The Warrior And The Sorceress Is Your Weekend Cheesy Movie
by Erik Amaya
Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. And yet others thrive on a tone not easily marketed in Hollywood. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these films for what they get wrong — when they get it wrong — and what they right do in spite of the wishes of the studio or the director.
This week: The Warrior and the Sorceress
It has been some time since we visited producer Roger Corman and his cheaply made 1980s fantasy films. To recap: Corman had sold his previous production company, New World Pictures, and started a new firm which would ultimately be called New Horizons. The company — already riding the wave of sci-fi and fantasy in the wake of Star Wars — secured a favorable production deal in Argentina and produced nine fantasy films in the country, starting with Deathstalker and ending, oddly enough, with Deathstalker II. But as we know, fantasy is a hard genre to pull off even with the best of budgets and this weekend’s cheesy movie, The Warrior and the Sorceress, takes us back to the sort of cheese which matures inside a poorly thought-out production.
The plot concerns Kain the Warrior (David Carradine), a mercenary on the desert planet of Ura. Its two suns scorch the landscape and Kain suggests early on that a central government has collapsed. In its absence, warlords like Zeg (Luke Askew) and Bal Caz (Guillermo Marin) amassed resources and armies. The two are camped around a wellspring, bring life in the village surrounding it to a halt. Bugde (Harry Townes), the local Prelate, has somehow sent word to Kain. But the end of the former civilization has hardened his heart and he plans to take the well for himself.
Once he arrives in the village, he begins to heat up the cold war between Zeg and Bal Caz by undercutting them and suggesting the other orchestrated the plot. He also gets paid in some sort of doubloon (which still has value despite the collapse of the government) by both men to become their new best sword. He consistently betrays them both, which makes them all the more foolish when they repeatedly rehire him.
During a raid on Zeg’s stronghold, Kain encounters a sorceress named Naja (María Socas), who has a certain level of power over Kain and makes him honor his original vow as some sort of marshal to protect the people of the village. Soon, his game changes as he plans to bring down both Zeg and Bal Caz. There’s just one slight problem: during an early salvo, Bal Caz implicated Zeg in the poisoning of a group of slavers loyal to a lizard-man called Burgo (Armando Capo). He’s off putting together a new army to retaliate and he will return within a few days.
And if the plot sounds sort of like a fantasy version of Yojimbo, that’s part of the charm. Carradine, himself something of a film nerd, called Corman to the carpet about the film’s wholesale copying of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic. Corman responded by telling him an apocryphal story about Kurosawa’s reluctance to sue director Sergio Leone when he made A Fistful of Dollars because Yojimbo was itself boosted from Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest. In reality, Kurosawa and his studio sued Leone, but Corman’s belief that no one would care about the copying proved to be correct.
History has proved, in fact, that no one really cares about a fantasy version of Yojimbo.
Nonetheless, there are some things to enjoy in the film if you have the fortitude and enough caffeine in your system. I mention the latter because The Warrior and the Sorceress is one of the most painfully slow 81 minutes I’ve ever discussed in this column. Despite an appropriate desolate set (reused from Deathstalker, of course), Carradine as a strong lead, and Yojimbo as a story to steal from, the movie just slogs. It introduces characters and its world in such a slapdash way that it is possible I’m entirely wrong about Kain being some sort of lawman before the government broke down. It’s just difficult to keep up with the minutiae because the camera set-ups are perfunctory and the exposition leads to a lot of monotonous scenes in the early part of the film.
That said, many of the performances keep you going even if the actors are saying absolute nonsense. Marin brings a delightfully decadence and corpulent edge to Bal Caz. He’s forever rubbing his belly and offering gleeful smiles when he utters devious plans or indulges in what he calls the “pleasures of the flesh.” Like so many other warlords in these low-budget fantasy films, he is all about using his power to get naked women to hang off of him. It would be utterly repellent if not for Marin’s goofy delight in playing this terrible pimp of the wasteland.
Likewise, Askew gives Zeg a no-nonsense sensibility that would work just as well in a more competently made fantasy film like Conan the Barbarian or a quasi-spoof like Deathstalker II. He also comes off as one of the more lethal opponents in Corman’s fantasy canon. Kain witnesses this ruthlessness when Zeg orders a woman be drowned for “entertainment.”
It should be mentioned that like many of the Corman fantasy films, The Warrior and the Sorceress has a pretty messed-up view of women. They exist on Ura pretty much only to be abused. And though the violence toward women is not as graphic as many of the other films Corman produced at the time, the pervasive attitude may make this film harder to watch for some audiences.
The sole exception to this tendency is Naja, the, um, titular Sorceress who spends the entire movie topless. As it happens, Carradine alleged in his book Spirit of Shaolin that Naja’s lack of costume was a direct result of writer/director John C. Broderick’s obsession with Socas’s body. But at the same time, Naja ends up being the most heroic character in the film and saves Kain’s ass at a critical moment. Socas is, for her part, one of the stronger performers to appear in a Corman’s Argentine fantasy films. The characters she played in his films also tended to be women in positions of power who felt no shame in being naked. Nonetheless, there comes a point in this film when you wish someone would offer her a robe to avoid sunburn.
But the director’s need to put bare breasts on screen is only one of his many deficiencies. The guy cannot film action. Actor Anthony De Longis (Blade in Masters of the Universe) appears in the film as Zeg’s number two. He also did double duty as the stunt coordinator. An accomplished swordsman, he worked with Carradine to put together several fights. Unfortunately, you only get an inkling of how cool they looked as Broderick chose to shoot them in tight close-ups far too often. Additionally, his editing style leaves much to be desired. So much so, he quit the project during post-production after Corman chewed him out for going two weeks over schedule. The subsequent editing team did the film no favors as they only aided the slow pace of the film.
Nevertheless, there is cheesy fun to be had with the film thanks to its performances and half-baked ideas like Cal Baz’s lizard confidant, an octopoid “Protector” Kain fights while rescuing Naja, and the whole notion of samurai mores in a low budget sword-and-sandal flick. It may not be as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the other fantasy movies we’ve covered here, but it is the right kind of cheese for a slow Sunday afternoon. And even if you end up nodding off, the nap you take will be quite rewarding.
The Warrior and the Sorceress is available to stream with an Amazon Prime account.