Back in 1982 a buddy and I journeyed to Connecticut’s Wilton Cinema, the lone movie outpost on the wasteland that was then Route 7, on the recommendation of a friend who managed the place at the time. The theater was pretty much a characterless shithole that played mostly grindhouse attractions, never any of the big releases since those all ended up in my hometown of Westport, and as a result I rarely ventured to Wilton. This time, however, I was told by the manager that he was running one of the worst films ever released, a sword and sorcery train wreck of a picture — a genre that I love, both bad and good, and since the genre tends to be kind of cheesy in the first place I wasn’t expecting Kurosawa — and it would be leaving posthaste. Knowing better than to pass up a good thing, I grabbed my like-minded pal, Matt, and drove on over.
When we pulled up we were shocked to see the marquee bore titles for a double feature, namely WITHOUT A TRACE, and the movie Matt and I wanted see, SORCERESS; this was a weird turn of events because the circuit absolutely never ran double features, and I soon discovered that the pairing was thanks to the two movies being the biggest money losers that other theaters in the national circuit had ever seen, so since they weren’t making any cash elsewhere why not play them together during the East Coast bookings and cut down their run that much quicker? That may have been the district manager’s strategy, but I question the wisdom of that double bill because of the completely opposing genres in the match-up; WITHOUT A TRACE was a serious drama about child-kidnapping, and SORCERESS was a would-be CONAN THE BARBARIAN cash-in, two great tastes that go together about as well as Beluga caviar and Tom’s of Maine cherry-mint toothpaste.
Matt and I entered the theater, which was about half full, and found an assortment of drunks, juvenile delinquents, stoners and garden variety Fairfield County trash, clearly not the audience for WITHOUT A TRACE, but I guess they figured if they could get two flicks for the price of one, why the fuck not? So as the serious film drew to a grindingly dull conclusion the moviegoers availed themselves to whatever refreshments they brought with them, turning the floor into a minefield of discarded Budweiser bottles and converting the air into an atmosphere more appropriate for Reggae Sunsplash, if ya know what I mean…
Then SORCERESS began to unspool, and as soon as I saw the New World studio imprint I knew I was in for some good, cheesy fun. Well, maybe not good per se, but whatever. The other big clue was the film’s score; in a classic example of New World’s cheapskate tactics, rather than pay for a new soundtrack they just re-used the existing music from their not bad STAR WARS rip-off, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. But what I wasn’t prepared for at all was the incredibly impoverished look of the film, a movie that I knew was made recently, but the damned thing looked like one of the legion of tits-and-togas epics — a genre dubbed “peplum” after the short skirts worn by the Greeks in those oh-so-manly days gone by — unleashed upon the world by the Italians in the 1960’s in the wake of the unexpected international box office success of HERCULES (1957) starring Steve Reeves. Adding to the peplum feel was the fact that the movie was shot in Mexico and obviously — to say nothing of poorly — dubbed up the whiz-wang.
WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. (But read anyway, because this is not an easy film to get your hands on.)
The movie opens with a scene of a mighty army of about seven guys in ridiculous bird helmets hunting down a fleeing woman, a lady who is revealed to be the wife of Traigon, an evil sorcerer who seeks to sacrifice his child to the presumably malevolent deity, Calgara. Exactly what this god is or stands for is never explained, and neither is what Traigon would get out of all this for killing his kid. Anyway, Traigon corners his wife and is shocked to find out she’s given birth to twins, a bit of a problem since the first born must be the sacrifice and mom ain’t saying which is which. The villain then attempts to get her to talk by having one of his bird-headed goons give her an impromptu hysterectomy on the forest floor with an object that resembles a three-bladed table leg/eagle’s claw. (Thankfully, this is implied rather than explicitly depicted, although the sound effects and the mother's agonized screams make it very clear as to what's going on.)
No sooner does that atrocity get underway than a bolt of lightning crashes from the sky, striking and igniting a tree, and from out of nowhere comes Krona, a bearded dude who looks like Moses after hanging out rapping with the burning bush, and he hands out sped-up asswhuppings to Traigon and his men like Halloween candy. As Traigon expires, he informs us that this is only his first life and he will return again in a couple of decades, at which point he beams out in a majorly poor special defect. Krona then turns his attention to the disemboweled mother who entrusts the twins, both girls, to him as she croaks. Bemused by their gender, Krona nonetheless decrees that the girls will be warriors despite having pussies, gives them a psychic/physical link so that the two of them “shall be as one,” and conveniently grants them “all of the powers of sorcery and the fighting skills of the masters.” This gift is bestowed when the old geezer passes his hands over the infants, causing a haphazardly-animated feeble blue glow to suffuse the wee tykes. They are then given to a kindly agrarian couple of the type so often found in this kind of story and instructed to raise them as boys so no one will twig to the fact that one of them is the missing sacrificial lamb. That said, Krona fucks off to who knows where and the narrative jumps ahead by roughly twenty years.
By now we were about five minutes into the film, and I said to myself, “This is the movie that’s supposedly one of the worst ever released? Yeah, it’s inept, but was this worth the trip?” That question was spectacularly answered immediately after the thought entered my mind.
True to his word, Traigon rematerializes and immediately sets about kickstarting his sacrificial masterplan, screaming, “Bring me the two who are one!!!” as a previously unseen, uber-tanned princess type bares her titties for absolutely no reason and a guy in one of the saddest ape costumes ever committed to celluloid capers about like a loon. The bird dudes “huzzah” in unison while shaking their spears, and as that line about “the two who are one” is uttered the scene jump cuts — or is badly-edited — to a shot of the now grown “two who are one” (hereafter referred to as TTWAO) swimming buck nekkid in a secluded lake.
Lemme tell ya, THAT instantly got my attention, and I do not care what the story has set up, there is simply NO WAY IN HELL that TTWAO would ever believe they are boys. They’re played by Leigh and Lynette Harris, a pair of identical twin blonde cuties who graced PLAYBOY magazine with their simulated incesto/lesbo gimmick, and they could not be further away from looking even remotely male, even when fully clothed, if they tried. As is later revealed in some throwaway dialogue, they were raised with a sister, to say nothing of their adoptive mom, so they had to have seen both of them nude at some point in their lives, and even the most witless of simpletons would have figured out the obvious physical similarities. But, whatever; for all intents and purposes they’re supposed to be 100% convincing as young men.
As the two nekkidly frolic in the water, it becomes clear that they are being watched by less-than-savory eyes. The peeper turns out to be Pando, an almost unimaginably shoddy-looking satyr whose costume looks like the budget could only afford the horns, a panpipe, and the lower half of a tatty gorilla suit. Seriously, I’ve seen better outfits that were built and designed by drunks five minutes before a Halloween party.
As Pando approaches the river’s edge the twins catch sight of the “horn” dangling between his legs (which is not visible at any point in the entire film, thank the gods), and assuming that said implement is a weapon the bareassed babes storm the shore and beat the piss out of the poor, fake-looking bastard.
After having his ass handed to him, Pando beats a hasty retreat, presumably to muster reinforcements, while the twins get dressed and hurry home only to discover the forces of Traigon (this time numbering around ten and lead by a goateed baddy named Krakanon) decimating their home. The soldiers rape and put the twins’ sister to the sword, shoot mom in the back with an arrow, and dad puts up futile resistance with what I guess are supposed to be a pair of “chuks” before getting pin cushioned with arrows. (Hey, don’t laugh: the nunchaku, made famous by the inimitable Bruce Lee, were originally used as grain flails by Asian farmers back in days until they realized they could be used to beat the living motherfuck out deserving douchebags.)
Suddenly, TTWAO arrive on the scene, turn blue in what I guess is a display of them “powering up” but exhibiting no skills of sorcery whatsoever, and beat the snot out of all comers, allowing a few to escape home to complain to Traigon.
As the twins mourn their dead, Pando returns, this time with Valdar the Viking in tow; Valdar is the living, breathing avatar of the comic strip character Hagar the Horrible, and the nano-second the guy showed up onscreen the entire audience laughed its ass off, and from that moment on no one left their seats for fear of missing anything else as utterly ludicrous.
And as if his visual were not stupid enough, the Hagar-looking motherfucker is hilariously dubbed with a half-assed stentorian voice that renders such lines as “By Modin!” (Yeah, I know; it’s a script error, not mine because I’m down with the Aesir) and “By Yggdrasil! ‘Tis sorcery!” so funny that you will spew beer out of your nose.
The Hagar dude praises the “lads” fighting acumen, and after hearing about their grudge against Traigon agrees to join them on the path of vengeance, persuading them to build a pyre and burn their family’s corpses. (BTW, what the fuck kind of Viking is this douchebag if he can’t instantly spot TTWAO as hot chicks?)
Then kung fu Moses shows up again, gives the “boys” some “who cares?” info regarding their vendetta, tells them that "When all seems lost, use the name: Vitaan!," and then hops onto the blazing pyre for no apparent reason, a move that drew a collective “Whaaa?!!?” from the soused audience. The Hagar dude then suggests that they find his pal Erlik to complete their “heroic” band, so they set off to the nearest city to locate the guy.
This so-called city would barely pass muster in a junior high school production of MAN OF LA MANCHA, and as our heroes make their way among the various stock types found in these tales we are finally introduced to the roguish Erlik, a smarmy bastard if ever there was one, played by an actor with a white guy Afro who is trying his damnedest to be Han Solo (and failing to a staggering degree). The second I laid eyes on this prick I wanted to cave his skull in with a frozen Butterball turkey, and I could feel that the whole audience was right there with yours truly.
After starting a pathetic fight in a tavern, Erlik runs into our heroes, and with the crew assembled the adventure proper finally begins, such as it is.
Once they’ve left the site of pathetic barroom violence, our mighty band of warriors retires to a squalid room so they can regroup and freshen up. But, unbeknownst to them, they have been watched and tailed by a topless hottie whose ass Erlik bit back at the local (see above), and she’s actually a spy for Traigon! As this skank listens at the door, the Hagar dude and Erlik converse about how Erlik’s actually a prince who’s taken to adventuring rather than face up to his royal duties — a bit of dialogue that runs by so quickly, you’ll miss it if you take the time to sneeze — but that narrative point comes to a screeching halt when TTWAO innocently disrobe. Now I have absolutely nothing against the brandishing of titties, but this scene is utterly gratuitous since there is no trace of anywhere for any of the characters to bathe, so the twins just whip out their own twins simply for the sake of a dairy display.
Anyway, this prompts the Hagar dude to squirm-inducingly attempt to explain to the “lads” exactly what the difference between male and female is — which leads to more confused unleashing of the sisters’ rib rockets — but when the Viking decides that the full explanation can wait until later, he and Erlik fuck off to the gods know where, leaving TTWAO alone to be lured away by the skanky spy.
Once in the clutches of Krakanon, TTWAO are subjected to a test of fire because "The god Agni will know the firstborn!" and it is soon determined which is which. Pleased as punch, Krakanon promises the superfluous twin to the guy in the pitiful ape suit for his own, er, "amusement" (picture that coupling...eeurgh), but at this point the guys show up and rescue TTWAO and they make like a baby and head out (into the forest, that is). However, a cadre of horny ape dudes shows up and lob primitive laughing gas bombs — yes, you read that right — at our heroes, making off with one of TTWAO and that hambone Erlik. I guess the ape dudes were hoping to get the right twin and just praying to get lucky about it because there is no identifying mark to tell them apart at this point, but I quibble.
So now Traigon has the firstborn and Erlik is deemed of no use, so Traigon pretends to release him (in order to keep his soon-to-be-sacrificed daughter happy) when in actuality he sentences the guy to be stripped naked and anally impaled on a ten foot wooden spike.
But before Erlik becomes a douchebag kebab, the ape man rummages through his personal effects and finds a cheesy-looking amulet. He presents it to the uber-tanned princess who recognizes it as the crest of the house of Armog, a fact that she brings to the attention of Traigon. Apparently, since Erlik is the prince of Armog (I'm not sure about the spelling on that, so forgive me) the sacrifice will be that much more powerful if the sacrificial twin is "consecrated with the seed of Armog," in other words osh-osh is just minutes away. Thus spared from anal agony, Erlik is cleaned up and dressed in a truly fey toga, fed some sort of intoxicant and presented to the equally cleaned up and drunk twin, and then the permed SOB takes the skin boat to Tuna Town.
Meanwhile in the woods, the Hagar dude, Pando and the other twin — distinguishable by wearing the same outfit she's had on for the whole film — try to figure out what to do next when suddenly the girl begins to complain about feeling "funny." As the Hagar dude expresses concern, she begins to writhe about in a clear state of sexual ecstasy as she experiences what her sister and Erlik are getting up to. This display shocks the hell out of the Hagar dude (and induces peals of laughter from the incredulous audience)and spurs the goat dude to try and hop on for a ride, but the Viking cuts that off before it can happen. Poor horny Pando then slinks off in search of a cold river, and the sister composes herself, only to once again immediately be overcome by her distant sister's osh-osh frenzy. Now I dunno about you, but if I were a twin I would NOT want to have such an intimate link with my sibling.
Finally the sacrifice is about to proceed, complete with the drugged Erlik wielding the dagger over the drugged and willing-to-be-sacrificed twin, and the Hagar dude and the other twin arrive to challenge Traigon once and for all. Traigon gestures magically, or some shit, and the ground beneath our two heroes gives way, plunging them into the stygian darkness below. They end up in a tomb full of ancient warriors and attempt to find their way back to the surface, but the dead barbarians re-animate with hostile intentions and proceed to menace the hapless heroes.
The horny ape dude, pissed off that he's now lost his superfluous twin twice, goes into the forest to find Pando and muster an army as a "fuck you" to Traigon, and when he does find the bargain basement satyr, the guy is surrounded by a trio of gossamer-clad nymphs, all doing some sort of would-be-erotic interpretive dance around his appreciative form. This image is guaranteed to elicit cries of "You have got to be kidding me!" from all viewers, so don't have any form of liquid refreshment in your mouth at this point or you will spew it forth like a breaching whale. Anyway, Pando is sufficiently outraged to the point of stamping his hooves in a petulant display, and he storms off into the night to rally a meager army.
So the score now stands thusly: Erlik and the firstborn are about to die, Traigon's about to achieve whatever he's gonna get from the sacrifice (we still don't know what), and the Hagar dude and the other twin are about to be slain by a legion of the undead. Looks like shit's pretty thick, right? Suddenly the voice of Krona — aka kung fu Moses — reminds TTWAO, "When all seems lost, use the name: Vitaal!" TTWAO then blurt out "Vitaal!," which causes all sorts of crazy shit to happen.
At this point, we have reached the final fifteen minutes or so of the film, and all logic, sense and good taste are thrown out of the window in a display that nearly killed the audience thanks to us laughing so hard.
The drugged-up sacrifices come to their senses and start kicking ass, and the undead warriors halt their attack on the Hagar dude and the other twin and storm up from underground to join the good fight. Realizing that he's got nothing to lose, Traigon offers the uber-tanned princess as a sacrifice to Calgara, stabbing her and throwing her into a moat of fire. The evil god Calgara then shows up, presumably to in some way influence evil's chances of winning, and in a swirling nimbus of bad special effects we see this "god" for what it is, namely a giant Mexican woman's head, half-caked with oatmeal.
This gargantuan noggin then hovers in space, occasionally turning this way and that, while doing absolutely nothing other than spitting one or two balls of energy that cause random patches of dirt and weeds to pitifully explode.
And where, you may ask, is this Vitaal that TTWAO summoned? Well, another swirling mess of cheap opticals materializes, and from that psychedelic non-spectacle emerges one of the shoddiest foam rubber puppets that I have ever had the pleasure to behold.
I mean, what the fuck is this thing supposed to be? No explanation whatsoever is given, and it also hangs around in mid-air, snarling and awkwardly attempting to flap its wings.
Back in the trenches, our heroes are reunited and they watch in amazement as the undead barbarians take the field. But amazement quickly turns to shock and disgust as the armed corpses take one look at the scantily-clad priestesses and decide to drop their weapons and rape the holy women. Once the heroes twig to what's on the minds of the revenants, the looks on their faces are priceless, with the Hagar dude providing the final word on the subject:
HAGAR DUDE: "It's been a thousand years...Y'know?"
Then the camera returns to the skies as Vitaal and Calgara snarl and grimace at one another, and their war of the gods amounts to Vitaal firing a bolt of lightning at Calgara, causing her to let out a scream and explode like a cranial Death star.
Vitaal then helpfully blasts open the castle gate with a lightning bolt and vanishes in another cosmic swirl, this time resembling nothing so much as a giant sky toilet in flush mode. Through the gates charges Pando, the ape dude, and a rag-tag army of perhaps twenty renaissance fair rejects, inexplicably supported by a few chickens and goats.
Erlik then confronts Krakanon and subdues him in an embarrassingly lackluster swordfight, but gets ambushed by Traigon. As the evil wizard is about to impale Erlik, two arrows penetrate Traigon's back, hurling him to the floor. We then see TTWAO brandishing freshly-fired bows, and they watch as their father does his cut-rate transporter vanishing act, reminding us that he still has one more life to go, foreshadowing a sequel that never happened.
Soon enough, the battle is over and the peasants and their farm animals rejoice. Erlik strolls out onto a balcony, the adoring TTWAO hanging on each arm, and the Hagar dude asks the permed asshole how he'll choose between the two of them. At that, Erlik delivers the films final line, one meant to be witty but instead leaving the audience ready to jump into the movie and kick his ass:
ERLIK: "You forget, Valdar...These two are one! Haw haw haw!!!"
Everybody laughs, just like at the end of a bad sitcom, and the credits roll. As the lights came up, the audience sat there in stunned silence for a few seconds and then erupted with cheers and applause.
This recounting of the experience in no way does justice to the lunacy of SORCERESS and just how much of a crowd-pleaser it truly is, and since it is inexplicably not out on DVD the only way to see it is to hope that your remaining local mom-and-pop video rental store still carries the VHS tape. It's become so hard to find that I occasionally buy used copies from eBay, just to make sure that I have several backup copies, bringing my personal tally up to five.
And why is it so odd that such a cinematic schlockfest is not available on DVD? Well, dear reader, it's odd because it was helmed by one Jack Hill, one of the greatest B-movie directors who ever lived and also the mastermind behind the exploitation classics COFFY and FOXY BROWN — both starring the one and only Pam Grier in all her ass-whuppin' and buck-nekkid-with-a-'70's-bush glory — as well as the laugh out loud insane SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, a bad movie to be reckoned with and one that I urge you to run out and rent immediately. So considering his track record, why is this movie credited to some “Brian Stuart?"
Apparently, legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman (head of New World, and the film's executive producer)withheld some of the promised budget (no surprise there) and had the final film recut, shearing off some twenty minutes of footage, so a frustrated Hill took his name off of the picture, turned his back on movie making and fucked off to an Indian ashram, leaving SORCERESS as his last film to date. But what a legacy to go out on!
Oh, and did I mention that there is no sorceress to be found in the entire film?
UPDATE-12/13/2014: SORCERESS recently came out on DVD and Blu-Ray in a gorgeous widescreen transfer that actually looks better than the print I saw in the theater thirty-two years ago. It's a must-have, folks! HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.