Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Ah, the 80s. When thickly-thewed barbarians and scantily-clad beauties with big... uh, hairdos... cavorted across the silver screen (and cathode ray tubes) swinging swords and slinging spells for the entertainment of  teenage boys - and other arrested adolescents - everywhere. Now, thanks to Shout! Factory and its "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line, you can re-experience that ancient era with the 2-disc SWORD & SORCERY COLLECTION, comprising a quartet of the legendary producer's shoestring swordplay sagas.

In DEATHSTALKER (1983), a blond barbarian hero named, well, "Deathstalker" (Rick Hill), is recruited by a deposed king to rescue a kidnapped princess (Playboy playmate Barbi Benton) from an evil sorcerer. With the aid of a couple of sidekicks - including a topless Amazon warrior (played by the late Lana Clarkson) - the mighty Deathstalker manages to defeat all enemies and ultimately win the day. Filled with bloody battles, female nudity and goofy rubber-masked monsters, director James Sbardellati (under the name "John Watson") chooses to play the material fairly straight. Unfortunately, choppy editing further muddles an already muddled story, and the impoverished production values and low-rent special effects tend to generate unintentional laughs. Still, it's a reasonably engaging male adolescent power fantasy, with plenty of R-rated violence and sex.

DEATHSTALKER is presented at 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, approximating the theatrical aspect ratio. The print is in pretty good shape, with only minor instances of dirt, specks and other damage. Audio is 2.0. Bonus features include the original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, and a commentary track by producer/director John Sbardellati, makeup FX artist John Buechler and actor Richard Brooker. 

DEATHSTALKER II: DUEL OF THE TITANS (1987), directed by Jim Wynorski, takes a different approach, and is a lowbrow comedic spoof of the sword & sorcery genre, loaded with deliberately corny sight gags and jokey dialogue. In this one, a different Deathstalker (John Terlesky), a wise-cracking rogue and thief, finds himself pitted against an evil sorcerer (go figure!) who has created an evil duplicate of the kingdom's true princess (Monique Gabrielle, EVIL TOONS). As with the original, this Argentinian-shot fantasy is loaded with gratuitous T&A, plenty of action, cheap sets, and chuckles. The big difference is that in this case, the humor is mostly intentional.

DEATHSTALKER II is also presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with 2.0 audio. This version is about 10 minutes shorter than the one previously issued on DVD by New Concorde (which was full-frame), and is, according to Shout!, director Wynorski's preferred cut. Extras include a commentary track by Wynorski, star Terlesky, and actress Toni Naples, and the theatrical trailer.

Disc 2 is the home of BARBARIAN QUEEN (1985) starring the DEATHSTALKER's Lana Clarkson in the titular role of Amathea. On the eve of her wedding, her village is attacked by vicious marauders who slaughter her people. Taking up a sword, she and her friend Estrild (pretty Kat Shea, who would go on to direct a number of superior exploitation flicks for Corman a few years later), set out to avenge themselves upon the evil ruler responsible for the massacre. Shot in Argentina by H├ęctor Olivera (COCAINE WARS, WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM), BARBARIAN QUEEN is a pretty standard 80's sword & skin flick, with lots of action and plenty of gratuitous nudity. Production values are nil, and the acting is atrocious, but it never slows down and is 70 quick minutes of B-flick entertainment.

BARBARIAN QUEEN is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 2.0 audio. Two trailers for a couple of other Corman exploitation titles play before the feature. The only extras for this title are a selection of deleted/extended scenes and the home video trailer.

The final sordid sorcery epic in this quartet is 1984's THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS, starring David Carradine (CANNONBALL, CIRCLE OF IRON) as a nomadic ex-priest wandering an arid, desert planet with two suns. When he arrives at a small town where two rival gangs are constantly battling over the village's sole source of water, he soon finds himself playing both sides against each other in another YOJIMBO/A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS/LAST MAN STANDING retread - this time with bare-breasted sorceresses and lots of slo-mo sword fighting. Somewhat lethargically directed by John C. Broderick from a story by famed fantasy illustrator/production designer William Stout, there's still some fun to be had from WARRIOR. As usual, Carradine looks to be stoned during most of his scenes, but, as with the other movies in this set, there's an abundance of action and female flesh on display.

THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS is also presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) for the first time on home video. Audio is basic 2.0 mono. The only extras are the home video trailer, and a couple of other Corman coming attractions that play before the film.

If you grew up with these movies on VHS or pay cable, and long to return to that simpler era of fantasy filmmaking, before rampant CGI special effects and mandatory, family-friendly PG-13 ratings, this 2-disc set from Shout! Factory is a great package and a terrific bargain. Highly recommended.

BUYRoger Corman's Cult Classics Sword And Sorcery Collection (Deathstalker, Deathstalker II, The Warrior And The Sorceress & Barbarian Queen)