Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Venger's Top 80's Sword & Sorcery Films

No category of film exemplifies the struggle between good and evil like fantasy.  My top 10 is only as definitive as my subjective tastes.  Most are fantasy movies I grew up with, although a few I didn't see until later in life.  So, it's not just based on nostalgia.

Animated and muppet films like Heavy Metal and The Dark Crystal were excluded because I had to narrow it down somehow.  After all, how do you compare The Last Unicorn to The Sword and the Sorcerer?  I also had to draw a line somewhere between fantasy with a good deal of scifi (like Krull) and science fiction with a few sword and sorcery trappings (like Empire Strikes Back or Dune).  Flash Gordon was right on the edge.  For those of you who wish to count it, then put it at around #5.  Those who wouldn't count it as a sword & sorcery film can keep your nerd rage to a tolerable level since it doesn't appear on this list.  You're welcome.

Here it is, folks... the list you never asked for!

1.  Arguably the best (well, I'm arguing for it since it's at the top of my list) sword and sorcery film is Conan the Barbarian.  This film launched Arnold's career, and it's easy to see why.  Taken seriously and from such great source material, pretty much everything about the first Conan movie is awesome!

2.  Excalibur came out a year earlier, in 1981.  I have the HD DVD version of this and it's probably my favorite of all the 100 or so HD DVDs they made.  Again, the genre is treated seriously with capable actors, direction, and music.  To me, Excalibur is a timeless masterpiece of passion.

3.  Clash of the Titans!  This is another 1981 epic.  Closer to sword and sandals than sword and sorcery, but all the gods and titans and giant scorpions make it sorcerous enough for me.  This film has such a gentle touch and profound story to tell.  Truly mythic!  How many countless times did I watch this growing up?  Thank you, HBO!

4.  Speaking of watching HBO, fourth on the list is The Beastmaster from 1982.  Something must have been in the water right around 1980 for all this to have taken place  Beastmaster is heavy on the sorcery and that's just one of the reasons I like it so much.  So many great ideas well executed and flowing together.  It's a strange, creepy diamond in the rough.

5.  Krull is my fifth pick.  It probably has the most bad ass villain of all - some kind of alien demon that destroys entire worlds and has his own teleporting castle.  He's only known as The Beast!  A classic story full of dark weirdness, cool monsters, neat special effects, and a weapon that makes me long for something other than a sword.

6.  Hawk the Slayer.  Straight forward and no nonsense.  It doesn't have the best acting, the funniest jokes, the evilest villain, nor the most compelling story, but I gotta give it up for this movie.  It's a great and sadly little-known piece of sword and sorcery film-making.

7.  Legend is an fascinating film.  Not what immediately comes to mind when you think of sword and sorcery films.  However, it's heavy on the fantasy... fairy tale fantasy but, again, dark.  Gorgeously directed by Ridley Scott.  Starring Tom Cruise and the chick from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  That troll/witch creature was really fucking scary - even as an adult.  Plus the realistic goblins and Tim Curry as the Devil... wow!

8.  Conan the Destroyer!  I kind of wanted to put this sequel higher, but here it is.  A really strong effort and, all things considered, a great sword and sorcery movie... just not as awesome as Conan the Barbarian.  A bit less serious, but still some good characters - plus a Lovecraftian god freak-out rampage at the end.  Nice.

9.  The Sword and the Sorcerer.  Honestly, I don't remember a ton about this film.  Although, I remember really liking it.  Kind of a blur of Richard Lynch, a sorcerer demon or sorcerer making a pact with a demon...  Man, I've really got to watch this again.  It has a pretty high rating on amazon, so I'm using that to cantilever my faulty memory.  Can I blame it on being old?  I can?  Sweet.

10.  Deathstalker.  I remember this one being a lot of fun.  Quite a bit of carousing, female flesh, and pretty boy swordsmanship.  I also vaguely recall a lot of scenes from Deathstalker being reused in Deathstalker II.  What up with that?  This is another one I've got to revisit soon.

If there was a #11, it might have to be The Barbarians.  I just reviewed it here.  And after that, I guess films like Red Sonja, Dragonslayer, and Willow reside. Doesn't mean they're shitty, just not my favorites.

Well, thanks for reading and commenting.  I'm looking forward to what people have to say.  Feel free to post your own list.  There's probably a rare gem or two I've overlooked.


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