Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, March 13, 2020

Retreat to Move Forward: YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983)

We live in a mighty strange time, but when things look bleakest, don't forget about our ace in the hole, a movie from 1983 laden with strangely wondrous lines "we learned a lot about you from your medallion," "damned talking box!" and "The machine speaks the truth?" YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983) is a stellar example of Italy's low budget post-CONAN barbarian surge. When things were slasher-ridden in the US, Italy discreetly got us through Satanic panic, the war on drugs, and the collapse of the social sphere. Now that the social sphere is no bigger than a snapchat window, let YOR come smash it wider! Woo! Antonio "Anthony Dawson" Margheriti ("Mar--garehhh-tee") directed, so you can be it's slam bang action-and-even-packed without feeling rushed, that it will be buoyant but deadpan, guileless and sincere in its ensemble acting without being dull, and bedecked with dinosaurs and lasers, mirror halls, and gorgeous and interesting girls. File it on your A-list shelf next to FLASH GORDON (1980) and SHE (1982) and you'll never want for giddy (but too deadpan to be straight-up camp) qua-glam rock-and-roll, post-reality, early-80s sci-fi action madness.

There's no explaining it to those who don't get the need for a good stone knife plunged between the eyes of a dinosaur. Paleontologists never tire of reminding us such a thing could never happen. Late-60s/70s Hammer's ONE MILLION BC, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, and PREHISTORIC WOMEN try to appease these naysayers by filling their films with too much ponderous and dour tribal place-jostling, celebratory dancing, and savage landscape wandering. On the other side are the 80s campy winks, bad puppets and cleavage fests that cater way too specifically to a 14 year-old boys and their drunken single fathers. YOR is beyond both camps. It swims in a world where past and future happen at once, and there's no time to conspicuously ogle or argue with the tribal elders. It just hang glides into a den of homicidal purple-faced ape giants on the wings of a giant dead bat, while 80s rock suddenly surges on the soundtrack. 

The moment the "De Angelis'" rock opera anthem theme song churns to life you know this here's a special ride: "He is a man from the future / a man from yesterday / his game is destiny!" You start making room for the film in your top ten of emotional rescue go-tos:
Proud and we desire
He's never seen the sun!
He's always on the run!
The list goes on and on.
Barely have the opening theme's last chords ended when Yor (Reb "the real Captain America" Brown) has already killed a life-size papier mache triceratops/stegosaurus combination monster in vivid, up-close battle. It's one of the best, most realistic struggles between man and dinosaur ever. Yor is right in there, stabbing away, blood dripping down, its eyes wild with fear and fury. We feel complex emotions about since it's a stegosaurus and thus a plant eater, merely trying to protect its young cub. It's a tough world. At least Yor's kill of the big beast feeds the whole village. Woo-hoo! They dance around licentiously and party in ways that the grunting bunch of neanderthals in ONE MILLION BC never would.  You can't help but feel Yor is having a good time, genuinely. And it's terrific because hey, it's rare in this murky kill-and-be-killed era. Conan smiles what, one time in the whole movie? It's rare too to see a bro like Yor rocking out and not kind of think he's a tool. But Brown, with his big Treat Williams jaw and blonde hippy hair pulls it off. He can still drop his bowl and pick up his stone axe if the tall ape men decide to raid. It's all in the balance.

It's clear though he loves to rock out, Yor doesn't quite fit, because, you see, he's blonde and everyone else is brunette - and what's that strange medallion on his neck? He doesn't remember. He's got some weird past he has to find out about. But for moment - Woo! Some celebratory dancing, crazy drumming, and licentious bonding with the statuesque if slightly weatherbeaten Corinne Clery as Kalaa (!), and we're already feeling the love.

Kalaa's guardian is the trusty Pag (Luciano "Italian Peter Lorre" Pigozzi) who ambles along on the adventures, rounding out their new wandering threesome. Over desert hill and rolling cliff they wander, meeting new faces all the time, and if the goddess of fire worshipping lepers Roa (the comely and overly-made-up Aysha Gul) turns out to be a real hottie, if you'll forgive the expression and if, like Yor, she thought she was the only blonde with a round medallion in the world, then nature must take it's course. Paag reminds Kalaa that in this realm a man may take many wives (Woo!). In other words, this is Flash Gordon if Flash wasn't such a prude, i.e. so he'd throw Aura, Ming's sexy daughter, a roll in the space ship hay, instead of refusing out of loyalty to Dale, a jealous Earth girl whom he literally just met only hours beforehand. Yor's no prude, bro/ This is Italy, or Israel, or somewhere sex isn't for lewd snickering or indignant eye rolls. it's just a thing that happens and is ver-a sexy.

There will be other women in Yor's life before it's all over, in one capacity or another. Carol André shows up in the third act, on the mysterious island where lasers and complex machinery rule the day. And the beguiling Marina Rocchi, whom Yor saves from a (again admirably life-size) dimetrodon.

One thing that stands out, that really makes this a latent beloved film of mine: the monsters here are very much in their natural element. In a lot of the stop motion dinosaur action we get via Harryhausen, for example, can err on the side of the science fair diorama: we see dinosaurs fight and hang out in the midst of barren desert, i.e. how their habitat looks now, all these millions of years later, making us wonder how they can possibly survive with no vegetation or cover (but making it easy to appreciate Harryhausen's animation.) In YOR, the beasts emerge from caves and jungle and it's hard to tell where they end and their surroundings begin. Their natural camouflage means they strike from within deep thickets and pond murk, with Yor and Kala climbing all over these giant (life-size) heads, hacking away, the beasts dying but slowly, from loss of blood, savagely stabbed (or shot with Pag's arrows) in their soft tissue areas. 

Man, what a film. Where has it been all these years? I remember the commercial for Yor! One Saturday morning or late Friday night in the 80s and thinking: Conan with lasers, dinosaurs and Reb Brown hang gliding off a dead bat creature into action against a bunch of ape men, looking kind of like the Marvel character Ka-Zar. I mean, I could tell it was pretty low budget, but its imagination and gonzo gumption was clear. We who loved bad sci-fi and dinosaur movies could hardly believe it would ever be as great as it looked. Yet we never heard from Yor again until it showed up on Amazon streaming 30 years later.

Hell, 30 or so years isn't too long and ten bucks ain't too high (the Blu-ray is out now. I bought it for my brother last X-mas and he fell asleep within five minutes!)

In short, Yor- it's time has come. If you love ConanFlash Gordon, and even--despite its dour tone--the 1966 remake of One Million BC, as much as I do... if you sit around wishing there were Blu-rays of 1982's Sword and the Sorcerer (only avail. with a Rifftrax on a shitty dupe) and 1983's Hearts and Armor, well, maybe you're a nostalgic completist who may be waiting awhile. In the meantime, if someone tries to fob some hyper-banal mainstream imitations like Ladyhawke or Legend off on you instead... you know what to do.

Competition of Kalaa (from top); Marina Rocchi, Aysha Gul, Carol Andre

And like Luigi Cozzi's so-bad-it's-sublime Hercules, YOR scores big with me as there are more women in the cast than men, or it's at least the numbers are even. And though they do get rescued now and again they nonetheless are warriors, net-weavers, and/or holding significant scientific positions. 

A special shout to Reb Brown as Yor! He would have been perfect as Flash Gordon, as he lacks the kind of self-conscious aww-shucksitude apparent in Sam Jones' twinkly eyes. Not that that film isn't the best or that we don't all love Sam Jones, but Reb Brown would have crushed it. There's not a gram of self-consciousness in him. I dig that he also encourages those he meets to drink the blood of the slain triceratops in a dim nod to Siegfried. "Drinking the blood of your enemy gives you their power." It's just one of the fantastic little details Marghareti peppers the film with. Not all his films hit the mark but over the years he sure has given us a still under-appreciated canon of energetic termite art. Woo! Proud and we desire!  We have all the time in the world to scan their silver discs and figure out if they are our grandfathers or are great-grandchildren. At this point in human history, we could go either way and still be proud to have a YOR in the tree.

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