Thanks to Paul Andolina for sharing this. Check out his writing at Wrestling with Film.
I was walking through our local Walmart last week when some DVD artwork caught my eye. It was simple, a few faces hovering over a battlefield, the most predominant being a man wearing an open faced helmet. I picked it up because it felt like something was telling me to. I try to trust my gut when it comes to movies. I read the back and immediately checked what language the audio was in. I was delighted to find that it was in Russian! It was titled The Last Warrior. I have been interested in Russian culture since I was young. Its history, people, and entertainment have fascinated me in one way or the other over the past 18 years of my life. One thing I have struggled with as a film lover interested in Russian films is that not as many films make it to the English speaking market for some odd reason. When they do get released here I am hard pressed to find it in its original length and audio without cuts or dubbing. I didn’t have the cash to immediately buy it which is what I would normally do when I come across anything in the Russian language but I did head over to the nearest Family Video to see if it was available to rent. There it was, all alone, a single copy of the video; normally if something is also released on Bluray, a copy of it in that format is also there but there was one DVD of The Last Warrior in the entire store. I shouldn’t be surprised as not everyone races out to watch the latest Russian language release to hit shelves. I couldn’t wait to run home and throw it into my player and get lost for a bit. What I got in the end was more than I could have hoped for.
The Last Warrior is titled Скиф (The Scythian) in its native language. The Last Warrior centers around a soldier named Lyutobor (Лутобор). His wife gives birth to a son but is then kidnapped along with the child. Lyutobor receives a note to kill the leader of his settlement in exchange for her life. A tribe of trained Scythian assassins is near the end of their culture’s presence abducts them. One off the Scythians named Kunitsa (Куница) which is the Russian word for the animals known as a marten is left behind during the attack and becomes Lyutobor’s guide to find the tribe and hopefully the kidnappers themselves. It seems to be a fairly by the numbers Russian epic set during the ancient Russian period. It proves to be anything but that.
Russians churn out period pieces set during conflicts quite often. Whether it be during the Great Patriotic War or more recent conflicts like the 1979 conflict in Afghanistan you’re bound to find a movie set in those times. My favorites, however, are the semi-historical epics that center on legendary warriors. The Last Warrior was certainly satisfying in that aspect but I was not prepared for its turn into dark fantasy. When Lyutobor has Kunitsa swear before one of the many ancient Russian deities Perun, a haunting spectre of frailty descends a ladder saying that Kunitsa’s oath means nothing as he does not worship this god. The guardian of Perun’s temple who utters these words is a blind man covered in ashes or white paint imbued with mysterious powers. I knew then that I was in for a special treat if it continued down this path. There is a later encounter with a collective of tree-dwelling folks who worship a strange strong man that continues this film’s flirtations with the mystic and barbaric. The Last Warrior isn’t a typical Conan cash in that was so popular with Italian and English directors alike after its release but I do feel it is in some way kin to those films. The world you get to experience for 104 minutes is one that folks of Robert E. Howard’s work may enjoy. It is not lacking in the brutality department either. There are a few battles between small groups of folks and even some great hand to hand combat on display. Those that love swords and other bladed weaponry are in for a treat as well as combat with these instruments is throughout the film. There is no shortage of blood either with even some nice gore effects being showcased in some fights. I really do feel like this film will be much more appreciated a few years from now if it is not discovered by many folks while it is out now. It has all the trappings of a film that could become a favorite among fans of genre film. All said if you are a fan of sword and sorcery and dark fantasy you should enjoy this film. If you are feeling adventurous and would just like to see what I consider a sterling example of what Russian cinema can offer when done well I would like to suggest you give it a shot. The DVD and Blurays both offer English language options in the form of dubbing and of course includes English subtitles for the Russian audio track.