Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Devil’s Sword (1984)

In the 1980s the Indonesian film industry was booming. Indonesian audiences wanted action and thrills and that’s exactly what Indonesia’s film industry offered them, in movies like The Devil’s Sword.

Producer Gope Samtani knew how to assemble the necessary ingredients - a magic sword, lots of martial arts, lots of swordplay, plenty of black magic, an evil queen, a beautiful heroine and as much sex as the Indonesian censor would let him get away with. And he had the right leading man in handsome charismatic Barry Prima. Barry Prima wasn’t a great actor but he had the matinee idol looks to appeal not just to Indonesian audiences but to the export market as well.

The legend of the South Sea Queen had provided the inspiration for movies and comic books (and would be the subject of the classic 1989 Indonesian horror thriller Lady Terminator). The evil Crocodile Queen of The Devil’s Sword is basically a variation on the theme.

Magic swords forged from meteorites were another ingredient with guaranteed appeal for Indonesian audiences (and they show up in the folklore of many other countries as well). The magic sword in this movie can confer almost unlimited power upon the warrior who wields it. So naturally all the evil warriors in Java are trying to find the sword. The one man who can stop them is the most formidable of all the good warriors on the island, Mandala (Barry Prima). Mandala’s ageing guru has already paid the price fir trying to conceal the whereabouts of the sword from the evil warriors. So now Mandala has an additional motive  for foiling their evil plans - to avenge the mutilation of his guru.

Mandala is not the only one after revenge. Banyu-Jaga (Advent Bangun), the chief henchman of the Crocodile Queen, has kidnapped the husband of a village chief’s daughter. The daughter, who happens to be a formidable martial arts expert in her own right, teams up with Mandala. She knows the fate in store for her husband. Like so many other village men he will have to serve the insatiable lusts of the dreaded Crocodile Queen. She is determined to save the poor boy from a fate worse than death.

Along the way Mandala and his newly acquired sidekick will have to battle a collection of extremely fearsome evil warriors. Luckily the evil warriors have stated fighting amongst themselves so that’s thinned out their numbers a little. Unluckily, Mandala himself falls prey to the Crocodile Queen. His guru, the one who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the evil warriors from finding out where the sword was hidden and lost both his legs in the process, has to use his powers of telepathy to rescue Mandala.

Of course it all ends with a climactic fight in the Crocodile Queen’s cave.

This all sounds fairly typical of 1980s sword and sorcery movies, and it is. The Devil’s Sword does however have a few things that make it stand out from the crowd. The first of these elements is the skillful blending of local mythology with a standard sword and sorcery plot. The second element is the outrageous sense of fun. 

The special effects are fairly crude but they’re executed with so much flair that for the most part they work extremely well. The arrival of Banyu-Jaga on a flying rock is a particular highlight. There’s also a very cool cyclops monster.

The Crocodile Queen’s lair probably wasn’t a very expensive set but it looks terrific. This movie proves the truth of something I’ve always believed - energy, imagination and enthusiasm are far more important than big budgets.

The Crocodile Queen makes a wonderful villainess. The Devil’s Sword really pushed the edge of the envelope when it came to the amount of sex the Indonesian censor would allow. It might be tame by the standards if the time in regard to what is actually shown but it manages to create an incredibly sleazy atmosphere. There’s also a considerable amount of gore but the violence is so cartoonish it’s impossible to be offended by it.

This film boasts a host of colourful villains, all of them being satisfyingly evil in completely distinctive ways. The crocodile men are a nice touch.

Absolutely everything you could possibly wish for in a sword and sorcery movie can be found here.

Mondo Macabro have managed to find a remarkably good print. The 16x9 enhanced transfer really is quite superb. As always with this company’s releases the extras are fascinating and informative, the highlight being a truly bizarre interview with Barry Prima who must be one of the most delightfully eccentric movie stars in history.

The Devil’s Sword is a non-stop roller coaster ride of sheer unadulterated fun. If a movie it to be judged by how well it achieves what it set out to do then this is a truly great movie. Very highly recommended.

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