Color, 1982, 99 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller, Simon MacCorkindale, George Maharis, Richard Lynch, Richard Moll, Jeff Corey
Scream Factory (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC, UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Among the many trends that exploded at the beginning of the '80s, one of the easiest to exploit was the sword and sorcery craze that sprang from the 1981 pair of Excalibur and Dragonslayer and reached perfection the following year with Conan the Barbarian. All you really needed was an austere setting with lots of dark interiors, some flashy magic lighting effects, some swords, a mixture of beefy heroes and scantily-clad women, and presto. One of the quickest cash-ins was The Sword and the Sorcerer, a very profitable indie whose striking poster art and naughty trailer made it a hot ticket in the Spring of '82 during some very crowded competition. It was also the biggest hit for prolific action director Albert Pyun, who soon dove into Cannon Films with Cyborg, Dangerously Close, and Alien from L.A. Despite its lack of availability on home video for several long durations, Sword has remained one of his most popular films while its robust score by composer and pop arranger David Whitaker (Vampire Circus, Scream and Scream Again) became a fast fan favorite.
Upon arriving on a remote windswept shore with his men, the unscrupulous King Cromwell (Bad Dreams' Lynch) fulfills his mission to infiltrate a cave and revive the sorcerer of gloppy darkness, Xusia (Night Court's Moll) in order to overtake the neighboring kingdom of Ehdan and its ruler, King Richard. However, Cromwell eventually betrays his supernatural helper and carries out a slaughter of King Richard and his entire family except for young son Talon (Matt Houston's Horsley) who grows up to be a strong, bewigged warrior bearing his dad's three-pronged blade. Talon ends up crossing paths with Xusia and the rebel Prince Mikah (Manimal's MacCorkindale) and his sister, Princess Alana (Are You in the House Alone?'s Beller), which leads to a treacherous attempt to seize the kingdom back from its ruthless ruler.
Anyone who's a fan of Lynch will be delighted with his villainous turn here, allowing him to easily walk off with the film so completely you can easily forget Horsley and MacCorkindale are even in it. As with other Pyun productions, there's a certain charm to all the ridiculous wigs which is compounded here by the fact that everything looks like an outtake from the wrong angle, resulting in some combat scenes where even repeat viewers may have no idea what's going on. Luckily it's also a ton of fun though with lots of smoke, crazy headgear, a big snake, and that crazy sword that can fire two of its blades against opponents.
An early Anchor Bay DVD in 2001 was okay for its time (at least much better than the MCA/Universal VHS versions) but was obviously limited by compression abilities at the time that turned an awful lot of it into mush. For many years the film laid dormant after that until 2022 when Scream Factory finally brought it back into circulation as a combo UHD and Blu-ray release featuring a new 4K scan from the original negative. Bear in mind that this is an incredibly dark and oppressive-looking film (up there with Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Relic), but it's never looked better than it does here with more detail in the interior scenes, stronger colors, and more natural film grain. Audio options include 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD MA English tracks, which feature a disclaimer that the only surviving audio elements are an optical track for the stereo version (with some minor inherent damage) and the old 5.1 mix from Anchor Bay with "some directional errors." You might as well go with the 2.0 track as it's the most faithful to the theatrical experience. Pyun also provides a new audio commentary in conversation with John Charles, and it's a terrific one with the director (who's been open about his struggles with progressive dementia) showing a sharp recall for the process of getting the film made after years of pitching (including a covert attempt to get Charlton Heston on board). It's really invaluable to get his memories of the film preserved here for posterity, and his zeal for genre filmmaking is really infectious here and even touching at times.
On the video side, "Tales Of The Ancient Empire" (33m6s) has Pyun recalling his transition to this film after doing 16mm films in Hawaii, his objections to some of the producers' demands, and the fantasy wave that was forming at the time he knew could get this project off the ground with David Hasselhoff intended to star at one point. "A Princess' Tale" (24m8s) features Beller (who somehow looks almost exactly the same) chatting about acting at a young age, her initial impression that the film would be more tongue in cheek, the logistics of shooting with that python, the weird power hierarchy on the set, and the ultimatum she issued over the treatment of her body double for a nude scene. In "Mightier Than The Sword" (19m51s), co-writer/co-producer John Stuckmeyer chats about his background with Sid and Marty Krofft, the production of Conan that spurred this into existence, and his very fond memories of working with Pyun during what turned out to be a challenging process with almost everyone doing day jobs. In "Master Of The Blade" (13m53s), editor Marshall Harvey explains how he got involved with distributor Group 1 thanks to Disco Fever and worked with the producer Brandon Chase on Alligator before this one, which he feels kicked into gear thanks to Excalibur and Dungeons & Dragons mania. He also goes into the creation of the film's infamous redband trailer (which this writer can attest brought down the house among young kids when it somehow ended up on prints of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). "The Specialist and the Effects" (12m10s) features special makeup effects artist Allan Apone recalls working within the budgetary constraints to accommodate what was within the storyboards and the visual ingenuity used to pull off some intricate design work. In "Brothers In Arms" (10m23s), special effects artists The Chiodo Brothers (Charles, Edward And Stephen), who went to glory with Killer Klowns from Outer Space, show off the modeling work that got them a very early gig on this film, the trickery that had to be employed to create a medieval world in the middle of Los Angeles, and the issues Moll had with the contact lenses for his character. Finally, "Dedicated To Jack Tyree, Stuntman" (11m50s) features the interview subjects all remembering stuntman Jack Tyree, who died during a tragic mishap on the production. Also included are the Trailers From Hell version of the trailer with Harvey, the redband and greenband trailers, a TV spot, and a 9m2s image gallery with lots of advertising art and stills.
Reviewed on May 26, 2022