Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Movie Review: Yor, The Hunter From the Future (1983)

"Yor's World, he's the man! Yor's World, he's the man! Lost in the world of past, in the echo of ancient blast. There is a man of future, a man of mystery. No tribe to lead the way, in his search for a yesterday. Misty illusions hiding, his famous destiny.

Yor, the touch of fire. Yor the proud and free desire.He never sees the sun, he's always on the run, him and his days are gone.They say he will go on, his search goes on and on.Yor's World! He's forsaken the name! Yor's World! And the world was like fire!

He's gonna make all the wild things look tame tonight, in his fight!Yor's World, he's the man! Yor's World, he's the man!

Yor's World! He's forsaken the name! Yor's World! And the world was like fire!Yor's World! On the sun there's a soul! Yor's World! And the world was like fire!Yor's World! He's forsaken the name! Yor's World! And the world was like fire!”

Ah Yor, The Hunter From the Future, you sweet, sweet treasure of the cinema. The lyrics above comprise the theme song from the 1983 film starring the incomparable Reb Brown . . . or at least I think they are. I found them online and they sound pretty close to what is being said in the song (which is pretty hard to decipher), so I have no reason to doubt them. You see what most people who had the good fortune to see this gem back in the 80’s likely remember, if they remember the film at all, is the cheesy beyond belief synth-pop theme song. And more to the point they remember how it keeps repeating over and over “Yor’s World, he’s the man!” To get a flavor of this you can easily find it on YouTube, and it is well worth your time. If you find it intoxicating then you absolutely will want to seek this one out, because it totally delivers on the promise of those lyrics. The film is a mish mash of 80’s barbarian/sword and sorcery/sci-fi cliches, that is nothing short of brilliant entertainment (and I don’t say this in mockery). Any reasonable person viewing Yor would have to conclude, given how outrageous it is across the board, that the vibe was intentional. Long unavailable on home video, I had the pleasure of rediscovering this one on Itunes over the weekend in glorious widescreen (I had only seen panned and scanned on cable back in the 80’s when it was shown constantly). Thanks again Itunes for restoring another lost classic!

You might imagine that the plot of a film called Yor, The Hunter From the Future would be a fairly unpretentious, straightforward affair. For about the first half of the film that turns out to be exactly the case, as we follow the adventures of a wandering barbarian named Yor (who else) played by B-movie legend Reb Brown (Space Mutiny, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf). After running around a pretty interesting looking countryside (the film was shot in Turkey among some interesting rock formations) to the wild theme song, Yor stumbles upon a father and daughter named Pag and Ka-Laa under siege by a hungry triceratops. This is an early Rubicon of sorts for the viewer, as the animatronic triceratops is a cold splash of water for anyone expecting Jurassic Park type effects. From this reviewer's standpoint, I was perfectly willing to buy the battle between Yor and an oversized, not particularly mobile puppet because Reb Brown totally sells it. He attacks the rubbery beast with such conviction you can’t help but be won over!

After saving the couple, Ka-Laa falls head over heels for Yor. Grateful for his efforts Pag invites Yor back to their village which is quickly attacked by another, more primitive tribe. There follows a brief regrouping period before Yor, Ka-Laa, and Pag head off in search of the origin of a strange medallion Yor wears around his neck. This is where the typical barbarian style plot takes somewhat of a left turn. As it turns out (spoilers ahead) Yor comes from an advanced race that went underground after an atomic war on Earth. The underground society is ruled by an evil dictator named The Overlord, who is building an army of superior robot androids. Little does Yor know that The Overlord is planning to use Yor’s genetic imprint as the pattern for his robot army. Interestingly, Yor doesn’t exhibit an intellect that would necessarily be coveted as the imprint for an army of robot androids. My only guess here is that The Overlord doesn’t want to imprint them with a superior intellectual capacity to his own for fear of coup d’etat. The joke’s on him though, as Yor ends up overthrowing him due to his physical prowess and cunning instincts. Rocket scientist he may not be, but he can swing a mean broadsword.

Perhaps the first tipoff that Yor is going to be something special, from a technical standpoint, is that it was orchestrated by legendary Italian cult director Antonio Margheriti (War of the Planets, Mr. Super Invisible). Like many of his other films the official credit goes to his alias Anthony M. Dawson, but there’s no mistaking the trademark touches of rubbery creatures, rickety spaceships, and shoestring budget adventure. Sometimes those things can be a real hindrance to a film, but Margheriti makes them work by providing no letup in the action to give one time to ponder any moment of absurdity, and exuding a love for craft in his execution. Lesser directors are just putting out a product but Margheriti’s sincerity, much like that of Ed Wood, buys a lot of good will. If you want another perfect example of just how talented a director he is, you should check out Castle of Blood. With next to nothing in the way of resources, save for a good cast, Margheriti made one of the great (no kidding) 60’s gothic horror films. It would absolutely rival the better Hammer films.

Given Margheriti’s presence it also should come as no surprise that the film is an Italian production, which means there’s dubbing. While no doubt the film would play better in the original Italian, it’s important to bear in mind that there would still be some issues as Reb Brown would still be dubbed. Actually, unless I’m mistaken, I’m pretty sure he’s dubbed in the American version (which is an interesting situation in and of itself). He has a distinctive voice which is hard to replicate. The thing is Yor spends a lot of time yelling, and that makes distinguishing where the real Reb Brown begins and ends somewhat tricky, as onscreen yelling is a Reb Brown trademark (see Space Mutiny). The bottom line is that the dubbing makes the already cheesy film all the more cheesy. I’m just saying don’t dismiss it out of hand on that basis, as really Margheriti didn’t have much of a choice on that front.

Anyhow one interesting piece of trivia I came across with regard to the film’s origin, is that it was an Italian television production (a 4-part miniseries in fact) cut down for theatrical release. Supposedly the television version ran 190 minutes, whereas the U.S. theatrical release ran only 88. Frankly I can’t imagine a three-hour version of Yor, but rest assured I would line up to see it! Taking this into consideration I think the 88-minute version fares remarkably well in terms of being comprehensible, with the fast pacing in my mind standing out as one of its greatest assets. What is perhaps just as impressive is how good the visuals look in light of this revelation. Evaluating Yor strictly as a theatrical release one might be quick to point out the shortcomings of the effects and production values. As a television production though, especially for the period in question, I would say Yor makes the most of its resources. It’s not so much that they look good or convincing, they surely do not, but they somehow come off as worthy of a theatrical exhibition. As a parallel I would point to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The pilot film was screened in theaters, and looked pretty okay. I’m not sure Yor is quite on that level, but it’s pretty close. While Reb Brown may be to Gil Gerard what Bruce Campbell is to Robert De Niro, I would say to you that I dear reader like Bruce Campbell. So take that for what it’s worth.

Speaking of Reb Brown I would be remiss if I did not talk a little about the fellow and what exactly he brings to the table, as he is another indicator of Yor being worthwhile. For the uninitiated Reb Brown was a prominent B-actor in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He memorably played Captain America on television, had supporting roles in A-list features such as Uncommon Valor and Distant Thunder, and then became a legend in the likes of Space Mutiny. In some respects Space Mutiny was probably responsible for his lasting impact, as it was immortalized on one of the most beloved episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film was mercilessly ridiculed for production values and performances. Brown was specifically taken to task for his one-note, testosterone-fueled hero. In the context of MST3K that's fair enough, but upon closer inspection I think there's something to be said for Brown's trademark bravado. To oversimplify and dismiss his particular talent is shortsighted.

You see the fact of the matter is that B-grade, testosterone-fueled heroes is what Brown does, and for my money he does it as good as anyone in his circle. He’s one of those performers who is a “star” rather than an “actor.” When you see Reb Brown in any given role you’re getting Reb Brown the star/person, not Reb Brown’s “interpretation” of the character. As a consequence some might criticize him for having a limited range, but there are plenty of A-listers to whom this model applies. A prominent example would be Harrison Ford. With rare exceptions (e.g. Mosquito Coast) Harrison Ford typically plays Harrison Ford. If you love Harrison Ford, which a lot of folks do, then this is just dandy. I would submit that Reb Brown should be held to the same standard. If you love what Reb Brown does, then you’ll have little to complain about.

One of the things I personally love the most about Yor is how it is sort of a bait and switch film. You know the type. The film is sold as one sort of film, and switches gears at some point creating a surprise for the audience. A classic example of this subgenre would be From Dusk Till Dawn which begins as a heist picture, and turns into a vampire epic. In the case of Yor it begins as a barbarian movie in the vein of Conan, and turns into a post-apocalyptic sci-fi yarn (always a favorite with your Team Fantasmo). It is true that you get a bit of a heads up with the fantastic poster pictured above (not to mention the title), but really it just hints at what’s in store. As such Yor distinguishes itself from the sword and sandal crowd by breaking out of the accepted mold. In my mind this is arguably the chief element that has cemented its cult status, as it possesses a broader appeal and keeps viewers engaged in wondering what may come next. While others have attempted this tactic with mixed results (I’m looking at you Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time), none have ever come close to duplicating Yor’s success.

On the subject of the poster, it is one of my favorite genre posters from the 80’s. It’s from the old school of poster art where the action depicted sells the film as being more epic than it actually turns out to be. The poster shows crazy looking UFO ships and a barbarian waving his weapon at them. This never happens in the film, and those ships don't end up looking that cool, but it sure makes you want to see it. These days posters tend to show the faces of the actors in the movie and not much else. Movies are sold on stars rather than the situations and goings on that take place in the story. It’s a shame because it renders poster artistry as something of a lost craft. The reason for this development is most likely that back in the days before the Internet, posters had to do the heavy lifting in selling the movie. Now one can easily catch trailers on YouTube and official web sites, so posters tend to be churned out lazily.

To take a current genre example one need look no further than The Wolfman. The poster shows all the principals (Hopkins, Blunt, Del Toro, and Weaving ) prominently, and way in the background it shows a tiny image of the wolf man. Does that seem just a little crazy to anyone? I mean could you imagine the poster for Star Wars just being the faces of Hamill, Ford, Fisher and Cushing lined up against a black background, rather than X-wings flying toward the Death Star, Vader’s helmet looming large in the background, and Hamill wielding a lightsaber?!? Absolutely not, just compare the two below and you'll see a stark contrast. The first time I remember seeing this was the poster for the original Scream, which just showed the cast and nothing else. The film became a monster hit, so I guess everyone figured if a plain poster like that could produce a franchise then why bother doing anything more elaborate. In their defense those posters do seem to generate blockbusters, so I guess you can't really blame them for being practical - it just regrettable from an aesthetic standpoint.

Before leaving Yor I would also like to provide a little bit of context for its place in movie history, as it arrived in theaters at an interesting moment in time. Yor was released in the summer of 1983, August to be specific. The summer of 1983 followed what is considered by many to be the greatest summer ever in the way of genre releases. It included movies like Blade Runner, Star Trek 2, Conan, Poltergeist, TRON, etc. It also saw the release of one of the most audacious B-movies ever in the form of Hal Needham’s Megaforce. So 1983 had a lot to live up to . . . and it tried mightily. Here is just a sampling of what folks were watching that summer: Return of the Jedi, Blue Thunder, Jaws 3-D, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Octopussy, Psycho II, Superman III, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and WarGames to name but a few. We’re talking some pretty great stuff.

And then there was Yor. Now remember this was an edited from television, low-budget Italian film starring Reb Brown. Can you imagine after sitting through a summer of films of the caliber listed, finishing things up with Yor?!? Such a thing would never happen today in the cookie cutter movie world we have now. Yor would be strictly direct-to-video. In my mind this represents a great loss, as most wouldn’t have enjoyed the opportunity to accidentally discover it in a mainstream theater as moviegoers did that summer. For that matter the same would hold true for Megaforce. You know when you consider it, Yor could be counted as the Megaforce of 1983 (which is quite an honor depending on your point of view).

On a final note something I find to be a curious coincidence. Another film released in the early summer of May 1983 was Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (in 3-D) starring Peter Strauss. While it did not feature barbarians or a bait and switch format, it was cut from the post-apocalyptic sci-fi quest mold. The main villain in the film, played memorably by Michael Ironside, was called The Overdog. Yor, released a couple of months later featured a villain named The Overlord. Weird. Was there something in the air that led to this, or was the “Over Something” naming convention just in vogue for whatever reason? It’s like when situations occur where there are 3 Wyatt Earp films in one summer, only this is much more subtle (and therefore more mysterious). There was also another parallel in that both films marked the only time Strauss or Brown would headline a major theatrical release, much less a summer blockbuster. So perhaps the “Over Something” naming convention represented a curse of sorts as well. The heroes may have triumphed over the villains onscreen, but the movies arguably took down the careers of the real actors. Either way the movies are both a lot of fun and beloved by many. Spacehunter is thankfully available on DVD (although sadly not in 3-D). And again Yor is strictly an Itunes option, at least if you want it in the original aspect ratio . . . the way it was meant to be seen!


Daniel said...

Ahhhhh Yor! A video I picked up and always put back on the shelf at Mr. Video in the 80's. I had NO CLUE Margheriti directed this one. Now I have to see it! It always looked pretty cool but at the time I wasn't that into the Conan type movie which now I know is more of a mish mash of other sub genres. I might have to try and catch this off of itunes if I have some free download time. The poster art is lovely! It certainly is the reason I always picked it up and looked at it. Thanks for resurrecting the memory of this one Jim, it is now on my list of "stuff I never rented but should have and now am going to watch twenty odd years later".

Jim Blanton said...

Hey Daniel!
I'm sort of like you on this front, as I wasn't too into the Conan-type movies either. I liked them well enough, but I usually passed on renting them. Cable was my gateway to the likes of Sword and the Sorceror, The Beastmaster, and Conan. In fact, the only barbarian-style movie I saw in the theaters was the second Conan, which wasn't exactly a highlight of my moviegoing experience in the 80's.

As for Yor, it's a classic example of how poster art can sell a low-budget film as being something more spectacular than it actually is. The poster art for Yor is indeed a thing of beauty, and one of these days I'm going to have to get a hold of one for my collection.

All things considered Yor is one of the best of the era, and is entertaining from start to finish. And love that theme song (inspirational)! Absolutely one of the finest Reb Brown vehicles out there as well!