Sword and sorcery movies are easy to spot. Look for a bare-chested hero, damsels in distress, big swords and at least one character described as “a mysterious warrior of dark magic.” You’ll also see an epic story, a hint of romance, some fantasy and, of course swashbuckling battle scenes.
On film, the genre had its heyday with two 1980s cheese fondues starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen (as the She-Devil with a Sword) respectively— Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.
This weekend, Hollywood hopes to breathe new life into the genre with a reimagining of the Schwarzenegger saga. Stepping in for Arnold, Jason “Game of Thrones” Momoa will battle monsters, evil henchmen and a powerful witch, played by Rose McGowan in Conan the Barbarian.
Critics have always had an ambivalent relationship with sword and sorcery. The 1982 Conan the Barbarian was described as “both exciting AND unintentionally amusing,” while Red Sonja was dismissed as “pure silliness, but not silly enough to qualify as amusing.”
The Beastmaster, a 1982 film starring the Canadian-born Marc Singer as Dar, a warrior with a mystical control over all animals, only has a 50 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but has become a cult classic over the years due to near constant exposure on television. TBS played the movie so often it earned the nickname The Beastmaster Station. Ditto HBO, which one writer joked stood for “Hey, Beastmaster is On.”
Also dismissed by critics but worth a look is Atlas In the Land of the Cyclops, a 1961 film starring muscleman Gordon Mitchell, whose first showbiz gig was as a strongman in Mae West’s beefcake revue, and sex symbol Chelo Alonso as the prerequisite beautiful but evil queen. Strangely, no character named Atlas actually appears in this Italian import—Mitchell plays Maciste, a hero made famous in silent Italian cinema, but unknown to American audiences—and Cyclops is only onscreen for about two minutes. Still, it’s good Saturday matinee fun.
No mention of sword and sorcery films could be complete without Hercules. There are dozens of films starring the Greek demigod but Hercules Against the Moon Men must be the silliest. This grade-Z flick is so bad, its director, Giacomo Gentilomo, who also made Slave Girls of Sheba and Goliath and the Island of Vampires, quit the film business shortly after the movie was completed.