Sword and Sorcery Collection:
I've been writing here long enough to know that I've probably already told this story numerous times - so forgive me - but it bears repeating when looking at this 'all night movie marathon' two-DVD set. Yep, you'll find me as a 14-year-old one night, long ago, watching crappy movies on cable TV with my buddies, at my good friend Dean's Uncle Ernie's apartment. There was pizza, there was soda, and ultimately there were half-asleep, stupefied boys struggling to remain conscious despite (or because of) the stultifying charms of Deathstalker. Now you, too, can relive my misspent youth if you care to slog through Deathstalker, Deathstalker II, Barbarian Queen and The Warrior and the Sorceress, all in one sitting. My early experience somehow convinced me that watching terrible movies late at night during a consumptive frenzy was a good thing. Now I'm pudgy and brain-dead. You've been warned.
There's another, far more valid reason to pack all these movies into one flipper-equipped keepcase, and that's the fact that these Roger Corman productions are all virtually the same movie! They share near identical plots, actors, and were all shot on the exact same sets built in Argentina. Oh yeah, they're all terrible too, so you may wind up with a fatal case of déjà vu or something.
Deathstalker (1983) may be the best of the worst, with Rick Hill tackling the title role. Barbi Benton shows up, as well as Lana Clarkson (now most famous for having been killed by Phil Spector). An old crone convinces Stalker to collect three magical items, in order to keep them from the evil sorcerer Munkar (the cleverly named Bernard Erhard). However horn-dog Stalker is so addled by the compulsive need to bed everything with breasts that he kind-of loses track of his goal, ultimately entering a fightin' contest sponsored by Munkar, which ends the only way it can: [Spoiler Alert] everyone becomes enraged with Munkar, tying his facial-tattooed bodkins up to some horses for a little cheap-jack drawing and quartering. The scene has stayed with me for nigh-on 30 years, and now I know it isn't all that. But the fact that every woman in the cast seems to be allergic to wearing a shirt works in the movie's favor.
Deathstalker II (1987) takes the first film's irreverent tone to illogical extremes, while swapping out Rick Hill for the even more ham-and-cheesy John Terlesky in the title role. Once past the cleverly punning title sequence, it's clear that this Stalker is an unapologetic joke, a conscious decision from writer/director Jim Wynorski and everyone else involved. Though a little too sit-com silly for my tastes, it wasn't a bad idea to take Stalker in this direction, if only they'd remembered to throw in the good stuff, too.
Barbarian Queen (1985) continues the slop train in fine female fashion with more naked boobies than you can shake your boobies at (if you have them of course). Poor Lana Clarkson stars as the title queen, Amathea. She goes through the usual barbarian rigmarole, village razed, family and friends skewered, vows of revenge, etc. Vowing revenge, she surrounds herself with a bunch of other medieval women who just got styled at The Perfect Look circa 1986. Yes, it was at this juncture in the Dark Ages when Climate Change began through irresponsible use of hair spray. Romping and slashing through the same damn sets as all the other movies on this disk, killing the same damn actors, the Barbarian Queen is good for when you want to gorge on Ye Olde Velveeta. Just make sure you adolescent boys watch with a grain of salt in mind, since virtually all topless activity is the result of one rape scene or the other. There is so much raping that they actually list a 'Rape Choreographer' in the credits (not really). It's a rough way to learn about sex, boys.
The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) takes those horribly familiar Argentinean sets and actors and filters them through the woeful presence known as David Carradine. Carradine plays a mysterious warrior character named Kain (ahem) who stumbles into a village in which two warring clans fight over the water supply. Establishing great promise for the movie, the clan that first gains access to the well immediately commences with a raucous wet T-shirt contest. The love doesn't last, as Carradine's sullen presence and total lack of charm suck most of the joy out of this film. A serious tone takes this dour trip further south, only to be barely rescued by dozens of ridiculous hand-puppet monsters. It's schizophrenia at its most confounding, but as with every other movie in this collection, it's bad enough to be pretty darn entertaining if you're in the right space.
Uncle Ernie, wherever you are, you have ruined me. And now Shout Factory is doing it again with this pair of double features repackaged as an All-Night Marathon. That's a dangerous proposition, but it's nice to have this thematically unified quartet of clunkers all together anyway. Take two films, and call me in the morning.
You can groove all night long to the new Anamorphic Widescreen Transfers of the two Deathstalker movies. They look nice on the old 16 X 9 television, revealing some scratches and speckles occasionally, but benefiting from rich colors and looking far sharper on DVD than they did on VHS. Details get soft in the backgrounds, and there are two movies per disk, so the look isn't as fantastic as it could be, but it's fine for a drunken movie marathon. Warrior and Barbarian Queen presumably have not gotten new transfers, but are also presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Some fogging or light damage seems to have cropped up in every film, too. Listen for a funny cover story on the Deathstalker II commentary track.
Films are all presented with serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio tracks in English. All are equally OK, without much damage, decent mixes and appropriate levels. Nothing fancy, but good enough.
Could four movies in one package really come with extras? Yes! Deathstalker and Deathstalker II get Commentary Tracks with directors, actors, and the special effects guy from the former movie. Equally entertaining and light, with good BTS information and plenty of laughs, both tracks augment viewing nicely, even if those involved still seem to think they've made competent movies. Deathstalker and Deathstalker II also get the Theatrical Trailer, while Deathstalker benefits from a Photo Gallery as well.
Repackaging two earlier release Double Features, Shout! Factory puts them together in a standard keepcase with a flipper; you pay low dollars if you haven't already got the earlier releases, and your couch is further crushed into oblivion. These 1980s Sword and Sorcery epics are roundly lame, but plenty of fun. Some have tons of boobs, some lots of cheap monsters, but none possess that which we call quality. There's plenty of fightin' - some staged well, some not - but not much in the way of serious bloodshed, as these movies all emphasize humor over drama. Normal folks would skip these films without a thought, but you're still here, aren't you? For that reason, you probably think this collection is at the very least Recommended. So do I.
- Kurt Dahlke
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