Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cult Classics Revisited: YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983)

(Italy/Turkey, 1983)

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti).  Written by Robert Bailey and Anthony M. Dawson.  Cast: Reb Brown, Corinne Clery, John Steiner, Carole Andre, Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi), Ayshe Gul, Marina Rocchi, Sergio Nicolai, Paul Costello, Nello Pazzafini. (PG, 88 mins)

In a summer movie season ruled by RETURN OF THE JEDI, it's hard to believe that Columbia Pictures put YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE on 1400 screens nationwide on August 19, 1983. Much like THE ROAD WARRIOR gave birth to an endless parade of Italian post-nuke ripoffs,  CONAN THE BARBARIAN was a huge hit in 1982 and kickstarted a string of muscleman and musclewoman barbarian movies (a few came from Roger Corman, but most came from Italy), each new one cheaper than the last, that flooded theaters, drive-ins, and video stores for the next couple of years.  Likely a relatively inexpensive bid by Columbia to beat the highly-publicized Lou Ferrigno take on HERCULES, which opened a week later, YOR began life as IL MONDO DI YOR (THE WORLD OF YOR), a four-part, four-hour miniseries for Italian TV, directed by veteran journeyman Antonio Margheriti under his "Anthony M. Dawson" pseudonym.  Originally running 200 minutes, the miniseries was re-edited into an 88-minute feature and an English dub was prepared for US export.  Normally, this kind of venture would be picked up by an indie or grindhouse outfit and dumped in drive-ins, but for some reason--maybe a lack of their own in-house barbarian movie--Columbia thought this had potential, picked it up, and decided to make it a major theatrical release in late summer.  It opened in 7th place at the box office but disappeared quickly once HERCULES opened a week later, and by that point, audiences got wise to the fact that these were cheesy, low-budget, badly-dubbed affairs, and by the time big-budget, major-studio Hollywood offerings like CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984) and RED SONJA (1985) rolled around, interest had waned and most of the Italian knockoffs either got very small releases or went straight to video.  But YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE has held on to become an endearingly bad, undeniably entertaining cult film over the years, even airing once at 2:00 am ET on Turner Classic Movies (!).  YOR!  On TCM!  I'm not making that up.

Yor, Ka-Laa, and Pag!
Opening with the Razzie-nominated anthem "Yor's World" by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis (a duo that also went by "Oliver Onions," and were responsible for numerous catchy, English-as-second-language ditties in many Italian cult movies), YOR finds the affable barbarian hero (Reb Brown, formerly TV's CAPTAIN AMERICA in the late '70s) rescuing Ka-Laa (Corinne Clery) and Pag (Luciano Pigozzi/"Alan Collins") from a dinosaur attack.  A tribal elder (Nello Pazzafini) tells Yor that his medallion matches one worn by the "Daughter of the Gods," who lives among the desert people.  After battling some cavemen, Yor, Ka-Laa, and Pag go off in search of this Daughter of the Gods, much to the consternation of the catty Ka-Laa, who immediately gets all clingy like Yor's her man.  They run afoul of more cavemen, one of whom steals Yor's medallion, but Yor manages to rescue Ka-Laa by hang-gliding from the carcass of a giant bat. 

In a sign of continuity errors that are bound to happen when you cut a 200-minute miniseries down to an 88-minute feature, Yor is suddenly and without explanation sporting his medallion once more, and they finally meet the Daughter of the Gods, Roa (Ayshe Gul), when Yor rescues her from a pack of angry mummies.  Roa's presence, and Yor's clear attraction to her, as evidenced by one of Margheriti's many cuts to Reb Brown's stupid grin, immediately makes Ka-Laa jealous and she starts acting like a kid showing off to show Yor how hot she is.  The scowling Ka-Laa challenges Roa to a duel to the death, but then they're both attacked by (the same?) cavemen.  Roa dies as a result of her wounds, but more importantly, Ka-Laa now has Yor all to herself.

US opening credits

Italian opening credits

After burying Roa, the heroes are lounging on a beach when they rescue some children from another attacking dinosaur.  As a show of gratitude, the head of the village (Sergio Nicolai) announces "The women have prepared a feast in your honor!"  Really?  How?  They just got there.  How did the women know that their children would be saved by Yor?  Or do they usually just not pay attention to their children and prepare feasts for passing strangers who risk their lives to save them?  And how did Yor and his friends not see this village?  It's on the same beach!  This is also the kind of film where villages consistently appear out of nowhere and rampaging dinosaurs manage to sneak up on people.  The villagers keep watch on the skies because of a "god" that periodically appears.  This "god" is a spaceship, and soon, androids appear and take Yor to another dimension ruled by the maniacal Overlord (an expectedly hammy John Steiner), who wants to use Yor's genetic design to create a master race of super-intelligent androids to help him rule the world.  Some space rebels appear and take Ka-Laa and Pag to Overlord's realm to find Yor, and Yor leads the rebels in a battle to take down the malevolent Overlord, whose stronghold appears to be the same abandoned factory that's used in most Italian post-nuke films of the era.

John Steiner as Overlord
I can't imagine YOR making a whole lot of sense even in its IL MONDO DI YOR incarnation, but the nonsensical stupidity is indeed a lot of its charm.   In its quest to rip off everything, YOR is a standard barbarian adventure, a prehistoric monster movie, and an outer space sci-fi epic with spaceships, a Darth Vader-inspired villain and an army of androids.  Surprisingly, despite the choppy editing and some obviously mismatched, cobbled-together scenes in the theatrical YOR (when Ka-Laa and Pag are attacked by a dinosaur in a forest, Yor's reaction shot shows him standing in a desert, clearly taken from another, unrelated section of IL MONDO DI YOR), whoever put it together and dubbed it managed to keep (or perhaps instill) a vague sense of coherence.  It's a ridiculous story, but it makes some kind of sense as long as you don't examine it too closely.

If only we could hear Reb doing this "YAAAAAAH!!"
Reb Brown became a bit of a B-movie star in the '80s after his two-TV movie stint as Captain America ended.  He did some TV and co-starred in a couple of serious films (1983's UNCOMMON VALOR and 1986's DEATH OF A SOLDIER), but after YOR and 1985's disastrous HOWLING II, he found himself in another Italian actioner, Bruno Mattei's hilariously awful RAMBO ripoff STRIKE COMMANDO (1987) and the die was cast.  For the next several years, Brown bounced back and forth between straight-to-video Italian and South African action movies, and in them, patented his own hyper-macho persona where he was constantly barking orders or emitting some shrieking battle cry.  The cult of Brown didn't really happen until MST3K aired his 1988 sci-fi film SPACE MUTINY ("Crunch Buttsteak!"  "Big McLargeHuge!"), and then it took off.  Now there's a ton of fan-made Reb Brown highlight reels all over YouTube.  Now 64, Brown quit acting in the late '90s, but recently began appearing on the convention circuit, indicating that he seems to be a good sport about things.  He also just completed the low-budget DTV horror film NIGHT CLAWS, his first starring role in a film since 1994's CAGE II.   Brown fans who go back to YOR are invariably disappointed--not in the film, but in that Brown's performance is dubbed by Gregory Snegoff, so you don't get to hear his voice or the signature battle cry made famous in STRIKE COMMANDO and SPACE MUTINY.  The choice to dub YOR in English was probably made well after filming ended and the dubbed-in-Italian version aired on TV, and it's likely that they didn't want to pay Brown to fly back to Rome to record his dialogue, as Italian films were still being shot without direct sound, the intention always being to dub them later on. Judging from some of YOR's publicity shots, it certainly appears as if Columbia had Brown put his YOR loincloth back on, but on the US theatrical poster and in this shot below, it's Brown's own hair and not his YOR wig.

Margheriti was an endlessly busy genre-hopper and special effects craftsman with a career going back to the late 1950s.  He was best known in the 1960's for his sci-fi space operas, but he also made various peplum, 007 ripoffs, and gothic horrors, followed in the '70s by several westerns and crime thrillers, but it was in the '80s that he found a niche with a string of junglesploitation potboilers inspired by films as varied as THE WILD GEESE, APOCALYPSE NOW, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and the RAMBO films.  Margheriti died in 2002, and a few years before his death, he mentioned in an interview with Video Watchdog that he more or less felt YOR was junk and didn't really care for it.  But oddly, it's YOR that's become one of his most recognized films.  Known as much for his special effects and miniature construction as he was for directing, Margheriti uses his signature methods on YOR, often embarrassingly so as in this scene where a Yor action figure is clearly subbed in for Reb Brown during a stunt shot.  You can't really miss it.

Margheriti's use of miniatures worked in the '50s and '60s, but was getting pretty stale by the '70s (a badly-designed tornado destroying a miniature dam in 1979's KILLER FISH was particularly laughable).  While miniatures were still being used by the likes of George Lucas in the STAR WARS films and Ridley Scott in ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, both took painstaking efforts to make them look as believable as possible.  I'm pretty sure Margheriti just used a Conan doll for the above clip.  Margheriti continued making films into the late 1990s, at which point Italian cinema was largely in decline and older, experienced directors were having a hard time finding work.  That may very well be the case, but with Margheriti, it's also possible that his (and other aged, old-school Italian directors who are still with us but haven't worked in years) was a situation of a set-in-his-ways craftsman who was unwilling--or unable--to change with the times.  Margheriti could stage a huge explosion as well as any director who ever stepped on a movie set, but even his most ardent supporters and/or CGI-haters would be hard-pressed to defend his use of toy cars and models on what looks like a Hot Wheels tabletop racetrack in his last film, 1997's VIRTUAL WEAPON.

YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE is a bad movie.  But it's a gloriously fun bad movie.  And for all his talk of not really caring for it, Margheriti's style is too apparent throughout for him to have not cared what was going on.  He loved his models and miniatures, and he stuck with them until the bitter end.  Margheriti didn't live long enough to see the rejuvenated interest in Italian cult cinema that started just a year or two after his passing (I'm glad guys like Enzo G. Castellari, Sergio Martino, Ruggero Deodato, and Umberto Lenzi, to name just a few, are still with us to see how revered their films have become to cult fans).  He'd probably be shocked to find that YOR aired on TCM.  The cult of YOR was strong enough to prompt Sony to release it as part of their "Columbia Classics" made-to-order DVD line, available online or from Warner Archive in a surprisingly pristine anamorphic widescreen transfer.

US theatrical trailer

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