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad, why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many — that’s what’s important. Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!

In his early days as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger's approach to the legislature was much more direct and less nuanced than in later years.

In his early days as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approach to the legislature was much more direct and less nuanced than in later years.

Well said, big guy. When I first saw this movie at the Clackamas Town Center Cinema so very, very long ago, that line got a round of applause. Despite this movie’s flaws (and there are many), occasionally we hear the voice of Robert E. Howard, speaking to us across the gulf of years with the voice of Conan.

The enemy’s cavalry tactics in rough, restricted terrain prove disastrous from the get-go. Men are cut from saddles. Horses go tumbling (and unfortunately, several horses were killed in this scene and when asked about it, director Milius just laughed it off, saying they hurt more people than horses). Conan and Subotai spring out, stab or hack at their foes, then vanish. By my count, Thulsa Doom loses 18 warriors in just under three minutes of screen time. I don’t think the English at Agincourt did that well. By this time, with a few minor exceptions, the bad guys are down to Thulsa Doom (lurking nearby and watching like the coward that he is), Rexor and Thorgrim.

Conan and Rexor (clad in another Ron Cobb armor set, this with a rather Celtic-looking helmet crest) duke it out — Rexor knocks Conan for a loop, then Conan cuts Rexor’s horse out from under him (and I’m sorry to say the shot looks like the poor beast broke its neck in the fall — it certainly couldn’t have done it any good), then scrambles into the ruins. Meanwhile, Subotai is busy mopping up, killing off the last few of Doom’s mooks. He almost gets stabbed, but the Wizard shows up with a spear and saves him. “I did it!” the Wizard shouts, unsteadily. “With my spear!”

Rexorfalls1 Rexorfalls2 Rexorfalls3 Rexorfalls4

Yes folks... Watch animal cruelty as it happens as the stuntman's horse gets tripped.

Yes folks… Watch animal cruelty as it happens as the stuntman’s horse gets tripped.

Back in the ruins, Thorgrim is creeping along with his bigass hammer, and sees Conan’s helmet sticking up behind a rock and just as we’re asking “Oh, god — is he going to fall for that old trick?”, he falls for it (maybe it wasn’t such an old trick during the Hyborian Age). He clobbers the helmet, triggering one of the traps and ending up impaled on a big wooden stake. Good night, Sweet Thorgrim. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Unfortunately while Conan is gazing in triumph at his foe, the not-yet-dead Rexor rushes him and sends him tumbling. Conan falls, Rexor has the advantage, draws back for the killing blow, but suddenly, from out of nowhere…

Now, THIS never happened back when I was playing in the '67 Superbowl...

Now, THIS never happened back when I was playing in the ’67 Superbowl…

Clang! A sword blocks Rexor’s blow, then slashes him across the eyes, blinding him and sending him staggering back. Conan stares in amazement at the image of Valeria, standing there in kind of silly-looking mirrored Valkyrie armor (wings on her helmet and everything), as she coolly asks him, “Do you want to live forever?” and vanishes, allowing Conan to finish off Rexor with huge splashes of blood, shattering his father’s sword (which Rexor still carries) in the process. Symbolism, anyone?

Only for you, Conan of Cimmeria, my truest love and faithful companion, would I return to the mortal realm wearing such a goofy costume.

Only for you, Conan of Cimmeria, my truest love and faithful companion, would I return to the mortal realm wearing such a goofy costume.

(And yes, this scene is from Howard as well — it comes at the end of Queen of the Black Coast when Conan’s lover the pirate queen Belit returns from the dead to save him. The grand REH remix continues.) Seeing which way the wind is blowing, Thulsa Doom gallops away, despite the princess’ pleas that he not leave her. He pauses briefly to draw one of his snake arrows and aim it at her, however. God, what a dick this guy is.

Luckily for the princess, the noble Subotai leaps into the path of the arrow, deflecting it with his shield and proving to that dumb princess that you shouldn’t hang out with those stupid hippy gurus — they’ll just turn you into a mindless, drug-addled sex slave and then try to kill you with a snake turned into an arrow. Conan now holds the broken remnants of his father’s sword along with his own Atlantean blade and lifts them up to the sky in a grudging tribute to his grim god. If the movie had ended there, I think it would have been fine. Conan has triumphed, banished the ghosts of his past, and his arch-enemy has escaped. But no, we’ve still got a little ways to go.

As my spiritual guide and guru is currently trying to kill me with a poisonous snake transformed into an arrow, I am SERIOUSLY rethinking my whole membership in the Set cult.

As my spiritual guide and guru is currently trying to kill me with a poisonous snake transformed into an arrow, I am SERIOUSLY rethinking my whole membership in the Set cult.

That night Thulsa Doom — who is now almost entirely bereft of minions, both competent and incompetent — apparently snaps and calls his acolytes to a big love-in, where he addresses them from his balcony, as Conan sneaks into the temple with the help of his now-ally princess, who distracts Doom’s remaining handful of guards, letting Conan stab them. (I want to note that my version of the movie is the director’s cut, in which the ending is a little longer, and actually makes much more sense than the theatrical version, which just has Conan show up on the balcony behind Thulsa Doom with no explanation and no help from the princess.)

Outside Doom is genuinely losing it, raving to his followers. “The purging is at last at hand. Day of Doom is here. All that is evil, all their allies; your parents, your leaders, those who would call themselves your judges; those who have lied and corrupted the Earth, they shall all be cleansed. You, my children, are the water that will wash away all that has gone before. In your hands you hold my life. The gleam in the eye of Set. This flame will burn away the darkness. Burn you the way to PARADISE!!!”

Given how seriously you guys have failed me in all the important spiritual aspects of my life, I have no objection to Conan sneaking up behind me and slitting all your throats.

Given how seriously you guys have failed me in all the important spiritual aspects of my life, I have no objection to Conan sneaking up behind me and slitting all your throats.

Okay, he’s no Jeremy Irons, but the cheese has definitely slid off of Thulsa Doom’s cracker. Exactly what he means by all this is unclear. Is he sending them out to conquer? To go murder their parents? To set themselves on fire? It’s not certain, but hey… Doom is clearly fucking batshit insane. Whatever Doom’s plan is, it’s interrupted by the appearance of Conan, loaded for bear and carrying the still-dangerous remnants of his father’s sword.

Doom doesn’t seem surprised. “My child. You have come to me, my son. For who now is your father if it is not me? Who gave you the will to live? I am the wellspring from which you flow. When I am gone, you will have never been. What will your world be without me? My son?”

I am the resurrection and the light... No, wait. I'm actually just some asshole who runs a snake cult and claims to be 1,000 years old. I guess you can all go home now.

I am the resurrection and the light… No, wait. I’m actually just some asshole who runs a snake cult and claims to be 1,000 years old. I guess you can all go home now.

In short — “Conan, I am your father. Search your feelings. You know it to be true!” Hey, good thing James Earl Jones didn’t get typecast back in the 70s and 80s, huh? Conan considers this, and actually looks as if he might be buying it. The princess and all the acolytes stare, wondering which way our barbarian will go. I think we all know the answer to that one. Deciding that he’s not taking any more of this mystical mumbo-jumbo hippy shit, Conan then slashes Thulsa’s neck with the stump of his father’s sword, then hacks his head off completely, holding it up to the crowd like a prize turkey before throwing it down the steps.

Thulsa Doom takes a hit right in the juicebox.

Thulsa Doom takes a hit right in the juicebox.

He’s slain their messiah! He’s an evil infidel! He has destroyed everything they believe in and hold sacred! The angry mob of acolytes rises up as one, storming the temple with blood in their eyes, forcing Conan into a night of desperate, bloody struggle against impossible odds… Well, no. They don’t actually do that. After watching Conan murder the man that they have all been brainwashed to worship as god and father, the cultists all throw their torches into the reflecting pond and walk away. Yup. They just walk away. Within 30 seconds, the temple is empty save for Conan, the princess and a pond full of dead torches. Where did they go? It’s a mystery that will probably never be solved.

Hey, hippies! I got your peace and love right here!

Hey, hippies! I got your peace and love right here!

Conan then walks down the steps and throws a big brazier back up on the balcony, thus setting a stone temple on fire. Crom has granted another miracle. And that, pretty much, is the end of Conan the Barbarian. He rides away with the hot princess (one wonders exactly what happens on the trip home) and the narrator reads from the closing crawl, superimposed over the image of Conan upon the throne of Aquilonia, “So did Conan return the wayward daughter of King Osric to her home. And having no further concern, he and his companions sought adventure in the west. Many wars and feuds did Conan fight. Honor and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand… And this story shall also be told!”

Boy, that stone temple sure caught fire fast, didn't it?

Boy, that stone temple sure caught fire fast, didn’t it?

Well no, not really. Although Arnold signed to play up to four Conan movies, only this and its weak sequel Conan the Destroyer were ever released, and Conan remained absent from the silver screen until 2011′s disastrous outing Conan the Barbarian starring Jason Momoa drove the last nail in the coffin of hopes for a definitive film version of Robert E. Howard’s barbarian. We’ll be inspecting that particular gem in my next column, which hopefully will be done much sooner than this one.

What are we to make of this, the first of two movie Conans? I think that this version is a mixed bag. If seen as a generic swords-and-sorcery movie about a guy who just happens to be named Conan but has no other real connection to Howard’s Conan, it’s a pretty decent piece of work. It’s got all the right elements in just about the right measure and I’d hazard to say it’s one of the finest of its genre (see my ratings below).

Unfortunately, with the exception of one really bad sequel, we never did get to hear that particular story.

Unfortunately, with the exception of one really bad sequel, we never did get to hear that particular story.

As the definitive screen version of Conan the Barbarian, I say no fucking way. Only passing lip service was paid to the actual Howard stories, consisting of some scenes taken from a half-dozen or so different works, some of (Worms of the Earth, for example) not Conan stories at all. Conan’s entire cinematic origin story is dreadful — Conan was never a slave or a pit fighter, his village was not destroyed by raiders, his father wasn’t killed, he never went adventuring in search of revenge, and Thulsa Doom never appeared in a single Conan story — he was a villain from the King Kull tales, set thousands of years earlier. Valeria was a pirate and they adventured together in one story, Red Nails. And so on. I know a lot of this is nitpicking, but I’m a purist, and all the monkeying with a perfectly good set of stories and characters really bothers me.

Well, at least we never had to put up with cheap, shitty Conan action figures... Oh, wait... Never mind.

Well, at least we never had to put up with cheap, shitty Conan action figures… Oh, wait… Never mind.

There are other areas where the character doesn’t jibe with his literary antecedent. For example, I think that REH’s Conan would have strenuously objected to the wizard saving his life through sorcery, especially since it cost Valeria her’s.  I can envision him snarling at the wizard “You should have let me die, sorcerer! Not begone, and be grateful that I let you live!” or something. I don’t really see Conan hanging out with a wizard anyway, since sorcery in the original tales is almost always portrayed as a dark and corrupting force, and its practitioners are at best amoral and at worst utterly evil and sadistic.

Despite this, Conan the Barbarian does a great job of capturing the look and feel, the spirit and heart of Howard’s writings, and coupled with that lush, unbelievable score, is a more than decent film. I just don’t think it truly portrays Howard’s hero as he was written and as he exists in our imaginations.

With the exception of the printed word and comics, the media hasn’t been all that kind to Conan. As noted, the next two cinematic versions of the barbarian were pretty awful, and an attempted live action TV series, Conan the Adventurer, was a pale imitation of the Hercules/Xena style of low-budgeted television fantasy. Having watched a couple of episodes one wonders whether the creators actually bothered to flip through a Conan story or two before writing it, and the show died a well-deserved death after one season. It is missed by no one.

You have GOT to be fucking kidding me...

You have GOT to be fucking kidding me…

And then there was Conan the Adventurer, the animated series. Holy shit.

Conan! The mightiest warrior ever! His quest — to undo the spell of living stone cast upon his family by driving the evil serpent-men back to another dimension! And vanquishing their leader, the cruel wizard Wrath-Amon! 

Fortunately, the animated Conan fared no better than his TV counterpart and today we’re mercifully free of its influence. I might review that one some day, assuming I’m equipped with enough Whippits and Jack Daniels to get through an entire episode.

And so John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, for better or worse, remains the best portrayal of Robert E. Howard’s hero to date, and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

And with that, I bid you farewell. I shall return — much sooner than last time, I hope, with more fun and eventually a review of the 2011 Conan the Barbarian, which was both better and worse than this particular outing. Fight on! And now, the ratings:


Sword and Sorcery Rating:

4Swords_small

4 Broadswords

Yup, this one’s the gold standard for S&S movies. Conan the Barbarian has it all — violence, sex, swords, wizardry, heroes, heroines, pecs, breasts, armor, giant snakes… It receives the coveted 4 sword rating, and well-deserved.

Comedy Rating:

2Swords_small

2 Broadswords

There are a few funny moments — Conan slugging the camel, Conan falling into his porridge, Thorgrim accidentally knocking down the pillar, etc. But for the most part, the flick is pretty grim and serious, lacking comedy both intentional and non-intentional (which is not really that bad a thing).

Violence Rating:

4Swords_small

4 Broadswords

My, my is does this movie have a body count. For the most part our heroes don’t have any problem battling Thulsa Doom’s inept legions, and fake stage blood galore is shed. You have to wonder how violent this movie was going to be before the studio demanded cuts.

Titillation Rating:

3Swords_small3 Broadswords

Lots of nakedness and a pretty decent amount of sex, even if the orgy scene is a lot tamer on reviewing than it once was. Conan and Valeria don’t exactly set the screen on fire, but they have a decent enough love scene, and there’s lots of naked breasts and male pectorals for most discerning viewers.

Awesomeness Rating:

4Swords_small

4 Broadswords

Yeah, this may be the very first movie I’ve reviewed to get the full four sword rating. For all its flaws, its lack of faithfulness to the original stories, its goofy elements and its jarringly modern portrayal of Doom’s cult as a bunch of drugged-out hippies, this remains one of the finest and most awesome fantasy movies ever. And much of the credit goes to the amazing, epic, haunting and moving score by the late great Basil Poledouris. One listen to his amazing compositions for this movie will rouse your spirits and make you want to wade, sword in hand, into hopeless battle so that the gods themselves will see and approve.

 

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…