"The Sword and the Sorcerer," a pulp-to-celluloid fantasy which opened yesterday, is not merely a low-budget fiasco, it's low-bid city. The costumes look as though they had been borrowed from amateur theaters; the weapons arsenal might intimidate Dennis the Menace; there are visual, verbal and musical cliche's adapted from every grade-B swashbuckler and historic film ever produced in Hollywood; and it suffers from inept direction (Albert Pyun), camera work (Joseph Mangine), editing, plotting and acting. It's so bad that it's not even good-bad. It makes "Conan the Barbarian" look like a Steven Spielberg film.
The plot goes something like this: A bad guy, Cromwell of Aragon (Richard Lynch), wants to conquer the world and does, except for the kingdom of Eh-Dan, which is ruled by good King Richard (Robert Tessier). So he gets a little help from dead-for-a-thousand-years demon Xusia (Richard Moll under a mask that looks like a topographical map of Mars). Xusia's bloody raising, including a spooky articulation of the wall of skulls on his casket, may be the film's highlight. Is Xusia happy to be woken up? Apparently not, because he gives the black witch whose magic raised him an intense look and her heart pops through her chest into his hand. This film is nothing if not literal.
With Xusia's powers, which we never actually see him use again, there's a bit more battle (represented by a few bodies lying about apre s le slaughter; remember, the budget barely reached seven figures). Princes are slain ("Bring the leech!" "It's too late"), followed by the slaughter of King Richard and his Queen (Nina Van Pallendt). The Boy (you knew there had to be A Boy) escapes, but not before grabbing a gigantic three-pronged sword, shooting off two gigantic spring-loaded blades and catching an arrow in his hand, causing him to be referred to as "the barbarian with the gauntlet of steel" by nubile and near-naked women when he shows up as the charmingly roguish mercenary Talon 11 years later. All of this takes up the first 10 of "Sword and Sorcerer's" 100 minutes.
Meantime, Cromwell has betrayed Xusia, so he's spent a paranoid decade waiting for the demon's revenge. Subplots involve the imprisonment of courageous Prince Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale) and his sister Princess Alana (Kathleen Beller); the brotheling of Talon's rugged mercenaries (who join forces with some literally gay buccaneers led by a dread-locked, musclebound and tongue-tied Rastafarian); the rebellion; the Machiavellian intrigues of Cromwell's adviser, Machelli (George Maharis); a deal whereby Talon will free Mikah for a night with Alana; the chase and capture of Talon (which looks suspiciously like a karate sequence in old clothes); a wedding feast that will turn to slaughter . . . in other words, "The Sword and the Sorcerer" has more action than most drive-in triple features, but they're delivered in machine-gun bursts that suggests kiddie-cartoon television.
Talon, a road gladiator played for barely surpressed chortles by "Nero Wolfe's" Lee Horsley, is a rather wooden cross between a bawdy Robin Hood, a resourceful Indiana Jones and an apathetic Blade Runner. And Beller is a true beauty but so lacking in character that when she speaks, you start looking for the Brooklyn Bridge in the background (though the film was shot entirely in Los Angeles).
What's good? Most of a climactic sequence which begins with Alana and the-bad-guy-who-turns-out-to-be-Xusia decending into the catacombs. Greg Cannom's "Wolfen"-like transformation is fairly startling, as is Cromwell and Talon's flashy sword fight (they were apparently wired with high-voltage swords which set off sparks on contact).
What's fun is to try and match up scenes to other movies, to predict plot twists and reaction dialogue, and to wonder how so many people achieved so little for so much. "The Sword and the Sorcerer" is neither sharp nor magical. And there's no "End" in sight; the last image warns that Talon will be back with further "Tales of the Ancient Empire." Sound familiar?