(1984, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)
In a nutshell:
Leather-clad Ator rescues the wise Akronas from the evil Zor.
Pixilated credits cover the bottom half of the screen while the top half displays grainy footage from different film. Then we’re treated to a rumble between opposing tribes of dirty, ugly cavemen.
Later, overdressed scholar Akronas stares off into space while occasionally intoning vague portents of doom to his leather and auto-parts clad daughter, Mila. Apparently, Akronas possesses a shiny, all-powerful artifact called “The Geometric Nucleus.” “What is it?” his daughter asks. “It is everything and nothing,” he replies.
Akronas has a former student named Zor, a villainous despot with a silly mustache and cardboard duck on his head. Zor covets the nucleus for its vast but vague powers, and invades Akronas’ castle. Akronas sends Mila off to summon one of his other former students, the mighty Ator, who dresses in leather bikini briefs and fringed moon-boots. He narrates a flashback over a long confusing montage of footage from an earlier film.
Though her father’s only direction for finding Ator is to look in “the ends of the earth,” she somehow finds him anyway, picking up an arrow in the chest on the way. Ator heals her with some banana leaves and a large dog, and then forces her to blow up a door to prove her identity.
Ator, Mila, and Ator’s mute oriental friend Thong all don fancy capes and set off to rescue Akronas. Zor sends some sorcerous fog and they get separated, wandering into a system of caves. The eponymous cannibal cave dwellers capture Mila, while Ator and Thong battle invisible monsters. Fortunately for Ator and Thong, the monsters are easily subdued by draping the fancy capes over them. The cannibals like to rip the hearts out of their victims and eat them raw, but the hubcap on Mila’s chest delays them long enough for Ator to show up and rescue her.
Zor angrily fires his sorcerer and turns to subterfuge. He bribes some serpent worshipers to trick Ator and his pals into trying to rescue a village from slaughter. They fail and get captured in the process. Thong escapes and slowly cuts through Ator’s ropes, while every last surviving member of the village is thrown into the snake pit. Finally free, Ator beats up the snake worshipers and jumps into the pit to save Mila. She huddles in a corner and screams while he wrestles a giant sock puppet. He defeats it, and they move on.
Finally arriving at the castle, Thong and Mila head inside through an obvious, well-lit secret passageway. Ator quickly builds himself a hang glider and some grenades out of, I dunno, everyday household items, I guess. He does several passes over the castle, blowing up a number of Zor’s soldiers before he finally lands on the battlements. In the basement, Zor has finally lost patience with Akronas’ vague, ponderous taunts and tries to strangle him. Ator shows up and defeats him after a bit of swordplay, but Akronas stops him before he can land the killing blow. Ator stupidly turns his back on Zor, but Thong shows up and skewers him before he can stab Ator.
Ator nobly rejects Mila’s stilted advances because his life is too dangerous to share with another; he must battle evil wherever it occurs. He runs off to destroy the nucleus, which goes up in a giant mushroom cloud.
Gypsy changes her name to Stockard Channing. Crow changes his name to Jose Jimenez. Tom changes his name to Sugar Magnolia. Magic Voice changes her name to Magic Voice. Joel changes his name to Chuck Woolery.
Host Segment One:
Crow changes his name to Alan Parsons Project. Tom changes his name to Mr. Tibbs. Magic Voice changes her name to Vivian Vance. Gypsy changes her name to Mrs. Richard Basehart. Joel makes everyone go back to their original names. They show off Joel’s invention, the smoking jacket, which is a robe that spouts smoke. Dr. Forrester tells Frank that he can’t do the segment in the style of an afternoon talk show, and then they wrestle with robotic arms.
Host Segment Two:
Joel and the ‘Bots dress up as characters from the film and jump around while ridiculous credits run across the bottom half of the screen. The “Continuity by:” section of the credits is conspicuously blank.
Host Segment Three:
Joel and the ‘Bots reflect on the overly elaborate names that the film assigns to ordinary objects. Thus, the hubcap on Mila’s chest becomes “The Maiden-Shield of Valley Seven.”
Host Segment Four:
Joel demonstrates the art of Foley, that is, making film sound effects. He simulates the sound of a herd of water buffalo by shaking a box of milk and hamsters.
Host Segment Five:
Crow has footage to demonstrate various continuity problems from the film. These include a modern city under Ator’s hang glider and a villager with sunglasses. Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank cry out in unison, “What do you want from us? We’re evil! Evil!”
Thong catches fish with his bare hands. Ator lets him know that dinner’s ready.
I have a great deal of affection for this episode. It was the first one I ever saw, and it’s the one that made me into a fan.
The host segments are offbeat, but funny. Frank’s insistence on singing “The Man In My Little Girl’s Life,” was pretty weird, but the name changing antics and the Foley demonstration were really good. It’s always funny when Joel and the ‘Bots take an ordinary discussion and take it to strange extremes, as in the “fancy names for ordinary things” sketch, and their revision of the credits was excellent.
I said it in my review for Robot Holocaust and I’ll say it again now: The fantasy journey film is one of my favorite genres, regardless of quality. There are certainly plenty of oddly attired barbarians engaging in awkward but enthusiastic swordplay throughout the entire film. Men in leather bikinis and moon boots, women in fake furs and hubcaps, poultry-wearing villains, evil clowns in wicker armor—I love this stuff.
The major problem with this film (one of many) is best described by Tom Servo, when he shouts, “This has more pauses than a Pinter Play!” This quip assumes a basic grasp of literary theater, so rather than make you seek out a production of The Dumb Waiter, I’ll just tell you this: In plays by Mr. Pinter, the actors pause a lot. Everyone in the movie stares solemnly into space, intoning his or her lines as if each one were a ponderous, philosophical gem instead yet another bland cliché. Pausing may work well for Pinter, but Cave Dwellers should have stuck to action.
For the untreated film this would have been death, but for the purposes of the Satellite crew, it works perfectly. The ridiculousness of the action combined with the long pauses between lines give Joel and the ‘Bots plenty to make fun of, and plenty of time to make fun of it in. Though they’ve said it in previous episodes, there are so many low angle shots of Ator that the line, “I’m huge!” gets blurted out three or four times. The turgid flirting scene moves so slowly that Joel and the ‘Bots keep interjecting things like “What’s your major?” and “How big is God?” Given the quality of this episode and the fact that it’s commercially available, this is a perfect place to start if you’ve never seen the show before.
(1984, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)