Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz!
I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “John Boorman” with a minor in “Giant Flying Stone God Heads”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week it’s the psychedelic mind trip from the director of Deliverance, Zardoz!
It is the distant future, the year 2293. Enter Zed, an Exterminator who terrorizes the mortal masses called Brutals at the orders of Zardoz, a God in the form of a huge flying stone head that supplies weapons to the Exterminators in exchange for food collected from the Brutals. To go against Zardoz is sacrilege, but Zed has his doubts. Can one Brutal Exterminator defy God and bring balance to a fractured society? Truths will be revealed, immortals will die, and a revolution will begin when you probe the mysteries of Zardoz!
Released in 1974 and starring Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, and Sara Kestelman, Zardoz is a low-budget Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Dark Comedy written, produced, and directed by John Boorman. Born in 1933, Boorman worked in the TV documentary unit at the BBC until he caught the interest of a producer and was offered the chance to direct. However, it wasn’t until 1972 when he really hit his stride with the release of Deliverance. Deliverance was Boorman’s first true box office success and was nominated for numerous awards including Best Picture and Best Director from The Golden Globes, The New York Film Critics Circle, and the Oscars. You could say that 1972 John Boorman was basically unstoppable.
But we all know what happens when good directors get a little too full of themselves…they make Supercult Classics!
Boorman has some of the worst films of all time on his resume including ‘Where the Heart Is’, ‘Beyond Rangoon’, and ‘Exorcist II: The Heretic’, but Zardoz was the one that started it all. Somewhere hidden beneath lines of dialogue like, “Stay close to me, inside my aura!” is a pretty damn good sci-fi premise akin to Planet of the Apes or Logan’s Run, but unlike those films, which are intentionally provocative or strange on accident, Zardoz tells the audience from the get-go that what they are watching is a satirical abstraction. Zardoz tackles weighty themes like eugenics, artificial intelligence, and the pursuit of knowledge. Zardoz asserts that it is death that gives life meaning. It also has a pretty solid character arc about a barbarian educating himself and seeking revenge on the society that holds him down. It’s obvious that Boorman attempted to make his own version of 1984 or 2001: A Space Odyssey but what reached the screen was a cavalcade of confusing imagery that’s positively dripping with confusing symbolism, iconography, and religious and Freudian allegory. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, the giant stone head of Zardoz floats down to it’s followers, declares, “The Gun is Good! The Penis is Evil!” and then vomits a pile of rifles and ammunition onto the ground. Explain that and you might be worthy of Supercult Sainthood yourself!
John Boorman really is a man of extremes…
The high sci-fi themes are obscured by hilarious dialogue, gratuitous topless scenes and awkward references to sexuality and fly over the heads of most casual audience members. Not only that, it lumbers forward with a pace that makes it’s modest 105 minute running time feel like a marathon. Almost every image in the film is inadvertently funny, but there’s something beautiful about how absolutely, off-the-wall-batshit crazy it all adds up to be, right down to Sean Connery wearing a wedding gown in order to hide his identity. As Ryan Britt of Tor.com wrote, “[Zardoz] tried to tell a simple story in the most complex way possible, and then layered on the most baffling aesthetics of possibly any mainstream movie ever filmed. But if you squint just a little bit, it might actually be brilliant.”
Zardoz, which was made for a miniscule $1.5 million, was Sean Connery’s second acting role after his final James Bond film ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ in 1971. According to Boorman, Connery found it incredibly difficult to get work after he abandoned the James Bond role for good, which was why he was able to hire Connery very cheaply for the project…and probably why Connery even agreed to a film where he runs around in a red Speedo and bandolier raping and murdering people. Connery even offered to drive himself to the set every day with his own car to keep the movie cost down. Boorman later gave him half the money that had been budgeted to hire a car and a driver for him.
The leading ladies didn’t have it any better. Charlotte Rampling appears hard pressed to make do with a script that treats her and the other female characters simply as a source of T&A. Most of the important exposition goes to the less skilled male actors who ooze superficial sci-fi babble unconvincingly while the female actors end up showing Zed an erotic video in order to provoke an erection so they can study him.
The best part of Zardoz, apart from the hilarious wardrobe and set design and how critics can’t tell whether they like or love the film. At the time of it’s release UK’s Channel 4 described Sean Connery’s costume as “a red nappy, knee-high leather boots, pony tail and Zapata moustache.” Decades later Channel 4 would call Zardoz “Boorman’s finest film” and a “wonderfully eccentric and visually exciting sci-fi quest” that “deserves reappraisal”. Roger Ebert probably summed it up best giving it 2 ½ stars and calling it a “genuinely quirky movie, a trip into a future that seems ruled by perpetually stoned set decorators” and “an exercise in self-indulgence (if often an interesting one) by Boorman, who more or less had carte blanche to do a personal project after his immensely successful Deliverance.”
Zardoz has a 5.8 on IMDB, a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is listed among the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in The Official Razzie Movie Guide by John Wilson, the founder of the Golden Raspberry Awards. It’s delirious, incomprehensible, pretentious, and hilarious, and it’s almost certainly made better by a steady supply of your favorite illegal hallucinogen.
I’ve seen the future, fellow Supercultists, and it doesn’t work!
The Supercult Show is proud to present, Zardoz!