While I’ve never read any of John Norman’s Gor books, I was always vaguely intrigued by them since other Sword & Sorcery fans I knew frowned on them for their overtly sexual approach to the genre and Norman’s controversial attitudes as to the place of women in society. Obviously I’m in no position to speak on the books themselves, but (and this according to the Wikipedia entry on Norman, so you know it has to be dead-on) apparently Norman believes that what women really want is to be enslaved and controlled by us fellas. I’m not sure how that works out for him, but I can’t see the women I know going along with that without some fists flying.
In any case, when I settled in to watch Gor (the first of two crappy movies based on the books, believe it or not), I was hoping for plenty of slave girls and all the greasy, half-naked goodness that comes along with that. Sadly, the movie only hints at such things while delivering some of the most incredibly lame Sword & Sorcery action ever to grace the screen.
Based on Tarnsman of Gor (the first book in the series), the movie opens with college professor Tarl Cabot (Urbano Barberini, from Demons, Opera and the 2006 version of Casino Royale) telling his students about his supercool ring, which sports a fancy stone that has something to do with a swell place called the Counter-Earth — “Laugh if you will,” Cabot tells his class, “But the Counter-Earth lies close… close to each one of us.” If there was any explanation as to why Cabot believes in this Counter-Earth, I must have missed it in my enthusiastic anticipation of the scrumptious slave girls soon to be prancing across the screen.
As the class ends, Cabot talks to Beverly, a female student he’s got something going on with, but apparently he hasn’t enslaved her in a fitting manner just yet because she obviously doesn’t know her place and isn’t very pleased about their impending woodland vacation. “There’s no nightlife, no clubs, no shops, no nothing!” He-man Arnold Vosloo (Hard Target, The Mummy, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra) shows up (with a goofy dubbed voice) and insults Cabot (impressing Beverly with his proper handling of the ladies at the same time).
Later, Cabot drives through a rainstorm while an atrocious ’80s song wails on the soundtrack (featuring lyrics that sound an awful lot like “Oobie dog, are you Heaven or Hell”). Cabot crashes the car into a dangerously explosive tree, but miraculously disappears from the driver’s seat. Waking up in the middle of nowhere, Cabot stumbles around until he comes across a medieval village under attack by a group of sword-wielding warriors. The warriors and villagers show off their lack of swordfighting skills while evil warlord Sarm (Oliver “Payin’ For His Liquor” Reed) watches over the battle.
Of particular interest to Sarm are hot chick warrior-woman Talena (Rebecca Ferratti, wielding not only a sword but some wicked ’80s-style eyebrows) and an old dude. Sarm telepathically (I guess) commands one of his underlings to capture Talena and the old dude (who I’m pretty sure is Talena’s dad, but I was distracted by her neatly-trimmed brows). The warriors steal the village’s “Home Stone” (which is apparently the translation of the word “Gor” in the Gorean language), a pink blobby-looking wad, and Sarm orders all the villagers killed.
Talena escapes on horseback and runs into Cabot, who spooks the horse (no doubt thanks to his suave ’80s clothing), which throws Talena. She splits outta there and Cabot finds himself surrounded by Sarm’s men, so he shows them his driver’s license. Now, I missed something here but somehow Cabot accidentally kills one of the warriors, and another warrior apparently sheathes his sword in his own groin before drawing his bow and arrow. Before he can save us all a lot of time by planting an arrow in Cabot’s face, the warrior is beaned by a rock thrown by a villager. The villagers gang up on the remaining warriors and finish them off, but during the brawl, Cabot is knocked cold.
One of the warriors reports the situation to Sarm, who wants vengeance for his son’s death (again, maybe I was distracted, but somehow I missed the fact that one of the warriors killed was Sarm’s seedling — this was probably the guy he had the psychic bond with, now that I think about it) and orders 100 men, women and children to be tortured.
Meanwhile, Cabot awakens in a cave as Talena tends to his needs (but not in as interesting a fashion as one might hope). Cabot is surprised to find that he’s now dressed in nothing but a loincloth, although he’s still wearing his Casio calculator watch. An entirely different old dude tells him he’s in a land called Gor, although why he tells him he’s in “Gor” instead of “Home Stone” isn’t explained. This old dude goes on to explain that they’ve had visitors like Cabot before, and he was sent to Gor through the stone in his ring.
A vaguely effeminate guy with a mullet stares at Cabot, and Cabot offers him the ring. Talena wants Cabot to help rescue her dad (so I wasn’t as distracted by her fabulous brows as I thought), and during all this, effeminate mullet guy displays some fine acting chops. Of course, Cabot asks if this is all a prank that Arnold Vosloo put them up to, because you can’t make a cheesy-ass movie like this without the hero thinking it’s some sort of gag before he finally goes along with the story.
Talena and the old dude tell effeminate mullet guy that they need to train Cabot so they can retrieve the Home Stone and send Cabot the hell back where he came from. I’m not sure why his ring can’t do that, since it got him there in the first place. Anyway, the obligatory training montage begins, featuring some incredibly fruity swordfighting. Effeminate mullet guy tells Cabot “If I was a barbarian you’d be dead!” Would that it were true. As always with these montages, Cabot pretty much sucks at everything he does until the montage is over, when he’s really good at stuff.
And so Cabot, Talena, old dude #2 and effeminate mullet guy set out to rescue Talena’s dad and the Home Stone, and while the narration tells us how dangerous Gor can be, we see Cabot acting like a dork. That night as they hang out around a campfire, Cabot says “I’m not used to overnights in the desert,” and when the saucy Talena tries to make small talk, he takes the opportunity to wax nostalgic about his old life and his unsatisfied girlfriend. Later, while Cabot is supposed to be on guard, nomads sneak into the camp and steal all their stuff.
The next day, our heroes see some barbarians leading a chain gang, and it was at this point I thought we were gonna get into the full-on women-as-submissive John Norman action, because they smear dirt on Talena’s butt and tie her hands so they can infiltrate the barbarian camp. “Just remember to hold me and treat me like a slave,” Talena says, but sadly, that’s about as far as we delve into that.
In the barbarian compound, Surbus (Paul L. Smith, the Beast Rabban from David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune) throws some people around, hangs a midget on a hook, and tells him to get out of town. Cabot leads Talena and the others into Surbus’s tavern, which is located in a cave that’s almost certainly the same cave Cabot and his buddies were in earlier. Effeminate mullet guy is super-prissy in this scene and just wants to leave, but Cabot and Talena want to hang out.
As some dancing girls put on a nasty little show, Surbus notices the way Cabot’s got his slave girl tied up and expresses his disapproval. It turns out Surbus has a map to Sarm’s lair and he offers Cabot a deal: Talena will fight with one of Surbus’s slave girls, and if Talena wins, they get the map, but if Surbus’s gal comes out on top, Surbus will not only get to keep Talena, he’ll take Cabot’s head as well. Cabot agrees and the bout begins. Surbus’s slave has awesome crimped ’80s hair, which gets pulled a lot during the fight.
I doubt I’m giving anything away by telling you Talena wins and, as one might expect, Surbus isn’t real inclined to give up the map. He flips a table and our heroes cut out of the tavern, where they run into old dude #2, who has secured various weapons and a sack containing the aforementioned midget, who wants to team up with Cabot and the others and claims he knows how to get in Sarm’s “back door.” Ahem.
As Cabot and his merry band set out for Sarm’s lair once again, they’re ambushed by Surbus and his barbarians. Surbus really wants some of that Talena action, but as he huffs and puffs, the sun strikes the face of Cabot’s Casio calculator watch, blinding Surbus. An incredibly awkward battle ensues culminating in the barbarians running away.
Eventually our heroes come across yet another chain gang of slaves being led across the desert, and this time Cabot’s Casio watch betrays them when the alarm begins beeping. One of the slave-drivers investigates, gets his ass kicked, and Cabot puts on his helmet, hollering “I’m taking a pee!” to the other slavers, fooling them. As the chain gang continues on its way, Cabot and the others sneak up behind it, climb inside a couple of covered carts, ride for several yards, then climb back out, delivering yet another completely excitement-free set piece.
Soon, the midget points out a cave and says “There it is — Sarm’s back door!” As they enter the cave, Cabot’s ring glows and makes a warbling sound, inspiring the old dude to tell him to lead the way. They find an oily young lady hanging in the cave and the old dude says “She’s a victim of sarcosis, a disease that kills many in the realm of Sarm.” It’s okay, though, because the dread disease will never be mentioned again once some sickly mutant folk stroll onto the scene and chase our heroes away.
Not a moment too soon, Cabot and the others find themselves in “the realm of Sarm,” where a slave girl auction is taking place. Again, the movie fails to deliver on even the simple promise that sentence holds. Our heroes pause to check out the wares and are caught by Sarm’s men, except for the midget, who manages to sneak away.
Cabot is taken inside Sarm’s place, which looks like the lobby of a gay bathhouse at a Renaissance faire. Cabot tells Sarm he’s from Earth and that the Home Stone is his “ticket back.” Sarm convinces Cabot to stay and enjoy his hospitality, so they saunter into a chamber where some skinny chicks dance, possibly in hopes of being allowed to eat a sandwich or two. Sarm tells a slave girl with Too Fast For Love-era Vince Neil hair to please their guest, but as we’ve come to expect by now, this will pretty much go nowhere in terms of delivering the sexist goods we’ve been hoping for.
As a reasonably spectacular feast begins, Cabot tries to get some info out of the slave girl but she’s only interested in giving him the sweet business, an interest that Cabot, alas, does not share. Sarm calls a halt to the skinny dancing and says it’s time for “the ceremony of possession.” Several hooded young lovelies are brought in to be branded, and when Sarm gives the branding iron to Cabot and tells him to have at it, we’re astonished — astonished, I tell you — to discover that one of the girls is Talena. Cabot acts like he’s gonna brand her thigh but suddenly whirls and jabs Sarm in the belly with the hot branding iron.
I’d be lying if I said wild action ensues, so let’s just say that things meander along to the not-so-exciting climax, and it was in here somewhere that I remembered Jack Palance’s name had been prominently featured in the opening credits, but damned if I could remember seeing him. As the movie drew ever closer to winding up, Palance finally appears, delivering a couple lines of dialogue and essentially doing nothing but laying the groundwork for the sequel, Outlaw of Gor (a.k.a. Gor II, 1989).
Even though I’ve just written 2000 words on the damn thing, I’m hard pressed to find any reason to recommend Gor — even Rebecca Ferratti (Playboy‘s June 1986 Playmate of the Month) fails to get naked, and it sure as hell ain’t worth watching for the action sequences. If you’re a Jack Palance or Oliver Reed (or Arnold Vosloo) completist then by all means, knock yourself out, but if you really wanna see some sleazy naked-chick Sword and Sorcery cheese, opt for James Sbardellati’s Deathstalker (1983), wherein Lana Clarkson (a B-Movie favorite who, sadly, is famous largely for having been murdered by record producer Phil Spector in 2003) plays her role topless for pretty much the entire movie, or Don Coscarelli’s The Beastmaster (1982), where Tanya Roberts skillfully delivers the groceries.
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