One evening, I went over to a friend’s place for a movie night, and he said, “So, what do you want to watch? Sci-fi? Horror? Fantasy? Bad fantasy?” Any loyal reader knows exactly what I picked, and that was how I was introduced to The Warrior and the Sorceress, which is basically just Yo-Jimbo with David Carradine and a talking lizard.
Tagline: An age of mystery and magic… of swords and sorcery.
More Accurate Tagline: An age of fat guys and grunting lizards… of shin-kicks and inconvenience.
Guilty Party: Writer, director, producer, and auteur John C. Broderick. He’s only directed four movies and after this one, there’s over a decade gap. So the universe has a sense of justice after all.
Synopsis: Look, I can save everyone a ton of time here. This is Yo-Jimbo. Well, minus all the parts that made Yo-Jimbo one of the best movies ever made. Noted genius Dashiell Hammett wrote a story called Red Harvest which was adapted by other genius Akira Kurosawa into a badass samurai movie. Due to the simplicity of the plot and the iconic hero, it’s become the “Twist and Shout” of movies, namely that everyone covered it, and probably sometime in the ‘80s.
We open on two suns, because goddamn it, this movie is going to steal from everyone. We’re on one of those desert worlds that was super popular in the heyday of ‘80s fantasy, and like most, we have a wandering warrior. The credits list him as Kain, but he’s only ever called the Dark One, so that’s what I’m calling him. It’s David Carradine, rocking a wispy gray bowl cut, a space sword, and a cast on his left arm that the filmmakers are trying to pretend is a gauntlet.
He walks into a town situated — seriously, go watch Yo-Jimbo. It’s a million times better. Right, so there’s two warring factions, the one led by Zeg the Tyrant and the other by Bal Caz the… I don’t know. The Opposed to Cardio, I suppose. Zeg is a possibly British guy, who hangs out with the Captain of the Guard, a beefy dude who looks like he should be singing lead in a Journey cover band. I’m fairly certain these two are a couple. Then there’s Bal Caz, a tittering fat guy who takes advice from a lizard that talks exactly like a special needs gremlin. I am a hundred percent certain these two are a couple.
Zeg also has this topless woman, the titular (no pun intended) Sorceress, but she never does any magic. She just wanders around in different colored thongs. Maybe the locals think that’s what magic is?
The Dark One immediately starts working for both sides, you know, exactly like in Yo-Jimbo. He also has a pal in town, the Prelate, who might be the Sorceress’s father. It’s unclear. It’s implied that the Dark One is some kind of ancient jedi warrior from a fallen empire, and come on, guys. You seriously pitched this as Yo-Jimbo on Tattooine. You’re not even trying here. So the Dark One is kind of loyal to the Sorceress, but he hilariously makes her carry his gold when he breaks her out of the pokey.
Eventually, he presses his luck a little too far and Zeg’s guys kick the crap out of him. (They trap him with a four-breasted woman doing a strip tease, who also has a scorpion living in her vagina, and I swear to god, I made not a single word of that up.) Then there’s a big battle and Bal Caz dies (the lizard too), and everyone unites. That’s when Burgo the Slaver, who is this weird pig monster we’ve seen before, shows back up and enslaves everyone. I don’t know what it is with fantasy movies and pig monsters. I really don’t.
Then the Dark One, now wielding a new and better space sword, leads the villagers against Burgo. He kills them, then offs the Captain of the Guard (still miffed his boyfriend Zeg was killed). After that, it’s time to wander the desert some more, and hope that arm heals up. Casts are murder in the heat.
Life-Changing Subtext: Lawyers have no power here.
Defining Quote: Roughly 70% of the dialogue is people screaming, “AAAAAH! AAAAAH!” Sometimes it’s fear, sometimes happiness, sometimes denoting a deep ennui that only those who have experienced loss at the end of a bittersweet summer can truly understand.
Standout Performance: I have to go with the lizard. I think he has a level of untapped versatility we have yet to see. Don’t be surprised if he pulls a Matthew Lillard-esque career renaissance, first with a supporting role in a Clooney picture, then in a critically-acclaimed yet low-rated cable drama.
What’s Wrong: You know when you’re watching a movie and you wish you were watching another movie? This is the hardest case of that in history.
Flash of Competence: If you’re going to rip someone off, Kurosawa is the way to go.
Best Scenes: The soundtrack wears the movie’s “influences” proudly, even brazenly. About half the time, it’s someone trying to do a Sergio Leone cowboy track, but when the battles start, it instantly morphs into the rollicking orchestral score of Krull. And yes, this means I wished I were watching Krull.
You’d think that in a move that lives and dies by the swordfights, those would at least be good. You would be so wrong. I don’t know if Carradine was paranoid about breaking the other arm, or he was just old enough he was terrified of falling down, but he goes through every fight as gingerly as a new father navigates a carpet covered in Legos. He wobbles up to an enemy, kicks him gently in the shins, then maybe bops him with the sword, maybe not. Depends on how he’s feeling.
Transcendent Moment: In a series of events too dumb to relate, the Sorceress winds up in the possession of Bal Caz. Naturally, they want a hostage exchange in the center of town where everyone can see. So Bal Caz brings out the topless Sorceress and threatens her to Zeg, and you get that Zeg’s panicking a little bit. But then, the best thing happens. Zeg brings out the lizard (which the Dark One had abducted earlier), and starts threatening him. Bal Caz loses his damn mind. I’m sorry, he’s fucking that lizard. It’s not even in doubt. And when they exchange, the lizard runs over to him (it’s suddenly bipedal here, because who cares), so it’s clear this is a consensual thing. This instantly makes it the most romantic scene in the movie.
The Warrior and the Sorceress is terrible, and it should really be the victim of several lawsuits, but if you ever wanted to see what it looks like when David Carradine doesn’t give a fuck, there is no finer example.