It's always hard to figure out a filmmaker's intent when it comes to certain types of movies. In the case of a classic, a timeless effort of cinematic splendor, you can usually see pretty clearly the designs of the writer/director. It resonates off the screen and onto the back of your brain in clear, definable ways. Similarly, the cesspool of the flop also gives away its motives rather convincingly. The main reason why films fail rest squarely on the objectives it's consistently missing. Action wants to get your adrenalin pumping while horror hopes to provoke the willies and work on your heebie jeebies. Comedy should cause a cacophony of laughter while drama should tug at your heartstrings and bring a much needed cathartic tear to your eye.
And then there is something like Wizards of the Demon Sword. Fred Olen Ray, the director behind this oddball opus is usually pretty specific about what he wants his films to be. In movies like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Alien Dead and Biohazard, he hoped to mix gore with goofiness to create a kind of misguided macabre. He has loaded up his celluloid with 'A', 'T' and any other initial of naughtiness you care to include to forge some sensational softcore epics with names like Attack of the 60 foot Centerfolds, Bikini Carwash Company and Masseuse. But what he intended to achieve with the underwhelming, half-baked peplum peculiarity of this sword and sorcery slum job is debatable at best, brain bending at worst. For an adventure film, it is fairly flat. For a comedy, the jokes die quickly and painfully. And any erotic is removed the minute Lyle Waggoner shows up in his far too tanned George Hamilton-me-downs.
While strolling through the medieval underbrush one day, Thane runs into a pre-rape ragamuffin named Melina. Turns out she is the daughter of the sorcerer Ulric, keeper of the magical dagger of Aktar. This blessed blade can supposedly give the possessor unlimited power to delve into the dark side of magic, but there is a catch. Just like any other supernatural device, there is a key to getting it to work, and only Ulric knows what it is. So it's this wizard's dumb luck to be captured and tortured by Lord Khoura, who wants the secret to the special stabber.
Now Melina is out to rescue him, but she's finding it difficult, especially when having to stop every few feet to fight off yet another band of randy marauders. Thane agrees to help her, and they head of to find the Sear of Roebuck (...right) and the way to defeat Khoura. As fate would have it, Khoura has come to the conclusion that Melina has something to do with the enchanted utensil, and he orders his guards to kidnap her. It will be up to Thane and his last act included sidekick Damon to rescue Ulric and Melina and keep Khoura from getting his mitts on the supernatural stiletto.
Going into a typical Fred Olen Ray production, you expect certain things - and you gladly accept them. You know his script will be less than perfect, and yet you wait with a sick sense of anticipation for the Ed Wood via eight grade composition class couplets. You realize that his budget keeps him from casting out of the A list (of the B, C and D catalogs, for that matter) and still you smile when you see washed up once-was's like Lyle Waggoner, Russ Tamblyn and Lawrence Tierney. You understand that he will be fleshing out the rest of his movie with a literal interpretation of that word. Either the skin will come from dozens of scantily clad babes running around in various stages of nubile splendor, or it will derive from dozens of dismemberments and dissections, the killer's knife exposing the epidermis underneath the outer layers as well.
So it's kind of discombobulating when Wizards of the Demon Sword comes along and does almost none of these things. Certainly the script blows moose berries - it's a mangled mess of mysticism and mumbling that makes no sense, and couldn't even if forced to at knifepoint. Yes, the artists formerly known as a Hollywood heavy, a dancing gang member, and the handsome space saver of a talented television company are present and accounted for, each one with their ready hand reaching out for the paltry paycheck during takes. But our first indication that things are not right in this mindless Middle Earth is the lack of lewdness. Aside from a single scene where our lead actress drops blou, there is no other nudity in the film (and we even visit a harem/brothel during the quest). To make matters worse, Ray avoids bloodletting as well, giving us a few drops of the vaunted vein juice before moving on to another eccentric set piece.
Wizards of the Demon Sword is all stumbling strangeness. It is some Conan the Barbarian based brouhaha that also touches on the prehistoric (yep, there are stop motion animation dinosaurs in this film...don't bother asking why) and the paranormal (there's lots of talk about 'unleashing a figure of ultimate darkness'). It mixes arcane old English phrasing with lots of modern slang, and consistently introduces obstacles for our heroes to hurtle without a single stitch of narrative rhyme or plot logic. At many times throughout this overlong effort, you can sense Ray adding another element (the visit to the Sear, the arrogant sidekick) to pad the running time. B-movies usually cushion their length with lots and lots of lovin', but Wizards of the Demon Sword doesn't want to natter on the nookie. It avoids carnality and all its cousins - nudity, titillation and sexiness.
In its place we have a beefcake bubblehead who wields his broad sword like an elderly resident in an assisted living facility handles their walker. Blake Bahner may be famous for...well, for nothing really, but manipulating armament is not going to be high on his performer's resume. Indeed, all the fights here are slow motion monotony with moves telegraphed so far in advance that even the Federal Government couldn't miss them. When Dan Speaker - an actual stunt coordinator - shows up as the dopey Damon, we get a pair of rapier retards who seem to be doing a kind of homoerotic ballet when they should be brandishing death from the end of their arms. All the action in Wizards of the Demon Sword is stupid, staged by out of practice paraplegics and filmed in a kind of static camera concept that literally lets us see the actors moving their lips to count cues.
Then there are the actual STARS. These people are supposedly professionals, used to memorizing lines and legitimizing a character with their craft. But aside from Tierney, who really does look like he could peddle flesh in the Middle Ages (even if he sounds like he's barking out sexual epithets to Mr. Pink) everyone else here suffers from modern mindset syndrome. They just seem too contemporary, too present-day to pass as wizards and warlocks, serfs and sears. Instead, they seem like the kind of well-scotched eggs that one finds hanging out by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Waggoner in particular still has the stench of those surreal penis dysfunction infomercials that he did a few years back, and Tamblyn must have been told to deliver his dialogue and then disappear into the woodwork. It's like his ghost, not his actual being, is playing the role of Ulrich. The DVD cover touts the appearance of The Hills Have Eyes' Michael Berryman, but be warned. He is in one scene, and then carried away, his blink and you'll miss it cameo over and done with.
This leaves one lurching and limp over just what Fred Olen Ray was trying to accomplish. If it's jesting, the humor is not hard enough, and mostly unintentional. If it's exploits, slumbering snails deliver a far more nail biting experience. If it's fantasy, the fake-ass dinos won't be making folks forget Frodo and his Oscar-worthy pals anytime soon. And if it's for the fun of seeing bawdy wenches and pumped up meat bags running around in slinky, sexy animal skins, you'd be better served by any number of swinging 60s Euro-peplum. Honestly, Wizards of the Demon Sword is occasionally fun, never taking itself seriously enough to get bogged down in total badness. We keep expecting more from Fred Olen Ray - more blood, more boobs, and more beasts. Instead, we get standard sandal and sword shtick that barely satisfies our lust for loincloths.
Troma can be a tad tricky when it comes to their DVD releases. Some of their films look fantastic, while others appear transferred from the worst original elements possible. With that in mind, it is safe to say that Wizards of the Demon Sword looks better than most of the product they have put out recently. The 1.33:1 full frame image is flat, plain and lacking in significant vibrancy, but the colors appear correct and the obvious added stock footage of frolicking dinosaurs doesn't stick out to badly from the rest of the under-funded production design. The best way to describe this print is to argue that, in this day and age of digital detail, we get a made for video variation on the concept. The visuals are underwhelming, and don't make the most of the medium.
Troma's track record with sonics is also very sketchy. Usually, the music overwhelms the dialogue and the overmodulation of both becomes eardrum draining. But here, the score is kept in the background, and the actors all converse with clarity and decipherability. This is Dolby Digital Stereo at its most mediocre and mundane, but for anyone except those who care passionately about the aural aspects of their DVD releases, this will be an adequate auditory offering.
Thankfully, Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman has lost the generic "fill in the blank" intro he used for what seemed like every single DVD released by the company last year. In its place is a nice, rather silly send-off where he compares Wizards of the Demon Sword to several Academy Award winning films. The rest of the bonus material is middling - a text menu option with biographies on Ray and Tierney, and Troma's usual collection of merchandising.
Similar to the difficulty one has in interpreting Fred Olen Ray's motives with this movie, so comes the attempt at an actual rating. This is not the worst movie Troma - or Ray, for that matter - has ever released, so "Skip It" is not warranted. On the opposite end, this is about as far from a "DVD Talk Collector's Series" or a "Highly Recommended" as the entire oeuvre of Uwe Boll. So now we are stuck in that quizzical quagmire between a rental and a recommendation. If you just have to see every epic ever made that resembles reject day at the local Renaissance Fair, if the thought of Lyle Waggoner out dragging Harvey Korman in the drama queen department tickles your freak flag fancy, if human shaped suet wielding wooden weapons in ersatz athletics is your idea of a fun night at the flicks, by all means, give Ray's ridiculous romp a chance. But anyone else looking for some manner of intent in their entertainment would be better served with a strict Blockbuster borrowing. There is nothing worse than a film that you can't figure out and Wizards of the Demon Sword will baffle the bejesus out of you.
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