11 of Richard Lynch’s “Greatest” Hits (to the Balls) – 2. THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982) Review
Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat for me. I mean, I’m sure a lot of people consider this a bad movie, but I don’t see a lot of people screaming that it’s the worst movie ever made. It has a modest 5.5/10 at IMDb (considering that it is ‘80s cheesy-goodness and a Pyun film, that’s pretty fucking good) and a whopping 80% at RottenTomatoes.com (though there are only five reviews). I just don’t think we can talk about Richard Lynch without talking about the role he was literally born to play: King Cromwell.
Let’s talk a little background first. The Sword and the Sorcerer was a, well, sword and sorcery film directed by the B-movie great Albert Pyun, who went from doing lovable trash to just plain trash. It was released during that whole sword and sorcery craze of the early 1980s, of which the most famous was Conan the Barbarian (directed by John Milius and starring Arnold Schwarznegger). The Sword and the Sorcerer (henceforth also referred to as TSATS) was one of the better ones and certainly one of Pyun’s better films (whether or not that’s empty praise is up to your consideration).
TSATS holds a special place in my nonexistent heart. It was the first sword and sorcery I ever saw, yes, even before Arnold’s Conan. It was the first movie that convinced me that fantasy movies didn’t necessarily have to suck ass. It was my first Pyun movie. Yes, you always remember the first time. And it was the first movie with a drinking game that nearly killed me. Seriously, try drinking every time someone says Cromwell. You’ll have a hangover to last you for months. That’s the power of Richard Lynch.
This film just plain kicks ass. Being dark fantasies, sword and sorcery films have generally been able to get away with some pretty outlandish shit (as long as the shit stays within the film’s internal logic). The film starts out well enough, with the typical S&S score (from David Whitaker) and the narrator who brags about times of yore and legendry and other ass-kicking heavy-metal-inspiring shit. It’s clichéd, but it helps set the mood.
This film’s got it all: resurrected demons, black sorcery, evil monsters, child murder, rape, boobs, a super-sword capable of shooting blades as projectile weapons, moments of lightheartedness, some dark humor, hilariously-awesome goatees and Richard Lynch, or, as he is known by his real name: King Cromwell.
Cromwell arrives on Tomb Island, and with a name like that I can only imagine how hard this place was hit by the housing crisis. He’s here to resurrect some demon with the help of his black witch. Oh, how nice, start with the racism early, film. I wonder if she practices the Haitian voodoo rattle torture. By the way, she dies first. That’s right. A black female is the first to die. Yay.
So the foolish bitch- sorry, witch, resurrects some kind of a demon, who may or may not be Freddy Krueger’s long lost cousin. Why does Cromwell want to resurrect this Unknown Soldier? Apparently this guy, Xusia (Richard Moll), has black magic capable of defeating Cromwell’s nemesis, Richard of Ehdan. Long prologue short, Cromwell entices the demonspawn to help him conquer his foes, after witnessing the sorcerer’s true power. On a sidenote about this: I like that they immediately establish how fantastical their film will be at the outset. To start with the resurrection of a black magic sorcerer by Richard “Fucking” Lynch tells your audience early on to suspend their disbelief.
Anyway, when Xusia has no longer become useful, Cromwell then betrays the sorcerer, stabs him and throws him off a cliff. Then he gets to work conquering shit. The film really makes no qualms as to who the good and bad are, etc. Apparently, in this dark fantastical age of darkness and fantasy, only the bad guys engage in war and child murder. The film makes no hesitation, for instance, in portraying the so-called “good” guys as “enlightened” and living in some hippie commune, while the “evildoers” are “out there” using primitive methods and evil magic to conquer the “good”.
You know, like how Western cultures of today believe themselves to be superior to everyone else because they’re so fucking “enlightened” when really it’s their fault the world has gone to shit. This film is so subtle that thunder and lightning strike at precisely the most clichéd moments. “Oh no, my son is dead!” *thunderclap* “Cromwell is coming!” *thunderclap*
Cromwell is no villain. He might be a king. He might commit heinous acts and atrocities so barbaric that it would leave the United Nations of today scratching its head and doing nothing else, but he’s no villain. Cromwell is just a man of his time. It’s like calling Henry VIII evil, or Napoleon a “villain”. It makes no sense and history shouldn’t be viewed with a lens of morality. Such figures were clearly of their time and place.
King Cromwell is no different. The film portrays him to be a villain, but he’s more like an enlightened monarch. Sure, he resurrected a demon of black magic- sorry, African-American, magic, but c’mon, can we really hold that against the guy? He killed him right after, doesn’t that count for anything?
He’s a man bound by circumstances, one who takes advantage of any opportunity and makes the most of every situation. Because he is bound by circumstances. And in this case, those circumstances are power, a thing which he has no control over. Humans are seldom capable of controlling their own emotions, thoughts and desires. Cromwell is different. He does not fight it. He lets it control him. And he ain’t ashamed of it. Unlike so many who believe we should fight what can’t be fought and not let ourselves be controlled by emotions, what are human beings but emotionally-vested creatures?
Another badass aspect of this film is the fucking sword. If you’ve seen this film you know which sword I’m talking about: the fucking sword. It’s a huge triple-bladed weapon that is capable of firing its blades as missiles against the enemy.
The sword is apparently so inconsistently powerful that its flying blade is capable of piercing someone through the back of the neck with ease or sending a guy flying back a dozen feet from the force. It’s also capable of automatically reloading itself between cuts. Like in Talon’s first battle with Cromwell’s men, he shoots a lone blade at one dude, and then when he turns around to fire at the second, the sword magically has two extra projectile blades on it now.
Talon, son of Richard, miraculously escapes from the clutches of Cromwell, whose men searched for him for years. Thus ends the prologue. Cut to some years into the future, where we’re re-introduced to the main hero who we just saw…
So Talon (Lee Horsley) has returned to seek revenge against great Cromwell. Will he succeed? God I hope not. Meanwhile, a messenger sneaks into a cave whereupon he’s accosted be another witch, who’s Asian this time… I think. You can totally tell this is a Reagan-era film, what with all the women being skanks, witches, scantily-clad and completely useless except to be used, and only white people are good for anything, especially pillaging and rape and murder and child killing. White is right!
The messenger is going to see another reintroduced character, an evil hellspawn, from moments earlier.
It seems like everybody is getting ready for “the Final Conflict”. I imagine that to be a really subtle and unobvious power struggle kind of thing with no clear winners and losers, except for the people that clearly win or lose. Xusia, Talon, Cromwell, Count Machelli (Cromwell’s war advisor), Mikah (a man who the people of Ehdan believe to be a legitimate heir to the throne), etc. are all involved.
Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale) is intercepted behind a tavern by Machelli (George Maharis), a would-be traitor to Cromwell, who informs him that the rebellion can start the next day. Mikah seems thrilled by this… Yeah… Because I’d really trust a guy so willing to betray Richard motherfucking Lynch. In the middle of the night, Mikah pays a visit to his sister, Princess Alana (Kathleen Beller), who has managed to sneak into the city. She has knowledge of the castle’s secret passages, given to her by one of Cromwell’s whores named Elizabeth.
Oh wait, spoke too soon. Cromwell barges in, obviously, and makes Mikah his bitch. Then we see the obvious reason of why it was so obviously easy… It seems that the Count Machelli, Cromwell’s war advisor, who was supposed to betray Cromwell to the rebels, well, let’s just say… Obvious traps are obvious.
See, the thing about traitors is… You can never trust ‘em. I mean, if they’re willing to betray one person, why wouldn’t you ever think they wouldn’t be willing to do the same to you?
Also, would you really trust this guy?
Alana escapes, is only nearly raped, and is saved by Talon, who quite literally beats the would-be rapists with a chicken. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a chicken, but it was some kind of animal.
Anyway, she gets him to help her save Prince Mikah, by offering up her body as reward. Oh hell yeah. Naturally, he agrees. Who wouldn’t? She also gets captured by Cromwell’s men shortly afterward, and Cromwell intends to force her hand in marriage. Talon enlists the help of some of the rebels and they lead him to a hidden passage into the castle via cave (where a few die when attacked by man-eating cave rats).
He manages to save Mikah and then involves most of the castle guards on a chase through the grounds, including a room full of Cromwell’s bitches, which I’m only mentioning purely because of boobs. Kind of.
But he is ultimately thwarted in his escape by… CROMWELL. Cromwell mistakes Talon, the son of Richard, for Xusia, the demon he spawned so many years ago. They test each other’s mettle for awhile, before Talon is captured and taken away.
So the Final Conflict kicks into gear. Mikah vows to return to the castle to save his sister and destroy Cromwell. Talon’s men, with the aid of other mercenaries, mean to save him, with the aid of Cromwell’s escaped slut, Elizabeth. Unfortunately, things don’t really go as planned…
It’s something that’s not readily apparent through just words and pictures. But, as I’ll discuss a little later, the film is good at balancing many different elements because it has a single underlying mood to the film, which is never broken. So you could have a humorous scene like this – where our enthusiastic would-be rescuers get pumped up thanks to the knowledge they’ll have from this insider and immediately cutting to them locked up in cells – followed by something dramatic and it won’t hurt the flow of the movie.
I should also say that the plot is actually a little more complicated than this review is making it sound. It’s very straightforward and easy to follow, but there’s all sorts of political conspiracy and double-crossing going on in the film. For instance, at the upcoming feast for the Ehdan elite and other kings, Machelli plans to have them all assassinated. But Mikah and his rebels are also planning to crash the party, as are Talon’s men. It’s ambitious but a little bit on the sloppy side when it comes to execution. The whole thing is supposed to build up to the climactic final battle, but in some ways it ends up feeling like a bit of a letdown. Maybe it’s because the final fight doesn’t match the buildup or the story doesn’t build up properly to the final fight.
Anyway, true to Cromwell’s word, he has Talon crucified and put on display during the feast whereupon he is recognized by some of the attending kings. And no, no religious jokes today, folks.
But before the kings can save him, the wedding ceremony begins. By the way, if you were brave enough to, well, brave the Cromwell drinking game, and you thought it was pretty easy until now, this will be the part of the film that might just kill you…
Meanwhile, Talon’s mercenaries are saved by some of Cromwell’s sluts, which is really just another excuse to mention some boobs.
Anyway, the battle is fucking on. Talon manages to un-crucify himself. You heard that fucking right. This badass is so badass he escapes crucifixion, like it was a fucking miracle or something. At that point, the rest of the Ehdan elite and outland kings spring to their feet in glorious battle. Mikah’s rebels arrives, as do Talon’s mercenaries.
So they fight, and it’s pretty cool.
But wait a second… Machelli is letting Alana go… They’re running away… Machelli really is a traitor to Cromwell? Did he betray Cromwell, then betray Mikah, then betray Cromwell again? Or does he just have the hots for Alana? Boy, I hope Mikah appreciates the physical and psychological torture he endured at the hands of Cromwell.
Oh no, wait, he’s still on Cromwell’s side… Or is he? Dude… I get that you’re a slimy traitorous douchebag that even looks like one but this bit is getting old. So is Alana’s bit… which is pretending to seduce someone and then hitting them in the balls…
What’s this? Balls of steel? Actually, it sounds more like wood. Heh… wood.
No, seriously, I didn’t. Okay, maybe I did…
Turns out Machelli is the demon Xusia. If you’d been paying attention, you probably were wondering when the unholy demonspawn was going to show up. I’ve got news for you… He was totally here the whole fucking time… It’s actually a pretty cool scene. Actually, this last bit is, overall, a very cool sequence. It’s pretty dark, there’s some cool lighting and colors, and the story comes full circle, with the three principal players in the plot coming together. I liked the rest of the film, but this is the sort of stuff that was missing from the earlier bits.
So Cromwell fights valiantly but is subdued, before Talon shows up to save the day. What an asshole. Cromwell clearly does the hardest part, and then this freeloader shows up to finish the demon off and take credit. He shoots the demon with the missile blade and then proceeds to fight Cromwell, a weakened man who just nearly had his soul taken from him.
Talon defeats Cromwell with a hidden blade. Vengeance is complete. But Cromwell’s soul lives on in eternity. The rebels rejoice the son of Richard. Could it be? Could Richard Lynch’s son be Talon? Was he simply passing on the torch of asskickery to his fictional son?
Let’s leave the “Talon” drinking game for the nonexistent sequel, shall we?
This film is actually pretty damn good. Like legit good. The sets are decent, the settings are believable, and it’s shot well. What I also like is that it has this undercurrent of mood of adventure through the whole film, which makes disparate scenes run very well together without interrupting the flow. For instance, there are moments of lighthearted humor followed immediately by something supposedly dramatic, but the overall “feel” of the film is never broken. What’s also funny is all of the racism, sexism and sexual innuendo.
Plus there’s everything you could wish for from a dark fantasy movie: adventure, vengeance, useless and scantily-clad women, racism, sexism, sexual innuendoes, actual sex, boobs, child murder, political conspiracy, violence, people set on fire, triple-bladed missile swords with hidden daggers, crucifixions, goatees, tough antiheroes, evildoers, black magic, demons, death, and destruction. Sure, it didn’t have Arnold, the philosophical undertones, James Earl Jones turning into a giant snake, or the punch that Conan the Barbarian had but guess what? It had motherfucking Richard Lynch and that’s all that needs to be said here.
Let’s talk serious film criticism here. First of all, the film could have used more boobage. Not to mention, more gore. Secondly, being a sword and sorcery film has its perks. You can get away with a lot of shit, so long as it fits in with your film’s internal logic, but you’re also often entrapped by many of the genre pitfalls. For instance, like most S&S films, it’s pretty damn obvious. Subtlety is not in the S&S vocab. Good is good. Bad is bad. Evil hellspawns are evil hellspawns.
Imagine if the film attempted to forgo with the black-and-white interpretation of good and evil and just had “characters”. Talon could have been no more or less evil than the others. His price for saving Mikah was one night where he could do whatever the fuck he wanted with Alana. A little bit slimier and all of a sudden there’s a dude that’s hard to sympathize with. Or how about King Cromwell? I mean, sure, the guy can do no wrong. But what if we’d seen glimpses where he felt guilty? Or maybe scenes where the power was obviously going to his head? We’re never really given any real reason for everyone to rebel against this guy except that he killed a bunch of people in the past.
Or how about Xusia, the unholy and evil hellspawn who’s portrayed as unholy and evil and hellspawnish? Sure, the guy was behind-the-scenes most of the time. But instead of just showing him as an unholy demon, why not try to give the guy some character? Sword and sorcery films tend to focus a lot on revenge as a theme. Xusia would have been the perfect opportunity to focus on this theme while defying genre conventions by making the demon less of a demon.
Neither side of the Xusia/Machelli duality is explored at all, and neither character is really fleshed out all that well. Machelli, for instance, spends the entire movie just double-crossing people and unwillingly being a pawn in the rebels’ success, but he does not have any character outside of that. The real Xusia is only scene briefly at the beginning and the end.
One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is how Xusia’s tampering behind-the-scenes actually unwittingly aids in the rebellion’s success. We wouldn’t have a movie if it weren’t for his double-crosses. The great thing is that this is basically all just driven by his single-minded goal of revenge against Cromwell. His pursuit which he could not get out of his mind was his ultimate downfall. Tragic, in a way. Human, in another. It’s a very small point that a lot of people don’t really consider when watching this film, and one which proves that this film could have been a lot better.
There’s a similar thing happening with Cromwell. After all these years it seems anxiety (not guilt) have caught up to him. There’s a scene between him and a captured Mikah, where he attempts to torture information out of the rebel leader, as he believes Mikah to be working for Xusia. The scene hints at regret for having unleashed the demon. But these sorts of scenes are never fully fleshed out. This scene also points to Xusia’s tampering.
The film almost wants to espouse some philosophy at this point (or maybe it’s just me trying to espouse it for the film). That we’re all victims of circumstances, most of which are beyond our control, knowledge or understanding. Would Mikah have been successful if it were not for Xusia/Machelli’s tampering? To me, the third act of the movie seems like a myriad of different parties out to achieve certain goals, but not actually achieving them on their own. They don’t get any in-your-face help from anybody else, but in a roundabout way, most of these people are affected by the actions of others, and in turn, their actions affect others.
Oh yeah, and check out the way Richard Lynch describes who the insider might be…
That’s sort of the downfall of dark fantasies. It’s too obvious who the good and bad guys are. Again, I know that’s part of their charm. Dark fantasy adventures are usually about good versus evil. But I honestly felt like this film was trying to say more that what was shown on screen, only it failed to adequately do that. The film felt like it was trying to ascend above its genre limitations but was unable to. It was certainly ambitious enough.
What might have helped is if they had cut out a lot of the prologue. For instance, maybe show the part where Lynch resurrected Xusia and then maybe have a bit of where Lynch invades and destroys people. Then just cut ahead to the future. Cut out the shit about him murdering children and maybe show that in flashbacks. That way we start the film with a clean slate, and not know who to actually sympathize for, rather than just be manipulated into it. Or maybe introduce Xusia later on in the film, that way we aren’t entirely sure whether or not to believe Cromwell. Surprise the audience, let them know Cromwell was telling the truth the whole time and was actually a “good” guy.
And despite my initial complaints that the ending was a bit cluttered, the final scene did manage to get all three principal characters of the drama into a single sequence together. That was pretty cool. The story comes full circle. I think if Pyun was a better filmmaker that scene could have been a hell of a lot more powerful, but he does a good enough job of it. A lot of it is what’s not said than what is.
It was a fun film. Believe me, it was. Like I said, it’s no Conan, but what is? It’s also a lot tamer than I imagined it to be. I mean, it’s got all of the elements of a good B-movie sword and sorcery, but it felt really lightweight. It was better than your typical sword and sorcery, but it could have been a lot greater.
Plus it really reminds me of Star Wars. That’s right. This is the closest you’ll ever get to see Cromwell in a Star Wars movie. Actually, Deathsport was kind of a Star Wars rip-off, too. But TSATS really reminds me of it though there are very slight changes. Think about it. Cromwell is like an amalgamation of every Sith lord, who takes over the fucking place thanks to his preference for the dark arts. He even fights with a dual-bladed sword at one point. Alana is Leia, and Mikah is Luke. Talon, the initially unwilling participant who only fights for a price, is Han Solo…
Could this prove once and for all that Star Wars is a clichéd crapfest of epic proportions? Naaaaahhh. Couldn’t be.
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Next: Richard the Rostov Ripper.
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- June 24, 2012 / 3:50 am
- 1982, action, adventure, Albert Pyun, Anna Bjorn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brandon Chase, Cromwell, dark fantasy, David Whitaker, Earl Maynard, fantasy, George Maharis, John Milius, John V. Stuckmeyer, Kathleen Beller, Lee Horsley, Movies, Peter Breck, Reviews, Richard Lynch, Richard Moll, Simon MacCorkindale, sword and sorcery, Sword and the Sorcerer, Tales of an Ancient Empire, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Tom Karnowski