We all associate the 1980s as a decade when the sword and sorcery genre was at its peak. With the influx of Dungeons and Dragons and video games featuring sword-swinging protagonists, the 80s reveled in the genre. The popularity of the big-budget adaptation of Conan the Barbarian to the silver screen, as well as the smaller budgeted The Beastmaster kicked off the cinematic contributions to the genre, just at the birth of the home video revolution which helped fuel an insatiable demand for cheap product.
And while those who grew up in the era remember Conan, The Beastmaster, and a few other films, the amount of sword and sorcery films produced from 1980 to 1990 is hard to fathom in 2020.
Luckily, P.J. Thorndyke took it upon himself to relive and remind everyone just how many films were released in this era, with his creatively constructed guide to all things sword and sorcery in Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood: Sword and Sorcery Movies of the 1980s.
Thorndyke’s guide takes a look at over 40 sword and sorcery movies from the 1980s, those you remember, and many that you have forgotten or never seen. And before jumping in, the author defines what differentiates a sword and sorcery film from a fantasy film such as Excalibur or Krull, (primarily centered around the nature of a lone protagonist) which guides Thorndike’s analysis throughout.
The selections are arranged by films inspired by Conan, sword and sorcery in space, Roger Corman “classics”, and Italian contributions to the genre. The arrangement makes sense, and while some may balk at the fact that Flash Gordon is included in a guide that is focused on sword and sorcery, Thorndyke’s definition holds true for the campy space adventure.
As someone who felt that they were pretty well-versed in the genre, I was surprised by how many films I had never seen or didn’t remember much about. Case in point: Red Sonja. Reading Thorndyke’s description of the plot, I could not believe that the film I saw in 1985 was the same film being described. A glowing green orb? An order of priestesses?
What is even more interesting than Thorndyke’s creative descriptions of the films are his commentaries about each concerning the reception of each film and some behind the scenes stories. Thorndyke commits an equal amount of space to each entry (although I do wish there was more on some of the more prominent films such as Conan the Barbarian, with more stories about the production), and reveals some films that have been lost to history, as many have never been released on DVD or blu-ray.
Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood may just make you dig through some of the dusty bins at your local video store or search the ebay universe for a chance to see some of these throwbacks from a time when might and magic ruled the day.
Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood is currently available at finer book stores everywhere. It is also available is digital formats.