Director: Ratno Timoer
Mondo Macabro

A feisty, furious, funny miscellany of martial arts mayhem, THE DEVIL’S SWORD is simple-minded if honest entertainment. A carnal cacophony of sword-play, beasts, breasts, and beauties, this newest gift from Mono Macabro is nothing less than a delight of fantasy-drenched sleaze and cheese. As dedicated to deadpan as it is to enthusiastic bouts of action and fantastic set design (the later of which includes such mind-numbing examples as a candy-land colored crocodile cave!) this movie excels in excess. Featuring no brain heroes who are all biceps, and furious fist-flinging, the film resembles an adult faerie-tale as told by a heroin addict -- fine thing! Although occasionally wallowing in genre cliché, this sometimes insipid, at other times inspiring freak-fable wraps a larger-than-life tale of heroism and the occult amidst a catalog of exploitation staples. Including everything from otherworld nymphs and legless wizards to dull-witted barbarians and laser lights springing from hands, this combination of duals and deadpan never pretends to take itself seriously. Eschewing serious drama for shlock-shock enjoyment, there is something liberating in its adolescent approach to the mystical.

As refreshingly free from pretension as it is sense, the Indonesian-made THE DEVIL’S SWORD recycles the traditions and conventions of various other sub-genres to form a new variant of martial arts and monsters. A peon to escapism, this film further illustrates its culture’s unique approach to exploitation. From the kung-fu antics of martial arts cinema to the exploitation fervor of Sword-and-Sandal epics, this wildly deviant cinematic salad borrows liberally from the surface imagery and subtexts of such cult classics as MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE and various Italian Sword-and-Sandal epics, toying with the conventionalities of such films by lending them a sense of unapologetic (and perhaps unconscious) parody.

“For whoever possesses the sword, will rule the kingdom!" we discover in this modern myth of supernatural shenanigans, and before we have time to adjust our bedazzled eyes to the delirious explosion of colors, mythic characters, and bargain-basement monsters, this modernized legend-cum-exploitation vehicle begins to reveal its gloriously goofy charms. Hidden in a cave inside Devil’s Mountain, the ‘Devil’s Sword’ is both a convenient plot device allowing a storm of mystical images to attack unsuspecting viewers and a cross-cultural variation of the Arthurian Holy Grail and other legendry weapons.

The plot: A band of greasy warriors attack the ‘keeper of the mountain,’ attempting to coerce him into relinquishing the map that leads to a mystical sword. After being tortured, the Keeper escapes, fleeing to ultimate warrior Mandal (Barry Prima), who embarks on a quest to save the sword from falling into the wrong hands (unwittingly entrapped by the erotic wiles of the Crocodile Queen -- yup, there‘s a crocodile queen!). Along the way, in typical heroic fashion, he battles outlandish villains, occult manifestations, his libido, and deliciously crazy traps ala Indiana Jones.

An epic fantasy without either the seriousness or cosmic resonance usually associated with this ancient form of storytelling, THE DEVIL’S SWORD mocks itself with a joyously over-the-top sensibility that matches its insane ensemble of legendary caricatures. From the typical broad-chest warrior to the seductive femme-fatale, all the major types of legendary are represented here, not excluding the bumbling minor characters serving as comic relief and ‘the wise old man’ whose occult knowledge serves the hero. Both an homage to, and revision of, ancient motifs of cross-comparative mythology -- particularly the plot structure of the “quest’ so crucial to classical Epics, wherein a hero must undergo a journey to battle great evil for his people (a staple of entertainment from Beowulf to STAR WARS) -- THE DEVIL’S SWORD forgoes the typical seriousness and tragedy common to the form, choosing instead to have fun with the very elements that could have made it more laborious had the filmmakers chosen to play it straight. Whereas a serious Epic would have required a large budget and dazzling special effects to achieve the cosmic scope required for realism, THE DEVIL’S SWORD manages to get away with ridiculous plot elements, deadpan performances, and effects whose awkwardness only add to its charm.

Mondo Macabro presents this fruity frolic in an impressive anamorphic widescreen (2.35.1) transfer, culled from the original negative. Despite minor damage, including some speckling and grain (elements, one is tempted to think, that were intrinsic to the original negative, not due to laxness on the part of MM), the transfer is filled with bright, effective colors, lending it further faerie glamour. This ridiculous romp of Indonesian genre hysterics is also well represented in the audio department, presented in easy listening English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Of course, as is the case with all such films, the atrocious dubbing lends even further if unintentional charm to a brazenly impossible story, further supporting this crass fantasy with chuckles at dopey dialogue.

The extras offer viewers their own quest -- a journey through the historical and cultural context of the film with the cast/crew that almost overshadows the feature. A good thing, this, as I’m sure you’ll agree once you sink your teeth into the interview with cult actor Barry Prima. Unintentionally bizarre, “An Encounter With Barry Prima” is precisely that, examining the career and rather odd personality of this Indonesian film legend. As funny as it is informative, enjoyable tension (and a sense of weirdness) derives from Prima’s attitude. As he discusses his cinematic past, including other movies he’s starred in, we’re tempted to wonder if he’s falling asleep! Rather than hurt the interview, Prima’s language distortion and nonchalance make it somehow more enjoyable. This freaky feature is followed by a historical survey of the film by Pete Tombs, coupled nicely with “Anatomy of an Action Man -- The Barry Prima Story,” which further explores the uninterested thespian’s unique contributions to world cinema (in truth, while this is far more informative than the aforementioned interview, the verbal sparring between interviewers and an unconcerned Prima are more unintentionally enjoyable in the former). This is followed by a theatrical trailer of the feature, yet another essay by Tombs on the cultural/mythical history and resonance of “Heavenly Swords” in Indonesian society/lore. The meaty MM preview reel rounds out the package of perhaps the wildest, weirdest, goofiest movies I’ve been privileged to see. (William P. Simmons)

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