Not long ago, I wrote a post about some pretty awful fantasy movies, and why we love them in spite of their ultimate cheesiness (or, quite possible, because of it). In that first post I discussed Beastmaster, Willow and Legend. Now I have three more movies to get off my chest.
Hawk the Slayer
There’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of this bizarre fantasy flick, but I’m often surprised by how many people have heard of it. This movie has “the 80s” written all over it, from the flair of the opening credits to the overly synthesized music to the mist-filled cinematography…all that’s missing is Richard Simmons and a soundtrack by Phil Collins, and we’d be all set…
The evil Voltan (Jack Palance, breathing heavily and using his scowl to terrific effect) is the scourge of the land, and when he and his men kidnap the Abbess of a small convent the sisters turn to a band of heroes led by the man called Hawk (John Terry, years before he was Jack’s alcoholic father on Lost), who has cause to hate Voltan (they’re brothers, you see, and Voltan sort of…killed…Dad). Armed with a cool-looking magical sword (the bottom of the hilt is a hand gripping a glowing orb) and aided by Gort (a “giant” with a hammer), Ranulf (a warrior who manages to get his ass kicked in almost every scene), Crow (an elf, not the wise-cracking robot), and Baldin (a “dwarf” with a whip), Hawk and the others battle Voltan to an excessively Quincy Jones-like soundtrack and (spoiler alert!) ultimately save the day.
Honestly, Hawk the Slayer is so utterly cheesy its hard not to like it. The film is hokey from the very first frame, and like a lot of the rest of the movies on this list that’s truly where the charm lies. John Terry is a capable actor, and his ability to keep a straight face in spite of all of the heavy-handed zaniness going on around him actually helps to keep the film grounded. And what is there not to love about Jack Palance running around with half of his face hidden and acting menacing?
Conan the Destroyer
Conan the Barbarian is considered by many to be among the staples of the genre — a bare bones, well-plotted, efficient sword and sorcery adventure with plenty of blood, babes and mayhem. It never overextends itself, and never tries to be something it’s not.
Conan the Destroyer…yeah, not so much.
The sequel eschews the linear model of its predecessor and goes for “bigger, badder, more” (the failing, honestly, of most sequels). This time, legendary warrior Conan (Arnold Schwarzeneggar, The Guhvenator himself) is recruited by the secretly evil queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, taking time off from kicking Superman’s butt) to help Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo) recover a sacred jewel in exchange for Taramis returning Conan’s lost love from the grave. Accompanied by far too many other characters — Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain, without a slam dunk in sight), the captain of Taramis’ guard; Akiro the wizard (Mako, reprising his role from the first film and chewing on the scenery); Malak (Tracey Walter), a bungling and thoroughly annoying thief; and Zula (Grace Jones), a warrior-dame who the producers really wanted to be in the movie — Conan secures the jewel from the tower of the evil wizard Thoth-Amon (Pat Roach) and returns only to learn that Taramis plans to use the treasure to revive the Dreaming God and wreak havoc upon the world. Oops.
Conan the Destroyer can be enjoyed on a very visceral, corny level. The action sequences are well done, and there’s plenty of excitement to be found, but as a sequel this film is pretty lacking. The original, even for as simple and sometimes cheesy as it was, had a soul to the proceedings, a sense of gravitas and conviction in spite of ultimately being about a big warrior running around and smashing things with his sword. Conan the Destroyer, sadly, is full-on cheese, and while that’s perfectly enjoyable in its own right, the film could have been much better.
This, probably my favorite of the “cheesy” fantasy movies, is a highly enjoyable epic fantasy adventure that just happens to really be more sci-fi than fantasy. Alien invaders called the “Slayers”, minions of “The Beast”, descend in their flying fortress and launch a ruinous attack that slays both of the monarchs of the world of Krull. When Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) — who prophecy foretells will have a child who will one day rule the galaxy — is kidnapped by the Slayers, it falls to her betrothed, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and an old sage named Ynyr (Freddie Jones) to rescue her. Aided by a cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw), a bungling magician (David Battley), and a band of escaped convicts (including Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson), Colwyn must find the elusive Black Fortress, lair of The Beast, which changes its location with each new dawn.
The only thing cheesy about Krull is the inherent sense of corniness present in most 80s fantasy flicks, because, all things considered, this is a pretty good movie. The characters are a bit thin, yes, and The Beast’s efforts to woo Lyssa (who really does little more than run around the Black Fortress and look distraught) grows tiresome, but the battle scenes are well choreographed, the Slayers are sufficiently frightening opponents, and the special effects are, for the most part, pretty decent for a moderately budgeted film (though the scenes involving the Widow of the Web’s lair are, admittedly, pretty awful). The soundtrack is even good (though it came at that stage in James Horner’s career where he was basically writing the same theme over and over again…if you get the main titles for Krull, Star Trek II and Willow confused, don’t feel bad, because they’re essentially the same).
That’s it for my list. What are some of your favorite fantasy cheese fests?
Steven Montano watches too many movies, and there’s no question they’ve rotted his brain. He also writes fantasy novels and likes to get lost in the woods. Find out more at his website.