Your Highness brings old fashioned sword & sorcery filmmaking back into theaters this week, so we thought we would look back at some of the classic fantasy films that might have inspired Danny McBride and David Gordon Green.
Jesus Christ, this movie.
Gor starts off and you know you’re in trouble. Some poncey professor is sitting in front of his class, talking about how this ring he’s holding is an ancient artifact that has the power to open a mystical portal to another world - a counter Earth. Weirdest Accounting course ever.
That guy is our hero, Tarl Cabot. Yeah, I don’t know why they didn’t just name him Carl Talbot either. Tarl? Anyway, he leaves class and gets dumped by his girlfriend/TA (Tarl has poor ethics) who, in the best scene of the movie, hops into a jeep with a young Arnold Vosloo. Vosloo sports a full head of hair, a sweater casually tossed over his shoulders and ridiculously huge aviators.
Tarl and his girl were supposed to go away for vacation, but he ends up going by himself. Being a useless asshole, Tarl gets into a car accident with a tree and… wakes up on a counter Earth! A counter Earth called Gor!
Gor, it turns out, is made up of about 900 square feet of desert and rock, which the film will examine in excruciating detail. It also turns out that Gor is ruled by the evil priest king Sarm (Sarm? Tarl? It’s like the script was typed by a dyslexic), played by Oliver Reed. No amount of booze can wash away Reed’s shame at being half naked in plastic armor, although you can see that he tried to do just that. The alcohol fumes waft off the screen, blistering the paint job of the wall opposite your TV.
Tarl gets mixed up Gorian politics when he sees Sarm’s troops stealing the local village’s Heartstone and enslaving the children. It turns out the Heartstone is the way that Tarl can get back to uncounter Earth, although since he’s such a waste of a life there I don’t even know why he bothers.
Tarl, who has a hairdo like a Supercuts model, hooks up with an old man, a woman with a foot of real estate between her boobs and her brother, a mullet-headed guy who has the weaseliest voice imagined dubbed over him (most of Gor is dubbed, except for many of Oliver Reed’s lines. Not sure why he’s exempt from ADR, but the jolting difference in sound quality when Reed speaks is often hilarious). Together they go on a quest to walk across the aforementioned 9000 square feet of desert and rock, again and again, until the movie gets long enough to go the third act.
Along the way they stop at a tavern, which is actually just a cave, and which is ruled by Popeye’s Bluto, Paul L. Smith. Smith has some map they need, and he spends much of his screentime giving the exact same squinty eyed stare he used in Popeye to express displeasure; this is the most wonderful part of the movie. Smith also makes the wide sternumed girl in the group have a really, really extended catfight with a blonde whose hair is crimped. You have to wonder how someone on a medieval counter Earth pulls that look off. Then again, most of the extras look like they were recruited outside of a Motley Crue concert on the Sunset Strip in 1984.
The group ends up picking up a dwarf - who has bleached his hair here on medieval counter Earth - who can lead them into the city where Sarm is holed up, delivering occasional drunken monologues. They have to cross that same fucking patch of sand to do so, though, and then they have to go through some caves where the’re slightly menaced by some lepers.
By now I was really wondering whether this film qualified in any honest way as a sword and sorcery movie; I guess the mystical ring bringing Tarl to Gor counts, but then again this is simply a wholesale, probably actionable rip-off of John Carter being transported to Mars, and those are science fiction stories. The real problem, though, is the fact that nothing fucking happens in the film. There was one fight early on, where Tarl got beat up by Sarm’s guards, the cat fight in the tavern, followed by a minor dust up, then the mullet guy fell in a hole in the sand (it’s less interesting than it sounds, and I’m fully aware that it doesn’t sound interesting at all).
There’s eventually some action; Tarl finally steps up when they’re all captured by Sarm and he makes them go to a dinner that’s half Fellini, half Cirque de Soleil. Nobody at this dinner wears pants that adequately covers their ass cheeks. As is usually the case in these cheapies nobody has a clue how to sword fight, so much of the action has the appearance of six year olds smashing plastic weapons together. You’d think the purpose of a sword fight is to just hit the other guys’ sword if you watched enough of these movies.
There is exactly one good moment in Gor; at the very end, when all seems lost and Sarm is about to sacrifice Interstate Boobs to a pit of fire, Tarl shows up and puts an arrow through his neck and he falls on in. It’s actually pretty awesome, but nowhere near as awesome as it would need to be to make up for the rest of the movie. It’s actually not even as awesome as Arnold Vosloo in those shades.
You might have looked up Gor and seen that Jack Palance is in it and you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned him. It’s because Jack Palance shows up in the last three minutes of the movie, playing the role of Sir Sets Up A Sequel (which actually happened. It’s called Outlaw of Gor, and MST3K got their hands on it).
Gor is based on a series of novels by John Norman. The first book is called The Tarnsmen of Gor, which is a title that is made up of 50% nonsense words. This is why people don’t respect fantasy novels - you should always endeavour to keep the percentage of nonsense words in your titles down to 25%, unless you’re writing for children or you’re an actual literary genius. I don’t know how close Gor is to his novel, but it’s possible that the filmmakers chose from any of the TWENTY-NINE books Norman wrote. That is a lot of ripping off Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The books, by the way, show up on Amazon under ‘Erotica,’ and the new covers make them look like they are written specifically for rapists. That’s especially interesting because Gor the movie is pretty chaste, and doesn’t even have any nudity - despite the fact that half the female cast looks like coke whores (half the male cast as well, to be honest).
For director Fritz Kiersch Gor was mostly the end of the road. He had started with Children of the Corn and had also made Tuff Turf; neither are classics, but neither are as dismal as Gor. Kiersch’s resume after Gor is all failure. Urbano Barberine, who plays Tarl, has a couple of interesting films on his resume; he starred in Demons before this, and showed up a couple of years later in Dario Argento’s Opera. And Rebecca Ferratti, who plays Tits McFarApart, has a career that features roles like ‘Sexy Woman,’ ‘Playboy Playmate’ and ‘Game Show Hostess.’ Most interestingly she was in Hard Vice, a Shannon Tweed movie directed by JOEY TRAVOLTA. Oliver Reed died, making him the luckiest of the cast.
I cannot recommend Gor to you, unless I hate you. If that’s the case, please watch Gor immediately. You deserve it.