Roger Corman gives us his first T&A twist on the Sword and Sorcery genre with Jack Hill's SORCERESS, getting its digital debut on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.
When she learns that sorcerer Traigon (seasoned Mexican actor Roberto Ballesteros) plans to sacrifice his first born to the god Calgara to bring about a new golden age, his wife goes into hiding among the barbarians. Traigon sends his soldiers the Shatrias to find her, only to then discover that she has given birth to twins. When he tries to torture her into revealing which is the first born, she calls upon wizard Krona (Martin LaSalle, whose career started with Bresson's PICKPOCKET but also included Juan Lopez Moctezuma's MANSION OF MADNESS and ALUCARDA) who makes short work of Traigon's men before his dying wife spears the sorcerer before dying herself. Unfortunately, Traigon has only lost the first of three lives and will return the next time the moon is in the house of the dragon. In the meantime, Krona magically bestows upon the twin girls his fighting skill and places them in the care of farmer Dargon (William Arnold) who raises the two girls in seclusion along with his own daughter, keeping from them not only their origins but their gender since he knows that when Traigon returns he will send his men in search of twin barbarian girls. Years later, Princess Delissia (Ana de Sade, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN) and her horny monkey servant Hunnu welcome Traigon back from the beyond. Meanwhile, the twins Mira and Mara (Playboy Playmates Leigh and Lynette Harris of the Larry Cohen-scripted Mickey Spillane film I, THE JURY) have developed into curvaceous ass-kicking blondes. When Traigon's men come after them, the twins are able to beat them into retreat but not before the men have slaughtered their family. Krona appears and bestows his powers upon them (including the sacred name to use when all else is lost) and the twins join forces with Viking Valdar (Bruno Rey), his faun Pando (David Millbern, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE), and pacifist barbarian prince Erlick (Bob Nelson) to seek vengeance on Traigon (and learn the difference between boys and girls).
Produced and directed by long time Corman associate Jack Hill (PIT STOP, SPIDER BABY) from a script by Jim Wynorski (THE LOST EMPIRE), SORCERESS was Hill's last directorial effort. While it is enjoyable as a New World sword and sorcery cash-in, it's a less auspicious swan song for Hill (who would fall out with Corman over the editing and only retain his producer's credit). There's plenty of nudity, early John Carl Buechler creations that are mostly well-executed for the budget but are generally silly (especially when augmented with rotoscoped animation), and performances that were seemingly awful before they were redubbed and made even worse with the new voices (some of which undercuts the effectiveness of jokey one-liners). The cluttered script includes sword fighting, martial arts, skinny dipping, a brothel brawl, limb-hacking, oil massages, virgin sacrifices, raping, pillaging, and zombies (and zombie rape). What dignity the film possesses comes from Hill's direction, the classy photography of Alex Phillps Jr. (whose work ranged from Peckinpah's BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA to Cannon's KING SOLOMON'S MINES to DEMONOID: MESSENGER OF DEATH), and the resources of Mexico's Churubusco studios including the impressive sets of THE DEVIL'S RAIN's Carlos Grandjean which combine Egyptian, Indian, Aztec, and Norse elements (as well as the recycling of James Horner's rich orchestral score for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS). Dumb fun from Corman and New World for sure, but historically valuable in the shaping of the company's subsequent output.
Not released on home video since Thorn-EMI's 1980's VHS edition, SORCERESS comes to BD-25 Blu-ray with a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that is flawless – given the film's low budget – apart from a single vertical scratch (since it is confined to one shot, it is presumably damage that occurred in camera and is part of the negative). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is most boisterous when it comes to the music and the clanging of swords and a few pyrotechnics during the climax.
Although Jack Hill did not participate in the release, Scorpion has created four new interviews to give context to the film. Firstly, producer Roger Corman (6:48) discusses the popularity of the sword and sorcery genre at the time (and how Lana Clarkson's popularity in DEATHSTALKER lead to him launching the BARBARIAN QUEEN series of films to highlight her), the Harris twins (and the added publicity from Playboy), the particulars of the Mexican shoot, and deciding while cutting the trailer for the film that it needed more monsters (the trailer that is, he didn't care whether Buechler could fit them into the body of the film itself). He is cagey about the specifics of his falling out with Hill, but not so the other interviewees. In his interview, make-up effects artist John Carl Buechler (15:39) mentions that Corman wanted him to purchase a bunch of Don Post masks and repaint them so they were unrecognizable for the zombies, but he instead sculpted his own mold and was able to get more creations out of it than he would have been able to purchase masks for the same amount. He also mentions that Hill wanted to cast Sid Haig as Pando but Corman didn't want to pay his going rate at the time, so Buechler's faun facial appliances were based on Haig's features. He also went beyond Corman's cheap concept for Hunnu and created a mechanical head. He also recalls how creating and shooting the monsters for the trailer (later shoehorned into the film) was inadvertently his first chance to direct.
Writer Jim Wynorski (9:55) describes how Corman approached him the Monday after CONAN THE BARBARIAN was released and asked him to bring him a script for a like project in the space of a week. He describes Hill's cut as running two hours with a number of "religious ballets", and that Corman and Hill fell out when he recut the film. Wynorski remarks on Corman's tendency to overcut, and the subsequent seventy-odd minute cut was too short, so they did fifteen minutes of reshoots over the course of one long shooting day. The film underwent more editing and recutting, with the eighty-two minute cut presented on disc running longer than what went out theatrically (although no specifics are offered). He takes credit for the comedy (including some jokes Buechler attributed to Hill), and says that his approach was more Abbott and Costello than Hill's (presumably DEATHSTALKER II is more representative of what Wynorski intended with SORCERESS). Post production supervisor Clark Henderson also contributes an interview (8:37) in which he recalls working at the converted lumber yard that was New World Pictures with the likes of beginners James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, Corman and Hill falling out over the recutting, and redubbing the Mexican actors. He describes the studio as a sort of post-graduate program the likes of which does not exist anymore. Henderson now handles client relations for Technicolor. The film's theatrical trailer (2:24) is also included, as well as trailers for the Corman-produced SPACE RAIDERS, STRIPPED TO KILL, and SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE, as well as Oliver Stone's Canadian-lensed directorial debut SEIZURE. (Eric Cotenas)
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