Monday, February 4, 2013

Crocodile Warriors, Attack!

The Devil's Sword (1984)
Director: Ratno Timoer
Seen via: Mondo Macabro DVD (R1)
Rating:  6.5 / 10

Deep beneath the sea lurks an evil sorceress who lusts for the flesh of human men, and demands sacrifices to satiate her hunger. This Crocodile Queen has wrought a plague of violence across the countryside, and can only be defeated by one object: a sword forged from the ore of a meteor that imbues its wielder with other-worldly powers. If only there were a hero with the courage and physical fortitude able to brave the cyclops' lair where the sword rests and rid the land of evil for all time...

If this sounds like it could be the story of just about any sword-and-sorcery film, that's probably exactly what the team behind The Devil's Sword intended. Indonesian genre films are notorious for lifting plot elements, imagery, and in some cases entire scenes out of more popular Western films. The Devil's Sword is no different, and attempts to emulate the popular fantasy films of the eighties: Conan the Barbarian, Krull, Beastmaster, etc. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for with a lot of fun fight scenes, blood, and low-quality special effects.

...such as this cellophane-wrapped Crocodile Queen lair.
We've already mentioned the Croc Queen, and early in the film, we see just how far she's willing to go for the men she desires. After singling out a local prince as the latest object of her affection, she sends her warrior minion Banyujaga to collect him. Banyu cruises into the village on a flying rock and proceeds to kidnap the prince, right in the middle of the poor guy's wedding. Needless to say, the Princess is not pleased, and begins fighting back while her fiancee just sort of whines like a wuss.

Is that our hero, approaching from afar? Yes, it's Barry Prima again - back for more action as the wandering warrior Mandala, this time hoping for far less mutilation and torture in store for him. Do we need to know much about Mandala? Not really - just look at him. He's clearly the hero. Mandala (like Jaka Sembung of The Warrior) is a comic book character adapted for the screen in this film. If there's more backstory to Mandala's character in the comics, it's not evident from this movie. This is indicative of how The Devil's Sword functions: it provides the barest skeleton of plot, drapes it in bloody fight scenes and leaves you to fill in the gaps in the story through inferences based mostly on visuals and archetypes from other films you've seen. (I'm not even sure that many characters here have names - maybe they're not translated in the dubbed version, maybe they doesn't exist. I don't know, and neither does IMDB.)

But somehow, it scrapes together enough disparate fantasy elements to make a coherent whole. A substantial portion of this film consists of fight scenes, flavored with more martial arts than your typical hack and slash fantasy film. While the choreography never fails in ambition, sometimes the execution is a little choppy. The ambition is what matters though, and in general there's lots of good, violent fun to be had.

It also isn't afraid to fall back on gratuitous violence when the story reaches a lull. This is best exhibited in a scene where Mandala meets his old master to find out more information about his quest for the Devil's Sword. Having been poisoned, his master is close to death, and Mandala is forced to chop off the infected legs. This, of course, after a more conventional healing potion made from glowing mushrooms doesn't work. What might have been a chance for just some dull exposition is now also a bloodbath. Crisis averted!

It's the only way, master. I swear.
Adding to the over-the-top tone are the band of four villains, who make a pact to obtain the Devil's Sword before Mandala can. These villains are all gleefully evil and are constantly bickering with each other despite their agreement to work together. Each has his or her own cartoonish power, including a guy with a razor-edged conical hat that he can throw to decapitate people, a decrepit witch, a warrior called the "Red Snake," and Banyujaga, who's essentially an evil version of Mandala. I'll say it again: I love villains who love being evil. Bad guys are just so much more fun to watch when they're having a blast being bad. These villains are great examples of that, maybe because they're so hard to kill - all are mostly immune to decaptiation and dismemberment. One of the highlights of the film is when the group (inevitably) descends into infighting and Banyujaga has to find a way to cut the evil sorceress into pieces that won't reassemble.

The fights are clearly the centerpieces of the film, and they're often carried out upon some beautiful vistas. It's a shame that the special effects are so jarringly bad sometimes. The crocodile warriors sent by the Croc Queen usually just look like dirty guys in rags with pelts draped on their heads:

But other times they're surprisingly cool-looking:

You'll probably see the general trajectory of the film from a mile away. What you might not expect is how entertaining and colorful it ends up being. There's not much distinctly Indonesian flavor or mythology inserted into the mix, but it mimics its Western counterparts well enough to get by. As a whole The Devil's Sword feels sort of disjointed, but it never slows down and is willing to go all-out with its lengthy fight sequences. It's lurid, cartoonish fun, and is worth a look.

Also, there's a fight scene involving lasers, which is a major plus in my book.


  1. You've completely sold me on this movie, Eric. You don't need such tiresome things like plot points when you have lasers and blood. I'll check it out.

    Love the site. Thanks for the follow.

    1. Hi, Dusty. This one definitely scratches the "blood and lasers" itch. (Although a few more lasers wouldn't have hurt, honestly.) Hope you enjoy it. Thanks for reading and commenting! I dig your site as well.