The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) -****
Had I not seen it with my own eyes (about a dozen times, as a matter of fact), I probably wouldn’t have believed it either, but it’s true. David Carradine really did contribute to the 1980’s sword-and-sorcery renaissance that followed in the wake of Conan the Barbarian. That movie, The Warrior and the Sorceress, is truly a wonder to behold. Imagine, if you will, a barbarian version of A Fist Full of Dollars (itself really just a Wild West take on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), in which Carradine plays a nomadic swordsman with a couple of suspicious points of resemblance to the character he portrayed on “Kung Fu” (right down to the name!). A barbarian version of A Fist Full of Dollars shot for about 75 bucks in an Argentine desert with a cast whose acting experience at the time was in the range of slim-to-none. A barbarian version of A Fist Full of Dollars in which a covered female breast appears exactly five times in 81 minutes!!!!
The wanderer Kain (Carradine) is the last of the Homeracs, a crusading order of swordsmen who were the fighting arm of a now equally extinct priesthood. His holy warrior gig now over, Kain roams the earth (well, okay, so it’s not exactly the Earth— whatever planet this is has two suns) as a mercenary, selling his unequalled skill at arms to the highest bidder. He’ll find plenty of work in the village of Yamatar. The commoners there are exploited or enslaved by a pair of rival warlords named Zeg (Luke Askew, from The Beast Within and Dune Warriors) and Bal Caz (William Marin), who spend most of their time struggling for control of Yamatar’s well, just about the only thing of real value for thousands of square miles. Kain may be just a sword for hire these days, but the old Homerac in him is rankled by what he sees in the village, and just for the hell of it, he decides to bring down both tyrants.
Chances are the decisive influence in rekindling his old crusader’s fire is the first person he meets in Yamatar. Living there in squalor and obscurity is Prelate Bludge (Harry Townes), the last living member of the priesthood which Kain once served. Then there’s the beautiful girl Kain glimpses on the parapet of Zeg’s castle (Maria Socas, from Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Deathstalker II— and by the way, this first peek at her is the only time in the whole movie that you’ll see her with her top on). She turns out to be the prelate’s daughter, Naja, whom Zeg is holding in captivity for reasons known only to him. Knights in shining armor have always been suckers for hot damsels in distress, and apparently that goes for knights in dusty cassocks, too.
So Kain starts shaking things up. He sends a message to Bal Caz to watch the well (currently guarded by several of Zeg’s soldiers), and goes to work. Kain cuts the whole squad to pieces in less than two minutes, and walks away, giving Bal Caz, his men, and the villagers of Yamatar a rare and welcome chance to get water without having to pay Zeg for it. On the strength of this performance, Bal Caz hires Kain to lead his forces against Zeg the next day (Kain drives a hard bargain, incidentally), but he and his pet lizard (don’t ask) also make plans to have the very expensive warrior killed after his job is done. Little does Bal Caz realize that Kain overheard his plotting, however, and when the two “armies” (about twenty guys each, really) square off around the well the following morning, Kain deserts, loudly proclaiming that he won’t fight for anyone who plots against his life, taking his 100 golden tareks with him. Bal Caz and his men avoid destruction only because of the timely arrival in Yamatar of Master Burgo (Arthur Clark) and his traveling slave auction. Both warlords agree to finish their fight later, after the slavers leave.
Again Bal Caz plans treachery. He sees to it that the gourds of water that Zeg sells the slavers (gourds which bear Zeg’s coat of arms) are poisoned, so that Burgo’s army will be decimated on its way across the Great Wastes. When Burgo figures out what happened, he will surely be motivated to return and destroy Zeg, leaving Bal Caz undisputed master of Yamatar. And again, Kain sticks his nose into the warlords’ feud, selling Zeg the story of Bal Caz’s machinations. He pointedly refuses to retrieve the poisoned flasks, however, saying the job is too dangerous, even for what Zeg is willing to pay. But more importantly, Kain realizes that it doesn’t matter whether Zeg falls to Bal Caz or Burgo, just as long as he falls. Bal Caz, after all, is weak enough alone that a village uprising could probably topple him if he were in charge, while Burgo’s line of work would preclude him from settling down to rule Yamatar in Zeg’s place.
Meanwhile, we finally learn why Zeg has imprisoned Naja. As the daughter of a prelate of the Old Gods, she possesses certain magical powers, chiefly the capability to re-forge the lost Sacred Sword of Yura. In this neck of the woods, having a magic sword is almost as good as having a neutron bomb, and Zeg figures the Sword of Yura would give him the edge he needs to rid himself of Bal Caz once and for all. His only problem is that Naja has no desire to see Zeg in possession of such a weapon, and she has been consistently flubbing the incantations that would invest an ordinary blade with godly power. Kain discovers this when he pays the girl a visit in Zeg’s dungeon, on his way out the door after ratting out Bal Caz, and the information gets him thinking. As a Homerac, Kain knows well what an advantage the Sword of Yura would give the tyrant, and he tends to agree with Naja that this would be a bad thing. So the wily warrior sets his mind to finding the best way to get Naja out of Zeg’s clutches.
What he ultimately settles on is selling his services to Zeg. This will get him close to Naja, and as Zeg’s captain, Kief (Anthony De Longis, from The Sword and the Sorcerer and Masters of the Universe), is the only man in the tyrant’s employ who comes close to matching Kain in either fighting skill or guile, he should have little trouble exploiting that proximity to free her. But first, our hero sets up his sneakiest trick of all. The prelate’s house sits above a network of secret tunnels, one of which goes all the way to the edge of the well. Kain takes time out from his busy schedule to chop a hole in the wall of this tunnel, redirecting the flow of the well’s water, and creating the illusion that it has gone dry. Then he leaves to pay his visit to Zeg.
Captain Kief takes an instant dislike to the Homerac, but because his master places great stock in Kain’s value on the battlefield, he is forced to bite his tongue and bide his time. Kain moves swiftly, tricking the girl’s guard into leaving her cell long enough for him to free her on his very first night in Zeg’s service. But Kief’s got his number, and a quick interview with the snookered guard gives him enough evidence to convince Zeg that the mercenary is up to no good. The following evening, Zeg lays a trap of his own (it involves a four-breasted stripper with a poisonous stinger!), into which Kain falls right according to plan.
Now we’re getting somewhere. After suffering a prolonged beating from Kief and his men, Kain takes advantage of the confusion that erupts when the “dry” well is discovered to sneak out of Zeg’s fortress and make his way out to the desert, where Naja, the prelate, and about 50 of Yamatar’s more disgruntled villagers are waiting for him to lead their revolution. Naja has been hard at work on the Sword of Yura, with which she means to arm Kain, increasing even further his margin of superiority over the two warlords’ troops. And elsewhere in the Great Wastes, Master Burgo is marching his new army toward Yamatar to take his revenge. So what do you get when you take two feuding potentates, a pissed-off brigand chieftain, and a crack team of revolutionary guerillas, and throw them all together? The biggest, bloodiest free-for-all $20 can buy, that’s what, complete with some surprisingly well-choreographed swordplay, especially from David Carradine and Anthony De Longis.
I don’t care how shoddy and stupid The Warrior and the Sorceress is. I fucking love this movie, and I never seem to get tired of it. I love the crappy sets, the ridiculous acting, and the hilariously bad special effects (especially the effects related to the movie’s two rubber monsters). I love Arthur Clark’s characterization of Burgo, which seems to be patterned on the villain from some shitty pirate movie from the 40’s. (All this guy needs is a parrot and a peg leg.) I love the fact that, no matter what quantity of money Kain demands in exchange for whatever service he’s offering, the man paying him just happens to have a sack of gold within arm’s reach that contains exactly that amount. I love it that Maria Socas (along with practically every other actress in the film) plays the entire movie topless. But most of all, I love the way all of these things sit cheek-by-jowl with a fiendishly complex (albeit totally plagiarized) plot and unexpectedly astute performances from David Carradine and Luke Askew, both of whom seem to be taking their roles just seriously enough, while also having the time of their lives. And who could blame them? Not only are they working on one of the wildest fantasy movies of the decade, they also both get to touch Maria Socas, and spend the film’s entire shooting schedule looking at her naked breasts! And unless you’re way too hung up on quality for your own good, you’ll have just as big a blast watching The Warrior and the Sorceress as they look to have had making it.
By the way, thanks to Dr. Freex for hooking me up with my copy of this flick.