The 1987 film Gor opens with a nerdy college professor (played by Urbano Barberini, of Demons and Opera fame) giving perhaps the worst lecture in the history of underwhelming lectures. The professor explains that there is a counter-earth, a place that he claims is known as Gor. Gor shares the same orbit as Earth but it’s linearly opposed to Earth, which apparently makes it impossible to see. However, the professor says that his father gave him a ring which can transport the user to Gor. The only problem is that the professor has not figured out how to use the ring.
The students all look incredibly bored with the lecture and I don’t blame them. Not only does the professor seem to be rambling but he doesn’t even offer up any visual aides. He could have at least utilized a powerpoint presentation or something. Instead, his only teaching aide is a whiteboard on which he’s written “counter-earth.” I have to wonder what their final exam is going to look like. “True or false. Your professor is a freaking loon.”
(I found myself wondering what university would possibly grant tenure to some guy who thinks he owns a magic ring but then I remembered Evergreen College.)
The professor’s name is Tarl Cabot and I think that’s a good deal of his problem right there. When you give a child a name like Tarl Cabot, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that he’s going to grow up believing that he has a magic ring that’ll transport him to another planet.
Of course, in Tarl’s case, it turns out that the ring does just that. After his teaching assistant dumps him so that she can go on a date with another professor, Tarl crashes his car and when he wakes up, he finds himself on Gor. Apparently, the ring only works if you crash your car or something.
As for Gor itself, it turns out to be kind of a dump. It’s a huge desert. Seriously, check out this counter-earth:
If Tarl wanted to see a desert, he could have just driven around Southern California and saved himself a lot of trouble.
Yes, there is trouble in Gor. No sooner has Tarl arrived then he’s being attacked by a bunch of barbarians on horseback. The barbarians are led by the evil Sarm (played by Oliver Reed). Much as with the case of Tarl Cabot, I think that once you name a child Sarm, you’ve pretty much guaranteed the way that his life is going to turn out. Anyway, Tarl somehow survives being attacked by the barbarians. He even manages to kill Sarm’s son, which leads to Sarm declaring that he wants Tarl dead.
Fortunately, Tarl is eventually rescued by another group of barbarians. This group is led by Talena (Rebecca Ferratti) and she wants Tarl to help her rescue her father from Sarm’s fortress. But how can Tarl help when he’s literally useless? Don’t worry! The good barbarians are willing to train Tarl. One montage later, Tarl is now a master swordsman. Now, all Tarl has to do is dress like a barbarian and then track down a little person who can serve as a guide to Sarm’s fortress!
And what a fortress it is! Sarm may be evil but he likes to make sure that both his guests and his slaves have a good time. Sarm welcomes Tarl to the fortress and even tries to recruit him over to his side. (So apparently, Sarm’s over that whole “you killed my son” thing.) Sarm understands that the best way to recruit Tarl is with a dance number! As Sarm laughs lustfully, the slaves put on a show. It’s somewhat out-of-place but at least it distracts from the rest of the film.
Anyway, there’s a lot of problems with Gor but the main one is that the place itself just doesn’t seem like it’s worth all the trouble. After spending years trying to figure out how to get to the planet, Tarl arrives and discovers that it’s basically the same desert that was used in almost every post-apocalyptic film made in the 80s and 90s. (In fact, judging from John Carter, it’s still being used today.) What I always wonder about this type of movie is 1) why is the other planet always full of humans who speak perfect English and 2) why do all of these planets feature a society that resembles that ancient Roman Empire? Apparently, swords and arrows are literally universal weapons because they’re used on every planet in the universe.
When I first saw that this film starred Urbano Barberini, I assumed that it was going to turn out to be an Italian production. (In the late 80s, there were several Italian films that featured barbarians fighting in post-apocalyptic landscapes.) However, it turns out that Gor was a South African production, co-produced by the legendary Harry Alan Towers and directed by an American named Firtz Kiersch. (Kiersch also directed the first film version of Children of the Corn.) That said, the film itself is so ineptly dubbed and the production values are so low-budget that it would still be easy to mistake Gor for a film directed by Bruno Mattei or Claudio Fragasso.
Because he’s so badly dubbed, it’s difficult to really judge Barberini’s performance as Tarl Cabot. At the very least, he looks good with a sword in his hand and he’s cute — if never quite believable — when he plays Tarl as a neurotic physicist. However, Barberini can’t really compete with Oliver Reed, who devours every inch of scenery that he can find. Reed bellows and laughs and appears to be drunk in almost every scene in which he appears but at least he seems to be having a good time. Reed is also required to wear a silly helmet in most of his scenes and I sincerely hope that he got to take it home with him.
Oliver Reed isn’t the only familiar face to pop up in Gor. There’s also Jack Palance. Palance only shows up for about two minutes and he looks rather confused as he discusses his plan to conquer the world. (Apparently, Palance returned in Gor‘s sequel.) For two minutes of screen time, Palance managed to score himself third billing in the opening credits of Gor, above even Oliver Reed! Way to go, Jack!
Anyway, Gor is a pretty stupid movie. I appreciated the random dance number but otherwise, it’s fairly dull and only occasionally enlivened by Oliver Reed’s refusal to go gently into that dark night. I’m going to guess that films like this were popular with filmgoers who saw themselves as real-life Tarl Cabots and who spent their spare time thinking, “Nobody will laugh at me once they see me with a sword!” I caught the film yesterday on Comet TV, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite channels for watching bad movies.