The 10 Awesomest Obscure ’80s Fantasy Movie Heroes

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By Jason Clarke

by the success of Conan the Barbarian
in 1982, the ’80s were a boom time for sword-and-sorcery films.
High-profile flicks included Conan
and its lesser sequel, Conan the Destroyer,
as well as its semi-spinoff Red Sonja,
starring Brigitte Nielson as the ravishing redhead; Beastmaster, whose modest success led to two sequels and a TV
series; Legend, memorable not so much
for Tom Cruise but for Tim Curry’s creepy demon Darkness; and of course, Highlander and its sequels.

But for every
moderately successful sword-and-sorcery film, there’s at least three or four
you’ve probably never heard of — filmed with no budget, trash can lids instead of swords, and some of them have shockingly real stars such
as Jack Palance, Sean Connery, and Patrick Swayze. Despite their lack of fame, some of these movies and their fantasy hero stars reached pinnacles of awesomeness that Schwarzenegger’s Conan can only dream off, whether it involves hanging with cyclops, causing every damsel and warrioress in sight to pop their top, or wielding a sword that shoots two other swords. Grab your favorite leather loincloth and come along on a magic journey of the 10 biggest badasses from ’80s fantasy movies you never heard of (or at least can’t remember the names of).

10) Sir Gawain from Sword of the Valiant

Cannon Films
is best remembered for a slew of action films in the late seventies and early
eighties, including most of the films that living Internet meme Chuck Norris
became famous for. Their modest success may explain why they were able to lure
real stars to Sword of the Valiant, a
1984 fantasy film based on the Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Gawain is
played by Miles O’Keefe, a weightlifter who is better remembered for the Ator films (seen below). Sporting a very
He-Man-ish blond bob, O’Keefe’s Gawain manages to hold his own against the
Green Knight, played by Sean Connery during that long dark period between Diamonds are Forever and Highlander. The film also features John Rhys-Davies
and Peter “Grand Moff Tarkin” Cushing in one of his final roles.


9) Prince Talon from The Sword and the Sorcerer

While you may
never have heard of Sword and the
, it was the most successful independent film of 1982, grossing $40
million at the box office. The film starred Lee Horsley as Prince Talon, a
hunkular hero who battles an evil sorcerer (played by Richard Moll, a.k.a. Bull
from Night Court) to save a
kingdom–you know, the usual.

None of that
matters, though. What’s important is Prince Talon carries a triple-bladed sword
that can shoot its fucking blades at you. Launched by what appears to be a
pretty advanced compressed air system in this pseudo-medieval era, the aluminum
blades send Talon’s foes flying. Forget Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber;
this thing one-ups it and then some. It’s a broadsword, it’s a ranged weapon,
it’s two, two, two weapons in one!


8) Nomad from Steel Dawn

Just a few
months after he hit it big with Dirty Dancing,
Patrick Swayze starred in Steel Dawn,
an ’87 science fiction/fantasy film set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where
humanity fights for survival and blah blah blah whatever. Swayze plays the
Nomad, a swordsman with no name who wanders from village to village searching
for his mentor’s killer. He eventually comes upon a village being terrorized by
a local warlord whose retinue includes said mentor’s killer, so Nomad settles
in for a good ass-kicking. It’s no Road
, of course, but Steel Dawn
reminds us of a time when the words “Swayze” and “action film” made more sense
together than “Swayze” and “drag queen.”


7) Ator, the Fighting Eagle

Miles O’Keefe
IS Ator, the Fighting Eagle — yet
another muscled-up barbarian with a furry loincloth and a giant broadsword. An ’82
Italian rip-off of Conan the Barbarian,
in Ator and its sequel (known in the
U.S. as The Cave Dwellers, and later the target of a popular Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode),
we’re led to believe that Ator is a master swordsman as well as a chemist,
scientist, engineer, and of course, gentle lover.

While he’s
clearly a handy swordsman — judging from the pile of corpses he leaves behind —
I guess the engineer part must be true too. In The Cave Dwellers, Ator lays siege to a castle by flying over it in
what’s very clearly a 1980s-era hang glider, which he apparently made in about
half an hour. As MST3K’s Tom Servo puts it, “OK, so he kills a deer, he tans
the hides, he stretches the skins, he makes an anodized aluminum frame, he
learns how to extrude and weld — all in about five minutes?” Yes, he does, Tom. And that’s why he’s
Ator, the Fighting Eagle.


6) Cabot from Gor

Loosely based
on the highly controversial novels of John Norman (who espoused a concept of
universal female sexual submission to men), Gor
tells the story of Tarl Cabot (Urbano Barberini), a professor  who finds a magic ring that transports
him to the planet Gor, where he befriends a platinum-haired midget and does a
lot of swordfighting.

Gor was filmed concurrently in 1988 with
its sequel, Outlaw of Gor, which,
like Cave Dwellers, is better known
because it was featured on an episode of MST3K. While Jack Palance only has a
bit part in Gor, he’s the main
villain in Outlaw, wearing a
ridiculous outfit and looking vaguely 
aware that he’s supposed to be some sort of wizard or something.



5) Hawk the Slayer

Hawk the Slayer actually came out in
1980, a couple years before Conan the
, but it definitely belongs alongside the rest of these movies.
The story is basically a rip-off of The
Lord of the Rings
: Hawk sets out to kill the evil Voltan, assisted by the
Gimli-like Gort, the Legolas-like Crow, and the hobbit-like Baldin. What’s
great about Hawk is that anytime he does anything, it’s accompanied by a little
flute trill straight out of a spaghetti Western. Add to that a pretty rousing
soundtrack and some hammy acting by Jack Palance as Voltan and you’re in for a
surprisingly entertaining time.


4) Deathstalker

legendary crap movie producer Roger Corman comes… Deathstalker! If Ator is the Italian Conan, Deathstalker is
Argentina’s version of the barbarian. Played by Rick Hill, Deathstalker doesn’t
get a super-cool three-bladed weapon or know how to make anachronistic hang
gliders, but of the heroes on this list he’s probably the best at brutally
killing people and getting laid. The 1983 movie also features a scene where the
villain turns his lackey into a comely chick to try to assassinate
Deathstalker, but instead, Deathstalker ends up almost raping him/her (enjoy the magic here). On a sad side note, Rick Hill’s mostly-topless co-star in Deathstalker, Lana Clarkson, was in the
news a few years back as the victim in Phil Spector’s high-profile murder


3) Kain from The Warrior and the Sorceress

Long after
finding success with Kung-Fu (and
long before finding it again with Kill
), David Carradine once again took up the sword in 1984 in The Warrior and the Sorceress — yet
another attempt by Roger Corman to spread misery and despair to the world. Carradine,
with his martial arts “experience,” no doubt got the part because of the plot,
which is basically a fantasy rip-off of a A
Fistful of Dollars
(which is a Western rip-off of Yojimbo, which is a Japanese rip-off of Dashiell Hammett’s gangster
novels Red Harvest and The Glass Key — but I nerdily digress). Carradine’s Kain wanders into a village
where two factions fight for control, and he plays one against the other until
everyone’s dead except him. Dumb? Yes. But for those willing to sit through it,
there’s more gratuitous female nudity than a Girls Gone Wild video, including a chick with four, count ’em, four


2) Prince Colwyn from Krull

Krull is probably the best-known movie
on this list, and yet, I bet you couldn’t name the hero if you tried — much
less the actor who played him (Ken Marshall). While its production was clearly
inspired by the success of the Star Wars
movies as well as Conan, the ’83 film
is really a science fiction/fantasy take on the high-spirited swashbuckling
films of Errol Flynn.

The hero,
Prince Colwyn, must defend his world from a Lovecraftian monstrosity known as
the Beast (whose incredibly grotesque appearance traumatized me as a child, as
did the scene where one of the good guys is slowly, painfully impaled in a
trap). To aid him in his quest, his Obi-Wan-like mentor (Freddie Jones) arms
him with the Glaive, a flying guillotine of death. If you remember anything
from Krull, it’s probably the Glaive,
which even by today’s standards looks pretty damned deadly. With the help of a
motley crew of warriors (including pretty cool cyclops), Colwyn beats the Beast
and gets the girl. Watch for cameos by a young Liam Neeson and Robbie “Hagrid”


1) Paul Bradford from The Dungeonmaster

It’s hard to
believe The Dungeonmaster isn’t a
better-known cult classic. Not only is it one of the most watchable films on
this list, it also seems to have been the blueprint for half of all videogames
ever made. Featuring no fewer than seven directors, 1985’s The Dungeonmaster features the trials and tribulations of Paul
Bradford (Jeffrey Byron), a computer programmer who’s built a supercomputer
named X-CaliBR8. By linking his special glasses to the computer, Paul can do
useful (if arguably irresponsible and dangerous) things like change traffic
lights while he’s jogging.

The movie
really gets going when Paul and his girlfriend are sucked into a fantasy world
by the demonic Mestema (Richard Moll again). Mestema puts Paul through a series
of bizarre challenges–like levels in a videogame (each with a completely
different tone and, as it happens, director). Armed with his electronic power
glove (which is tied in to X-CaliBR8), Paul uses technology to defeat the
magical threats Mestema throws at him. Fun fact: The Dungeonmaster is the source of Adam Savage’s catchphrase on Mythbusters: “I reject your reality and
substitute my own.”