Film Review: Dragonslayer (1981)

Release Date: June 26th, 1981
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Peter Eyre, Sydney Bromley, Chloe Salaman, Ian McDiarmid

Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 109 Minutes

Review:

“[to Galen] It’s a shield. I made it. Might keep the fire off of you, might not. You know, you’re an idiot. You’re going to die tonight. You’ll be ripped, limb from limb. This is the last time I’ll ever speak to you!” – Valerian

I never saw DragonSlayer, which is kind of odd, as it is in a genre I watched a lot of as a kid. I think that I saw trailers for it but it never excited me enough to rent it from the video store.

I wanted to check it out now because I’ve been watching a ton of sword and sorcery and fantasy films from this era. Overall, this wasn’t a disappointment but for the most part, it was pretty drab and uneventful.

But on the flip side of that, I was pretty impressed with the special effects, especially for 1981.

All the dragon stuff comes off remarkably well for the time. I thought the final battle was really entertaining, even if it was pretty hokey and had some noticeable flaws seeing this almost 40 years later in HD. But they’re the sort of minute visual flaws that would’ve been hidden by the technology of the time and I can’t really come down on the film for that. But I find it to be worth mentioning, as this is one of many films that has had its magic ruined or exposed by finding itself remastered in high definition for modern eyes.

The scenes that employ large dragon props and animatronics all work really well though, even today. The scene where the dragon is stalking the virgin in his lair towards the beginning of the film is still pretty chilling and effective.

I also liked Peter MacNicol in this. He was charming and it was fun seeing him much younger than the role I most associated him with, which is Dr. Janosz Poha from Ghostbusters II. Also, the Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid, shows up in this. And here, he’s actually using the light side of the Force.

DragonSlayer is fun in parts and it was imaginative and the effects were superbly executed. However, it’s slow moving with lots of unnecessary banter and a plot that is too simplistic to be stretched into a 109 minute motion picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy and sword and sorcery films of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: Conquest (1983)

Also known as: Mace the Outcast (working title), El Bárbaro (Mexico)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gino Capone, Carlos Vasallo, Jose Antonio de la Loma Giovanni Di Clemente
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martin, Sabrina Siani

Clemi Cinematografica, Clesi Cinematografica, Conquest Productions, 88 Minutes

Review:

“When a man meets a man, you never know which one will die. But when an animal meets a man, it’s always the animal that dies. I’m on the animals’ side.” – Mace, “Isn’t this an animal you’re eating?” – Ilias, “[shrugs] I didn’t kill him.” – Mace, “That’s a pretty strange law.” – Ilias, “Not when you’re hungry.” – Mace

By the time 1983 rolled around, everyone was making sword and sorcery movies, especially the Europeans, who just wanted to make their own version of Conan the Barbarian. Since most of these movies were made in Italy and Spain, it seems natural that Lucio Fulci, mostly known for his horror pictures, would direct his own.

What’s interesting about Fulci doing one of these movies is that he got to tap into his horror skills, adding in some interesting monsters and a darker tone to this sword and sorcery tale.

For the time and the budget, the special effects are pretty decent. The evil sorceress’ henchmen are basically  barbarian werewolves, which was a neat idea. Granted, they look like the lovechild of Joe Dante’s werewolf from The Howling and Chewbacca but still, werewolf barbarians is a cool enough concept to carry its own movie.

On the downside, however, this is a very cheap film and it looks it. I like the practical effects but that’s something I personally have an appreciation for and if you share that sentiment, the hokiness of the production probably won’t bother you. But for most people, this picture won’t cut the mustard. It also doesn’t help that it’s dark, dreary and always looks foggy or as if there is a haze over the camera lens.

That being said, I think the visuals of this film will turn most people away, as it’s not pretty to look at, especially when compared to bigger budget sword and sorcery pictures from the same era, mainly the Schwarzenegger Conan films, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

I still like the movie though, but I have an affinity for these sorts of things. Plus, the one dude shoots light arrows, which is neat and reminds me of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which is odd because this movie and that TV show came out in the same year.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies, as well as other European sword and sorcery pictures from the early ’80s.

Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection II: The Heart of Yag-Kosha

Published: April 16th, 2019
Written by: Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Timothy Truman
Art by: Cary Nord, Greg Ruth, Timothy Truman, Eric Powell, Mike Mignola
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 504 Pages

Review:

Since I really dug the hell out of the first volume of the Kurt Busiek run on Conan, I wasted no time jumping into the second Epic Collection.

This carries on with the same quality in writing and art as the previous massive collection and was also a really awesome read.

I ended up liking the first one just a bit more because it seemed to have more action and longer, deeper stories but there isn’t much to complain about with this one. There seemed to be more dialogue and a lot of new characters added into the series but it still captured the right tone and spirit.

This volume also adapts some of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories. It was really cool reading the comic book version of The Tower of the Elephant for the first time, as I always enjoyed that story in its original medium.

Mike Mignola also did some of the covers and wrote some of the stuff in this collection. I really liked seeing Conan in Mignola’s artistic style.

Ultimately, this was another solid outing and something that I’m sure I’ll go back to and read again in the future.

This was over 500 pages in length but I feel like I ripped through it in no time, as it was hard to put down.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run, as well as other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.

Comic Review: Cerebus, Vol. 1 (Issues #1-25)

Published: December, 1977 – April, 1981
Written by: Dave Sim
Art by: Dave Sim

Aardvark-Vanaheim, 534 Pages

Review:

Cerebus is the longest running independent comic book of all-time that hasn’t altered its numbering, rebranded or taken any breaks in-between story arcs. It finished in 2004 with its 300th issue but that will be surpassed by Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, later this year. However, Cerebus creator Dave Sim wrote and worked on every single issue of Cerebus where McFarlane often times had other creatives come in to write stories.

Strangely, the first time I read a story with Cerebus in it, was actually in an early issue of Spawn, which was written by Dave Sim. I then remembered that I had an issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that also featured Cerebus and then I gave that one a read.

I loved the character but I learned about him when he was about halfway through his series. But from that time on, I picked up Cerebus comics from time to time and gave them a read. I was always pretty amused by the character and his stories but never got to read any of his full story arcs until now.

I wanted to start at the beginning, even though the first 25 issues aren’t one complete arc like everything else would be from issue 26 onward. But these issues featured several short, roughly three issue arcs. Also, these issues presented Cerebus as a parody of the sword and sorcery comics that were big at the time. This mostly pokes fun at the characters created by Robert E. Howard, most notably Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.

This was a lot of run to read. Even though this collection of Sim’s early Cerebus work was beefy, I got through it rather quickly, as I found it pretty hard to put down. But I’m also a fan of a lot of the things that Sim was parodying and while I hear some people think that a lot of the material seems dated now, I still laughed out loud as if the content was current. But I still read sword and sorcery and superhero comics from that era.

What’s really impressive is that all of the art in this volume is drawn by Sim. His regular artist Gerhard didn’t come on until issue 65, well after this volume of material, as well as its follow up, the beloved High Society.

I really dig Sim’s art though. You can actually see it evolve and get better over the three and a half year span that he spent on these issues. Even Cerebus, the character, evolves and his look gets more refined and consistent.

Additionally, the quality of the writing improves and I found the humor to be better as the book progressed. Some of the jokes and jabs are subtle and most people reading this today might miss them but Sim is pretty clever and is humor is much smarter than just being simple parody.

Cerebus is deeper than what it appears to be and it’s as if, by the end of this, Sim’s creative flow adjusted and he found ways to put his take on things into the book. It’s always got a lighthearted and amusing tone but by the end of these 25 issues, he is already scratching away at something more beneath the surface and that’s probably why he went into the High Society arc right after this.

But all the real groundwork is done here and this is the foundation of everything that came after it. Without this book and Sim’s evolution over the course of these issues, we wouldn’t have gotten something as compelling and rich as the work that follows.

Had Cerebus not evolved into something more, I don’t think it would have lasted as long as it did. But Sim committed to 300 issues, pretty early on in this comic’s history, and that probably couldn’t have even been a thought if he didn’t use these earlier stories to refine and flesh out what exactly Cerebus was.

I don’t agree with many of the things that Sim tries to hammer home in his work but he also doesn’t wreck the series by always letting it drive his creative output. Granted, I haven’t yet read the much later stuff but I plan on it, as I work my way through this series from the beginning.

While this collection feels like a trial, experimental run for the series, it’s still an entertaining and charming read and I dug the hell out of it.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: later Cerebus story arcs and what it parodies: ’70s Conan, Red Sonja and Kull the Conqueror comics.

Comic Review: Planet Hulk

Published: April 2nd, 2008
Written by: Greg Pak
Art by: Gary Frank, Aaron Lopresti, Takeshi Miyazawa, Carlo Pagulayan

Marvel Comics, 401 Pages

Review:

I read The Incredible Hulk comics as a kid. But I wasn’t really a Hulk fan until Planet Hulk came into my hands in 2008. By the time I got to the end of it, I realized that I had just experienced one of the absolute best comic book stories of that decade.

A lot of the story would go on to be used in the film Thor: Ragnarok because a live action adaptation of the story wasn’t possible with all the issues regarding which studio owns the controlling rights over the character. But I loved what they did use in that Thor film between Hulk being a gladiator and the inclusion of Korg, as well as some other minor details.

It had been awhile since I read this story though and I thought that I needed to see how it has held up.

Well, this is still absolutely incredible. It is, most definitely, my favorite Hulk story of all-time. But I also probably enjoy it for the fact that it has some sword and sorcery elements to it and really just feels like Hulk the Barbarian.

Greg Pak did a stupendous job writing this though. For something so lengthy and beefy, the whole thing is engaging, there aren’t any dull moments and each issue builds off of the ones before them. This is what comic book writing should be. This has perfect pacing, every panel matters and it hits you right in the feels just when it needs to.

Planet Hulk had multiple artists work on it, which is common when a story arc is this long. But what’s great about it was that the style was consistent and you don’t immediately notice that it’s different. It all just fits together very cohesively. Sometimes different artists have styles that can conflict and be almost jarring when reading a collection. This does not suffer from that at all.

After jumping back into this 11 years later, I really want to read the followup World War Hulk now, which I missed back in 2008.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: World War Hulk and the Peter David run on The Incredible Hulk.

Film Review: Deathstalker (1983)

Also known as: Warrior King (Philippines), Stalker – The Warrior King (Norway), El cazador de la muerte (Argentina)
Release Date: September 2nd, 1983 (limited)
Directed by: James Sbardellati (as John Watson)
Written by: Howard R. Cohen
Music by: Oscar Cardozo Ocampo
Cast: Richard Hill, Barbi Benton, Richard Brooker, Lana Clarkson, Victor Bo

Aries Cinematográfica Argentina, Palo Alto, New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“All the power comes to me.” – Munkar

The only Deathstalker I’ve ever seen is the third one and that’s because it was on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That one was atrocious, so at least this one is better than that turd.

However, this is still a pretty shitty film even if it has the magic touch of Roger Corman. He helped put it out through New World Pictures when he was still running that studio and it was the first of ten pictures that he did from Argentina.

Anyway, the film is boring in just about every way. The script is abysmal, the plot is paper thin and not much of anything interesting happens onscreen.

Now I do like some of the practical effects but some monsters and creatures look good for the time, while others look like total crap. It’s as if some of the budget was pushed into certain characters or creatures while the other effects suffered from a lack of funds. It’s pretty inconsistent even though the film already looks cheap, regardless.

Rick Hill was decent as Deathstalker but he didn’t have much to work with and the direction he was given was poor. The real highlight though is Lana Clarkson, who simply wore a G-string and a black cloak. Her tippies were hanging out all over the place, which had I seen this when I was a kid, I probably would’ve rented this all the time.

The evil wizard is weak, not impressive and struck no terror in me whatsoever. I mean, if you’re going to do a sword and sorcery picture at the height of the sword and sorcery genre, you need to have a cool and menacing villain. This guy just looked like the doorman at The Pickled Bear, an underground gay bar in Palatka, Florida.

Weirdly, it looks like the second Deathstalker has a higher rating on IMDb than this one or the third one. Maybe I’ll check it out but I watched enough paint dry after my cousin re-did his foyer last weekend.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the Deathstalker sequels and other very low budget barbarian movies.

Comic Review: Conan Chronicles – Epic Collection I: Out of the Darksome Hills

Published: February 19th, 2019
Written by: Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza
Art by: Cary Nord, Thomas Yeates, Greg Ruth, Tom Mandrake
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Dark Horse Comics, Marvel (reprinted), 496 Pages

Review:

Few things in life are actually “epic as fuck”. This hefty collection of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run is one of those things.

This collects twenty comics worth of Conan stories and even throws a Fabian Nicieza one in for a little extra cherry on top of this badass sundae.

Every story in this collection is good. I’m not just saying that. Busiek understands the character of Conan, his world and really goes to great length at penning some fabulous story arcs.

This even gives us a good story featuring Thoth-Amon, one of Conan’s biggest villains over the years.

Kurt Busiek should be proud of his run here. He has written several stories that are good enough to stand alongside Robert E. Howard’s original work. Busiek gets Conan and the character’s audience.

Additionally, most of the art in this is perfect. There are a few single issues mixed in that have art that isn’t as good but those were mostly filler issues where the main artist was probably off working on another title.

All in all, this is a great Conan collection and the first part of one of the absolute best runs on the character in the comic book medium.

I have the second collection, which I will read and review in the near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Kurt Busiek’s Conan run, as well as other Conan comics from the Dark Horse era.