Albert Pyun: Swords, Sorcery & Sensationalism
November 9, 2012 , 2:47 pm | By Bryan Reesman
Veteran movie director Albert Pyun is known to genre and cult film aficionados for such titles as Nemesis, Dollman, the 1990 Captain America, Cyborg (starring Jean-Claude Van Damme) and the awesomely epic, politically incorrect fantasy tale The Sword and The Sorceror. I spoke to the ever-busy Pyun recently to discuss the great and influential sci-fi/fantasy film boom of 1982 for MSN Movies, and we also delved into his current projects for A.D.D. His latest movie Road To Hell recently won Best Picture at the Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast and eight awards at the PollyGrind Film Festival in Las Vegas, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Michael Paré) and Best Actress (Clare Kramer). Pyun was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Sword and the Sorceror came out at the start of the fantasy boom of the 1980s. What was the financial and creative climate like for you at the time? How hard was it to get this film made?
Well, it was still the era when a film had to be successful theatrically so it was difficult. There were still the second tier circuits which included drive-ins and grindhouses, but that was really the domain of AIP, New World (Roger Corman) and Crown International. It was tough because everything had to work theatrically. My approach was this was simply a movie I wanted to see. It took four years of pushing and pitching almost every day, making the rounds of all the smaller companies that lined Sunset Boulevard. So I would start at one end and hit every company and then hit the other side of Sunset the next day. I’m sure many were sick and tired of seeing me bang on their door so often. I was a real pest. But my luck changed when I happened to walk through the doors of Group One on the same day that Excalibur‘s grosses came out. That got the ball rolling, and I’ll always feel a debt to John Boorman for giving me a career. [laughs] It certainly taught me that the saying about “being in the right place at the right time” was so true. Of course, it also made me realize you had to put yourself in that position blindly because you really just never know when that moment’s going to appear.
Why do you think 1982 was such a fertile year for sci-fi and fantasy films? What confluence of influences lead to all of these great movies coming out at once?
I really don’t know. I think it was, at that time, an untapped area and most of us filmmakers then grew up on pulp and more genre stuff. I think people were tired of space stuff and started looking for more genre-oriented material. As for my influences, it was mostly my love for Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers and John Milius’ The Wind and The Lion. I loved those two movies and wanted see that kind of adventure and humor fused with Japanese “Chambata” films like the Baby Cart Series and Zatoichi. So for me it was about thinking what I would like to see.
“I’ve been lucky enough to make some pretty odd and gonzo movies. It was only by luck they were profitable, allowing me to make even crazier films.”
The Sword and the Sorceror is a tongue-in-cheek, swashbuckling take on the fantasy genre that cleverly balanced humor and horror. Was that your original intention from the start?
Yes. As I said, Richard Lester and John Milius films had a big impact on me, and the same with the [Toshiro] Mifune samurai films and the Zatoichi films of the ’70s. I think they were the basis of the script in terms of tone and humor.
Given how franchises have taken over studio filmmaking, how easy do you think it would be to make a film like S&TS today? Do you think studio execs and and producers could learn some things from low budget movies like Sword and the Sorceror and The Beastmaster?
I don’t know. It’s really a different age now with CGI and the Internet. Apples to oranges. When I was trying to get Sword and the Sorceror made, there was only theatrical. No home video or cable yet. So that affected what got made and how you needed to structure your project. I think it’s far easier today to make fantasy and far less expensive.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I have three projects coming out via Wrekin Hill / Lionsgate next year. The first is Road To Hell starring Michael Paré and Clare Kramer. Then, probably the most complete film I’ve ever made, Bulletface is my stab at making those B-noir thrillers from the ’50s that Edgar Ulmer made. Gritty and sensationalistic. All exploitation with no apologies. My third film is my take of an H.P. Lovecraft short story, Cool Air. I think in my 30-year career — such that it is an actual career — I’ve been lucky enough to make some pretty odd and gonzo movies. It was only by luck they were profitable, allowing me to make even crazier films. I’m shooting a movie now where I revisit my heavy metal post-apocalyptic era of Cyborg and Nemesis. Naturally, it’s presently called Cyborg Nemesis. [laughs] My hope and focus right now is getting Road to Hell off to a good start. It won “Best Picture” recently in the Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast. We also screened it in Spain, and in our big North American opening at Las Vegas as part of the PollyGrind Underground Film Festival, it won eight awards. Naturally it’s a good fit in a city called Sin City.