CRRRaSh! 301 1980s Sword and Sorcery Movies

By Roy Mathur, on 2020-03-10, at 13:10:00--14:23:59 GMT, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

Still Here!

Time flies while I have been busy with family matters. This meant that I was tired all the time and also that the studio is not quiet enough for taping, hence this car pod today.

This Week

I recently watched Deathstalker (1983) and also caught Battle Beyond the Stars on TV. Both these films got me digging into my shopping wishlist for 80s films I wanted to revisit, but Deathstalker in particular ignited a sudden need to delve into other sword and sorcery films that I like, hence the movies talked about this week.

It is more than likely that we have covered some of this before, but not all in the same pod episode, so I don't think I'm flogging an equus mortuus (Latin scholars, please chime in and troll me). The other reason I went a little mad, once I started these notes, was that after such a long absence I wanted to return with something more substantial than my usual random geek chat.

Black Angel (1980)

For me, Black Angel, released with The Empire Strikes Back, marked the beginning of the 80s sword and sorcery craze. In the decade that followed, a slew of films were released, some of which I watched.

Black Angel is a beautifully shot short film about a knight returning home from the crusades who tries to rescue a damsel from a sinister black knight.

The movie struck a chord with me at the time and the imagery stayed with me for years, so I was very pleased when the movie became freely available on YouTube for anyone to watch.

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Very, very budget British attempt at the genre led by two American actors in this tale of good brother versus evil brother.

Only a few nerds like me saw it at the cinema and appreciated it at the time, and that was with serious reservations. It's present cult status is only due to nostalgia for cheap and cheerful 80s genre movies and the distant memory of video rentals.

There were several attempts to revive it, either in film or TV, but reimagining something that has achieved cult status is like capturing lightning in a bottle. Let its immortal cult perfection live on only in our memories.

Trivia: it tickles me no end that tight trousered Hawk (John Terry) went on to play Jack's father in Lost.

Oh, and this is one of my recent DVD buys.

Dragonslayer (1981)

Dragonslayer is another film I love, my other recent DVD purchase, but the first I rewatched.

After Black Angel got the ball rolling, Disney came in like a bolt of lightning with Dragonslayer; an uncharacteristically dark tale of a girl incinerating dragon in this decade defining film.

Someone must have been tripping at the House of Mouse for this to have been made. It's a very un-PG movie about a vicious old dragon with a taste for virgins and the fledgling wizard who sets out to kill it. It's violent and gory. There's also a romance between the young sorcerer's apprentice and a girl badly disguised as a boy. All joking aside, this is a great, atmospheric, and well acted film.

Excalibur (1981)

Excalibur is one of my top films of all time in any genre. I don't have anything bad to say about this film, which is John Boorman's simply superb take on the Arthurian myth. Nicol Williamson's Merlin is seared into my neurons.

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Conan the Barbarian was a poetic, romantic, epic about a barbarian's quest for vengeance and fortune. A great, but dark realisation of Robert E. Howard's pulp creation; the print version of the character was less grim. The sequel, Conan the Destroyer (1984), was average, and the spin-off, Red Sonja (1985), was forgettable.

The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)

The Sword and the Sorcerer was low budget, schlocky adult fun that I really enjoyed. The triple blade flinging sword and a (slightly) disabled vengeful hero were masterful touches.

The Beastmaster (1982)

The Beastmaster is a movie in which our hero, ferret-assisted Dar (stop laughing at the back), challenges vile sorcerer (Rip Torn) in a loose adaptation of Andre Norton's series of novels. Forget my teasing, this is very good.

Fire and Ice (1983)

This is a movie I saw just a few years ago. When I heard it was an animated film by Ralph Bakshi (The Lord of the Rings (1978)) and pulp artist Frank Frazetta, I had to see it. It's a nice looking film, but hardly groundbreaking; a tale of a hero fighting an ice queen.

Deathstalker (1983)

Deathstalker is unapologetically rapey from the start, ethically horrible, with utterly unsypathetioc characters, mostly crap creatures, a vile sense of what could loosely be called humour (by a psychopath), but really hot women is it's saving grace.

This is the second film in the list I did not see in the 80s but a couple of weeks ago, and my desire to tell you about what I consider to be much better films is the reason for this week's theme.

Krull (1983)

Krull is Sci-Fi disguised as fantasy, in this tale of an evil wizard at the centre of his lair/spaceship, opposed by a hero wielding the spinning weapon known as the Glaive. (Pedantic tangent: it's a misnomer, as a glaive is a pole arm). Bad FX, great story.

Willow (1988)

In Willow, diminutive trainee wizard goes on a quest to save the promised child said to bring doom to evil Queen Bavmorda in Ron Howard's excellent fantasy.

Roku Express

I bought a second, but cheaper HD Roku Express GBP 24.99 from Argos (the cheapest Roku available).

The reason for this is that most of the addons for my Raspberry Pi 3B+ running LibreELEC stopped working. I don't know what happened, maybe it was most of the streaming channels changing their APIs, but the final straw was when YouTube went down and the only working addon left was BBC iPlayer. Now, the RPi is consigned to offline use only.

Pros? Half the price of my Roku Streaming Stick+, more stable, and runs cooler. Cons? Slower to start up, uses slower WiFi, IR line-of-sight remote, but the biggest annoyance is that there is no volume control or off button.

Giant Aside: Neo Sword and Sorcery

Sword and sorcery, a term coined by Michael Moorcock, meaning ... as opposed to fantasy... I have tried to bend the genre in my own writing, calling it neo-sword and socery. Back in 2015, in Boldly Voyaging the Multiverse: Probably the Best Nerd Blog in the Multiverse, I said:

Neo Sword and Sorcery

Posted on 2015-01-07

This morning I'm pre-empting possible responses that might arise from the can of worms I may have opened in my last podcast (ep. 63), after I bemoaned the lack of sword and sorcery (a term originally coined by Michael Moorcock) today.

First read this final paragraph from Wikipedia's Revival section of the Sword and Sorcery entry:

...After the boom of the early 1980s, sword and sorcery once again dropped out of favor, with epic fantasy largely taking its place in the fantasy genre. However, the end of the 20th century saw another resurgence of S&S. Sometimes called the "new" or "literary" sword and sorcery, this development places emphasis on literary technique, and draws from epic fantasy and other genres to broaden the typical scope of S&S. Stories may feature the wide-ranging struggles national or world-spanning concerns common to high fantasy, but told from the point of view of characters more common to S&S and with the sense of adventure common to the latter. Writers associated with this include Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, and Scott Lynch, and magazines such as Black Gate and the ezines Flashing Swords (not to be confused with the Lin Carter anthologies) and Beneath Ceaseless Skies publish short fiction in the style. These authors and editors are attempting to return the genre to the status it enjoyed during the pulp era of the twenties and thirties.

Although I was aware of these other authors, I had no idea that there was such a thing as "new" or "literary" sword and sorcery". It is claimed above that this literary movement is an attempt to broaden the scope of the genre.

However, I want to do the exact opposite and pare S&S down to its bare essentials. This would mean the same types of adventure, but with bizarre plots, containing diverse characters (in terms of physical attributes, character-types, motivations etc.), leading to unpredictable dénouements. Therefore, I still choose to differentiate my own S&S work as neo sword and sorcery. Had not its popularity waned, this is the direction in which the genre seemed to be going in any case; just look at characters such as Kane and Elric.

Admittedly all this speculation is rather abstract and meta, so right now I'm going back to actually writing it and not just writing about it. Blame the post on waking up too early and having a laptop within easy reach.

Excusing the pomposity of my tone (as if anyone cared a jot what I said in my blog), those were/are my personal take on sword and sorcery. Regarding my own forays, nothing's changed. In fact, the only place you are likely to see a glimmer of it is in my short interactive fiction game Rider in the Mist (2015), see https://roymathur.com/files/rider-in-the-mist/rider-in-the-mist.html.

It also occurs to me now, that while it is useful to know broadly the genre in which you are writing (it helps in your literary query letters), authors should concentrate on actually producing the prose. Leave writing treatises on the subject to academics. E.g. writing rock songs as opposed to rock journalism. And on that subject, I'm off to take my own advice.

Other Sword and Sorcery Movies

This isn't the end. There are various lists, on Wikipedia, IMDB, and elsewhere, listing this genre of films; a few of which I have not seen and may be worth watching. I don't expect them to be brilliant, but because I enjoy these movies, I will report back with my thoughts.

The 301st Episode

This is the 301st episode and, as I said last week, I'm curious to see if my oldest episodes begin disappearing from Apple Podcasts. If that happens, subscribe using a client like Overcast or Antennapod and you should have access to everything. Why do you do this Apple? All you are doing is hosting an RSS file. It's not that hard to host the whole file, in fact it's more effort not to. Are you listening? Tim. Tim! Tim?! Oh, why bother?

Recording Chaos!

If you've listened to the corresponding pod that comes with these notes, you can expect (fingers crossed) less chaos in the next episode.

Coronapocalypse

And people, stop buying toilet rolls. If the coronapocalypse happens, bog roll will be the least of your worries. I predict cannibalism.