Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Beastmaster (1982)

Title: The Beastmaster (1982)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos


The Beastmaster came as a direct result of the success that John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian enjoyed when it was released back in 1982. You see when Conan hit it big, every other studio wanted to have their own version of Conan. Hell, even the Italians went for it, actually, let me elaborate on that, the Italians milked Conan for all it’s worth! One of the best examples of an Italian Conan rip-off is Lucio Fulci’s Conquest (1983), which is an incredibly hilarious, yet totally watchable mix of Conan like fantasy adventure with Greek Mythology, it’s kind of like the bastard son of Conan The Barbarian and Clash of the Titans (1981).There’s also Rogero Deodatto’s The Barbarians (1987), which starred these two hulking twin brothers who had their fifteen minutes of fame back in the 80’s. The Italians weren’t the only ones in the Conan rip off market, the American’s did their own cheap Conan imitations, The Beastmaster is in my opinion one of the best of the bunch.

The Beastmaster gives us the story of Dar, a young man whose life starts off in an extremely strange fashion. When we first meet Dar, he is in his mother’s womb. A prophecy has marked Dar as the child who will grow to liberate the people, so an evil sorcerer sends his witch to kidnap Dar right out of his mother’s womb. Not only that, the witch magically transports the unborn Dar right into the belly of a cow! That’s right my friends, Dar ends up being born from a cow! A few years pass and Dar develops an ability to communicate with animals. He sees what they see, he knows their thoughts and they know his. Dar ends up having a great childhood in a humble, peace loving village but problems arise when an evil religious leader decides to destroy Dar’s village in order to stop the prophecy from fulfilling itself. Will Dar fulfill the prophecy, destroy the evil religious leader and avenge the death of his family and his people?

Similarities between The Beastmaster and Conan The Barbarian know no bounds, it’s almost embarrassing. Let’s count the similarities shall we? Young man sees his family and village slaughtered by crazy religious zealots? Check! The protagonist then wonders through the big bad world all on his own as the voice of his father echoes in the background like some ghostly voice from beyond the grave? Check! Protagonist gets his sword from the clutches of a corpse? Check! The main villain is the leader of a religious cult? Check! The film ends with a fight on a pyramid like temple? Check! And there are more similarities where these came from, have fun someday counting them. Yet this does not mean that Beastmaster doesn’t have one or two original elements of its own that sets it apart and makes it a fun watch.  The film is enjoyable because it has lots of imagination, maybe it’s budget betrayed them a bit, but I gotta have it to Coscarelli, he did a lot with very little. This films budget was 8 million, but you could swear it was a bit more. At the time, this was the most expensive film he’d ever done. Up to then, Coscarelli’s biggest budget had been the one for Phantasm (1979), which skyrocketed to a mere 300,000 dollars, so this time around he had more moolah to play around with and he put it to good use. Coscarelli has always been good at making low budget films look more expensive than they actually are.

The element of Dar communicating with animals is one of the most original elements in the film, he has these two little chipmunks that become his inseparable companions, he has a black tiger that befriends him and an eagle that follows him around as well. He says they give him his cunning, his strength and his eyes. The dynamics between the animals and Dar are pretty cool, they help him in his adventure and they also help him hook up with Kiri, a slave girl whom Dar falls in love with after he sees her taking a shower in a nearby waterfall.  We also meet a series of interesting creatures during Dar’s travels through this fantasy land. First we meet these weird ‘bat men’ creatures that are basically humanoid bats. If they wrap their wings around you, they suck the flesh off your bones and spit out your remains! And these are the good guys! We also get these Berserker creatures which go crazy when they introduce these green slimy things into their ears, those were some cool looking beasts. As I mentioned earlier, Don Coscarelli is the director behind the Phantasm franchise, so it’s no wonder that certain scenes unfold as if they belonged in a horror movie, dark, spooky, scary. But worry not! The cheesiness is never gone for too long in this movie!

How cheesy is this movie? Well, let’s see, there’s this scene in which the evil religious leader is about to sacrifice a child by throwing him in a fiery pit, right? That’s the moment when Dar’s eagle rescues the child at the last minute by grabbing the kid with its claws and flying away with him! Pay no mind to the fact that the child probably weighs many times more than the eagle, and that there’s no way in hell this could happen in real life, but it happens in Beastmaster, because Beastmaster is cheesy that way. And so, suddenly we have a scene of an eagle soaring through the skies with a child hanging from its claws? You’ll bust a gut when you hear Dar screeching like an eagle! Also, even sillier is how Kiri the slave girl, doesn’t seem to be much of a slave, since she can apparently roam the land freely. Also, I don’t know if anyone noticed this , but if Kiri is a slave girl, how does she find time to put on lipstick and mascara? And her hair is perfectly blow dried! In Barbarian times! Geez, these movies from the 80’s; so unapologetically silly! There’s more cheesy goodness on this one, but I’ll let you discover these wonders for yourselves.

Ultimately, even though The Beastmaster is a knock off, it is also very entertaining. Marc Singer pulls in a likable performance, The Beastmaster doesn’t come off as squeaky clean perfect, point in fact, he’s kinda sleazy and something of a trickster. He uses his powers over animals to impress girls and make out with them! Tanya Robert’s looks beautiful on this one, her popularity in Beastmaster led to her own fantasy flick called Sheena (1984), where she is also practically naked for the whole film, just like on Beastmaster. Here Roberts isn’t just a damsel in distress, she actually pulls off some heroics! Rip Torn tears through his scenes with villainous gusto in a role that was originally intended for Klaus Kinski, I have to admit, I wonder what he could’ve done with the villainous ‘Mayax’, the religious leader hell bent on lying to people with fake prophecies. Which reminds me that thematically speaking, The Beastmaster plays with a lot of the same themes that Conan The Barbarian did. The follies of blindly following a religion, and the power that religious leaders have over the minds of their parishioners.  So at the end of the day, I recommend The Beastmaster because it’s fun, it’s a film with inventiveness and creativity. It’s cheesy and goofy to the max, but that’s probably what you’ll end up loving about it.        

Rating: 3 out of 5


Jay Shatzer said...

Great write-up! Just rewatched this one recently and I still love it. I've been itching to revisit the two Conan films, and even Red Sonja, to get my 80's fantasy on. Loved Tanya in Sheena, which was unexpectedly a great flick.

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you enjoyed the review jay, I will try to see Sheena for my trip back to the eighties thing (happening as we speak) Red Sonja is pretty good, I reviewed it a while back. Arnold calls it his lowest point as an actor, I think it's fun. Im gonna do a review for both Conan films soon, I like them both for different reasons. Come back, I will be reviewing more eighties awesomeness in d coming days, don't miss it!

Jack Thursby said...

I went on a bit of Sword and Sorcery binge last year and bought up a ton of these kind of flicks - Beastmaster, Deathstalker, Barbarian Queen, Sword and the Sorcerer, Warrior and the Sorceress, Hawk the Slayer. Still need to get a copy of Lucio Fulci Conquest though.

Beastmaster was pretty fun but a little sluggish in places (I watched the 2 hour cut). It just didn't need to be that long. Marc Singer was great in the lead though and I loved the concept of him controlling animals. Like Conan meets Doctor Dolittle.

Have you seen the sequel? It's terrible but kind of funny.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I saw the second one. It was about this time traveling sceptor or something like that...I wouldn't mind revisiting it. I remember it not being as cool because it takes place mostly in modern times, which takes away the barbarian setting from the original, but then I had fun with it anyways. I think The Beastmaster actually makes it into a mall on that one? Still, wouldnt mind checkin out again.

I've never bothered with the third one because I started watching it and it looks so so so so cheap that I simply stopped, I couldnt take it. ha haa..

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Tanya Roberts (as the bird was in 1973 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously)

steve prefontaine said...

These kinds of movies were always in desperate need of Ray Harryhausen, any fantasy film from this period that didn`t have him doing the special effects would obviously be lacking, by definition ! ! !.

Franco Macabro said...

I see what you mean steve; Beastmaster had its monsters, but Coscarelli went with practical make up effects for this one, he avoided stop motion for some reason, presumably the budget which was about 10 million bucks, not a whole lot to deal with. For that amount of money, I think he got away with a pretty decent film!

Unknown said...

I get why this feels like a Conan knockoff, but it came out just three months after and had months of pre and post production - just a weird coincedence they came out close together. Sword and the Sorcerer was also only a month after Conan, anitano coincedence.


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