Thursday, 16 June 2011

Quest for the Mighty Sword

Ever since I sampled the wondrous and campy delight that was Terry Marcel's Hawk The Slayer, you offer me a film featuring toy weapons, barren sets and moronic magical tales of chivalry against evil, you are guaranteed to hold my attention. Unsurprisingly like every brief movie craze during the 80's in this case the 'Conan-style' swords and sorcery genre, Italy wanted to ride high on the bandwagon and up the ante in terms of Z-budget antics. Already, Lucio Fulci had made his own stab with 1983's Conquest along with Albert Pyun's Sword and the Sorcerer and of course, the king of this underworld of fantasy tales: the Deathstalker franchise. Now surprisingly Bruno Mattei was not involved for this particular charade from as late as 1990, but the one you could consider his master: Joe D'Amato.

D'Amato who sadly died in 1999 was an especially seedy, sleazy director who has made no less than 200 movies. Like many of his fellow Italian exploitation buddies, D'Amato stuck to many genres in his lifetime including spaghetti westerns and war films; although he mostly stuck with soft and hardcore pornography which is what he is most notorious for. His resume includes such 'erotic classics' as Porno Holocaust, Caligula: The Untold Story and Hercules: A Sex Adventure. Needless to say, I had some trepidation about wading into his murky and potentially mentally scarring filmography. Now this movie Quest For The Mighty Sword is oddly enough both the technical fourth entry into D'Amato's Conan knock off series starring Miles O'Keefe known as Ator, as well as in Germany being the unofficial sequel to Troll 2 by Bruno Mattei collaborator Claudio Fragasso. Basically, the only relation this movie has with Troll 2 is the fact that several of Laura Gemser's troll/goblin costumes are reused. In terms of being an Ator sequel though this one was apparently meant to be a reboot for D'Amato after the third entry in the series Iron Warrior was disowned by him due to a different director being at the helm. 

To start with, we have a lone female warrior garbed in gold and a few bedsheets dashing across the scenery as the title cards roll. Intercut with this is a scene of silver-clad soldiers dragging civilians to be executed by Prince Ator, ruler of this very small bog pit with a gondola in the middle. These particluar felons have been charged with rape as reported by a dude with a goofy helmet that covers his eyes, funnily enough this is the first line of the film. As long as there is no rape involving cannibals and a character named Emanuelle within the first five minutes I might just make it. As a way of proving what little possible strength they may have over their leader, the criminals are offered to fight Ator in exchange for their freedom. Our hero steps into the pit with the Mighty Sword in hand, a plastic toy so heavy that our main actor can't seem to do more than one move with it. Just to show he's a hardcore family man he is also demonstrating his raw manliness in front of his wife and young kid.  Ator promises to his son who also happens to be called Ator imaginitively enough, that when he dies the Mighty Sword will become his to rule over the land; eyes subsequently roll at obvious foreshadowing. Ator in epic fashion begins his battle against the rapists in glorious slow motion. No, I'm not talking about the footage slowing down but Ator's movements are so lathargic that I can't believe that he actually hits anything. 

Surprisingly, Ator dispatches the crooks fairly quickly with each of the opponents receiving two different battle themes including a funky medieval disco tune and an oddly well done orchestral piece that sounds like James Horner on an off-day. But before Ator can lay down his arms, a mysterious metal-clad warrior named Tharn appears to challenge Ator for the sword; Ator naturally decides to literally stand his ground, holding the sword horizontally like a barrier loudly declaring his loyalty to his people. Tharn prepares to throw his spear when our female from eariler now named as Dejenira pleads while out of breath for Tharn to relinquish his anger; Tharn refuses and chucks his spear into Ator's gut breaking the mighty sword in two. Notice how the prop is so heavy it appears Ator is deliberately holding the spear into his gut. Tharn then decides to reveal himself as one of the snarling goblins from Troll 2 before disappearing in a gust of smoke. Now I know what you are thinking, with our main character Ator now dead after less than ten minutes this means the movie is over right? Nope, in his dying words Ator requests that his wife and child be taken to a supposedly wise goblin named Grendel so that his son can be brought up to be as strong as his father.

Meanwhile Dejenira flees from the scene and falls from exhaustion because I guess being a woman in a fantasy realm means jogging endlessly through recycled scenery isn't one of her strong points; some hasty editing later and she is captured by her kind and forced into some kind of hibernation for having feelings for Ator which can only be broken by another mortal. Gee, I wonder who is up for that task? Need I also mention this entrapment involves having a spear thrown into a wall causing a barrier of fire; I guess a light knock to the noggin was out of the question. Cut to eightenn years later as the now grown up Ator Jr (naturally played by the same actor as his father, go figure) is speaking to a sorceress about Dejeneria's curse and his fate to reclaim the mighty sword from Grendel, but first we need to take some backward steps courtesy of a flashback. 

Ator Jr and his mother venture to the home of Grendel, where their presence is not met with the most flattering of welcomes. I suppose the sudden jump to goofy music only makes the situation all the more awkward. The mother requests that the broken mighty sword be repaired to be inherited by little Ator for his eighteenth birthday; Grendel being a bitter old geezer requests for her love in return which she refuses choosing to rather drink a suicide potion. Instead she is given a love potion and proceeds to make love to Grendel, I've certainly heard of beastiality before but gnomeality is news to me. Learning about his mother's sudden love for plastic masks naturally angers Ator and in a fit of rage searches desperately for the shards of the mighty sword; unfortunately Grendel has none of it and tricks him several times with fake swords that smash over his head. Chortling to himself, Grendel never expects Ator to wield the deadly heirloom again as he blinds him with a potion...which wears off about two seconds later.

Take three now as Ator finally grabs the real mighty sword (after two tries no less) and finally slices Grendel in half, his crow laughing maniacally in the background. Ator with the sword in hand and a new set of unbelievably furry threads heads to a nearby cave where the sorcress from eariler claims that are Amazonian damsel in distress is hidden. Ator heads off when suddenly a silver (again) armor clad bandit sprints straight towards him obviously having no regard towards his massive sword of death.  If you look closely at the side of the villain you can spot a severed head dangling from it's side. Bit hardcore for a PG rated exploitation movie methinks. After performing the ancient technique known as 'swinging the giant plastic toy horizontally very slowly' Ator slays the bandit (complete with cheesy laser sound effect)  revealing itself to be the sorceress apparently testing Ator's strength. She warns him that even with the mighty sword it is impossible to defeat 'the king of the Gods',  whoever that is I guess. Even Ator seems unenthused by her warning with our actor brushing the line off as which to say 'you're kidding me right?' The sorceress as one last word of advice tells Ator to be wary of two guards that shield Dejeneira.

So what do these two guards consist of? A highly impractical two-headed robot that is defeated by getting stuck in a doorway (worst anticlimax ever) and a fire-breathing 'dragon' which heavily resembles a paper-mache Godzilla to me which is dispatched by Ator and his deadly laborious swipes. He discovers a few treasures and proceeds to proclaim VERY LOUDLY to the gods that he now owns some very special bling; with that superfluous plot point to never be mentioned again over he finally stumbles on Dejeneira's tomb, managing to wake her in the process. So how do our two heroes react to this whole charade? They instantly and I mean within about five seconds of meeting fall madly in love with one another. So the title of this movie has now changed from 'Quest for the Mighty Sword' to 'Quest for the Amazon Princess' and now it is currently 'Quest for the halfway pont between the Second Act'. Yep, we're still only halfway through. Naturally with the two meeting they must hastily escape the tomb because a sudden mass of stock footage lava is catching up to them. 

Dejeneira reveals that while she lacks her prerequisite immortality, she has 'secrets of the gods' as a bonus. Five minutes later though she reveals that while she knows them she can't reveal them making the whole plot point completly redundant. Either way Ator suggests that they must travel to the 'Middle-world' in order to escape Tharn who naturally is brought up again to make this film's threadbare plot all the more convoluted.
Before that though it's time to rip off the Star Wars cantina scene as the two wander into a nearby bar complete with guitar playing goblins and a craps table made outof a glowing blue bedsheet. Here they spot three people, Laura Gemser (why not?),  a pretty skilful gambler and oddly Ator's mother who appears to have aged really well but is now also the brunt of good old drunken abuse. Ator rescues her with that nagging suspicion that he had seen her once before; confusingly enough Ator's helpful sorceress from eariler just so happens to be running the bar (guess thats her day job) and informs Gemser of his presence. Within seconds Gemser makes it her job to make him hers to control. We then immediately cut to Ator's mother visting him again for one last time, revealing to us that because of her lust for Grendel the gods transformed her into a whore to wander the earth for eternity. Ator to comfort her gives her a big old bear hug but that instantly turns her into an old, decrepit corpse; cue a cremation scene ripped straight from Return of the Jedi. Never thought I'd see a film which channels both Star Wars and Conan into such a plagiaristic whole. If only Jack Palance could appear right about now I could market this as Hawk The Slayer 2

Skiold, the name of the gambler from earlier decides to tag along after rescuing the couple from a pack of what appear to be tusken raiders draped in white blankets and cloth. What is with the set designs and the use of either bog pits or bedroom furniture? Well soon after introducing himself as a character with a 'debt to pay' motive Dejeinera is captured by a group of armoured soldiers with little to no effort. In fact all they do is quite literally run and bump into Ator and Skiold, knocking them out cold like they just grab a random girl as part of their daily run. Well we have to have some kind of rescue operation for the third act, right? It turns out that her captor is an old dude with a serious case of OAP acne named Gunther who just wants a bit of love from our now seemingly useless Amazonian damsel. Naturally to help him and his pervy ways is a troll for company, complete with a dubbed voice that sounds like an extra from Dilbert. He summons Gemser to disguise herself as a false Dejeinera for Ator which naturally is discovered by him very quickly upon his arrival to the castle, oddly enough he decides to be merciful to her as she loses her disguise and prances off to be never seen again. With this in mind it's time for the castle takeover in what is a showcase for the most incompetent castle guards in film history.
These feats include such wonders as:
  • Two armoured guards with silver helmets being killed by Skiold's wooden boomerang.
  • Another pair of guards charging at Ator failing to even attempt to stab him. Instead they flail their rubber rapiers like guests to a rave party as Ator lathargically swipes at them naturally decimating both in a single blow.
  • Yet another guard squadron that decides to split into smaller pairs despite the fact that logically it's obvious that Ator and Skiold only went in one direction.
  • Lastly a pair of 'expert' swordsmen deciding to do the 'Indy' routine of showing off all two moves they can do wih their blades. Ator using the power of jump cuts procures a wrist mounted arrow launcher and promptly shoots both of them in the neck. One manages to survive briefly and stabs Skiold killing him instantly.
Gunther despite losing a fair chunk of his men continues with his plan for Dejeinera, by very slowly lowering her into a vat of magic white liquid preserving her as a statue. Wonderful, I never thought the statue shagging scenes from Libidomania would be making a possible comeback. Well Ator shows up in the nick of time to deck some guards with his hunk of plastic and face Gunther in a final duel; however he decides to buck the trend in a noticeably anticlimactic fashion by killing himself and his troll partner in the vat of statue goop. 
Without questioning as to why his nemesis decided to off himself, Ator rescues his Amazonian bride and the two wander out of the castle into the unknown. But not before Gemser shows up out of nowhere to watch them leave, only then she reveals herself to really be Tharn all along for no particular reason. With this completely abrupt climax, the credits roll. Quest For The Mighty Sword  for me is easily the Italian equivalent to Hawk The Slayer on so many levels, the most obvious comparison being that it relies on fantasy cliches by the truckload. So much so that the plot has countless unresolved or downright poorly thought out sections of narrative that can be easily converted into a deadly drinking game. For a film that only runs for around 90 minutes, the pacing of the film ranges from being lightening fast to turgidly slow.

Much like Hawk The Slayer, the acting range is schizophrenic at best. The main examples of this being Margaret Lenzey's unbelievably wooden (and mostly out of breath) performance as Dejeinera to Eric Allen Kramer's role as Ator which comes off as almost as self-aware of the movies quality given his oddly sarcastic mannerisms throughout the film. The script itself, along with being as badly laid out as the overall plot, also contains a few painfully obvious plagiarisms from other fantasy films including the hilarious mention of a 'middle-world', Tolkien is rolling in his grave.

As expected there is also the mixture of both terrible and occasionally inspired costume and prop design particularly with some of the armoured soldiers as well as the mighty sword itself easily taking the award for most impractical fantasy weapon ever in my book, although the sets themselves are barren and very nondescript. The score by Carla Maria Cordio however is really not bad with Ator's theme having a funky disco beat and some of the battle music featuring some well made orchestral overtures fitting of the Conan-esque setting.

Quest For The Mighty Sword can be a very entertaining piece of trash if you look into it the right way. With it's nearly nonsensical fantasy narrative, comical action sequences and acting that would making even the most hardened critics holler, it will most likely be a blast with bad fantasy afficionados. Besides, it's not the worst thing D'Amato had unleashed on the world. Radioactive zombies with penises of death; 'nuff said.
  • Nonsensical plot point count: Enough to make Frank Miller's later work seem coherent.
  • Recycling from other films: 4/5
  • Incompetent villains: Always a bonus
                                         -Oli, 2 June 2010 (original date)

Review source: US VHS
Screenshot source: US VHS

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