Retro Review: Zardoz
Neil Worcester – Deluxe Video Online
Retro Review: Zardoz (1974)
I must warn you, gentle reader, up front and early: Zardoz is not a good movie. It most certainly is not a great movie. It is, sad to say, a bad movie. But it has the honor of being one of the truly rare bad movies to achieve a cult following that justifies the love bestowed upon it by connoisseurs of trashy cinema. It exists in the pantheon of wonderful dreck like John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Steve Miner’s House (not the terrible 2008 DVD-bait horror, the 1984 original.) Zardoz exists by its own rules in a decidedly bizarre world, and if you can wrap your mind around a story that begins with a flying statue’s head spitting guns at Sean Connery in a red man-kini, you will enjoy an awful lot of this awful movie.
“In case you had trouble visualizing the preceding sentence, this pic should do most of the heavy lifting.”
The story of Zardoz, which is almost incidental to any enjoyment of the film, takes place in a far distant future, where Mankind has evolved/devolved into two camps: The Eternals and the Brutals. The Eternals are immortal, intelligent, sterile, and completely bored with life. They live in highly structured enclaves shielded (literally) from contact with the Brutals, the only point of contact being the grain that Brutals pay in tribute. The Brutals are animalistic pre-civilized humans who eek out meager lives in a world in which human populations have tumbled due to a great cataclysm, never fully fleshed out by the narration, but which has created a dread in the Eternals of overpopulation. To control population growth and ensure food supplies, a flying head of Zeus patrols the land, commanding certain favored Brutals to murder their fellows and deliver grain. If they obey, Zardoz (the flying head) beneficently pukes guns on the favored Brutals, providing for more murder. I hear a similar form of government is being considered in Texas.
When Connery Wears a Red Man-kini, He Owns It.
Our hero in this tale is a favored Brutal named Zed, played by Sean Connery in what is probably the greatest costume ever assembled in film history. Zed is more intelligent than his brethren, and attempts to learn the secret of Zardoz by stowing away in the grain shipment. Once inside the enclave of the Eternals, he is captured and made a pet to the ruling classes, who amuse themselves with educating him, unaware of his aptitude. The movie bogs down here, with some rather heavy-handed moralizing, eastern mysticism inspired navel-gazing, and a copious amount of full frontal nudity (whether director John Boorman’s attempt at showing the bourgeois lack of scruples of the ruling elite or an honest show of fan service, you decide.) Ultimately, Zed’s revolutionary purpose is revealed, and the balance between the Eternals and Brutals is forever changed. Or not. The final montage is a little hard to parse…
“Still, I think Connery pulls the look off. Handsome devil.”
Delusions of Grandeur?
Zardoz is at times disjointed, over-plotted and under-explained, and unevenly paced…and just a riot to watch. The earnest nature of the film is pretty much summarized in the theatrical poster, which claims to have the prescience of George Orwell and the mind-altering power of Stanley Kubrick all in one. You can guess my opinion of that boast, but it warms my heart that they aspired to such lofty heights. Much like Zed, we are ultimately rewarded with all the violence and sex our brutal little hearts can hope for, all thanks to John Boorman and Sean Connery undertaking Zardoz with a completely straight face. It has to be seen to be believed.