According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.
Pre-Internet, the only way to learn about cool things if you grew up in a small town in Michigan as I did was to read about them in these magical collections of information called “books” and “magazines.” When I was in high school, there were 2 books that changed my life. The first was the fourth edition of the Trouser Press Record Guide. Trouser Press was an indispensable guide to thousands of “alternative rock” records back in the days when the term alternative rock actually meant something. The second was Danny Peary’s fantastic (and sadly out of print) 3 volume Cult Movies series. Ever since I received the first book as a Christmas present, I’ve made it my ongoing life’s mission to someday see all 200 titles that Peary discusses.
The best thing I can say about Zardoz is that I am now able to scratch another film off that list. To say that Zardoz is a terrible film is like calling Hitler “eccentric.” Zardoz creates its own new category of terrible. It is breathtakingly, incomprehensibly, mind-blowingly bad in a way that must be seen to be believed, but must never, ever be seen by anyone. Mike and I took one for the team, and no matter how tantalizing it may sound after reading our reviews, I beg you: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE. It is so terrible that its title should really stand as a universally-recognized synonym for atrociously bad. If I go to a coffee shop and tell them the ½ and ½ tastes Zardoz, they should immediately lock the place up and send every customer to the hospital. If I am at a café in France and I tell the waiter “Cet croque-monsieur est Zardoz!” he should walk straight back to the kitchen and stab the chef in the throat with an ice pick.
Here is what I learned from watching Zardoz: JOHN BOORMAN IS BARKING MAD. John Boorman is loonier than Golden pond. He’s nuttier than all the candy dishes in Tampa. I can say this with 100% certainty because Zardoz was not the result of tension between a writer and a director and meddling studio heads. Zardoz was written, produced, and directed by John Boorman. It is not an unfortunate accident, it is a labor of love. And if this is how John Boorman shows his love, he should be ostracized from society. He is criminally, dangerously insane. If you see John Boorman on the street, don’t just run … fly away at the speed of light, because like a Predator, if he senses your presence, he will not stop until you have been destroyed.
I hadn’t read Danny Peary’s description of Zardoz in years, so I was truly unprepared for what to expect. The only thing I knew about it was that it was the film in which Sean Connery spent most of the movie running around topless in short-shorts and fuck-me boots. His look has got to be one of the most unappealing ever committed to film. He looks like sweat. If sweat had a body, it would like exactly like Sean Connery in Zardoz.
The film actually started out with great promise. A floating head appears on the screen, telling the audience that the movie they’re about to see is “rich in irony and deeply satirical.” I think this comment in itself was meant to be ironic. To call Zardoz a satire is like calling a lump of shit a satire of pee. I don’t really know what that means, but when I wrote it down last night it sounded pretty clever.
After the first floating head, we cut to another head that slowly drifts through a cloudy sky as the credits roll. This floating head is giant and made of stone. This is Zardoz. I will do my best to attempt a rational explanation of what happens after this, even though a rational explanation is really much too kind for what Boorman forced me to endure. First, the giant stone head tells a group of assembled men that guns are good, and penises are bad. These men are to shoot people with their guns and avoid penises. Or avoid using their penises; it’s not really clear. Then, Zardoz spits a waterfall of guns out of its mouth. One of the men in this group is Sean Connery, who appears ready to cause some mischief. At this point, I’m still with the film, because it seems like it might be promisingly bizarre.
And then, everything starts to go horribly, horribly awry. Flash forward abruptly. Now Connery’s inside the stone head, which is filled with naked men and women shrink-wrapped into plastic bags. A movement comes from inside the head. Connery spies the floating-headed narrator who introduced the film, only now he has a body attached to his floating head. Connery shoots the man, the man falls out of Zardoz to (presumably) his death, Zardoz drops out of the sky.
Connery lands in some kind of futuristic village that we shall refer to as FancyLand. He dicks around for awhile, engaging with their absurd and inscrutable technology, until he’s finally discovered or captured by some hot chicks in skimpy clothing. The hot chicks take him to a room where they look at his memories. We learn his name is Zed, because that’s a clever name for someone who represents the end of something.
Zed, we learn, is an executioner from the outlands, which is where gross, “normal” people have been banished so the people of FancyLand can enjoy their endless dinner parties and homoerotic staring sessions without having to be surrounded by poverty. Zed is also a rapist. Hey, John Boorman, here’s a bit of advice for your future movies: if you want to make a protagonist appealing, it’s probably a good idea to keep the scenes of that protagonist engaging in brutal rape to a minimum. You’re no Kubrick, so don’t even try to go with that line of defense.
The middle third of the film involves Zed getting led around the city and learning about their strange customs. Or rather, we watch their strange customs and learn nothing. And what strange customs they have! The people of FancyLand sing weird. They talk weird. They even vote weird! In the future, we discover, it will be much more productive to vote using a variety of inscrutable hand gestures rather than saying “yes” or “no.” (Note: I am trying to insert some video so you can see some examples of these strange rituals, but it is a long and complicated process. Hopefully I will have something for you to look at soon, thus making you less likely to rent this brick of frozen vomit.)Somehow, Zed (who is referred to as “monster”) is given to a fancy boy named Friend, which is a clever name for a friend. Friend teaches Zed the mysteries behind this society. In this crazy world, no one ages naturally. When people break the law or engage in thought crimes or whatever, their punishment is to be aged. Once you become old enough, you go senile and have to live in a house with all the other old people and wear a tuxedo all the time. Some of the people in the city have become apathetic, which means they stand around like zombies and don’t mind being raped, because of how it’s boring to never die. I guess no one can have babies, either, on account of how penises are bad. And everyone has crystals in their heads that connects them all to some main crystal palace or something. And people can die but they are grown into new bodies or … am I still talking?
So as the film goes on, we discover that Zed is a genius and he’s going to destroy this perfect society with his raw male sexuality. If Sean Connery in his Zardoz getup was the epitome of raw male sexuality in the 70s, then the 70s should be burned. In one scene, all the future people stand around and watch while Connery gets an erection. I am not kidding. Connery stands in the center of the room and everyone stares at him while he gets an erection. Luckily, they do not show the erection. The only thing that could possibly make Zardoz worse is if Boorman actually forced us to stare at Sean Connery’s hairy ballsack.
After that, we learn that Connery knows how to read, which is unusual, I guess, and at some point before he got to FancyLand he read The Wizard of Oz, which is (spoiler alert!) “Zardoz” without the “wi” or “of,” and so that’s how he learned that Zardoz wasn’t really a god, and then he hid out in the head and killed the headless narrator, who was the film’s equivalent of the man behind the curtain, and also who eventually returns to throw a plastic bubble at Connery for no discernible reason. And then all the apathetic people stop being apathetic and start revolting and having sex in public, and so Connery goes inside the crystal matrix and shoots himself, but he’s still alive, and then the apathetics try to clobber the fancy people, but Connery makes time go backwards, and he leads the fancy people to safety, but they all decide they want to die, so Connery’s old murdering buddies show up and kill everyone, except for Connery and some woman who’s been trying to kill him throughout the whole movie, and then they have a kid and turn into skeletons. The end.
I could go on and on slagging off Zardoz. It is truly one of the most magnificently bad films in existence. It is brutally ugly, adamantly unfunny, and passionately incomprehensible. We are never given any reason to care about any of these characters, and Zed might be the single most unlikeable protagonist to ever grace the silver screen. Also, because this is the 70s, a time when filmmakers loooooved to challenge sexual mores, this film is crawling with boobs. You cannot turn around without seeing a boob. One of the main female characters does not ever wear a shirt. (Mike, could you figure out who in the Hell this woman was? The topless woman? She had like 15 minutes of topless screen time and I have no idea what she was supposed to represent!)
I tell you this in the hopes that you will leave this review with one understanding: Zardoz was such a mess, that it was not even redeemed by the presence of almost nonstop boobs. And that is as bad as it gets, my friend. In fact, John Boorman may have just murdered sex for me. Zardoz is not just unsexy. It is sex’s Altamont.
On the Awkward Press scale of pizzas, I give Zardoz: negative pizzas! Zardoz is so bad, it owes me pizzas!
What say you, good sir?
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