July 16, 2013
Hola, amigos. I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya. I vowed to myself not to post on this blog until after I finished my next book. I’ve ordered a proof copy, so it’ll be released within a week or two most likely. Onward…
“The Big List of 1980s Barbarian & Fantasy Movies” is the most popular post on this blog. It’s just a list with very little commentary, so I figured it was time to recommend a few.
These aren’t necessarily the best 80s fantasy movies, but are those I find most interesting. One of my main criteria for choosing these five is that they aren’t well known. My general cutoff was movies with less than 1000 votes at IMDB.com at the time.
So here are the most interesting 1980s fantasy movies in the world:
Throne of Fire (1983)
I gave Throne of Fire a hard time in The Big List, but I’m fascinated by it. Throne of Fire a throwback: “60s castle and king cinema” with a large dose of 80s barbarian fantasy dope. By “60s castle and king cinema” I’m talking about Lion in Winter, Man For All Seasons, Becket, etc. Throne of Fire takes the castle setting of those movies, adds a mess of fantasy elements and the stupid fun of trashy Italian barbarian flicks…and wins!
I’m not talking Shakespeare, but Throne of Fire has a better plot than most fantasy movies. Sabrina Siani is drop dead awesome in this one.
Conquest director Lucio Fulci must have had a violent epiphany of excitement when he saw Quest for Fire. He’s more well known for gore movies and must have seen potential in cavemen as the vehicle for bringing his schtick to the bustling barbarian movie market. Fulci’s next thought was probably “I can’t get Rae Dawn Chong in my caveman movie, so who do I know that has small breasts? SABRINA SIANI. Bellissimo!”
At it’s core, Conquest is a “buddy movie” with the same general setup as Midnight Cowboy. One guy is a bumpkin stranger who has introduced a powerful weapon to a grim land: Jon Voight. The other guy is the street smart loner who wanders around scrounging for food: Dustin Hoffman.
As a movie, Conquest is rather sparse, despite having one if the more unique and interesting settings to be found in fantasy movies. It’s better to think of it as a meditation. On what, I’m not exactly sure, and I’ll stop talking out of my ass about this movie now.
The Dungeonmaster (1984)
The two 80s movies with the most obvious D&D influence/coattails-riding are Mazes & Monsters and The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar: The Challenges of Excalibrate, aka Digital Knights). Both are set in the modern world and transport the characters to fantasy land via psychosis or dreams or something.
Mazes & Monsters is more well-known and apparently reviled by many. Great for laughs, at least.
The Dungeonmaster seems to have been retroactively gussied up to appeal to D&D fans. The movie itself doesn’t explicitly reference the game, but the plot structure could totally work as an example of one way that D&D was/is played: short, unrelated, gonzo puzzle and combat challenges joined together in a quest to rescue the damsel from the evil wizard/Satan. Very stupid and entertaining.
Also, this movie invented Google Glass before it was even a twinkle in Sergey Brin’s eyes.
Star Knight (1985)
By the mid-80s, the fantasy movie mania was at its peak. To get to the next level, a crossover hit was needed. It finally arrived in 1987 with Princess Bride.
But several filmmakers had the right idea back in 1985, as both Legend and Ladyhawke were minor crossover successes. But the true 1985 crossover champ is a forgotten movie made in Spain called El caballero del dragón, aka Knight of the Dragon, aka Star Knight.
I’m not saying it’s a great movie, but it has Klaus Kinski, is some funny, and should be at least a little more well known. I guess you have to be willing to mix aliens and comedy with your knights and castles.
Iron Warrior (1987)
By 1987, the barbarian movie fad was past its prime, but a half-decade of barbarian movie-making culminated in twin peaks that year: The Barbarians and Iron Warrior. The Barbarians is the more well known of the two, pushing all the right buttons (almost to the point of parody), resulting in perhaps the quintessential barbarian movie. But only because it treads familiar territory.
Iron Warrior deserves more attention. It gets overlooked for two opposing reasons:
First, it was kinda-sorta made as a sequel to Ator and Blademaster, two movies that wear the “bad movie” crown with pride.
Second, it has an experimental style and pretentious grandiosity feel to it at times, which has given it a bit of an artsy fartsy reputation.
Some people who do like the earlier Ator movies are put off by this different style. People who don’t like the earlier Ator movies won’t bother with Iron Warrior anyways. It can’t win with either crowd.
Iron Warrior is bizarre, but no more pretentious than anybody’s D&D campaign. The artsy fartsy stuff works, partly because the movie is ruthlessly edited to keep it moving at a brisk pace. Give it a chance and Iron Warrior may just end up being your favorite barbarian movie.
November 14, 2012
So we moved house this summer. Found a box of old junk. In the box was a folder of drawings and sketches I did in high school and college. In there I found six sketches showing the progression of a magic user from apprentice maestro to sorcerer master.
My first thought upon seeing the sketches was “Wow. I hope nobody ever sees this crap.”
My second thought was “…unless it’s in a suitably ridiculous amateur fantasy rpg supplement.”
I’ve arranged that. I didn’t have any jungle stuff that the sketches would work with, so I gathered up a few of the non-jungle things that I’ve made over that past few years and packaged them up in this little digest book…
What’s in it? Four things:
1. “The Rise and Fall of Zamzer”. This is the name of the book and also the name of the series of six sketches of the wizard retroactively named as Zamzer. All sketches are full page except the cover. Six pages.
2. “A Eunuch for Zamzer”. A parody of the “Zanzer’s Dungeon” adventure from the 1991 “classic” D&D big black box game. I ran this adventure in 2008 for some of the same dudes who played the original in 1991. Seven pages of text plus a two-page map.
3. “Dirty Old Town”. A fantasy city described via a collection of tables based on songs by an old Irish band called The Dubliners. This town ties in to the Zamzer adventure. Two pages.
4. “How to Scare Monsters”. An article with companion d100 table of monster phobias. This also ties in to the Zamzer adventure. Three pages.
“A Eunuch for Zamzer” is the feature presentation of the book. It’s a prison breakout adventure for first level characters, but they likely won’t be able to fight their way out without some roleplaying and alliance formation. I call it a parody, but it’s a serious adventure. Well, “serious” in a B-movie groan-inducing kind of way. Rather embarrassing, actually.
And it’s FREE!
If you want to make your own digest booklet, also click here to download a PDF of only the map, which you can print as the center of the booklet. All the drawings are by themselves on pages with no text, so you can skip them if you want to save printer ink.
But wait, there’s more…
…that I want to mention. Recommended movie to watch before running “A Eunuch for Zamzer”:
Burning Paradise in Hell
This 1994 Hong Kong kung fu flick bears some similarities to the adventure. Temple prison with slave dungeon. Sadistic wizard overlord. Secret chambers and traps. Good times.
December 23, 2011
(This post is mostly just a list. Want some recommendations? Check out my post about The Most Interesting 1980s Fantasy Movies in the World.)
This blog is about fantasy jungles and I’ve posted about many jungle movies from the 80s, but hardly any fantasy flicks from the same era. I’ve decided to fix this problem with this one long post about fantasy movies from that legendary decade, and a few from the late 70s and early 90s.
It’s called the “Big” list instead of the “Master” list because there are so many obscure and foreign fantasy movies that I’ve never heard of and will likely never watch. Some on this big list are also in the science fantasy or post-apocalypse genres, but with definite fantasy elements. There’s probably some borderline and multi-genre movies that I’ve missed and some I’ve left off on purpose, such as the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies.
Warning…many of the movies listed hear are low-grade trash and so-bad-they-are-funny. They may be stupid, but “we can laugh as we watch it and appreciate its existence as a cultural artifact.”
To make the list a little more useful, I’ve divided it into sub-categories to show the chronology and relationships between them. The first couple categories dip back into the 70s. Prior to these, worthwhile fantasy cinema was mostly limited to Harryhausen, Fantasia, Wizard of Oz, and a few others. In that sense, these were a prelude to the tidal wave of fantasy movies that were to come in the 80s. First up are Terry Gilliam’s dragon comedies…
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)
- Jabberwocky (1977)
The next category consists of animated features that bridge the gap between what came before and what came after…
- Wizards (1977)
- The Hobbit (1977)
- Lord of the Rings (1978)
- The Return of the King (1980)
- Heavy Metal (1981)
The “Why did they choose such puny and dorky-looking actor to play the leading dude?” category. Nonetheless, I like these…
- Excalibur (1981)
- Dragonslayer (1981)
- The Sword & the Sorcerer (1982)
The “It’s all about the ranged weapons” category…
- Hawk the Slayer (1981)
- The Archer: Fugitive from the Empire (aka The Archer and the Sorceress) (1981)
The “Gosh, they’re big. Are they real? I’m talking about the monsters, of course” category…
- Clash of the Titans (1981)
- Sorceress (1982)
The missing link is…
- Quest for Fire (1981) is a pre-Conan the Barbarian caveman movie without the brawny barbarian conventions, so I’ve included it here instead of in the caveman/barbarian section below. It has a sense of realism that almost removes it from the fantasy genre altogether. But I saw it reviewed in an old fantasy gaming magazine one time, so it’s worth mentioning here. I’m not including Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) on this list, though. Sorry.
That brings us to the vanguard of barbarian cinema…
- Conan the Barbarian (1982)
- Conan the Destroyer (1984)
( This list will now go off on a barbarian tangent for awhile, and return to “other fantasy” further down the post.)
The original Conan movie is the main reason why many of the following movies exist. A direct descendant is She, starring Sandahl Bergman, co-star of the original Conan. Very little, if anything, to do with the H. Rider Haggard book, but great stupid post-apocalypse fun and it kicks off a category of barbarian movies with women as the primary protagonists…
- She (1982 in the UK, 1985 in the US)
- Hundra (1983)
- Red Sonja (1985)
- The Sisterhood (1988) (The closest Cirio Santiago came to a barbarian movie, previous mentioned here)
Those four are the halfway decent entries in the “barbarian women” category. Hundra probably deserves to be placed in the next category, but the Ennio Morricone score and the bull-worshipping cult keeps it up here with the big girls. The next four are the regrettable “barbarian women” movies, though they have their moments…
- Amazons (1986)
- Golden Temple Amazons (1986)
- Barbarian Queen (1985)
- Barbarian Queen 2 (1992)
The following movies straddle the line between the caveman and barbarian genres, but what’s the difference? What is it about 1983?
- Yor, the Hunter from the Future(1983)
- Ironmaster (1983)
- Thor the Conqueror (1983)
- Conquest (1983)
There are several series that are categories of their own and extended into the 90s…
- Deathstalker (1983)
- Deathstalker 2 (1987)
- Deathstalker 3 (1988)
- Deathstalker 4 (1991)
- Beastmaster (1982)
- Beastmaster 2 (1991)
- Beastmaster 3 (1996)
- Gor (1987)
- Outlaw of Gor (1989)
And one last series: The Ator trilogy starring Miles O’Keefe. These are some of the best Italian movies in the genre, and by “best Italian movies” I mean “laughably bad but strangely fun”…
- Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)
- The Blade Master (1984)
- Iron Warrior (1987)
Here’s the bottom of the barbarian barrel. Three Italian jobs starring Sabrina Siani and Pietro Torrisi…
- The Invincible Barbarian (aka Gunan, King of the Barbarians) (1982)
- Barbarian Master (aka The Sword of the Barbarians, aka Sangraal, la spada di fuoco) (1982)
- Throne of Fire (aka Il trono di fuoco) (1983)
These three are pretty bad and only for completists, stalkers, and cultists. Here’s why: Perhaps the only reason to watch them is Sabrina Siani. S. S. is the feisty small-chested swordskitty in a genre that typically features double-Ds. She was also in a couple movies listed previously, Conquest and Ator, the Fighting Eagle, which I’d recommend over these three Siani/Torrisi flicks. (Throne of Fire is very interesting though!)
The “Barbarians come to a city near you” category…
- Highlander (1986)
- Masters of the Universe (1987)
- Time Barbarians (1990)
Some more barbarian movies that don’t fit into the above categories…
- Fire and Ice (1983) Bakshi is back, and he’s brought Frazetta. Nice jungle…previously mentioned here.
- Revenge of the Barbarians (aka When the Raven Flies) (1984) is more of a viking drama than a barbarian action flick, but it has “barbarians” in the title so here it is. Other Viking/Norse movies to be aware of from this era are The Norseman (1978), Pathfinder (1987) (not to be confused with Nispel’s Pathfinder from 2007) and Erik the Viking (1989).
- The Warrior & The Sorceress (1984)
- Altar (1985) “The Turkish Conan”
- The Barbarians (1987)
- Quest for the Mighty Sword (aka Ator IV, aka The Hobgoblin) (1990) is the lost fourth installment of the Ator series, but it doesn’t count because Miles O’Keefe is nowhere to be found.
Now let’s return to fantasy movies outside the barbarian sub-genre…
The “Is it D&D? Nope” category. Many gamers dislike Mazes and Monsters but it’s far-out entertainment to me. Check out the Mazes and Monsters Retro Clone RPG at the Blog of Holding.
- Mazes and Monsters (1982)
- The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar) (1984)
The “Castles and Aliens” category…
- Krull (1983)
- Star Knight (aka El caballero del dragón) (1985) Klaus Kinski alert!
The “Rutger Hauer with a sword and a castle and a blonde” category…
- Flesh+Blood (1985)
- Ladyhawke (1985)
The “Fairy Tales and Romance and such” category…
- Hearts and Armour (1983)
- Legend (1985)
- The Princess Bride (1987)
Every decade sees the release of at least a couple dreadful movies connected to the Arthurian legends. Excalibur was previously listed and is pretty good. Sword of the Valiant is ok, but some of those later ones are unwatchable…
- Sword of the Valiant (1984)
- Merlin and the Sword (1985)
- Merlin of the Crystal Cave (1991)
The “Terry Gilliam 80s fantasy” category. Brazil may be too much in the sci-fi future genre to truly fit here, but it would be hard to leave it off a list of “Terry Gilliam 80s fantasy” movies…
- Time Bandits (1981)
- Brazil (1985)
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
The “Little People” category isn’t very big…
- Willow (1988)
Though most 80s fantasy movies are entirely juvenile in a sense, some were made specifically with an eye towards a younger audience. There’s some animated features…
- Faeries (1981) I had never heard of this before Jeff Rients recommended it be listed here. Watch all 24 minutes of it on youtube.
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Last Unicorn (1982)
- The Flight of Dragons (1982 in UK, 1986 in US)
- The Black Cauldron (1985)
…and some “into the land of make believe” movies…
- The NeverEnding Story (1984)
- The NeverEnding Story 2 (1990)
- Mio in the Land of Faraway (1987)
…and a couple of made-for-TV Star Wars specials with a strong science fantasy feel to them…
- Caravan of Courage (1984)
- The Battle for Endor (1985)
…and some kids movies that took footage from non-kids movies…
- Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985)
- Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (1989)
…and a couple Jim Henson productions…
- The Dark Crystal (1982)
- Labyrinth (1986)
There’s also a slew of 1980s Asian productions that have fantasy elements, but I don’t know much about them. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about these can list some in the comments. Some that I’ve seen are Zu Warriors of Magic Mountain (1983), Duel to the Death (1983), and Burning Paradise in Hell (1994). Some anime also fits here, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Record of Lodoss War (1990), and Ninja Scroll (1993), but again that’s not an area that I have watched much of, so will leave it for others to examine more thoroughly.
Some late additions to the list:
- The Dark Planet (1989) by Richard Corben
- A Nymphiod Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1990)
- Lords of Magick (1989)
- Lionheart: the Children’s Crusade (1987)
Also, I was completely unaware that Lou Ferigno was anything other than Hulk:
- Hercules (1983)
- Adventures of Hercules II (1985)
- Sinbad of the Seven seas (1989)
Know of any 80s fantasy movies that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.
December 21, 2011
Usually when I re-read something that I wrote several months in the past, I think to myself: “Wow, you suck.”
As mentioned previously, I submitted three things to issue #13 of Fight On! 1) A Retro Stupid article about scaring monsters away. 2) A d100 table intended as a companion to the article. 3) A compilation of Ken St. Andre quotes from his 4th Edition Tunnels & Trolls rulebook (issue #13 is dedicated to him).
A couple of the quotes were used on the dedication page and the “Advice for Dungeon Masters” poem is found on the TOC page. I love those quotes! The d100 table made it into the issue, but it feels naked without the companion article, so I’m posting the article below.
Whereas most D&D Reaction charts have the possibility of monsters automatically kissing up to the PCs, the Reaction chart in Tunnels & Trolls allows for the possibility of monsters freaking out and running away upon meeting the PCs. I like that. So I thought to myself “Hmm…how to scare monsters?”
I haven’t re-read it yet…
HOW TO SCARE MONSTERS
Have your PCs ever tried to scare away monsters instead of fighting them? It can have both good and bad consequences. Good: Not having to defeat monsters in combat can save time and resources. Anyways, killing monsters isn’t worth much XP in some games. Bad: If the GM is smart or evil, those scared monsters might later ambush the PCs, perhaps with friends. Even with the potential bad consequences, scaring away monsters is a useful option for PCs to have at their disposal and could sometimes be the best or only viable tactic for a particular encounter.
Monster Reaction tables can be useful tools for when a GM is unsure of how a monster responds to PCs. Not all monsters will dive into combat at first opportunity and negotiating with monsters is an important part of fantasy roleplaying games. It’s no surprise then that Tunnels & Trolls (4th and 5th Edition) has a Monster Reaction table similar to those found in D&D and retro-clones: Roll 2d6 to generate one of five reaction categories. But there is a small and significant difference: Where D&D reaction tables typically have a 1-in-36 chance of the monster being enthusiastically helpful or friendly, the T&T reaction table instead has a 1-in-36 chance of the monster being panic-stricken and fleeing immediately, without the PCs necessarily doing anything to cause the fright .
T&T also has a relatively powerful 1st level spell called Oh Go Away that can easily scare away lesser enemies. (Again, 4th and 5th Edition T&T. The spell is nerfed in 7th Edition.) The combination of this spell and the Monster Reaction table explicitly makes scaring monsters away a reliable tactic in T&T. Compare to D&D, where the default Monster Reaction table does not include monster scaring and the spell Cause Fear has a range of touch. Good luck with that. Some versions of D&D have Morale rules, which are a special reaction roll to determine if monsters flee after combat has begun and blood has been spilled. Oh, D&D has the Wand of Fear also, so maybe you can ask Harry to pick one up for you at Ollivanders. Of course, players can try anything they want and DMs can adjudicate scare attempts according to the situation, but the D&D rules do not explicitly encourage scaring away monsters before combat as a reliable or common tactic.
What are some ways to encourage players to use scare tactics? Start by designing encounters where scaring away the monsters is the most efficient or only option. If the PCs come up with a good plan to scare the monsters, give a bonus to the resolution roll or judge for yourself if it is successful.. Another idea is for the GM to award XP for scaring away monsters, especially if the scare tactic was roleplayed in fine fashion. The GM can rule that some scared monsters drop treasure or become paralyzed with fright and easy to capture. A monster gagged and bound is worth two in the tomb.
It doesn’t matter if GMs use only their judgment to resolve scare attempts or if they employ rules mechanics to aid in resolution…it’s a good idea to have a plan when trying to scare monsters, either to sway the GM’s judgement or to receive bonuses on the resolution roll (monster reaction table, attribute check, saving roll, pre-combat morale check, etc.). Just saying “I try to scare away the monsters” won’t cut it. Do something scary.
Surprise is helpful for scaring monsters. Most important is what the PCs do with their surprise advantage. The GM should allow some encounters to begin where the surprised side remains completely unaware of the other side. This gives the PCs the opportunity for creative planning of ambushes or scare attempts. It gives the GM the chance to use powerful monsters that might otherwise overpower PCs in a straight up fight.
Scary objects are a tried and true tactic. Scalps hanging from a PC’s belt are sure to get a monsters attention, though it may also enrage them to attack. Blood and skulls can work, but some monsters may laugh at the sight. Perhaps the most consistently effective objects for scaring monsters are religious symbols or idols. Some monsters may fear innocuous items such as doilies and stuffed toys.
Scary sounds are effective in some situations, especially when the monsters cannot see the PCs. Pretending to be The Yeti has a good chance of scaring away a pack of mountain goblins. Or imitate the sounds of a whip-wielding taskmaster to send kobolds scurrying away. Make up a strange alien language on the spot. Let out a slobbery feral roar…nobody wants to mess with a berserker.
Acting becomes an option when the monsters can see the PCs. Pretend to be someone you are not. Better yet, the party can engage in a mock battle amongst themselves, exaggerating their weapon proficiency with Hollywood choreography. Pretend to fight off invisible demons. Feign a gruesome death. Squirt some ketchup all over the floor and walls.
Scary faces are a fun option, especially when the players are kids. What kid doesn’t like to make scary faces?
Threats are implied in nearly any scare tactic. Why not just make them explicit and the centerpiece of a scare attempt? “I’m gonna tear your head off, you chaotic evil so-and-so!”
Some monsters just don’t like bright light. Maybe that’s why they are in the dungeons. Shine your target lantern in a monster’s eyes to see how it reacts. Magically created lights, especially those equivalent to sunlight, may cause some monsters to bug out. On the other hand, some bugs are attracted to bright light.
Reciting a list of deeds is effective when the PC’s reputation does not proceed them. Let monsters know what they are up against by listing some of the monsters you’ve dispatched and how. Go ahead and be casual about it: “Some call me The Collector, for on my shelf at home are the heads of Grzlgrk the Troll King, Votoly the Blue, and Witheho Muppersmith. What do you think about that?”
Magic, of course, provides effects that cause automatic fear. More interesting is to use spells that can supplement other kinds of scare tactics, such as Dancing Lights, Audible Glamer, or any kind of illusion. A magician could also use simple spells to impress monsters, suggesting the possibility of deadlier magics at the spellcaster’s disposal. Non-wizards can use magic items to fool some monsters into thinking they are up against a high sorcerer.
Some monsters may be scared of a specific random thing. A GM can roll on the WHAT IS THIS MONSTER SCARED OF? table for inspiration.
So the next time your PCs are in a tight spot or are just not in the mood for chopping heads, try scaring away the monsters instead. But keep your swords drawn and spells ready, in case the monsters just laugh and charge into battle. After all, they are trying to scare you too. Because that’s what monsters do.
March 11, 2011
I recently purchased a vintage Basic D&D box set (Holmes edition) and found a typed adventure recap among the contents. Nine pages in length. Though not explicitly set in a jungle, some of the names sound like it could be near a jungle: Enchanted Island, Cha Kha Khan, and a boat named Tiger Toi. Even if not jungle-related, it’s still quite interesting. The setting may also have a Gamma World influence…a town is named Danziego.
Also interesting is that it was mailed from Los Angeles to Maryland in 1980, likely from the DM to a player. Check out the last page of the pdf (I digitally blurred out the recipient’s address).
I’d like to learn more about this apparently homebrew setting and adventure. I posted about it at the Acaeum, but nothing learned there yet. Anybody know anything about the “Tales of the Pronomir”? Did you, or somebody you know, play in this game? Check it out: Tales of the Pronomir