The Beastmaster (1982) (118 min)
Directed by Don Coscarelli.
Written by Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman.
Starring Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts and Rip Torn.
Followed by Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)
Don Coscarelli will always be famous with horror fans for his Phantasm series, but for me personally there’s two films that truly define him as a director. The wonderfully underrated 2002 horror/comedy Bubba Ho-Tep and the 1982 action/fantasy tale The Beastmaster.
The 1980’s was the golden-age for sword & sorcery movies. There’s never been another era that this genre has flourished so much. It’s always boggled me that during a time when SFX wasn’t the best and no real A-List actor would be seen dead running around a forest semi-naked wielding a oversized plastic sword, that so many of these films were released. Not that I’m complaining as this is a film genre I absolutely adore. I honestly believe if you tried re-creating this type of movie nowadays, you may nail the visual effects, but fail in every other department. The beauty of these movies were the dodgy effects, the atrocious acting and the obscure storylines. The other amazing aspects of these films were they took themselves extremely seriously.
Beginning in 1980 with Hawk the Slayer, there was a seven year spell that the fantasy movie was relentless. Yep there’s loads released after 1987, but I don’t believe they had the same emotion or atmosphere. During this time, apart from the most famous films such as Clash of the Titans, Conan the Barbarian & Excalibur, we got Dragonslayer, The Sword & the Sorcerer, Krull, The Devils Sword, Ladyhawke and the first two entries in the Deathstalker series. All classically terrible in their own right, but none match up to Coscarelli’s The Beastmaster.
The plot revolves around Dar (Marc Singer). Stolen from his mothers womb by a grotesque-faced witch, but with the body of a hot chic and transferred into an Ox’s womb, only to be freed by a kind old man (Ben Hammer) who kills the witch and saves Dar. He raises him as his own son and trains him to become a warrior, oh and a farmer. Dar also grows up with a unique set of abilities, in that he can telepathically communicate with animals. Now this ain’t Dr. Doolittle in a loincloth, this is some serious fantasy shit. Dar grows up in his idillic-medieval village with his father, keeping his animal gift a secret. Unfortunately all shit soon hits the fan as Dar’s village is destroyed by an evil horde via the orders of bad-guy sorcerer Maax (Rip Torn). Not only that, but Dar’s father is killed in the process. This prompts Dar to shed his clothes, strap on his sword, basically resembling He-Man and sets out on his adventure of revenge……YES!
Now Dar isn’t going to do this alone, this is were his unique abilities come into play. He soon befriends a hawk and two ferrets that go by the names Kodo & Frodo. This comedy duo bring some humorous light to an otherwise very dark movie. His most impressive beast comes in the shape of his black tiger. On screen the tiger looks amazing next to Dar. It looks like a Boris Vallejo painting come to life, but since hearing the actual tiger died only two years after the release of the movie of a skin disease from the black dye the filmmakers used has certainly upset my future viewings. Why on gods earth didn’t they just keep it it’s natural colour? Assholes.
Anyways, what we get next never upsets my future viewings as it comes in the form of Tanya Roberts. Playing the damsel in distress Kiri, and Dar’s love interest, Roberts apparently wasn’t first choice for the role? That would be Demi Moore. Coscarelli had a very strained relationship with his executive producer who overruled him with the casting of Roberts and even though I love Coscarelli, I’m so happy he didn’t get his own way. Roberts is absolutely stunning here with her piercing blue eyes captivating the screen, which papers over the fact she looks like she’s come straight off a Whitesnake video shoot. Roberts is strictly eye-candy. She later went on to have success in A View to a Kill and Sheena, but unfortunately it wasn’t her acting ability that is memorable in The Beastmaster, talk about stereotyping.
We now enter a scene that’s one of my favourites in all of cheesy cinema history. It’s crow-barred untimely into the movie, but is so well done it’s totally forgiven. It involves Dar coming across a giant tree were there’s a guy locked in a hanging cage. Dar cuts him free only for the escaping guy to be accosted by a mutant bird-like creature who smothers him in its giant wings and spat out. Worrying still there’s multiple giant mutant birds also. The scene ends with the creature giving Dar a medallion as they realise his connection to his hawk. The scene borders on horror with the creatures practical FX and prosthetics extremely impressive. Everything about this scene embodies fantasy and just for a few minutes lightening is caught.
As Dar tracks Maax to his temple he runs into pilgrim Seth, played by the fabulous (John Amos) and the two become buddies and team up in their attempt to defeat Maax and his evil horde.
I don’t want to spoil anything about the ending for those who haven’t had the luxury to viewing this little gem, but I can say there’s a battle scene involving the horde which involves fire that’s choreographed just so awesomely. Even the bird-creatures turn up again.
Performance-wise Marc Singer, Rip Torn & John Amos are all terrific. Singer looks the action hero and even though he was amazing in the TV series V, he didn’t go on to to have the career he probably should have.
The Beastmaster is a piece of trash cinema that is often forgotten for how amazing it is. It’s crappy sequels and Xena inspired TV series shouldn’t dilute what a wonderful action adventure it is. It epitomises what sword & sorcery films should be. It’s shambolic storyline and ropey acting only adds to its charm. To say they don’t make them like this anymore is an understatement.