The Sword And The Sorcerer

Director: Albert Pyun
Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller, Simon MacCorkindale

I think that it goes without saying that almost all of us crave fame and fortune. In my case, ever since I was very young, there has been a part of me that pictures myself being well known and with wealth. Naturally, when one has such thoughts in their mind, they inevitably ask themselves one specific question: "How can I get into such an enviable position?" No doubt you know that suddenly landing in such a position almost never happens; millions of people play the lottery, but there are precious few winners, and even fewer who land a great fortune and the fame that goes with it. Over the years, I have learned one specific kind of advice that seems to apply to the majority of people who have landed fame and fortune: You have to go and work for it. Naturally, there are many different kinds of work that are available, so the question arises as to what specific kind of work you should do in order to get fame and fortune. And the most logical answer to that question is to do some sort of work that you are good at, or you are able to do the specific activity for a considerable amount of time until you are really good at it. I can personally say that that advice worked for me. When I decided to start this movie review web site, I had a great knowledge of movies, so I had that advantage that other people didn't. My writing skills did need some work back then, however, but I stuck with writing review after review for some time. I admit some of my early reviews make me cringe a little when I reread them today, but I like to think that today I have worked up to a professional level. And I have put in enough work for this web site that today I have a substantial and loyal readership. That's success you can't sneeze at.

There's another piece of advice aimed at fame and fortune seekers I have learned over the years that I think has some merit: That you choose to do some kind of work that you love doing. That certainly applies to me as well; I love watching movies, and I like writing reviews about those movies. However, every once in a while you come across people that are only able to follow one of those pieces of advice. Namely, while they love to do a certain kind of work, they are hopeless at doing the activity, even if they get the opportunity to do it over and over again. This can be found in many different kinds of occupations, including the world of making movies. For example, there was the notorious filmmaker Ed Wood. Though he got many opportunities to make movies in various roles - writing, directing, and even acting - he was hopeless at whatever role he played in the making of a movie, as films like Plan 9 From Outer Space showed. Then there is the man that many consider to be the modern day Ed Wood, movie director Albert Pyun. Though I would consider him to be even worse than Ed Wood - Wood's movies may have been bad, but they were very watchable (though for the wrong reasons.) I have seen more than my share of Pyun movies, and I can say that just about all of them have been torturous experiences. From the cheap production values to the garbled storylines, Pyun's movies are not pieces of entertainment - they are experiences, and not experiences that are to be fondly remembered for years to come. One B movie critic I came across years ago gave the following advice when it came to Pyun: If you ever come across one of his movies, steal it, take it home, and burn it. I couldn't have said it better myself.

To date, Albert Pyun has directed almost fifty (!) movies, so he's had a lot of practice over the years, yet hasn't shown any improvement in his filmmaking skills. An obvious question comes up: Why is Pyun so bad at making movies? There is probably more than one reason, but I have a theory The Sword And The Sorcererthat I think explains a lot more than any other. And that is that Pyun often has too much creative control. Though there are certainly things like the auteur theory that exist, people forget that filmmaking is more often that not a collaborative effort. Wise directors will listen to others on the set and in production meetings. Pyun, on the other hand, has for the most part not been restrained on his movies by people who know what makes a good movie. Indeed, if you look at the movies Pyun has made for larger (and more controlling) studios, these efforts are somewhat better than his usual schlock. That includes The Sword And The Sorcerer. This was his first movie, and one with a considerable budget (at least when compared to many of his other movies), so obviously someone was keeping an eye on him during the shoot. And the movie turned out to be Pyun's one good movie in his entire career. Before I get into telling why that is, a look at the plot: A long time ago in a land far away, the evil king Cromwell (Richard Lynch, Under Oath) desires to overthrow the king of the land of Ehdan. So Cromwell travels to the tomb of the legendary sorcerer Xusia (Moll, Survivor) and resurrects him. With Xusia at his side, Cromwell and his troops have no problems defeating the armies of Ehdan, but at the eve of the final decisive battle between the two sides, Cromwell assassinates Xusia, fearing that the sorcerer might turn on him. Cromwell subsequently manages to overthrow the king of Ehdan, but the Ehdan's king's young son Talon manages to escape. Years pass, and the now grown Talon (Horsley, Matt Houston), who is now a fully trained mercenary, returns to Ehdan with vengeance on his mind, with his father's special three-bladed sword at his side. Obviously, Cromwell is his main target, but what Cromwell and Talon don't know is that Xusia may not in fact be dead and poses a danger for both men.

Seasoned B movie viewers may have been shocked by my statement in the previous paragraph that Pyun with The Sword And The Sorcerer managed to make a good movie. They are probably wondering something along the lines of, "What does Pyun do with this movie to make it a good movie?" Actually, a lot of the reason is because Pyun doesn't do a number of things he has done with so many of his other movies. For starters, Pyun throughout this movie lets the camera run somewhat longer with each shot compared with some of his other movies, even when the action starts up. Also with this movie, Pyun positions the camera with traditional and comfortable angles more often than not, and with this manages to compose each shot so it's easy to see what is happening at any time. All of this avoids the sometimes hyperactive feeling and editing found in some of his other movies. Because of all this, this particular Pyun movie ends up being pretty coherent. Another thing that Pyun mostly avoids that he hasn't with a lot of his other movies is when it comes to humor. To put it bluntly, Pyun has shown over the years that he has a terrible sense of humor, whether the film is an all-out comedy like Brain Smasher: A Love Story, or too much comic relief in an otherwise serious story like with other movies. With The Sword And The Sorcerer, Pyun retrains himself greatly, though does manage to find appropriate humor along the way and present it in an agreeable manner. Pyun treats most of the movie pretty seriously, thank goodness. And the humor that does come up is occasional, light and quick in tone, and is actually amusing. As a bonus, it also prevents the movie from becoming too serious and grim for its own good.

I don't know for sure if those things Pyun doesn't do were imposed on him by the producers or not, but there are no signs in the finished movie that Pyun did them under protest. Indeed, there are some moments in The Sword And The Sorcerer that show that Pyun did at least have some creative control. Before your hopes for this movie are dashed, let me assure you again that in this film at least, Pyun managed to prevail. In fact, there is one moment in the movie that Pyun makes to be absolutely perfect. It's during the extended action climax of the movie, starting at the one hour and twenty minute mark and lasting for about one minute, when Talon the hero is shown fighting in slow motion Cromwell's soldiers while the movie's magnificent David Whitaker musical score (one of the best fantasy movie scores I've ever heard, a score that really boosts the movie out of its low budget origins) plays triumphantly in the background. There may be many movies more critically acclaimed than The Sword And The Sorcerer, but a lot of those don't even have one absolutely perfect moment as this movie has. And while maybe this movie was aimed at more of a grindhouse audience than an art house audience, one can't say that it fails to deliver a lot of the goods. With a movie like this, you expect there to be plenty of action and violence, as well as sexual elements. I will admit that there could have been more sexual elements in the movie, since there is only one sequence involving nudity in the entire movie (though it does involve more than one woman without sufficient clothing.) The action and violence portions of the movie do deliver more. You do have to be a little patient at times, since there are long portions of the movie without violence or action. But when the violence and action does come, it is very well done. There is some serious spatter, like a heart ripped out of someone's chest, as well as a head split in half. There is also some good swordplay, the best being the climactic battle between Talon and Cromwell, which is an extremely rousing sequence.

There is one disappointing aspect to the action in The Sword And The Sorcerer, however. The three-bladed sword that the title of the movie refers to, one that can shoot two of its blades like a spear gun, is a spectacular weapon indeed. But surprisingly, the weapon is only used for a few minutes in the entire film. As it turns out, the sorcerer referred to in the title of the movie is also largely wasted. He only makes three or so brief appearances in the first twenty minutes before exiting, not returning (in his true form at least) until more than an hour later, and even then not given that much to do. I will say that despite this limited amount of footage, actor Richard Moll does manage to make the sorcerer creepy and threatening. As for the rest of the principle players, Richard Lynch does give the movie's chief villain his trademark intensity and color, giving this adversary the feeling that he's a real threat. As for Lee Horsley, he gives the movie's hero a somewhat lighter touch than what you usually find with sword and sorcery protagonists, which is a refreshing change Though he also wisely does not play around when the situation is serious, putting his all to making the character of Talon one you can believe is a seasoned warrior. All this compensates for the fact that we don't learn that much about Talon, like how he became a mercenary. There are other minor problems with the script (which Pyun co-wrote), but it's not likely you'll dwell on them for long - Pyun keeps things moving swiftly and entertainingly with those positive things I discussed earlier. Also, he makes the movie nice to look at. Despite not working with a blockbuster budget, Pyun managed to generate good-looking sets and props, and skilfully lit both the indoor and outdoor scenes in ways that generates some genuine atmosphere. This world feels very authentic. So as you can see, The Sword And The Sorcerer has a lot of things that will satisfy anyone in the mood for some good old-fashioned sword and sorcery. As for the sequel Pyun made twenty-eight years later - Tales Of An Ancient Empire - well... uh... ah....

(Posted December 6, 2017)

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See also: Hearts And Armour, Omega Doom, The Sword Of The Barbarians