There's something appealing about the idea of transposing tropes associated with westerns into a fantasy setting. Who doesn't love a nameless, morally-ambiguous goodish guy savin' the wimminfolk and the grateful townspeople with nothing but his wits and his trusty Colt .45/broadsword? Steel Dawn may not have proven a particularly successful venture, but writer/director Lance Hool can't be faulted for trying to bring something new to the table. There are only so many Conan knock-offs one can stomach, after all - and I say that as someone with a strong stomach for Conan knock-offs.
But spicing up your barbarian cheesecake with a little revisionist western nutmeg isn't quite the same thing as merrily ripping off a classic western and dumping it into genero-fantasyland. Witness today's Monsters & Mullets feature, the 1984 David Carradine-starring The Warrior and the Sorceress. If you feel like you've seen this movie somewhere before, you have. Only last time, it starred Clint Eastwood. And didn't suck.
NB to the above poster: there are no blonde women in this film. The titular sorceress is a brunette.
So. Kain blows into some unnamed town in a barren, wasteland country. We know this is a barren, wasteland fantasy country because there are two suns in the sky. The village contains exactly two warlords who spend their time fighting for control of the only well in town, conveniently located in-between their two compounds. Baddie #1, Zeg the Tyrant, is a heavily-militarized sorta-fascist who takes his sartorial cues from Nazi Germany and employs a shirtless mercenary called Keif as his main heavy. He also keeps a naked woman called Naja, apparently a sorceress, prisoner. Baddie #2, Bal Caz, is an effete, obese hedonist with an English accent and a pet dragon-thing. Hilariously, both Bal Caz and his dragon dress in velvet robes and lace collars. Bal Caz employs mutated rabble instead of soldiers, likes to be fed grapes by his naked lady slaves, and invites comparisons with no less a personage than Futurama's Hedonismbot.
Filling in the role of "much abused priest" is Bludge the Prelate, an old man who serves no purpose whatsoever beyond being threatened and abused by Zeg and Bal Caz, and ineffectually hiding Kain. In a proper western, the abused priest is someone we automatically care about because we understand that he represents civility and humility in a lawless land. In The Warrior and the Sorceress, he's just a dude with a beard. The transition doesn't quite work.
Kain pits the two warlords against each other for a while, exploiting each for whatever money they're willing to throw at him. At some point, however, he gets his dander up when he realizes that Zeg is keeping a naked lady prisoner. He frees the naked lady only to give her to Bal Caz, who then trades her back to Zeg in exchange for his pet dragon. It's not entirely clear a) how Zeg got the dragon and b) why Kain rescued the woman only to get her immediately reimprisonated. In a movie filled with naked women in chains, the entire sequence reads as yet another excuse to put a naked woman in chains. Yay.
Eventually Kain rescues the woman again, facing off against an amazing tentacle monster in the process. She enchants a special sword for him and he instigates a full-on war between the two warlords. The warlords, by the way, have been spending their time facing off against each other - literally! - over the well. First one side runs at the other, then the other side runs back; both sides stop within a few inches of each other's weapons. This goes on for aaaaages. Eventually Zeg kills Bal Caz. Kain intervenes, fights Zeg's heavy to the death, kills Zeg, and the well is freed for the use of the natives, none of whom have so much as an on-screen sigh to their credit. Kain wanders off into the sunset with his bags of money. Roll credits.
The Warrior and the Sorceress is almost not a terrible movie. The plot, of course, is such a retread of Fistful of Dollars that it's essentially joyriding into the same car, driving back and forth over the same tiremarks. Carradine gives his best Clint Eastwood impression, which isn't unwatchable - although his costume, a fantasy-inflected zarape and culottes slit up to his manly, manly thighs, is pretty horrendous. The actors playing Zeg, Bal Caz and Kief are clearly having a blast.
But. But, but, but. As mentioned above, western tropes don't easily transition to other genres without suffering along the way. Warrior fails spectacularly to make us care about the characters that Kain cares about. It's all very well and good to have the venerable priest character or the imperiled woman character in your fantasy-western, but deprived of their familiar context, they become meaningless. Plot and character development are still necessary to make them important to the audience.
This, however, is in no way Warrior's worst failing. Fantasy films as a genre are not known for their progressive representations of gender. In a crowded field, however, Warrior stands out as possibly the worst, most horrifically sexist film we've yet reviewed for this feature. Only one woman, Naja the sorceress, has a speaking role. And the actress - like every other woman in the movie - spends the entire film topless. And just name your restraint: she's being restrained by it.
Indeed, Warrior's commitment to objectifying and unsexifying the female figure is extraordinary. At one point Zeg calls forth a veil dancer to perform for Kain. She begins by stripping away her layers to reveal four breasts and then tries to kill Kain with a weapon that shoots out of her vagina. The camera lingers lovingly over her body as Kain strangles her to death. Later, Zeg monologues to Kain about how incredibly powerful he is. To prove his point he has his henchmen toss a naked woman into a fishtank. The camera cuts back and forth between Zeg and the woman as she drowns, finally coming to rest on the image of her shapely, artistically-backlit corpse.
Ordinarily I'd try to end my review with something cheery, but I found this movie too ghastly for words. For those of you playing along at home, I suggest you watch something else - anything else - instead.
Monsters: One dragon-thing, one tentacle monster, one four-breasted woman.
Mullets: One pretty decent specimen on Kief, Zeg's second-baddie-in-command.
Hookers, Victims & Doormats: Any woman in this film was some combination of all three. Quite an achievement, really.
Doesn't Anyone Think This Shit Through? Clearly not.
Comprehensive Monsters & Mullets Awesomeness Spectrum Placement: Zero. Zip. Nada. Nul Point. This one is going to be our pack-follower for some time - hopefully forever.