What makes a good B-movie? It’s a tricky thing to outline, to say the least. When a B-movie presents something of sufficient quality, after all, it’s generally no longer considered a B-movie….it’s just a movie. The term “B-movie” originally referred to smaller films made outside the major studio system, less explicitly a mark of quality and more a way to set smaller films apart from the major releases, but in the years since the term entered the popular lexicon, it has taken on a new meaning. Nowadays when we refer to a B-movie, it refers to something notable cheap, chintzy, and for the most part bad. B-movie-dom has come to be directly associated with camp, with schlock, with a low-rent vibe you’d see in made-for-TV movies and VHS-boom shelf-warmers. So how can films meet our modern definition of a B-movie and still be, by most metrics, good? The easy answer is that they can’t. That’s okay though – they don’t have to be. Even movies that are bad can be fun, memorable, and worth coming back to. They can, in other words, be Yor: The Hunter from the Future.
Yor is one of those films that can be hard to “sell” without it just descending into a breathless description of all the best scenes, but let’s try anyway. On its surface it’s the classic barbarian swords and sorcery film, one that liberally mixes the caveman epic with traditional fantasy, as well as a healthy dose of science fiction at the end. In an unspoiled land populated by dinosaurs, monsters, and wandering tribes of humans, a lone warrior named Yor arrives from parts unknown on a quest to discover the secrets of his ancestry. Yor happens upon a tribe of locals, saving two of their number from a rampaging dinosaur. He’s welcomed into the tribe just in time for another calamity, this time an attack by another tribe, one far more savage, brutal, and purple. From there, Yor is joined by the elderly hunter Pag and the beautiful Kalaa, and embarks on a series of adventures in his quest for answers, eventually taking him to a secluded island controlled by the villainous Overlord and his army of robots – because the “secret” of Yor is that it isn’t a pre-history or fantasy movie at all, but a post-apocalypse film (I say “secret” because it’s literally in the title and on the cover).
So what makes Yor so special then? Well, if you start working your way through some of the most beloved and oft-remembered b-movies, you’ll find that many of them owe their success to just one element. A particular scene, a single performance, a behind-the-scenes tidbit, something like that. People mostly remember Undefeatable for the ludicrous fight scene at the end, or Mazes and Monsters for an early starring role by Tom Hanks. When you actually start watching a lot of films like this, the odds are good that they’ll be surprisingly dull affairs outside of brief moments of interest, but this isn’t the case with Yor.
Yor is a film constructed entirely out of moments and elements that would secure a single B-movie a devoted following on their own. However, instead of relying on just one or two baffling, gloriously goofy or eminently “riffable” elements, Yor has a seemingly endless supply. Every five minutes (if not less) something happens or stumbles into view that will have you cheering, gawking in confusion, or both. More often than not, the best of these moments are set to the film’s incomprehensible theme tune by the Angelis brothers, a glorious mix of bleepy, bloopy Cassio synth and mostly nonsensical lyrics clearly written by non-English-speakers.
The lead is Reb Brown, a goofy, hair-helmeted action figure of a man, so much so that his stunt double in one scene is literally an action figure. Along for the ride are Italian B-movie mainstay John Steiner as Overlord and one-time Bond Girl Corrine Clery as Kalaa, and all of them get their share of quotable lines, ranging from the on-the-nose (“We will need a lot more hemp before we’re through”) to the confusing (the entire theme song).
Yor is the kind of B-movie that you want every B-movie to be: one that’s almost never boring and has just enough budget and audacity to feel like a cut above the norm, but not so much technical skill or deft execution that you feel like you accidentally put on something good. The barely-mobile papier mache dinosaurs are at least impressively-sized, and the industrial plant that stands in for Overlord’s base (possibly the same place that Reb Brown would shoot Space Mutiny just a few years later) makes for an interesting backdrop for the last act. It feels like it has more money and ambition going on that many Italian-produced VHS fodder from around this time, but not so much that it ever stops being a prime slice of B-movie cheese.
It’s like a perfect storm of pulp goofiness, infused with that slight sense of “otherness” you often get from Italian genre movies, where nobody quite acts human and everything feels almost indescribably off-kilter. As far as swords and sorcery goes, it’s certainly an atypical example of the genre, extremely light on both swords and sorcery, but there’s no other genre it quite fits into, as it’s not quite a caveman movie either, nor a sci-fi or post-apocalypse film, despite borrowing elements from those genres. Yor, like its titular protagonist, stands alone. It towers above its fellows, a higher form of B-movie than most, maybe even all of its contemporaries.
It is, to put it mildly, a hell of a thing.