This film was a cash-in attempt from the short-lived “Barbarian genre” craze (was that actually a thing?) that occurred in the early 1980’s in response to the success of Conan the Barbarian. Films like Red Sonja, Conan the Destroyer, The Beastmaster, and to a lesser extent, Dragonslayer, all tried to duplicate the tremendous success of Conan with varying degrees of success. One of the notoriously worst offenders was Sorceress (1982).
This film was produced by Roger Corman so that should give you a pretty good idea of the production values. Sorcerer even recycles the better-than-it-deserved-to-be musical score from Battle Beyond the Stars (a Star Wars copycat film and another more successful Corman production).
There’s good reason Sorceress appears on many worst films of all time lists. It’s horrible. And yet, it’s also a laugh-a-minute roller coaster of fun for those (like myself) who enjoy movies so bad they’re actually “good”.
With production values that don’t even rival a second-rate, later season episode of the 1970’s Buck Rogers, special effects that wouldn’t have cut it even 20 years earlier, a head-scratchingly bizarre audio track that sounds more like they lost their entire audio and just dubbed every actor in the studio post-production, & a cast of no-name actors who appear to not know they are in the worst movie ever made: Sorceress has all the makings of a C-Movie classic.
What the film lacked in story, acting, conflict, and budget (too long to list), it tried to make up for with nudity… it didn’t work. The script reportedly took only a week to be written and man does it show. Every word of dialogue feels like an on-the-nose first draft. It has some of the most amazingly terrible writing I’ve heard from this era. Gems like this:
“Death is only death, swine!” (a come-back line)
“I’m bored with Traigon (the evil wizard) and his magic. I don’t want to rule the world… not with him. (eyebrow of girl raises at a handsome barbarian)”
(Sniffs a corpse) “Bah! The smell of death!”
Our two heroines are played by twin sisters who epitomize every blonde joke ever told. The Harris sisters were recent Playboy bunnies (seriously!) You can tell they’ve never acted a day in their life. Quite possibly the only “talent” they had was taking their clothes off. There is never a scene where they are believable and don’t get me started on how they “wield” a sword and “fight.”
Imagine Napoleon Dynamite as an evil wizard. That’s pretty much what we got with the main villain of Sorceress. He both looks and sounds like Napoleon. All his dialogue is dubbed and his mouth often moves similar to a martial arts film. Threat level: 0.
Then we have the goat-mewing Centaur that can’t actually say words and instead must pantomime his explanations of danger to the others. He’s basically a two-legged Lassie trying to tell someone that Timmy fell down the well. He also serves no purpose in the actual story. The director must have just thought he “looked cool.” But he doesn’t even do that.
The Ape Man
Now we come to the really amazing stuff. If you thought the Centaur was great, just wait until you see this ape man, the evil servant of Traigon. What’s even better is that the ape man may be the only character in the entire film that has an arc. Supposedly, the actor who played him studied apes for many weeks before shooting to get things just right. None of that preparation comes through in the performance.
All is not lost though. There is one surprisingly effective sequence involving corpses who come back to life. The make-up is curiously excellent here. It’s about the only time that I “almost” forgot that I was watching a disastrously bad film. Never fear though, this entire sequence lasts only for 3 minutes of screen time, and then we are back to garbage.
Finally, we have the deus-ex machina finale in which our heroines don’t actually defeat the villain but instead use a magic word to call forth a bat-lion creature (who was never foreshadowed before this) to defeat the evil demon with laser rays from his eyes.
The whole thing plays out like some fever-dream of a mad man who maybe played Dungeons and Dragons once and then thought he could write a fantasy epic. The director supposedly asked Corman to take his name off the production and it’s not hard to see why. But despite all of these travesties, I can’t count the number of times I laughed out loud. If you like movies so bad that they somehow become good, this should be on your watch list.