Zardoz (1974) review

Zardoz posterDirector: John Boorman

Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, John Alderton, Sara Kestelman, Niall Buggy, Sally Anne Newton

ZARDOZ – “You have been raised up from brutality to kill the Brutals who multiply and are legion. To this end Zardoz, your God, gave you the gift of the gun. The gun is good!”

EXTERMINATORS – “The gun is good!”

ZARDOZ – “The penis is evil! The penis shoots seeds and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the gun shoots death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth and kill! Zardoz has spoken.”

I don’t know how I feel about John Boorman.

The English director has been responsible for both one of the most effective films I’ve seen (Deliverance), and one of the most infuriating piles of pish I’ve ever had to struggle through (Exorcist II: The Heretic).

Zardoz, his bizarre sci-fi film in which a half-naked Sean Connery tries to bring down a community of immortals in the year 2293, has me similarly conflicted. It’s both shite and incredible at the same time, but leaning slightly towards the latter.

Only ever so slightly, mind
Only ever so slightly, mind

Connery plays Zed, a ‘Brutal Exterminator’. He roams a decimated Earth taking food from other ‘Brutals’ to give to the Eternals, a group of immortal elites who live in ‘the Vortex’, which is just a country estate with a big forcefield around it.

The point of contact between the Exterminators and the Eternals is Zardoz, a massive floating stone head which takes the food from the Exterminators and exchanges them for guns, which they can use to extort more food from the hapless Brutals.

One day though, Zed smuggles himself aboard Zardoz and manages to infiltrate the Vortex, where he’s captured by the Eternals and turned into a sort of butler.

Zed eventually learns that the Eternals aren’t happy. With no way of dying they’ve started to get massively bored, and with no need to breed or sleep they find it difficult to get excited about anything. They’ve basically turned into Chelsea supporters.

"On your way, Mourinho"
“On your way, Mourinho”

It soon becomes clear that Zed isn’t as dumb as the Eternals think he is, and they soon start squabbling over what to do with him. Some want him killed, while others feel he might be able to come up with a solution to give them what they really want: their mortality back.

Given all this it should go without saying that Zardoz is a fucking mental film, and I haven’t even really gone into much detail.

There’s the scene where Zed is shown a series of pornographic videos so the Eternals can study him to see what gets him aroused.

Then there’s the flashback where he reads an entire library’s worth of books before finding out Zardoz’s terrible secret. Which is ridiculous.

The Red Dwarf remake was a bit elaborate for some, but at least the new Holly was funny
The Red Dwarf remake was a bit elaborate for some, but at least the new Holly was funny

And anyone who watches the stupefying group seance scene in which one Eternal is reduced to a gibbering, wailing wreck via the others’ mind control will never forget it.

Throughout all this Connery – fresh from his role as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever – wanders around the film’s lush Irish landscapes with a stern yet puzzled look on his face, perfectly portraying the role of ‘educated brute with zero fucking clue what’s going on’.

Not that you’ll be paying much attention to his face, mind. Regardless of your sexual orientation you’ll struggle to take your eyes off what has to be one of the most bizarre outfits ever seen in film history.

Witness, if you can, the sight of Mr Connery in a pair of tiny red pants with two red bullet belts strapped across his chest like a pair of makeshift braces.

Obviously the ponytail's there to help men get aroused, just in case they were struggling
Obviously the ponytail’s there to help straight men get aroused, just in case they were struggling

Fancy unseeing that? Good luck: you’ll have about as much success teaching a dolphin how to play lacrosse.

The supporting cast is similarly memorable, but for the wrong reasons. There’s the oddly named Friend, an Eternal who’s sick and tired of living and spends his time winding people up.

May, meanwhile, is an Eternal keen on studying Zed to see what makes him tick. You’ll struggle to concentrate on anything she says, however, because she also happens to have so many freckles you keep thinking the casting director hired a scatter graph by mistake.

None of this matters, though. Your one overriding memory after seeing Zardoz is one of numerous smaller memories, each offering a bite-sized nugget of batshittery.

Wolf from Gladiators had seen better days
Wolf from Gladiators had seen better days

You won’t know what to make of the bizarre conservatory containing all the troublemaker Eternals, who have been punished by being physically aged. It’s essentially a greenhouse full of rowdy pensioners.

You also won’t know whether to be offended or delighted when Zed meets the Apathetics, a group of Eternals who have lost so much interest in life they stand there in a catatonic state.

Incredibly, Zed – our apparent hero – tries to have sex with (i.e. rape) one of them. Then, when it’s clear she isn’t into it, he picks her up and actually caber tosses her into the corner.

Sorry? Oh, um, I'm a doctor. I'm giving this woman a routine examination. Yes, this is standard uniform for a medical practitioner, and I'll thank you not to question me any further
Sorry? Oh, um, I’m a doctor. I’m giving this woman a routine examination. Yes, this is standard uniform for a medical practitioner, and I’ll thank you not to question me any further

And eventually it all culminates in a weird amalgamation of dark rooms covered in wall projections, Sean Connery in a wedding dress, mass bloodshed on a farcical scale and then one of the most unintentionally hilarious endings you’ll ever see in a film.

The amazing thing is, I could go on. I’ve still barely scratched the surface here. But it’s best if you experience it first-hand.

40 years after its initial release, Zardoz now has a cult following from an army of dedicated supporters quick to accuse anyone who criticises it of ‘not getting it’.

Oh right, sorry, it makes sense now
Oh right, sorry, it makes sense now

Let’s face it, though: this is definitely more Exorcist II John Boorman than Deliverance John Boorman, and while there are some philosophical themes running through it – class division, the need for mortality, etc – they’re more the sort of thing you’d see in a story written by a 14-year-old trying to be deep.

That doesn’t mean Zardoz isn’t still worth watching, because it most certainly is. Its messages may be fucking clownshoes but it’s easily one of the oddest ‘mainstream’ films you’ll ever see, so for that reason you really should experience it.

And it really is an experience.

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Zardoz is mental enough to make it into TWABM’s special Proper Mental List, a section dedicated to the very strangest films featured on the site. Click here to see what other madness it joins.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?
In the UK, Zardoz was recently released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video, where it’s accompanied by a commentary from Boorman who seemingly can’t decide himself whether his film is deeply philosophical or madder than a coat made of cheese graters. You can also get it fairly cheaply on a bare-bones DVD. In the US it’s also available in DVD and Blu-ray flavours, though the Blu-ray doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of Arrow’s UK disc.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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2 thoughts on “Zardoz (1974) review

  1. I love your reviews, they crack me up. How in the world has “When Women Had Tails” & “When Women Lost Their Tails” NOT made it into your list? It was so bad when the first movie was finished my mom & I couldn’t believe we actually sat through it & then lost IQ points & watched the 2nd one the next day when it aired. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have Bond in mini red pleather lederhosen & pirate go-go boots, but it’ll do.

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