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Review: The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982) / Tales of an Ancient Empire (2009)

August 1, 2011

Did I mention that I love Sword and The Sorcerer to you yet?

It’s billed at IMDB as the first film Albert Pyun directed, and I expect the reason he keeps getting money for new projects despite his Uwe Boll-like reputation. I can recall seeing this at a grindhouse theater as a younger man, with crappy projection and all (God, I’m old.)

I always liked the setup that the writers (Tom Karnowski, John V. Stuckmeyer and Pyun himself ) gave this, as it’s not a “fantasy world”, but our world in the past where these events happen.

The short synopsis : Evil Cromwell (Richard Lynch) resurrects sorcerer Xusia (Richard Moll) in order to win the kingdom of Ehdan.

In killing the royal family Cromwell misses young prince Talon, and, deciding he doesn’t need Xusia anymore, leaves Xusia for dead. Eleven years later, Talon (Lee Horsely) returns for revenge and gets caught up in a rebellion against Cromwell with the sister of the only legitimate heir to the crown (Kathleen Beller) and Cromwell’s plans to assassinate the kings of the rest of the world. Turns out Xusia isn’t dead either…

Horsely plays Talon like he was Errol Flynn reincarnated. David Whitaker’s music sounds like an old Errol Flynn film. Old-school practical effects, like in an old Errol Flynn film. California actors (for the most part) affecting British accents like an old Errol Flynn film. Stunts like in an old Errol Flynn film. Toss in a few hot naked women for the foreign markets and a sword that shoots swords and no wonder it gets “highest grossing independent film of 1982”. Pyun also gets a lot of mileage out of running around one location (a hotel I mentioned in another review here.

He also reuses the crucifixion motif in Cyborg (great – another movie I have to review).

If I have to nitpick, there are some bits that I would have done differently. The cinematography is really dark, I hope due to budget rather than by design. This actor should have been replaced…

Could they have gotten anyone less like Lee Horsely?

Also, there seemed to be a little love interest subplot going between Cromwell’s consort and Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale) the “king” in exile. It gets spoiled in the film: I would’ve had them get together the end for a nice happy ending…like in an old Errol Flynn film.

Curious – Producer Brandon Chase takes the possessory credit here (“A Film By…”). Maybe because it’s Pyun’s first film?

Strongly recommended if you can catch it anywhere uncut.

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Now for the sequel promised almost thirty years ago. Oy gevalt. I badly wanted to like this, and have it a proper coda to the first movie, but it was not to be.

I guess I’ll start with the writing.

The short synopsis: Two girls “born the same day in the Empire. One in the palace, the other on the desolate Isle of Sorrow. One named Tanis…the other called Kara.” Tanis’ mother was the queen of Abelard, Kara’s gets turned into a vampire demon. They’re half sisters, sharing the same father. Evil sorceress comes back from the dead after soldiers arrive at a mysterious island. Evil vampiress is looking for revenge, Tanis must find her real father in order to save the kingdom (although the current queen just gives Tanis a twisty piece of metal to identify him with – she couldn’t give Tanis a name? Or was her mother told his name was “Biggus Dickus” or something?).

Anyway, Kara (evil sister) is turned into a succubus and tasked to kill Tanis. Tanis goes to the city of Douras and finds Aidan (Kevin Sorbo). Aidan and Tanis go looking for more siblings to fight vampiress, more talking by all parties involved, yada yada…where it ends makes it seem to be part 1, with more footage sitting on a hard drive somewhere.

Pyun picks vampires (Ok, called succubus in one place in the movie, but vampires) to be the bad guys? I’ve written before about how cheap vampires are to do, but that just seems like lazy writing. Plus – Pyun has the same problem with the vampire fangs that Kurt Wimmer did with Ultraviolet; they make some of the dialog hard to decipher.*

I had thought that Pyun was going to repeat the same basic story structure as Sword when he opens the movie with soldiers landing on a deserted isle. We’d be introduced to an actor (here Kevin Sorbo) and a MacGuffin, we’d get around to Talon, there’d be some adventuring, and Talon would pass the gauntlet (ha!) to the next generation. Why fool around with complicating things? Instead, we get what I think was simply pandering to the Direct-to-Video market. Minute after minute of (admittedly attractive) female vampires in various stages of undress, plot exposition, and stuff that isn’t swordfighting.

At least the sword makes a proper cameo…

I didn’t have a problem with Kevin Sorbo per se being in the movie. I had thought he was going to be Talon Light (and he has the acting chops to prove it) but it never went anywhere for me.

Also: Pyun has this prologue thing going on that mentions 24 tales but the film itself only does eight tales. Then, just to annoy me further, the film has intertitles telling us which tales this is. Frigging annoying.

The music: mostly horrible generic metal. Stuntwork: next to nonexistent.

And when Lee Horsely finally does make an appearance in the movie (at almost precisely the one hour mark) for his approximately 2 minute cameo…

He’s wearing that? He’s got the glove (maybe, we never get shown a good look) but Jesus… I hope to hell this is all a terrible dream – he’s wearing what looks to be a gold-painted piece of wax on his chest. And he’s billed as “The Adventurer” in the credits.

Good to know that Pyun still has the low-budget chops to pull any kind of movie off. Does some nice things like get some stock footage in places. Sadly, where he does use CGI and greenscreen they’re pretty bad. Granted, Pyun doesn’t have the budget Sword had, but then, if you didn’t think you could do the first film justice at all, why bother with the attempt?

* And did you ever notice the vampire fangs have to get bigger for them to be noticed on-screen at all? Just like a male porn actor’s Johnson has to be bigger than average just to get in the door…

ADDED: I wrote up the review for Tales before I did the one for Sword.  After rescreening, I can’t put my finger on why Sword is so much better.  Was it the added writing? The bigger budget? Or did Sword just catch lightning in a bottle?

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