Everybody knows Conan, whether it’s through the classic Arnie movies or through the not-quite-so-memorable remake with a pre-Aquaman Jason Momoa. Conan the Barbarian is one of the touchstones of the sword and sorcery genre. But believe it or not, there are actually plenty of other movies out there deserving of just as much praise. We’re taking a look at five of them, in no particular order other than alphabetical.
Released in 1981 and directed by Matthew Robbins, this is actually a Disney movie, but make no mistake, the dragon in this isn’t like the one from Pete’s Dragon. Nope. This is a proper fangs, claws, fire, eat your family and burn your house down type dragon. Specifically the dragon (called Vermithrax Pejorative) in this movie has a taste for virgin girls who are picked by lottery twice a year and sent to be eaten. A young hero called Valerian takes exception to this and decides to do something about it, enlisting (as is tradition in these things) the help of the last sorcerer alive, Ulrich of Cragganmore. For those who like their fantasy a bit more down and dirty this is a good movie to check out. Also, it has to be mentioned that the animatronic work on the dragon is a thing of beauty. Long live the practical effect!
Speaking of bloody and muddy fantasy, few come quite as grimy as this superbly dark and occasionally really rather disturbing retelling of Arthurian legend. John Boorman presents a gritty, mud-soaked and blood splattered version of the famous tale of King Arthur and his Knights, touching briefly on how Arthur came to be born before plunging headlong into those stories we all know and love. The sword in the stone, Lancelot, the Lady of the Lake and many more. It features a cast of very, very well known faces, including Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart and even Gabriel Byrne. Special mention needs to go to Nicol Williamson’s version of Merlin, both jovial and menacing by turns.
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Hawk the Slayer
There’s kind of a theme here. Most of Hawk the Slayer is set in damp woods and misty bogs in the middle of nowhere, but don’t let that put you off. This is probably one of the greatest slices of fantasy cheese ever made as the titular Hawk and his “elven mindsword” must fight to stop the evil machinations (are there any other kind of machinations?) of his older brother Voltan, played by the always amazing Jack Palance. Elven archers, giants, soldiers with repeating crossbows, a bit of a nod and a wink to the 7 Samurai and you have a simply glorious movie. It’s terrible, but it’s the RIGHT kind of terrible. John Terry takes himself terribly seriously as Hawk, Jack Palance chews all the scenery there is, W. Morgan Sheppard is as grizzled as ever as Ranulf and there’s even a little cameo by Patricia Quinn (better known as Magenta from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) as “Woman”. How could you say no to that sort of billing?
Moving away from the mud and gore, it’s time for giant teleporting mountains that are also spaceships, giant spiders, horses that can fly while running SUPER FAST and Cyclops that have the gift of premonition but are cursed to only ever be able to see the moment of their own deaths. Welcome to the land of Krull, a delicious hot mess of sci-fi inspired fantasy that was a box office bomb at release but has then gone on, as these things often do, to become a firm cult favourite. A creature called “The Beast” has invaded the planet of Krull with his army of Slayers who have kidnapped a Princess, Lyssa, whom the Beast intends to marry. Opposing him is the Prince Colwyn and his ragtag band of hopeful heroes which includes, once again, a very young Liam Neeson and even an equally young Robbie Coltrane. With an amazing soundtrack by James Horner, comic relief in the form of David Battley as Ergo the Magnificent, more swashbuckling than you could buckle a swash or swash a buckle at and did we mention the GIANT TELEPORTING MOUNTAIN?
Ladyhawke is a film by Richard Donner (The Goonies, Lethal Weapon) starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, and the man himself, Rutger Hauer. It’s a movie about a thief (Broderick) who finds himself caught up in the story of Etienne Navarre (Hauer) and Isabeau of Anjou (Pfeiffer) – lovers who have been cursed by the Bishop of Aquila. Navarre is a wolf by night and Isabeau is a hawk during the day, the couple only able to see one another for brief moments as the sun sets. Broderick is surprisingly entertaining here, as the thief known as “The Mouse” who occasionally chats to God, reminding us all that he can actually act. One day I may even forgive him for being in that abomination of a Godzilla movie. Of all the films here, this is perhaps the one that is the most straight-forward. Star-crossed lovers, thieves, dungeons, corrupt clergy and a lot less mud than previous entries. Even now, 30+ years after it was made, Ladyhawke is still a damn fine film.
So there we go, five other sword and sorcery films that are well worth your time, all available on DVD/Blu-ray for not a lot as they’re all quite old now. You won’t go wrong having these in your library!