Color, 1982, 82m.
Directed by Brian Stuart (Jack Hill)
Starring Leigh Harris, Lynette Harris, Roberto Nelson, David Millbern, Bruno Rey, Ana De Sade, Roberto Ballesteros
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
For some reason, many filmmakers in the early '80s were obsessed with the idea of combining Star Wars with Conan the Barbarian. The cult movie landscape is littered with insane Italian outer space/fantasy mash ups like Conquest, Luigi Cozzi's Hercules films, and Yor, the Hunter from the Future, but America was no slouch either. Case in point: Sorceress, a production from New World Pictures during its Roger Corman tenure. The film opened in theaters running a scant 73 minutes and bearing a directorial credit for "Brian Stuart," a pseudonym for drive-in veteran Jack Hill (who had earlier collaborated with Corman on Thee Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, and Pit Stop). Rumors abounded that Hill's much longer original version had been drastically overhauled in postproduction, which the final choppy result seemed to bear out.
What audiences were left with was a baffling but endearingly goofy yarn about two twins, Mira and Mara (embodied by Playboy centerfolds Leigh and Lynette Harris), who are marked for death by their murderous wizard papa, Traigon (Ballesteros). Apparently their sacrifice as babies would have appeased his god, Caligara, but their mother decided to spirit them away so they could be trained as mighty warriors. As adults known as "the two who are one," they team up with a pair of burly barbarians, Erlick (Nelson) and Valdar (Rey), not to mention a faun-like creature named Pando (Millbern), to take down their father (who has the ability to revive from the dead a finite number of times) before he can fulfill his bloodthirsty destiny.
Designed as silly, pulpy fun, Sorceress is impossible to pin down as Hill's work in either of its currently released incarnations, with the 2014 edition from Scorpion actually running nine minutes longer and representing the final submitted cut before Corman had it cut down for theatrical play. It isn't exactly what you could call a director's cut (for elaborate reasons laid out in the special features), but it's certainly more coherent, better paced, and substantially funnier. (Corman's aversion to genre-bending humor is well known, most notoriously in the fate of Forbidden World.)
The theatrical version did manage to retain the big commercial elements, of course, namely some T&A, a sword fight with some skeletal zombies, and a Manitou-style laser space finale involving a winged lion. James Horner's score for Battle Beyond the Stars gets recycled for good measure, too (and it wouldn't be the last time), and the complete lack of recognizable faces or the usual Corman shooting locations (relocated to Mexico after the budget was hacked down) gives it a disorienting atmosphere that will either make you chuckle with glee or want to hurl popcorn at your TV.
Despite its relatively high profile theatrical run, Sorceress has been missing in action since its VHS days from HBO but looks splendid courtesy of the Blu-ray and DVD editions. It's about on par with most of the other '80s Corman HD transfers, which means lots of gaudy colors, erratic black levels thanks to iffy film stock, and an even clearer look at the ropey special effects than you were afforded in the theater. The DTS-HD mono track sounds true to the source, meaning plenty of flat vocals, ridiculous sound effects, and that familiar music score. A quartet of video interviews offer a much-needed peek behind the curtain to explain how this odd beast came into existence, with participants including Roger Corman (6 minutes), effects artist John Carl Buechler (15 minutes), writer and all-around Corman jack of all trades Jim Wynorski (10 minutes), and post production supervisor Clark Henderson (8 minutes). It's fascinating and sometimes hilarious viewing putting together all of the pieces to this puzzle, with topics including the incredible shrinking budget, the insatiable demand for sword and sorcery pictures, the casting of the centerfold twins, the influence of Hill's personal mystical views at the time, and the reason for all that verbal humor, which in its longer form makes this kind of a fun precursor to Wynorski's wonderfully daffy Deathstalker II. Also included are trailers for the main feature as well as Stripped to Kill, Space Raiders, Seizure and Sorority House Massacre.