For a brief period in the 1980s, sword and sandal fantasy movies ruled video store shelves. While Clash of the Titans recalled 60s and 70s swashbucklers like Jason and the Argonauts and the Sinbad series, Conan the Barbarian was a pulpier, violent epic. Following Conan’s box office success, film studios rushed to capitalize with their own loincloth-clad warriors. Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) directed The Beastmaster, Joe D’Amato made Ator, The Fighting Eagle, and muscleman Lou Ferrigno played Hercules. None of these movies were particularly good. But right around the same time Arnold Schwarzenegger was getting his big break, another sword and sorcery movie found success. Critics weren’t big on The Sword and the Sorcerer considering it a knockoff.
To overthrow his rival, King Richard, and conquer the land of Ehdan, the evil King Cromwell enlists the aid of a demonic sorcerer. Though Cromwell’s crusade lands him the kingdom, King Richard’s son, Talon, escapes along with his father’s triple-bladed sword. Years later, Talon, now a mercenary and adventurer, returns. As a rebellion rises against Cromwell, Talon reluctantly joins with vengeance on his mind.
The Sword and the Sorcerer Won’t Find Itself on Critics’ ‘Best Of’ Lists
On any technical measure of film-making excellent, The Sword and the Sorcerer is not a good movie. There’s a long list of things wrong with director Albert Pyun’s foray into the world of swords, sandals, tyrants, and sorcerers. Though it’s by no means as low-budget as Ferrigno’s Hercules movies or Yor, Hunter From the Future, its fantasy world feels much smaller than what Conan the Barbarian offered. And its tone feels wildly inconsistent. Sometimes Pyun seems to be going for a fun, brisk adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But the humor misses more than it hits. Moreover, The Sword and the Sorcerer has enough violence and gratuitous nudity to ensure a PG rating wasn’t happening.
After a promising opening act, The Sword and the Sorcerer quickly lapses into a generic fantasy plot.
Still tonal problems weren’t the biggest issue with The Sword and the Sorcerer. Pyun, and co-writers Tom Karnowski and John V. Stuckmeyer penned a pretty run-of-the-mill story. After a promising opening act, The Sword and the Sorcerer quickly lapses into a generic fantasy plot. Stuff kind of happens. Occasionally, it feels like a scene got cut by mistake. All of the characters are one-dimensional. Television star Lee Horsley is charismatic enough as Talon, but still feels out of place. Veteran baddie Richard Lynch (Halloween) appropriately chews the scenery.
The Sword and the Sorcerer – Limp Action Choreography, Great Sword
In spite of all its limitations, The Sword and the Sorcerer is by no means a bad movie. In fact, it was – and still is – a fun effort. Truth be told, Pyun actually surprises with a handful of decent scenes that still hold up today. Both its opening and closing scenes with demonic sorcerer Xusia shine. Whether it’s ripping the heart out from a follower or tearing himself out from another body, the practical effects that created Xusia are impressive. Though most of the action choreography is clumsy, Pyun also stages a fairly impressive final battle. In addition, the pacing is brisk – The Sword and the Sorcerer doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Truth be told, Pyun actually surprises with a handful of decent scenes that still hold up today.
Much of the movie’s appeal also lies in its (un)intentional silliness. If you were a kid in the early 1980s, there’s a good chance you wanted a triple-bladed sword replica just like Talon. Nothing about the movie’s signature weapon makes any sense. Just carrying a sword with three blades would be heavy let alone trying to swing it. How does the sword shoot its blades like projectiles? Where does Talon get his replacement blades? There’s a sandbox logic to the prop, but it works regardless. When you were ten years old, there wasn’t anything much cooler than it. However, some of the movie’s humor – and its use of female characters – wouldn’t fly at all today.
The Sword and the Sorcerer is Better Than It Has Any Right to Be
Derivative, formulaic, and often clumsy, The Sword and the Sorcerer has no business being entertaining. Some actors are miscast, others deliver wooden performances. There’s stuff here that wouldn’t fly in a movie today. But here’s the thing – The Sword and the Sorcerer is a fun movie in spite of all these issues. Yes, nostalgia probably gives this one a boost for anyone who grew up in the 80s. Nonetheless, a handful of impressive practical effect scenes bookend the movie. And it’s breezy, light fun. No one’s going to mistake it for a classic, but there’s a reason this one still has its fans after all these years.