A couple of weekends ago, after a vigorous night of drinking and carrying on, I found myself idly scanning the cable channels, looking for something to help me fall asleep before the spinning walls caught up with me. I flipped past the abominable 1987 adaptation, Masters Of The Universe, and then flipped back to it, because I’d completely forgotten about it. The movie had been on for 20 minutes. I watched the entire remainder of it, fascinated and strangely enjoying myself.
There’s a great deal of fun to be had with the sword and sorcery genre, particularly for those of us who grew up with comic books, Dungeons & Dragons (both the RPG and the Saturday morning cartoon), the artwork of Frank Frazetta, and books by the likes of David Eddings, R.A. Salvatore, and the Weis/Hickman combo responsible for the Dragonlance novels (Raistlin forever, motherfuckers). Particularly in the 80’s, there were a host of films that dotted that landscape to try to capitalize on our unrepentant nerdiness, and while they were rarely, if ever, good films, they were (and are) all we had. There aren’t many modern equivalents — The Prince of Persia has an outside shot, but the remake of Clash Of The Titans just plain sucked.
I’m not talking about the irredeemably bad films. You won’t find the likes of In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale on here, because a) it’s completely and utterly devoid of value, and b) I’ll stab myself in the heart with an icepick before I list an Uwe Boll flick on a list of things I like. You won’t find any SyFy fare, or any sequels (and no Conan The Barbarian, because that’s in a class of awesome all of its own). Instead, I’m talking about those gloriously cheesy, silly, campy, often stupid but still fun as hell fantasy films that cater to the 10 year old inside of me.
They are cheesiliciously enjoyable, despite frequently being technically terrible and often critical and/or commercial flops. Yet there’s something about them that, when I find them on USA on a Saturday afternoon, I find myself cracking a beer and settling in for a bit of goofy, magical fun. Is it the impractical weaponry? The abysmal acting? The painful special effects? The scantily clad women? The frequently and inexplicably shirtless men? All of the above and more, I say.
So break out your Monster’s Manual, throw on your Dungeon Master’s hat and grab a drink. Here are the Ten Most Cheesilicious Sword And Sorcery Films Of The 80’s:
Willow (1988): Yes, it borrows heavily from Lord Of The Rings. Yes, the story is goofy, the effects are decidedly un-dazzling, and the dialogue, at times, makes you cringe. That said, it’s also one of the rare examples of good decision-making by George Lucas, meaning he had an idea, but let others do the heavy lifting in terms of screenplay and directing. Regardless of what you think… Warwick Davis! Val Kilmer in one of his top five roles, ever. The now-forgotten Joanne Whaley! Billy goddamn Barty! Directed by Opie Cunningham! I fucking love Willow.
Labyrinth (1986): Oof. This one is loved by many, inexplicably so. It’s so brutally 80’s cheesetastic, it’ll raise your cholesterol. David Bowie’s hair is the stuff of legend, a mythical monstrosity that Nic Cage has spent his entire life aspiring to. Jennifer Connolly, in her young and innocent days. The plot is bizarre (goblins and mazes and limbs all over the place and seriously, don’t ever drop acid and watch it. I mean it), but damn if it isn’t still an oddly beautiful movie. Plus, Jim Henson directed, and that wins unlimited nostalgia points. Also, did you know this existed?
The Neverending Story (1984): This is one of those films that many of us have fond memories of, and then we catch it on cable or dust off the DVD and then realize how insanely silly it is. Then, we forget that we re-watched it, and months or years pass, and the fond memories return. As they should, because it’s an adorable movie. With some really awful child acting… really awful. But it’s sweet, and the creatures are fascinating and fun and it’s actually rather scary if you’re a little one, with some surprisingly mature themes. Also, every year that I don’t get a luckdragon for Christmas is another year where I plan to someday wage war on the universe for being an asshole. Seriously. I want a luckdragon more than I want a jetpack.
Dragonslayer (1981): Possibly the best dragon movie ever made, not that that’s saying a fucking lot. When your competition is Reign Of Fire and Dragonheart, if you’re not at the top, you’re trapped at the bottom of a bucket of shit. But Dragonslayer had some badass effects in its day, that can still be pretty damn effective. Plus, the dragon’s name was Vermithrax Pejorative, and I don’t know why none of you ever picked that as a commenter handle. You goddamn slackers, I swear you’re worthless. Then again, it would probably trip our spam filters, since it sounds like an impotence pill. Dragonslayer has it all — visions, magic, exploding wizards, virgin sacrifice lotteries, swordplay, and of course, a big fucking dragon. Fun fact: Dragonslayer is directed by Matthew Robbins, who also directed *batteries not included and The Legend Of Billie Jean. Weird.
Hawk The Slayer 1980): Easily one of the weirder entries, Hawk The Slayer hits almost every sword and sorcery cliche there is. Magic swords (complete with mystical a mystical gem called, I shit you not, the “mindstone”), giants, elves, dwarves, a murderous wizard ridiculously named “Voltan,” played by Jack fucking Palance. It’s awful. It’s glorious. You thought Palance overacted in Batman? YOU KNOW NOTHING! Hawk The Slayer should be required viewing. They should ask about it at job interviews.
Krull (1983): Seriously, have any of you not seen Krull? How do you sleep at night if you haven’t? You disgust me. Because Krull is another whackadoo Fellowship ripoff, about a quest to destroy a great evil but first! You must gather together a group of unlikely freaks to do battle with you. In this case, a shapeshifting magician, a cyclops whose eye looks like it’s made of pudding, and Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane. It also has a teleporting fortress, a fancy-assed glaive called… um… The Glaive, forced marriages to creepy bad guy-things, and… aliens with laser guns. Krull is so mind-scrapingly bizarre, it has to be seen. You’ll love it. Or I’ll hate you. More.
Hercules (1983): Hercules, played by Lou Ferrigno. Sybil Danning as Ariadne. The Olympian gods live on the Moon. Despite it taking place in ancient times (at least, the parts that don’t take place on the fucking Moon), Hercules battles giant robots and there’s more pew! pew! than you could possibly believe. Ferrigno is terrible in this — he can’t act, fuck, he can barely speak, and his fight scenes are so painfully clumsy, they have to be seen to be believed. It’s a blast. It also inspired one of the greatest SNL skits ever (which alas, cannot be found on the internet. Believe me, I tried), starring Bill Murray as an out-of-shape Hercules. Regardless… just watch the trailer. You won’t regret it.
The Sword And The Sorcerer (1982): The protagonist’s name is Talon. He has a sword with three blades! Get it?! Also, the sword can fire the blades like projectiles (though I always wondered when he retrieved them and how they go back into the handle. These things keep me awake at night, people). As you may have surmised, there is also a sorcerer, who is up to no good (and is played by “Night Court’s” Richard Moll!). The Sword And The Sorcerer is utter trash. I probably watch it three times a year.
Clash Of The Titans (1981): The original, and one of the goofiest goddamn movies ever made. Mechanical owls, phenomenal stop-motion animation, and a cast that belongs in a goddamn Royal Shakespeare Company production (well, except for Harry Hamlin). Honestly, there’s nothing I can say that would be better than Ranylt’s delicious review. If you don’t love this movie, you’re dead inside, and not in the good way.
Beastmaster (1982): The mother of them all, the dumbest of the dumb, funnest of the fun, Beastmaster is just beautiful. Yes, I own it. Yes, it’s on cable every 20 minutes and I probably watch it once a month. I don’t care. It’s horrendously bad, but so, so fun. Marc Singer in a loincloth! Tanya Roberts (who can be seen in the nudie on the DVD)! He talks to ferrets and tigers and birds, oh my! He befriends a great big black man, who also wears a loincloth and will some day become an Admiral whose son was Jimmie Walker. Or something. RIP TORN, PEOPLE! RIP FUCKING TORN, with eyebrows made from the Devil’s nightmares. Strange bat-people without mouths! Long lost brothers, and… um… the hero getting it on with his cousin (squick!). It spawned two sequels, a TV series (oof) and this:
I say this without hyperbole: Beastmaster is the greatest movie in the history of the human race.