Sword and Sorcery Collection (Deathstalker I and II, Barbarian Queen, Warrior and the Sorceress
Directors - James Sbardellati, Jim Wynorski, Hector Olivera, John C. Broderick
Cast - Rick Hill, Barbi Benton, John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, Lana Clarkson, Dawn Dunlap, David Carradine
Country of Origin - USA/Argentina
Discs - 2
MSRP - $24.97
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Films (3.5/5)
I admit at times I am a bit of a cine-masochist. I am a huge fan of the Sword and Sorcery (Sandal?) genre. It began with Schwarzenegger as Conan, but being as OCD as a child as I am today I didn't stop there. I followed Conan up with it's infamous sequel, and then Krull, Hawk the Slayer, Gor, World of Gor, Conquest, The Sword and the Sorcerer, and of course the Deathstalker tetralogy 2 of which are included in this wonderful Sword and Sorcery collection from Shout! Factory.
I have loved these Corman releases from Shout! pretty much from the start, but this is the one I have drooling in anticipation over, and not just for the Deathstalker films, but for a mysterious film that has burned itself into my adolescent psysche called Barbarian Queen. On UPN in St. Petersburg in the 90's they showed Roger Corman presents on Saturday Nights. The film featured castles, fires, and warrior princesses, for years I didn't know the title, and when I got the internet I searched Corman's filmography, and figured it might be Barbarian Queen. So when I got this package from Shout! I hit that one first. Sadly, it was not to be. However, Barbarian Queen was indeed a fun romp so it was not entirely a loss.
The films range from absolutely amazing cult madness (Deathstalker II) to absolute dreck (Warrior and the Sorceress), but even at their worst they are a pretty fun collective watch, and really represent an era in cult filmmaking that has long since past. The Conan remake has come out this weekend, and while I do want to see it, I know it won't capture the spirit of Robert E. Howard, or the excitement I got as a child watching some of the schlocky films (some of which included here) for the first time. Still between this, and the Conan Blu-ray's that came out earlier this month it's a good time for an 80's sword and sorcery marathon! A few beers, 6 movies, and a long weekend night of violence and debauchery.
I remember seeing bits and pieces of Deathstalker on late night cable TV, but never seeing the full film until now. I was quite surprised at how much I actually liked it, it's definitely a Conan cash in, but it's cheesy, violent, and full of cheap gratuitous nudity. The perfect exploitation film formula.
The film stars Richard Hill as Deathstalker an outlaw who lives by his sword. As the film opens Deathstalker saves a young woman from the clutches of some evil bandits. This seemingly selfless deed is replaced in our minds a moment later, when he immediately attempts to bed her against her will. The local king who has been ousted from his castle by the Evil Wizard Monkar views this display, and offers Deathstalker the job of stopping Monkar, and restoring the King to the throne. This is normally the part where the hero takes the mission, and begins his quest, but because Deathstalker is sort of a prick he refuses.
That is until he discovers that Monkar is in possession of 2 artifacts that when combined with a third will grant the possessor immortality then, and only then does he take up the quest to take down the Evil Wizard Monkar (I love saying that). He is joined on his quest by Kaira (the late Lana Clarkson), and end up at Monkar's castle in time for a tournament to win the hand of Codille. He isn't so much interested in Codille, but sort of wants to protect her from everyone else so he ends up entering. The Evil Wizard Monkar is so impressed by his performance that he gives 'Stalker Codille, unfortunately, it's not Codille, but an assassin who fails to kill Deathstalker, but takes out Kaira. This is, of course, the beginning of the battle between Deathstalker and Monkar.
OK, so Deathstalker is fairly cliche, but it does have quite a bit going for it. Rick Hill makes a pretty damn good lead, and Lana Clarkson and Barbi Benton are great B-Movie Starlets, maybe not the best actresses, but the material doesn't really call for it. As for the effects they are pretty darn good here from the costume design to the gore. I was also a big fan of the set design, which I have to say (and don't smack me) seemed to recall at times Fellini's Satyricon (ducks!). Overall, a fun little sword and sorcery film from an era where sword and sorcery films ruled video store shelves.
Deathstalker II (6/5)
Yeah, you read that right. Forget about Deathstalker, this is one of those sequels that simply forgets the original existed, and just jumps into a new adventure. Also, it doesn't take itself one bit seriously, which really works to it's advantage. Manowar cover model Rick Hill is out, and in his place is the very different looking John Terlesky, who also has a very different attitude than Hill's 'Stalker.
The film follows 'Stalker as he assist Reena the Seer (Monique Gabrielle) on her quest to reclaim her kingdom (she's actually Princess Evie) from the Evil Wizard Jarek (see I'm doing it again). Along the way they must do battle with assassins, thieves, zombies, and an Amazonian tribe before coming face to face with the Evil Wizard Jarek and Evie's evil Doppelganger who are bent on her destruction in order to maintain their grasp over her kingdom.
The film is a hodge-podge of 70's and 80's film references, and even opens with a nod to the intro to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The director Jim Wynorski knew going into this that the first film wasn't the best source material, and didn't appear to even use it as anything more than a title. The genre itself is a template for some great humor. The cut presented on this disc is Wynorski's approved director's cut which is 10 minutes shorter than the prior DVD edition, but is only missing dialogue scenes from a TV edit which were shot without Wynorski's permission. If you need a reason to buy this set, Deathstalker II is definitely it.
Barbarian Queen (3/5)
We have now reached the second disc (and lesser) disc of the set, which kicks off with a film I have waited for 15 years to see.
Was it worth the wait? Not really. Did I have fun with it? Of course.
OK, so Barbarian Queen stars Lana Clarkson as the titular Barbarian Queen Amethea. The film opens on her wedding day, coincidentally this is also the day the Evil Lord Arrakur (not a wizard!) invades her village, burns it to the ground, kills all the men, rapes the women, and kidnaps the women they did not have time to rape. This includes Amathea's sister played by Forbidden World's Dawn Dunlap. This leaves 4 topless angry women (including Amathea) in the ashen remains of the village, and they want topless barbarian revenge. That is pretty much the jist of it. 71 minutes of rape, violence, and revenge seeking adventure.
This isn't Oscar material here, but it is a good fun time. Now here's where my opinion is divided. Many reviewers choose to say that Barbarian Queen with all it's scenes of rape and violence against women make it a very misogynistic film. I am going to take the opposite viewpoint. The primary castmembers of the film are female yes, and they do get raped, tortured, and suffer. However, Amathea is a strong (granted not very deep) female character, who never once in this adventure calls on the assistance of a man to help her in her revenge quest and in that regard the film could almost be seen in a feminist light. Maybe I'm reaching a bit far, but that was my perspective watching this.
Warrior and the Sorceress (1/5)
What we have here is Space Yojimbo, I mean the Warrior and the Sorcercess, starring David Carradine as Kain (Yes, then named him Kain). It is pretty much a point by point remake of Yojimbo with Carradine playing the titular role. In this film Kain finds himself in between 2 rival factions fighting over a towns well. If you were to watch this side by side with Yojimbo, first of all you would shut this off about 2 minutes in, and give Kurosawa your full and undivided attention. However, if you managed to make your way through you would notice that everything is pretty identical. This isn't Fistful of Dollars where you can see the roots of Yojimbo in the film, this is spot on Yojimbo plagirism.
Maybe I'm being too hard on it, but I really disliked this film. There were some fun B-Movie elements, and Carradine is always an excellent screen presence even though he felt like he was dialing it in. Overall, you've gotten 3 good to great films in this set, and a total stinker. Not a bad ratio.
Cliff and the gang at Shout! Factory really know how to make these titles shine, and this is apparent with the work they have done with the Sword and Sorcery Collection. All 4 films are presented in their original 1:78:1 theatrical aspect ratios in anamorphic widescreen, and they look fantastic. The colors really pop from these DVD transfers, and the level of clarity is truly astounding.
Granted, they are far from perfect. You still have some scratches, and assorted print damage, and some minor softness. Overall this is the best these films have ever looked (at least the ones I've seen prior to this), and I can only imagine how this would transfer over to a Blu-ray.
All 4 films are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English tracks. The tracks are suitable for the most part, there aren't any real audio defects that I could pick up on close listen. I was playing around with the volume a bit on a few of these, but overall the mixes were sufficient and got the job done. I really wish these Shout! releases would come with subtitles though.
While the Barbarian Queen/Warrior and the Sorceress disc are bare bones. The Deathstalker double feature disc does offer commentaries on both films, that are both informative and entertaining. Deathstalker also gets a photo gallery, and Deathstalker II has it's theatrical trailer present.
If you like Sword and Sorcery films, and are looking for a cheesy fun filled good time than this set is a no-brainer. The extras are slim, but the transfers are fantastic. Highly Recommended.