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Thursday, February 26, 2009
The release of the 1982 John Milius film Conan The Barbarian was a milestone in the fantasy/adventure genre, ushering in a new era of films about barbarians, wizards, swordplay, and scantily-clad women in distress. Although the term "sword and sandal" is usually used to describe B-movies of Italian manufacture in the 50's through the 70's (kind of like "spaghetti western"), I like to think that the "sword and sandal" genre experienced a brief renaissance in the U.S. in the 1980's, made cooler by the addition of sci-fi and fantasy elements. Here's a quick Top 5 list of films that encompass this second sword and sandal movement, movies so cheezy, so 80's, and so damn AWESOME that everyone should be forced to watch ALL of them. ALL the time.
PS: I realize Highlander should be on this list, but that movie deserves a post all to itself. I'm just sayin'.
5) MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987)
Above: He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) is punished with a lazer-whip. AWESOME.
Okay, so maybe Masters of the Universe the movie wasn't completely faithful to the comic book and cartoon that preceded it. Maybe the script and plot are corny and contrived. Maybe it's only got a 13% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But sometimes you've just gotta go with your gut.
I love this movie, despite its flaws. Even though they replaced the lovable Orko with the creepy Gwildor (below, pictured with Man-At-Arms and Teela), I still dig it.
There, I said it.
Masters of the Universe took the whole "sword and sandal" thing, brought it into our modern world (1987) via a portal in space, decked it out in sweet sci-fi costumes, and fed it back to us, a spaced-out spin on a classic theme. Sets and costumes were designed by the French conceptual artist Moebius (betcha didn't know that), giving the whole film an avant garde-meets-comic book feel. Another piece of trivia: A sequel was planned so the costumes were kept, but when it fell through the costumes were sold off wholesale and reused in the post-apocalyptic Van Damme classic Cyborg.
So yeah, technically Masters is a "bad" movie, but do the math: Dolph Lundgren + lazers + Frank Langella as a weirdly effeminate Skeletor + awesome costumes and set design = 1987's BEST film based on a children's cartoon. It even featured Anthony DeLongis (above, left), one of Brad Wesley's henchmen from Road House, as the character "Blade" (below). So what's up NOW!?
4) DEATHSTALKER (1983)
Deathstalker, a low-budget Argentinian Conan rip-off, has absolutely everything you need in an 80's sword and sandal/adventure film: Brutal battles between beefy barbarians, evil wizards (right), TONS of boobies, and a plot involving some sort of quest to retrieve a sword, an amulet, and a chalice. If you're not completely stoked on that last sentence, get the Hell off of this blog NOW. You're dead to me.
Deathstalker (the character) is a warrior of stunning physique and questionable morals, who usually spends his time killing, stealing, eating dogs (yep), and forcing himself on buxom maidens. He is the classic anti-hero, a bad dude in a bad world just trying to get his however he can. Although it's an exploitation movie at heart, Deathstalker is one of those so-bad-it's-a-fucking-masterpiece films that only comes along every couple of years, a film so vital to its genre that it's hard to imagine the genre itself without it. It's really no wonder that they ended up making, like, 17 sequels.
Below: Deathstalker prepares to either do battle or get laid, as usual.
3) WILLOW (1988)
Everyone's seen Willow a couple times, so rather than giving you all some inane plot summary or heaping unneccesary praise on top of this one, how 'bout I just share some useless Willow trivia? OK? OK.
-George Lucas worked on the story for Willow for 15 years before production began, beginning all the way back in 1972. It was originally titled Munchkins.
-Wicket W. Warwick, lovable Ewok from Return of the Jedi, was given his name as a tribute to Willow star Warwick Davis, who was also inside the Ewok suit.
-A deleted scene featured Willow battling a freakish shark-monster in a lake.
-Two notable villains from the film were named after film critics who had given Lucas' films bad reviews in the past: General Kael after Pauline Kael, and Ebersisk the two-headed dragon after Siskel and Ebert.
On the subject of General Kael (below), I've just gotta say that he had the Metal-est costume in film history, rivaled only by The Kurgan from Highlander.
2) KRULL (1983)
Krull is fucking METAL.
Consider it: An evil entity known only as The Beast travels around a mystical kingdom in a flying black castle, dispatching his hordes (known as Slayers) to wreak havoc on the realm with swords and lazer guns. The film also features a giant spider (below), a cyclops (above, right) that can see the feature (including his own death!), and a scene in which the protagonists thunder accross the landscape astride mighty Fire Mares (basically Clydesdales that can run so fast they shoot fire out of their asses!)
Here's another tasty tidbit: Krull was originally intended to be a film adaptation of the Dungeons And Dragons roleplaying game (Dungeons And Dragons was actually the working title through production), although a licensing dispute put the kaibosh on the idea before the film's release.
Basically, Krull fucking OWNS just about any other fantasy movie, and although it was a box office failure (most great movies are), it is a must-see gem of the genre. So there.
1) THE BEASTMASTER/BEASTMASTER 2 (1982/1991)
Wow. Beastmaster. Pretty much one of the greatest films of all time, B.M. told the story of the hella-toned warrior Dar (Marc Singer) and his magical quest to infiltrate a castle (which seems to be a popular theme in this genre) and retrieve some sort of treasure or save a princess or something. Much like the quintessential party film Bachelor Party, this movie is so fucking good that I can never remember how it ends, no matter how many times I watch it. It's honestly the whole "talking to the animals" part that does it for me. Any barbarian that enlists lions, panthers, eagles, and (especially) ferrets to help him on his quest is a Bro in my book.
Just read the goddamn movie poster: "Born with the courage of an eagle, the strength of a black tiger, and the power of a god" (!!!). Dude, eagles have hella courage! Black tigers are hella strong. Fuck yeah, Dar!
Trailer for The Beastmaster:
Special mention must be given to the 1991 oddity known as Beastmaster 2. In this amazing sequel, Dar travels (via magical vortex, duh) to modern-day Los Angeles, to do battle with street thugs and drug dealers. Although the whole "medieval swordsman in modern society" angle was already played in Masters of the Universe 4 years earlier, it still works, and Dar's adventures in L.A. get their fair share of thrills (and laughs).
Don't bother with Beastmaster 3. Complete garbage.
Closing scene and end credits of Beastmaster 2: AWESOME.
And then there's this, just because I felt like it:
Posted by Shelby Cobras at 1:54 PM