I can only imagine, in those distant, pre-Internet days when information traveled, oh, so much more slowly, the cries of despair and derision that must have arisen from fans of John Norman’s Gor novels when they finally learned the upcoming Cannon film adaptation was rated PG. This is especially true since by 1987 the also, although not quite as, inadequate PG-13 rating was already extant.
More to the point, however, the ‘80s had seen a lot of trashy, R-rated fantasy romps like Deathstalker and Barbarian Queen. Films like this featured exactly the sort of hard-edged, dark sexuality and rampant nudity that Norman fans presumably assumed a Gor film would revel in.
The Gor saga (I’m sure that’s how fans of the 28 [!!] novels refer to it) is a space opera series that, at least in its basics, seems clearly modeled on Edgar Rice Burrough’s venerable John Carter of Mars books. British professor Tarl Cabot—presumably a Mary Sue stand-in for Norman himself, as the author was a professor of philosophy, as well as a historian—is transported to the “counter-Earth” of Gor, a planet that lies on the opposite side of the Sun.
Gor has been artificially stabilized by aliens, and (if I’m following this correctly) over the ages various groups of humans have been brought there to populate the planet. Travel between one planet and the other is also possible, although I’m not sure about the mechanisms of this. However, this is how Cabot, conveniently a sword master (the aliens keep the various human civilizations at sword-level military technology), ends up there.
The books, from the research I’ve done (hello, Wikipedia), sound like they cover a lot of ground. The only novel I could actually dig up was the eighth in the series, Hunters of Gor. Many of the books deal more with the various alien species Norman provided, and some were narrated by different characters. However, Hunters of Gor seems a fairly representative entry in the series.
This is especially true in the area for which the books are most remembered. Norman seems to have used the series to promote what to most will seem a highly distasteful philosophy on the ‘natural’ roles of men and women. In particular, Gorean cultures are big on slaves, and Norman pushes the idea that being in utter, literal thrall to a man is the only way for a woman to be truly happy. I’m not sure how long it took Cabot to buy into this idea once he’d decided to stay on Gor, but by this eighth book the deed was done.
Much of the novel is spent beating these themes over and over, as in this representative passage:
“How hard it must be, to be a woman, [Cabot] thought. She, noble creature, so marvelous in her temptations and beauties and with the excellences of her mind and the determined prides of her heart, how strange that she, so much prizing her freedom, is made whole only as it is ruthlessly swept from her, that the true totality of her response, the fullness of her ecstasy is the yielding and the surrender, and the more delicious and incontrovertible the more complete.
The Goreans claim that in each woman there is a free companion, proud and beautiful, worthy and noble, and in each, too, a slave girl. The companion seeks for her companion; the slave girl for her master. It is further said, that on the couch, the Gorean girl, whether slave or free, who has had the experience, who has tried all loves, begs for a master. She wished to belong completely to a man, withholding nothing, permitted to withhold nothing. And, of course, of all women, only a slave girl may truly belong to a man, only a slave girl can be truly his, in all ways, utterly, totally, completely, his, selflessly, at his mercy, his ecstatic slave, helpless and joyous in the total submission which she is given no choice but to yield.
But I was not much interested in these things. I saw her before me. She was only a slave.”
As we can see, however, the men don’t really feel any return allegiance to their enslaved woman, who were are told repeatedly—and I mean like literally hundreds of times in this novel alone—are but “animals” and “only slaves.”* Even so, Gorean men are really the enlightened ones, because again only by actually enforcing this but seemingly cruel order do they allow women to achieve this state of true, natural happiness.
[*Free Women are afforded a completely different status in Gor. However, at least from the evidence of this book, they are in constant danger of being enslaved by, oh, other tribesmen, pirates, slave traders, Fuller Brush salesmen, etc. Indeed, such traders often travel to Earth to bring back Earthwomen as slaves. Several of the Gor novels are narrated by such women.]
It should be noted that apparently each and every slave girl on the planet—and there must be a hundred or more featured in Hunters of Gor alone—are incredibly beautiful and desirable. The better ones are also (we are told) highly intelligent and incredibly (at least initially) strong-willed, since the greatest happiness is when women such as this finally abandon their pointless, unnatural notions of independence.
To be fair (at least from the one book at hand), Norman’s writing does convey the usual strengths of pulp writing; lean, propulsive prose of the sort that one could see be compulsively readable. His world-building is also pretty impressive, although as noted, likely repulsive to most.
There aren’t many action sci-fi movies whose poster art features the film’s hero laying prostrate before a woman.
The manner of things are ably foretold in the film’s first few seconds, when the familiar Cannon Films logo appears onscreen. John Norman’s name appears above the title, but surely any surcease in unease proved temporary. The score kicks in, and it’s fairly lush. However, even this must have struck fans of Norman’s books as not only overly generic, but as entirely too light-hearted in tone. Those hoping for a brooding Conan the Barbarian tone more appropriate to Norman’s books must have already been getting a bit antsy.
On the other hand, the cast is, on a certain level, kind of impressive. At least to the inexperienced eye, that is. While the names of several familiar actors appear, the veteran film buff will notice that the actual stars of the film are Urbano Barberini and Rebecca Ferratti.* (Yes, sadly, Tarl Cabot will not be played by Chuck Norris or even Michael Dudikoff. This, as things pans out, proves much to the film’s detriment.) From this, one can safely assume that such comparatively expensive actors as Oliver Reed (who gets a special credit “as Sarm”), Jack Palance and Paul L. Smith will not be spending overmuch time onscreen.
Mmmm, not so much.
[*Despite these monikers, the film was not made in Italy. The film was shot in South Africa, where Cannon made a number of films during this period (this, the sequel, the then latest version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, which also featured Paul L. Smith), presumably because it was dirt cheap. Presumably the ‘stars’ were meant to give the film a stronger selling point in European markets. Indeed, surname aside, Ms. Ferratti was actually born in Montana, and presumably landed the role partly because she’d been Playboy’s Miss June the year prior.]
Unless the Cabot of the first book went through a rather incredible transformation between his initial appearance and the series’ eighth book, where I met him, then fans must have nearly croaked when we meet the bland, ineffectual dweeb he is presented to be here. Presumably hoping for a little Indiana Jones aura, we find Cabot teaching a class of college students, albeit clearly not in Britain.
Cabot is lecturing his patently—one might even say exaggeratedly—bored students about this ring his owns, a woefully cheap-looking ‘family heirloom.’ This, he explains, is rumored to be an artifact connected to a “counter-Earth called Gor.” Reading from his notes, he explains that “How the stone [set in the ring] works, the circumstances that govern its power, and the nature of Gor itself, are yet undetermined by modern science.” You don’t say? Yes, supposedly Cabot actually has a job teaching this at a college. (Actually, given the stuff actually taught in many of them, maybe this isn’t so hard to swallow.)
A typical theater audience enjoys Gor.
Note he actually wrote “Gor” on the blackboard. This is why parents take a second mortgage to send their kids to college.
Having established Cabot’s lameness and some wispy exposition about The Ring and Gor, the class bell now rings. His eye-rolling students quickly flee, while Cabot gathers up his books and hooks up with Beverly, his girlfriend. (It should be noted, she was visibly giggling at his inane lecture, so, you know, watch out.)
The two are meant to be spending the upcoming school break in the woods. I guess this is meant to establish that Cabot has some outdoors skills. Again, though, the film quickly works to evaporate any sense of competence on his part. He intends to drive Beverly and himself out to a remote location for an extended stay in a dumpy old car, his gear mostly seems to consist of a fishing pole (upon which he closes the car door), and he never even bothers to remove his sports jacket and tie.
Beverly, presumably a stand-in for uppity, pampered Earth girls, complains (not unreasonably, actually) that she has little use for a weekend of roughing it without electricity and running water whilst her boyfriend goes fishing. And sure enough, she quickly dumps our nebbishy hero for Norman,* a weird jock / yuppie hybrid driving a Jeep and wearing a sweater tied around his neck, as was the fashion of the day. Needless to say, this brassy fellow gives Cabot the old hee-hah before driving off with his former chick.
[*Is this a gag? Norman, as in John Norman? If so, why name a jerkoff character after the guy who wrote the books the movie is based on? In it isn’t meant as a gag, then wow, that’s pretty damn sloppy. For what it’s worth, though, Norman is played by a young Arnold Vosloo, who later became one of Hollywood’s heavies of choice in films like Hard Target and The Mummy.]
By now the books fans must have been completely and utterly pissed off. Everything about Cabot is clearly meant to reinforce what an ineffectual loser he is. He is dressed in an unfashionable sports jacket and tie, sports a clearly cheap digital watch and wears nerdy glasses (which he loses when he hits Gor, to no effect whatsoever). He bores his students dreadfully, he has a bad car, his girlfriend leaves him for a lout, etc. Presumably this is all meant to explain why he’d find life on Gor an improvement.
I am allowing for the fact that Cabot found his Earth life unsatisfactory in the first book, too. There, though, it presumably wasn’t because he was a dweeb, but rather a stifled Alpha Male smothered by an effete society where women were allowed to do things like leave their boyfriends and where he couldn’t repay the guy who ‘took her’ by running a sword through him. (I’m not saying there are corresponding events in the novel Tarnsman of Gor, because I don’t know that there are. But I have to assume the Cabot of the book was presented as too much man for modern-day Earth, rather than too little, as he is here.)
Anyhoo, having established all this, we now move on to the ‘plot.’ (Hey, at least they knew how to make movies that only lasted about an hour and a half back then.) Cabot is driving through the woods when he is hit by a not entirely convincing thunderstorm, and subsequently experiences a not utterly credible car crash into a tree. However, although the execution is a bit awkward, we do get a nicely conceived camera dolly that ultimately reveals the car’s front seat to now be mysteriously unoccupied.*
[*Definitely one of the film’s main hitches is the stolid, molasses paced direction of Fritz Keirsch. Mr. Kiersch had earlier directed Children of the Corn, his most famous film, although perhaps his most fondly remembered flick is the psycho-bully flick Tuff Turf. Sadly, those early films remain his most prominent, though. In any case, it will be interesting to see if the second Gor film is jazzed up by the direction of veteran trash helmer John “Bud” Cardos. We can only hope.]
The above action, by the way, is accompanied by a completely and generic pop ballad. With lyrics like, “You got me in a spell…are you heaven or hell…”, well, I think that gives you an adequate taste of things. And yes, because it’s the ‘80s, the song relies heavily on a drum machine beat.
Cabot wakes up, still clad in his jacket and tie, in a desert. This is where the film’s severe budgetary restrictions really become apparent. Although, to be fair, they do blow what I assume was a considerable hunk of their budget on an extremely nice, panoramic helicopter shot that pulls back to reveal the isolated vastness of the desert Cabot finds himself in.
However, again fans of the books must have felt kicked in the groin here. Norman’s Gor is a world with many cultures and climates, many of them explored throughout the series. However, the City of Ar, where Cabot first appears, is meant to Gor’s largest metropolis, akin to ancient Rome or Constantinople. Indeed, because of Gor’s lower gravity, the towers of Ar rose to incredible heights. Here’s a description from the first book:
“Ar, beleaguered and dauntless, was a magnificent sight. Its splendid, defiant shimmering cylinders loomed proudly behind the snowy marble ramparts; its double walls, the first three hundred feet high; the second, separated from the first by twenty yards, four hundred feet high-walls wide enough to drive six tharlarion wagons abreast on their summits.
Every fifty yards along the walls rose towers, jutting forth so as to expose any attempt at scaling to the fire of their numerous archer ports.”
However, such grandiose digs were well beyond the film’s resources. Lacking apparently even the money for some matte paintings, Ar* is instead presented as exactly the sort of small, dusty desert village—probably a pre-existing set left standing for just such purposes—often featured in these things. And no, don’t even begin to think about any insectoid aliens or the giant, ridable Tarn birds—hence the initial book title, Tarnsman of Gor—appearing here.
(Actually, and again this must have ill-pleased Norman’s fans, we eventually learn that the featured ‘city’ is something called Corida. Which is fine, except that the character names of the people Cabot meet there correspond to the folks from Ar, including its ruler. Imagine seeing a movie about Sherlock Holmes where suddenly everyone lives not in London but in a very small, rural village.)
A bare minute of onscreen staggering, and Cabot stumbles across the ransacking of Corida. As in every sword & sorcery / barbarian film, this involves evil henchmen of a warlord riding their horses through a completely unprepared village and none too convincingly slaughtering its peaceful denizens. We see the traditional slow-motion waving of tinny swords and stabbings where the supposed victim holds the blade supposedly transfixing him clenched between his torso and arm while crying, “Argggh!”
We now for the first time see our heroine, Talena, daughter of Marlenus, the mighty Ubar (basically ruler) of Ar…at least in the books. Here, characters with the same names occupy the same roles, only in the flyspeck Corida. I must admit, I have little direct knowledge of Talena. She actually provides the entire motivation spurring the various characters’ actions in the one book I read, Hunters of Gor. Ironically, though, she never actually appears in its pages.
Her father Marlenus does, however. Here Marlenus is an utterly generic Wise Old Peacenik ruler set against Oliver Reed’s utterly generic Evil Warlord, Sarm. However, in the novels Marlenus is a staggering Caesar of a man in his very prime, an incredibly shrewd, strong and purposeful alpha male’s alpha male who leaves other men (including, at least at this point in the series, a bitter and resentful Cabot) aware of their own comparative inferiority.
In any case, here Talena is presented as a fierce warrior, a fact that is an Informed Attribute of the first water. Presumably South Africa’s nascent film industry didn’t provide much in terms of experienced stuntmen. As such, this is the sort of film where the swordplay moves at markedly slow speeds, as to avoid anyone getting hurt. So although Talena somehow manages to slay many a foe with her languid, inept sword-waving, we can only dwell on the fact that Ms. Ferretti clearly won the role for her evident physical assets—which constantly seem on the verge of falling out of her teeny bustier—rather than her evident physical skills.
Also, although Ms. Ferretti is a beautiful woman, I think she’s miscast as Talena, at least as I expect she appeared in the books. Ms. Ferretti’s features have a feral cast, exaggerated here by her gigantic cloud of overly-teased ‘80s hair. This would make sense if Talena were the daughter of some desert warlord.
However, again, she was basically the daughter of the ruler of Rome, an aristocrat from an ancient lineage of aristocrats. Thus surely Talena should bear much more refined features. Admittedly, the characters in the film are so vastly different from those in the books that this is a minor point. Even so, it’s but one more reason the movie must have enraged the readers of the novels.
Sarm is after Corida’s sacred ‘Home Stone,’ which I know is some big deal in the books. (Of course there, the sought after Home Stone is that of Ar, the greatest city in the world, so it would be.) In a passage from Slave Girls of Gor, it is noted, “It is difficult to make clear to a non-Gorean the significance of the Home Stone, for the non-Gorean has never had a Home Stone, and thus cannot understand its meaning, its reality. I think that I shall not try to make clear what is the significance to a Gorean of the Home Stone. It would be difficult to put into words; indeed, it is perhaps impossible to put into words; I shall not try. I think this is one of the saddest things about the men of Earth, that they have no Home Stone.”
Indeed, the word Gor itself means Home Stone, the planet being the Home Stone for all who dwell there. In the movie, however, Corida’s Home Stone is a MacGuffin, and a pretty cheesy looking one at that. When Sarm’s Son manages to grab it, it clearly weighs about half a pound. This doesn’t exactly disguise its nature as a cheap, probably plastic prop.
So the village falls, and the Home Stone is captured, as is Marlenus and Talena. The best Marlenus can do is snap, “Your father [Sarm] is worse than a barbarian!” Oh, snap! That must have left a mark. Anyway, objective achieved, Sarm orders that the “Caridons” (apparently the filmmakers were in fact embarrassed to suggest this was Ar, although again they left Talena and Marlenus’ names the same) all be either enslaved or put to the blade. Because, you know, he’s all evil and stuff.
I should note that Reed, who had a well-earned reputation for chewing the scenery with massive gusto, here radically underplays Sarm. Indeed, each line reading he gives is barely said above a whisper. Maybe he was changing his style around to amuse himself. Perhaps he was so embarrassed to be in this movie that he wanted to leave as small of a footprint on it as possible. Still, it’s an interesting, counter-intuitive acting choice.
Moreover, Reed’s warlord outfit, with goofy giant helm and a huge ‘jeweled’ neck brace, is pretty laughable. He must have spent the shooting of this film even drunker than usual, which is saying something. Onscreen, however, he remains professional at all times. He’s an oasis of skilled acting nestled in a raging sea of amateur theatrics.
“There’s a paycheck every Friday…There’s a paycheck every Friday…There’s…”
In any case, Talena manages to grab a horse and escape. No one really bothers to chase after her, because then they would catch her, I guess. So she’s running around free. Meanwhile, things take a bad turn for Cabot. Realizing he might be spotted by the marauders, he takes off. However, he manages to intercept the fleeing Talena, who is then thrown by her startled horse.
The two are quickly spotted by a few of Sarm’s men, including the warlord’s son. Apparently he takes a hands-on approach to middle management. Talena takes off running, but Cabot is quickly surrounded. Here he ‘humorously’ tries to talk his way out of trouble, showing them his driver’s license and that sort of thing. Needless to say, this doesn’t work. For him or for us, actually. And again, why do they feel the need to keep presenting the film’s hero as a complete goofus moron?
“Look, here it is! See! I told you we had a script!”
There follows a series of pretty unbelievable ‘accidents’ in which Cabot’s Clouseau-like bumbling leaves a couple of the men, including the Son of Sarm, dead. This scene is particularly moronic. Again, the Cabot in the books was apparently a master with a sword. Here our ‘hero’ is a hapless mook who stands there or falls over himself while his enemies conveniently kack themselves. And since inevitably he’s going to have to transform into a mighty warrior, well, this ain’t helping our suspension of disbelief any.
The last guy is about to peg Cabot with an arrow when Talena and a group of Corida villagers show up and take the guy out. Then the last of Sarm’s guy fall under their mass attack…well, as much ‘mass’ as the film could afford, anyway. There was much rejoicing. Then the imaginatively named Elder, who just happens to be a village elder, orders the now unconscious Cabot taken with them.
We cut to a solider reporting to Sarm the death of his son. Reed continues to underplay even this scene (which again is kind of refreshing), and happily does not do that retarded Evil Overlord thing where he slays the guy who brings him the bad news. He does, however, quietly order the continued torture of one hundred of the captives until the culprit is caught. Frankly, given how even keeled Sarm is, Cabot’s inevitable victory over him seems increasingly problematic.
The remaining villagers are holed up in a cave somewhere. Cabot rouses and does some more dumbness—asking for a telephone, some aspirin, etc.—and then we, yawn, find out he is The One. Man, that’s become such a lazy cliché. I guess that explains why he’s able to go from zero to hero just like that, eh? I mean, you know, it’s Written.
It should be noted that the Cabot of the books was, at least once, also implied to be The One. In that case, though, Ones were brought to Gor once a millennia by the alien guys to stir up Gorean society and keep it vital. In other words, they were carefully chosen levers applied with vast intelligence to precise fulcrums.
Here’s it implied Ones come by whenever they’re needed (by whom?). And although they don’t say so directly, the fact that they’ve harped on the fact that Cabot’s ring was owned by his father and grandfather before him, implies that in this version of Gor the men in his family ended up here on a regular basis.
Talena, obviously smitten, tends to their exotic savior. This brings grimaces of displeasure from Torm, the obvious Second Banana Guy. A still disbelieving Cabot, meanwhile, offers them his ring, since they’re so interested in it. Uhm, wasn’t this the guy who just ten minutes ago was obsessed with the idea of Gor, the counter-Earth, and that idea that the ring was a portal there? Now he’s acting like he’s never heard any of this before. Who wrote this script?
The film’s lead actress reveals all her thespian skills.
If there were any scene that must have made fans of Norman’s books leave the theaters, this might have been it. It’s here stated that Sarm used to believe “as we all do” in peace and harmony. Then he became king and turned evil, and as evidence of this it’s explained that he now engages in…gasp…slavery.
As noted above, in the novels slavery is perhaps the defining facet of Gorean culture, its main philosophical underpinning, rather than some aberration to it. In anything, this must have struck Norman’s fans as less palatable than Robert E. Howard fans would find a peace-seeking, freedom-loving Conan the Barbarian.
In a nice moment—hey, give the devil his due—Elder, Torm and Talena admit that Cabot seems like a complete doofus. However, he also fits the bill for The One, and the other villagers’ belief in him is a weapon in itself. (Nothing comes of this idea, by the way.) They thus conspire to train him to fill the bill. This is a fairly sophisticated idea, at least more sophisticated than Ones are usually employed in these things.* Needless to say, though, the idea will be quickly dropped here as Cabot indeed starts displaying his Oneosity.
[*I guess John Huston’s The Man Who Would be King is a film that plays out the idea of a man taking advantage of a society’s fable of a One. And it does so magnificently, it must be said.]
So begins a ‘training montage’ in which Cabot starts out completely inept with weapons and ends up at least fairly competent with them. The length of this sequence? Just about exactly one minute. Man, they weren’t even trying. At the end of this extensive period, however, Cabot has gone from full-fledged Joe Besser-hood—he all but shrilly yells “Cut that out!” as Torm ‘trains’ him—to playfully dodging spears chucked at his back from ambush.
At this, Elder declares Cabot ready to tackle Sarm. (Sure, why not?) So they set off towards the Mountains of Sardar, or something. These names are hard to make out, and frankly I don’t care that much. They set off through the desert, on foot, none of them wearing hats or anything, or seemingly carrying much water.
Time for an important side-note: The worst part of the costuming (although one the ladies may like, either directly or just as payback) is that the men also are basically wearing only butt-length tunics. As such, we will be regularly afforded looks at the asses of Cabot and the other menfolk. Yes, they’re wearing ‘leather’ underpants, but these are a bit too teeny for my taste.
So they trek through the (what else?) Wastelands, as Cabot resumes his schmuck status. He whines about how hot it is, how far they’re walking, etc. That night, despite several warnings from, you know, the people who live on this planet, Our Doughty Hero dozes off during his watch shift. As a result, many of their weapons and supplies are stolen.
With everyone at least vaguely cheesed at Our Hero, they decide they have to seek out a local village and replace their lost gear. However, they are now in Sarm’s realm, where “women are not permitted free.” (Ironically, despite the emphasis on female slavery in Norman’s books, I believe this in an inaccurate depiction of how he described Gorean culture). Because of this, they wrap cloth bands around Talena’s wrists, and Cabot is assigned to act like her master.
These ‘bonds’ are actually the short sleeves ripped from Cabot’s tunic, at which he whines, “Did you have to do that to my shirt?” Dude, please, I’m choking on all the testosterone here. Also, slaves on Gor not only wear a signature collar (plus male slaves have a stripe shaved in their hair, like a reverse Mohawk), but are branded to boot. Luckily nobody mentions this, or notices that Talena lacks this mark.
Cabot continues to act like an ass in the settlement, wandering around and gaping at stuff instead than keeping his eye on the prize. Eventually he, Torm and Talena end up in the town ‘tavern,’ which is inevitably a raucous, sleazy dive. It’s also just a big cave, albeit one suffused with Gor’s apparently natural and plentiful color-gelled klieg lighting.
This establishment is owned by Surbus, a local dickhead. Surbus is played by Paul E. Smith, who was sort of the American version of Italy’s Bud Spenser. In other words, blessed with a huge, bear-like physique and naturally glowering mug, he generally played immensely strong bully boys and thugs. Smith’s most famous role is probably that of Bluto in Robert Altman’s woeful live-action adaptation of Popeye. (The casting in that film was so perfect, but everything else was so awful…)
The weird thing is that Smith plays Surbus in pretty much exactly the same way he played that part. He ‘comically’ punches just about anyone who gets within arm’s length of him, glares and grunts at everyone else, and just generally acts like a scowling, shambling cartoon. You half expect one his slave women to break out into a chorus of “He’s Large.” (Although you’re quite glad when they don’t.)
For what it’s worth, though, there are beauteous—well, presentable—dancing girls in the bar, so that actually lines up with the book I read. Of course, dancing girls are a classic cheap movie time-wasting technique (check out all the dancing girls in John Wayne’s The Conqueror, for instance), and our current flick takes full advantage of it. There’s also a bit where Talena—did I mention she wears shiny lip gloss*?—notices Cabot staring appreciatively at one of the girls and assumes a displeased mien. Well, that’s fresh.
[*I think that was the title of the 17th novel, The Shiny Lip Gloss of Gor.]
On a side note, I remember being surprised at reading in the novel that customers who buy a ‘paga’—Gor’s default alcoholic beverage, apparently—also generally get a free toss from one of the slave dancers upon request. I mean, how would that work?
Unless drinks on Gor are really expensive, are slaves really SO cheap and plentiful that having sex with one comes free with the purchase of a Bud Light? (Er, so to speak.)
And remember, all of these slaves are stunningly beautiful, so presumably they must be pampered to some degree. And again, where do all the non-beautiful slaves, or those outside of their late teens / early twenties, get themselves too? And considering how often they seem to get whipped and such, how come most of them aren’t covered with gnarly scars? Don’t they ever get pregnant? Or is there some convenient anti-fertility drug available on Gor?
By the way, earlier Talena ordered Cabot to “treat me like a slave.” Therefore I found it pretty funny when they get to tavern. When they reach their table, she sits right down next to Cabot and Torm, and they order her a drink, too. Hey, historically that’s pretty much how slaves have generally been treated.
Anyhoo, Surbus (surprise) takes a shine to Talena and demands Bluto-ishly that she battle one of his slaves. If Talena loses, she’ll become his property. If she wins, then Cabot (he’s posing as her owner, remember) will get…a highly convenient map to the exact place they’re going that Surbus just happens to keep rolled up and tucked inside his shirt. What are the odds of that?
So we get an extended cat fight between the two women, because those don’t really cost a lot to film. And to be fair, it’s probably one of the better things in the movie (although that’s setting the bar pretty damn low), at least based on genre expectations for this sort of movie. Even this pleasure is mitigated, however, by the fact that we know how it will turn out. Not so much that Talena will win, I mean, as that there’s zero chance that she or her opponent will pop out of their respective top. PG rating, remember?
Surbus lets them go but refuses to give up the map, and Cabot actually has the balls to give him lip. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Anyway, they head outside and hook back up with Elder. To my surprise, he was apparently able to procure the weapons and stuff they need while the others were farting around in the bar.
I guess I wasn’t paying attention (let he who has also sat through this movie cast the first stone), but I assumed they went to the tavern in the first place because Surbus was the only one would could supply them this stuff. I mean, if they could just get the gear from street vendors, then why the hell did the others risk going into a highly shady dive to start with?
In fact, why the hell did they all come into town in the first place? If Elder was capable of conducting this business on his own, then their coming to town and drawing needless attention to themselves—and remember, they’re now “in Sarm’s realm”—was epically retarded. This is especially true in that disguising Talena as a slave was such a highly dangerous gambit. I mean, remember that scene in The Guns of Navarone where Gregory Peck and his covert assault team stopped for a pint at the local biergarten before heading out to infiltrate the German installation and destroy those cannons?
No? You don’t? Well, there’s a reason for that.
So Torm goes to lift up a bag of gear. However, it proves unexpectedly heavy and he opens it up. Out pops Hup, a midget thief / conman character seen earlier seen being menaced by Surbus. Even worse, he’s the film’s Odious Comic Relief figure. “I know all the shortcuts,” he says, and it’s funny because he’s a midget. Get it? (To be fair, Hup’s odiousness isn’t the actor’s fault. He’s actually pretty good, and gives arguably the best performance in the film barring Oliver Reed.)
Hup isn’t actually given all that much to do, which is a plus. On the other hand, we see quite a lot of his ass, which is solely attired with underpants not much wider than a thong. This, I will admit, didn’t exactly endear him to me. Anyway, remember that map Surbus had, that the heroes risked their lives for but didn’t get? Well, Hup can act as a guide for them. Isn’t that convenient?
Like all great films, Gor has an end we were hoping never to see.
So they re-enter the wastelands, and eventually are ambushed by a party led by Surbus. (Why didn’t he ambush them when they were in his tavern, his seat of power where he had all his henchmen right at hand? Uhm, because then Cabot and Torm would have been killed and Talena enslaved.)
Here Cabot shows his progress as a savvy warrior when he glares the sun off his digital watch to blind Surbus—Our Hero’s watch beeps for no reason during this, apparently to make sure we ‘get’ it’s his watch—which allows Talena to stab the brute. Then all of Surbus’ goons pretty much just run away. And that’s it. Take that, Peter Jackson!
Oh, by the way. Remember that map Surbus had, the one Cabot got all lippy about? Well, Our Heroes don’t bother to take it off his body. I mean, OK, I guess they supposedly have a guide now in Hup—a dude they know absolutely nothing about, other than he should buy a fuller cut of underwear. So, I mean, wouldn’t you just grab the map anyway? Why not, right? It’s just laying there. It’s like the map was simply a plot contrivance they just forgot about or something.
Anyway, with that entire section of the film—one that barely touches on anything else happening in the movie, other than the introduction of Hup—by the board, we can now move on. They continue walking through the desert. (IF ULTIMATE EXCITEMENT HAD A NAME, IT WOULD BE JOHN NORMAN’S GOR!) At one point Hup complains about how far they’re going. Hey, I thought he was their guide! How wacky is that, huh?
Eventually Cabot notes the desert floor sounds hollow (?), at which juncture Torm is ‘dramatically’ nearly swallowed up by a sinkhole in the sand. You know a movie is lame when you suddenly find yourself thinking, “Man, I wish I were watching Blood Beach right now.” Cabot saves him and it’s a bonding moment.
Meanwhile, a bunch of their supplies are sucked down. Apparently this isn’t really an issue this time around, since nobody frets much about it. I did like the way, though, that they blared the full orchestral score up on the soundtrack when Torm managed to fish out his sword. Yeah, there’s a dramatic moment you want to make sure to punctuate.
Eventually the party intercepts one of Sarm’s slave caravans heading for his headquarters. They run to cover and watch as it passes by, but Cabot’s watch beeps (!!) and alerts a guard. They manage to subdue him, and somehow his fellows don’t hear anything. This is strange, given that Three Stooges-esque sound effects that accompany the scuffle are a lot louder than Cabot’s beeping watch.
This accomplished, Cabot ‘cleverly’ dons the guy’s (clearly plastic) helmet and pokes his head up over the rocks. “I have to take a pee,” he calls out to the other guards, and they proceed on without further investigation. Yes, seriously, Cabot said he had to take ‘a pee.’ I’m pretty sure that makes him the only male over the age of six ever who unsarcastically used the word pee in this context.
Here you might think they would merely follow the convoy to Sarm’s camp. However, our heroes prove far lazier than that. In a bit that is clearly all but impossible, not to mention utterly ridiculous, they manage to smuggle themselves inside the wagons (!) so that they can ride in comfort.* Weirdly, every time we see a shot of the convoy when they’re not sneaking into the wagons, there are riders trailing along in the back. However, when they are sneaking their way in, suddenly no one’s in the rear to see them. Huh.
[*By the way, these are smallish conveyances being propelled by teams of slaves, none of whom seem to notice the sudden increase in weight after Our Heroes jump aboard them.]
Having traveled all of about a city block, they reach the outskirt of the camp. Observing this, they manage to sneak back out of the wagons, again somehow without being observed. Making this even more unlikely is the fact that the caravan is situated in the middle of a flat valley floor.
So Our Heroes climb some hills, and we again get a big helicopter shot rising above them and circling over their position. Uhm, OK. I guess. Luckily, Hup just happens to know a secret entrance to the compound, via a passage through the surrounding rock. Hup calls it “Sarm’s back door—only he doesn’t know he has one.” Remember that for a bit.
So they enter a cave. Inside Cabot’s ring starts glowing and making a noise similar to a kid’s battery-powered ray gun pistol. “Cabot, your ring!” the Elder cries, just in case he didn’t notice any of this. Luckily, this stops as pointlessly as it starts, but you’d think they’d be worried about the ring going off at some point when one of Sarm’s men might hear or see it. I mean, they almost got captured because of Cabot’s watch, for Pete’s sake.
They soon come across a woman hanging from a rack. “She a victim of narcosis,” Torm explains. “A disease that kills many in the realm of Sarm.” Elder concurs, adding “Hopefully her agony will be short-lived.” Huh, I wish my agony were short-lived, but there’s like another forty minutes of this movie left. In any case, apparently narcosis is another word for leprosy, because they are soon after jumped by a couple of lepers. This vital action sequence lasts about five seconds before Our Heroes more or less just walk away from them.
Having in total gone perhaps ten or twenty yards since entering the cave, they now nearly stumble across a party of Sarm’s men. Yes, you can see why Hup’s top secret “back door” has remained undiscovered so far. In any case, they hide behind a rock. Then a guard seems to hear something, and stares at the rock for a nice long time as he presumably ponders the notion of walking forward ten feet to take a look. Oh noes! Then, just when the suspense couldn’t get any more, er, suspense-y, someone else calls to him to stop fooling around. And so ends another of the film’s extraordinary, pulse-pounding set pieces.
The tunnel leads directly out into the heart of Sarm’s compound. Luckily, hanging right at the cave entrance, there’s a spare pair of regulation slave manacles. Man, they’re really catching some breaks here. So they slap the bracelets on Talena and go with that strategy again.
Right outside is an ongoing slave auction. Per the books, the women on display are extremely attractive, in this instance sporting fashionable Sheena Easton coifs, clean white teeth, even tans and nice makeup. Per the film’s PG rating, they are wearing (functionally) bikinis, forgoing the rampant nudity in Norman’s novels.
“LOOK! SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY IS IN THE BOOKS!”
Suddenly Cabot is pushing one of Sarm’s guards, for reason we are not made privy to. I mean, the guard just seems to be walking by and Cabot shoves him. Man, he’s the best covert agent ever! This draws the attention of Sarm’s Left Hand Man Guy, and the group is quickly arrested. Well, except for Hup, who wisely just walks away from these idiots. Maybe the movie should be about him.
Cabot is brought before Sarm, who employs the courtly “You are my honored guest” technique. This despite knowing that Cabot is the guy who killed Sarm’s son, although exactly how they know this is left to our imaginations. I will say this; Sarm’s palace is, for a production of this sort, surprisingly opulent. Either they saved up a lot of their production budget to create this set, or (more likely) it was left over from some other, more expensive film. Still, credit where credit is due.
Cabot announces that they’ve come for the Home Stone of Corida, Sarm replies with an Evil Villain laugh, etc. When asked about his own interest in the stone, Cabot explains that he’s from another world, and needs the Home Stone to get back to Earth. (Really? Did they establish that earlier? I don’t think so, but eh, whatever.) Sarm instead offers him a place in his court, which again sounds kind of weird, since Cabot (sort of) killed Sarm’s son. Eh, whatever.
Cabot remains steadfast, however, proclaiming that “I’m not leaving my friends!” Well, except if he went back to Earth, I guess. When asked why he cares about them, he replies, “They happen to be human beings!” Man, Cabot was singing a different tune in the book I read. More on that later. Meanwhile, let me again note the Reed is really pretty good in this film, which is something of a triumph, considering. A pretty notable triumph, in fact, because the guy playing Cabot frankly sucks.
Sarm takes Cabot over to see a performance of the Solid Gor Dancers, which takes place in another pretty swank set. I really have to assume they were using somebody else’s leftovers here. So we spend a couple more minutes watching girls in bikinis dance around, which…OK. Could be worse. Has been worse. Generally was worse. Kind of actually seems like something out of the books. Still, hopefully once we’re done with this something will actually, you know, happen and stuff.
Sarm continues trying to corrupt Cabot, giving him the attentions of a sex slave and having a genuinely impressive looking feast brought in. Hmm, maybe they did save most of their budget for this part of the movie.
Cabot tries to get his pleasure slave to tell him where the Home Stone is kept. However, she stymies him when she rather convincingly points out that she doesn’t know, because, you know, she’s just a slave. She probably doesn’t know the missile activation codes for the President’s nuclear football, either, although Cabot doesn’t bother trying to find out.
Yada yada. Eventually Sarm tries to turn Cabot to the Dark Side by having him brand a slave. A line of them is brought in, all wearing over their bikinis a hooded cloak. One woman is branded, and it does look pretty nasty—in a completely non-graphic, PG sort of way.
Sarm continues his attempts to seduce Cabot (we never do figure out his motivations for this), noting that he should try his hand at the brand, thus “experiencing the delight of giving pain.” Hey, Cabot’s been giving me pain for over an hour now, so I’m not sure how much more experience he requires.
Even so, Cabot is handed a glowing hot brand fresh from the brazier, and his putative victim’s hood is removed, AND I DON’T WANT TO SHOCK THE HELL OUT OF YOU BUT IT’S TALENA. I KNOW!!! WHAT A SUPER-SURPRISE PLOT TWIST THAT I’M SURE NOBODY SAW COMING!!
So they *cough* ratchet up the ‘tension’ by having Cabot move the brand slooooowly towards her thigh (the place where Gor slaves are branded). Oh noes! Gosh, is he going to go all evil and scar our fair heroine and thrown in with Sarm and other suchlike nefariousness? Why, no! Instead, he jams the brand into Sarm’s stomach. Ouchie!
Heroic music blares, and Cabot and Talena (who is yet constrained by her wrist bracelets) rather unconvincingly outfight Sarm’s entire contingent of palace guards. A couple of guards are meanwhile thrown onto tables of fruit, because the film didn’t have a chase scene where fruit was overturned, and I guess they figured this was close enough.
Yawners. So they run down to the dungeons and free the prisoners, including Elder and Torm. (The Freeing of the Prisoners is a traditional method of providing the good guys with forces for a big final donnybrook. See Enter the Dragon for an actual good example of this trope.) Meanwhile, Cabot—now having assumed full Hero status—finds and frees Marlenus, and then tracks down the Home Stone to boot. Hazzah.
Meanwhile, Torm and Talena fight guys and blah blah. All the heroes hook up only to find themselves trapped by a gate. Oh, noes! Is all lost? “Need a little help?” says a conveniently placed Hup, who just happens to be right outside the gate and with the keys, no less. Wow, that’s handy. However, I don’t want you to miss how HILARIOUS it is that he said a “little” help…because he’s a midget, remember? Man, that’s comedy gold, right there.
However, they are all caught anyway when their escape is blocked by a line of spear-bearing guards. The others retreat as Torm and Cabot fight the guards to cover, them. Cabot’s sword breaks and Torm tosses him his, only to then lose his life. Oh, the humanity. Cabot escapes, but ironically all the others are captured anyway.
Apparently Sarm has seen Beastmaster—man, I could be watching Beastmaster—because like Rip Torn in that movie he has the prisoners brought up upon a gigantic, elevated stone staircase that oversees a huge, cavernous fire pit. Meanwhile, the good guys say things like “You can no longer make slaves of free people,” lines presumably meant to make Norman’s fans choke on their popcorn.
Let’s cut to the chase: A girl is tossed down into the fires. Marlenus is to be next, but Cabot appears in the courtyard below (where the hell are all the guards in this place?). He fires an arrow which misses, and Sarm doesn’t think to seek shelter and continues to push Marlenus towards the pit. However, Cabot fires another arrow, and this one goes right into Sarm’s throat, and of course he tumbles screaming into the fire pit himself and oh, the irony, and yes, he indeed screams with an arrow shot completely through his neck,* and the Heroes Win.
[*Ken’s Rule of High Altitude Mortality (n): This stipulates that anyone who plunges off a tall structure (a building, a cliff, etc.,) will let loose with a loud death shriek, no matter how much damage he takes before the fall.]
Veteran actor Oliver Reed makes his predictably dignified exit from Gor.
Seriously, that’s it. There’s no fight with the guards, nothing. The bad guy is dead, so apparently it’s all over. I could only think of this bit from Robot Chicken:
So one second Sarm dies his horrible death, and literally the next second we’re back in Corida, which is so thriving now that it suddenly has elaborate public pools. (Yes, in the desert. I’m not sure how Sarm’s death would allow for that.) Indicating that the film was shot back to back, or perhaps even concurrently, with its sequel, Outlaw of Gor, we now get a weird five-minute epilogue that pretty much does nothing but establish Jack Palance—he was in the opening credits, remember?—as Xenos (the ‘s’ is silent), a soft-spoken but clearly, and I mean clearly, sinister priest.*
[*Even in setting up the sequel they’re pissing off the Norman fans. Here they momentarily refer to Sarm as having been a Priest King. In the Gor books, the Priest Kings are specifically the insect-like aliens who rule the planet, not members of a religious sect who also run a city.]
So Xenos lurks around the Corida celebration, inspiring frightened looks from one or two locals. Then he introduces himself to Cabot and Talena, and then scurries off.
As for Cabot, he has extremely soft-focus, PG-rated “I guess it’s sex” with Talena. Then the Home Stone and his ring begin to glow, and he’s suddenly back on Earth. He’s back in the school, and when he comes across Beverly and Norman—the loutish boyfriend Norman, if you can remember that far back—he slugs Norman in the face. See, Gor’s made a man of him, huzzah. Having established his new Alpha Male status, he leaves with a newly approving Beverly chasing excitedly after him.
Back to Xenos in Corida. He now has a monologue in the pool area (wearing elaborate priest robes that aren’t quite as goofy as Reed’s bare chest & helmet look, but are pretty close) where he all but declares, “I will be the villain in the next movie, and Corida will be mine, BWAHAHA!”
This is one of those scenes where somebody is saying something they shouldn’t say in front of other people, but it’s OK, because for some reason no one seems to hear him. Meanwhile, his appearance itself is kind of a massive cheat. Palance was one of the film’s few “names” (although his career was obviously in a real slump at the time). They clearly shoehorned him in here so that they could use his name for the publicity regarding this film, despite the fact that all he does is basically announce he’ll be in the sequel.
“M..I…C…. See you real soon! K…E…Y…. Why? Because we already filmed it!”
And then we just cut to the credits. Three full minutes of them, but I’m not complaining. Well, except for the fact that now I have a whole other film I have to review. Thanks, Cannon Films.
Click on the banner below to go to the Roundtable Supersoaker!