Friday, September 26, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Hey, Beastmaster's On!

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody takes a three film trek through a land created by Don Coscarelli.


In the mid-'70s, filmmaker Don Coscarelli had made a couple of low budget childhood slice-of-life dramas; Jim, the Worlds Greatest and Kenny & Company; but it was his third film, the 1979 horror movie Phantasm, that caused the entertainment world to really take notice of him. After that, he decided it was time to take a step up into the world of modestly budgeted mainstream fantasy/adventure movies, and with his friend Paul Pepperman, who had been a producer on Phantasm and Kenny & Company in addition to doing various crew jobs on all three of Coscarelli's movies, crafted a screenplay that paid homage to the sword/sandals/sorcery, Ray Harryhausen, Steve Reeves/Hercules movies they had enjoyed in their youths.

With a substantially larger budget at hand than he had ever had available to him before, Coscarelli embarked on the making of The Beastmaster.

The Beastmaster is set in a Bronze Age-esque world of magic, gods, and monsters, and begins with an evil cult leader named Maax planning to sacrifice the unborn child of the land's King Zed to his god Ar. Maax's hideous witch advisers have seen a vision of the future, a vision of Maax dying at the hands of Zed's son, so Maax plans to remove this threat and alter his fate.

Maax doesn't get a chance to. Word of the impending child sacrifice has reached Zed, and the King has the cult leader arrested... But not his witches. One of the witches later manages to sneak into the King's bedroom and uses some strange magic to steal the baby from the Queen's womb as she sleeps, taking it off into the countryside to carry out the sacrifice.

The evil plan is again thwarted when a man comes across the scene and saves the baby from the clutches of the witches. He takes the boy back to his village, Emur, and raises him as his own son, naming him Dar.

When Dar is around twelve, it is revealed that he has the special ability to communicate with animals telepathically, a revelation that comes when he calms a wild, rampaging bear. His surrogate father advises him to keep this ability a secret. Dar does so, and grows up to be a well-adjusted, physically fit young man, a happy member of his village community.

Then his life is torn apart when a horde of marauders called the Jun invade Emur and slaughter every man, woman, child, and animal they come across. Dar is the only survivor, and in the midst of the attack he saw the man who leads the Jun... In the years since the opening sequence, Maax has gone from being a low-level cult leader to now running his own bloodthirsty army.

Arming himself with his father's sword and kapa (a bladed boomerang), Dar follows the Jun out through the desert landscape toward their base of operations in the city of Arak, seeking revenge. As he travels through the dangerous terrain, he gathers an animal support team, each animal bringing a specific advantage. There is Sharak the eagle, who will be his eyes, giving Dar a literal bird's eye view of situations. Mischievous ferrets Kodo and Podo bring cunning. Black tiger Ruh is the embodiment of strength. Sharak also comes in handy getting Dar out of an encounter with a race of eagle god-worshipping bird/man creatures who feast on humans, devouring them down to the skeleton with the aid of their acidic saliva.

Reaching Arak, Dar finds that Maax is in control of the city, keeping King Zed imprisoned inside the sacrificial pyramid of Ar, where Maax continues his child-sacrificing ways, regularly tossing living, screaming little kids into a fire pit as the townspeople look on in horror. Maax recognizes Dar as the son of Zed and orders his followers to stop this "master of beasts" before he can get too close to him.

Meanwhile, an objective is added to Dar's mission when he meets Kiri, a slave girl to the high priests of Ar. Dar makes a move on Kiri immediately upon meeting her and his approach to wooing is at first questionable, but he quickly seems to develop feelings for her and becomes determined to save her from her "owners". He soon finds out that Kiri is Zed's niece, and he's joined on his quest to rescue her by the King's bodyguard Seth and young son Tal, who have spent the last three years trying unsuccessfully to raise an army to fight back against Maax and the Juns with.

Dar leads his ragtag band of companions on a raid of the Ar pyramid, evades savage guards created through a process that involves draining their blood and "lobotomizing" them with a mysterious green liquid and glowing leeches, and successfully pulls off a rescue of the King... Not long after, he has to ride in to save the day all over again when the stubborn King, who rejects Dar as a "freak who talks to animals", gets himself recaptured and Kiri, Seth, and Tal with him.

Overcoming obstacles, subplots, and maybe a twist, turn, and sequence or two too many, Dar eventually fights Maax one-on-one in the confrontation we knew was coming and wanted to see.

Running 118 minutes, The Beastmaster has storytelling and pacing issues. The Maax battle isn't even the climax, there's still 20 minutes of movie left after his demise because the heroes have to deal with the Jun horde. Come on, tell the story in the correct order! The death of Maax is supposed to come at the end.

Don Coscarelli is not happy with how the film turned out, feeling that he had to make so many concessions to the investors that the final product doesn't live up to what he wanted it to be. I think he did an awesome job directing it, though, proving that he could handle a larger scale production that is packed with action.

With my tastes leaning toward the horror genre, my favorite parts of the film are of course those that deal with strange creatures and mystical forces. The birdmen, the wall-crawling witches, the eyeball ring Maax uses to spy on his enemies, the mindless, fearless, murderous guards. Coscarelli really shines when he's dealing with the weird.

Marc Singer is a likeable hero in the role of Dar, but some of the casting choices aren't exactly perfect. Like Rip Torn as Maax. Torn was not Coscarelli's choice, he was thinking Klaus Kinski, which makes a lot more sense for the character. Torn pulls it off, but really... Rip Torn as the villain in a world of magic? Not something you'd expect to see. Tanya Roberts plays the love interest Kiri, and if you're looking for anything more than eye candy, Roberts doesn't really fit the bill. But maybe that's just my bitterness over A View to a Kill, where she made for one of the worst Bond girls ever. Roberts does provide the eye candy, she is one of at least three females who bares her breasts in this movie, which is rated PG. 1982 was a different time. I'm sure many of the young males who caught The Beastmaster during its innumerable showings on HBO appreciated that.

The Phantasm series is Coscarelli's greatest accomplishment, but The Beastmaster is undoubtedly his most famous film, mainly due to the fact that it was shown so often on basic and premium cable that it became a joke, with viewers saying HBO stood for "Hey, Beastmaster's On!" and TBS for "The Beastmaster Station".

Because of these repeated cable airings, I saw The Beastmaster a whole lot of times as I was growing up in the late '80s and early '90s. Along with Conan the Barbarian, which was released just a couple months earlier, The Beastmaster was one of the movies that paved the way for a sword and sandal resurgence in the '80s, and I loved these type of movies, renting every one I came across in video stores and also being a huge fan of the He-Man cartoon, which was also sort of along similar lines. I greatly enjoyed The Beastmaster as a child. The style was right up my alley at the time, and as an animal lover I found the aspect of Dar's ability to communicate with animals an endearing added quality. I've never owned a ferret, but this movie made me wish I did.

While The Beastmaster has its problems, as far as these types of movies are concerned, I still count it as one of the best. It'd be even better if it had been cut down a bit and/or reassembled in the scripting stage, but it's a fine bit of entertainment just the way it is.


Coming nine years after its predecessor, which had been directed and co-written by Phantasm franchise mastermind Don Coscarelli, Beastmaster 2, which has an inaccurate subtitle (it features travel between parallel dimensions, not time travel), is the work of veteran producer Sylvio Tabet, who made the film both his directorial debut and swan song.

Beastmaster 2 is also the only movie on which Tabet has a writing credit, as he assembled the screenplay with a committee of four other writers that included a couple first timers and prolific B-movie filmmaker Jim Wynorski, along with his frequent collaborator R.J. Robertson. Wynorski and Robertson also provided the basic story that everyone was working from.

The film picks up in the aftermath of the 1982 original. During the climax of that film, the king of Arok was murdered by evil cult leader Maax, and even though Dar the Beastmaster helped the people of Arok defeat the Jun marauders that served under Maax, it is said that the land was plunged into darkness afterward anyway as a warlord named Arklon rose to power, using unholy magic to enslave the people.

Dar is now leader of the rebellion that is fighting back against the forces of Arklon, but when the sequel begins he has been captured and brought before Arklon's court for judgment. Found guilty, Dar is sentenced to death, condemned to eternal damnation, but thanks to the intervention of his animal pals, Dar escapes execution, fends off multiple attackers, and escapes into the night.

As Dar makes his way across this land of magic, gods, and monsters, he passes through a bog, where he encounters a strange creature that claims it was once the sister of Zed, the fallen king. She practiced forbidden rituals, which caused her to evolve into the monster she is now. Dar was the son of Zed, stolen from his mother's womb to be sacrificed by Maax. The sacrifice was interrupted and Dar was raised by a lowly villager, unaware of his royal blood until seconds before Zed was murdered. His bog-dwelling aunt adds a completely unnecessary aspect to the plot when she reveals that Dar wasn't the only child who was stolen from Zed, his firstborn son was stolen as well, raised by Jun priests. That son has grown up to be Arklon, whose quest for power is an apocalyptic threat. If Dar doesn't destroy his older brother before the autumn equinox, all life in their land will somehow cease to exist.

Wynorski's exploitation sensibilities and appreciation for the female form really show through in the character of a witch named Lyranna. The witches that served Maax in the previous movie were hideous, but Lyranna is attractive and scantily clad, quick to drop sexual entendres, jokes about her cleavage, and just bad quips in general.

Arklon and Lyranna pair up when the witch reveals to him that she knows of a magical portal out in the desert, through which she has been observing a dimension that exists on a parallel plane. The dimension she has been spying on? Our own. The portal gives a view of Los Angeles in then-present day 1991. Lyranna has been checking out '91 L.A. so much that she has even picked up some of lingo, saying things like telling Arklon to "Chill out, Lord Dude."

The source of Arklon's power is the Key of Magog, a weapon he wields that blasts out green energy rays. The Key is not limitless, however. There are weapons in the other dimension so powerful that Arklon could rule over Arok unopposed, with Lyranna at his side. She tells him of a device called a neutron detonator (capable of destroying all life within a thousand mile radius), suggesting they enter the other dimension, raid a military base, steal the neutron bomb, and bring it back to their world to threaten the rebellion with.
Arklon can only pass through the portal through the combined magic of Lyranna and the Key of Magog, but almost as soon as they open the portal, someone from Los Angeles comes rushing through.

Wild, rich party girl/Senator's daughter Jackie Trent is just having a good time leading cops on a high speed chase when she turns down an alley and crashes into the back wall... Or, that's what would have happened if that wall wasn't the location of the dimensional portal. Instead, Jackie finds herself driving into this strange other world.

Seeing how unpleasant Arklon and his soldiers are, Jackie continues driving off into the desert, going until her convertible Porsche breaks down. That's when Dar arrives to come to her aid.

Through Dar's interaction with Jackie, exposition is delivered for any viewer who might be watching the sequel without having seen the original first. His ability to communicate with animals is covered, he introduces her to his eagle Sharak, his ferrets Kodo and Podo (never mind that one of them died performing a heroic act at the end of the first movie), and his tiger Ruh. Ruh was a black tiger in part 1, but here he's just a regular tiger. If internet trivia is true, the paint used to turn the original Ruh into a black cat had a devastating effect on the animal's health, so that may be the reason why there was no tiger painting done this time around.

Soon enough, Dar and Jackie's bonding is interrupted by Arklon's men, who take the girl back to their leader. Intending to make Jackie lead them to a neutron bomb, Arklon and Lyranna open the portal and step through into Los Angeles with the native girl in tow. Pursuing the goal of thwarting his brother, Dar jumps through the portal after them, accompanied by his animals.

A lot of "fish out of water" comedic beats follow, as a baffled Dar must endure this strange world he finds himself in. Cars, music, profanity, zoos, the LAPD, Dar learns about it all while searching for Arklon and Lyranna. In a mind-bending moment, he even spots the title "Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time" on a theatre marquee.

Using his psychic powers, Lyranna's ingenuity, and straightforward brutish techniques, Arklon does get his hands on a neutron bomb that scientists are preparing for a test detonation. The timer on the bomb has already been set off, but Arklon takes it anyway, not fully realizing the danger of toting it around. Dar finally catches up with him moments before he can go back through the portal... and with time ticking down, the climactic battle for possession of the weapon of mass destruction comes down to a swordfight between brothers.

Revisiting it now, I find that Beastmaster 2 has not aged all that well. I have to assume that the primary reason for setting more than half of the sequel in modern day Los Angeles was a budgetary one, much like the live action cinematic adaptation of the He-Man cartoon, Masters of the Universe, transported its characters to Earth rather than keeping them in their own world of Eternia. Shooting around L.A. is cheaper than building Arok.

This movie was clearly quite low budget, and while Coscarelli's Beastmaster was a solid attempt at making a mainstream sword and sorcery adventure, part 2 isn't aiming any higher than being a ridiculous B-movie. It is incredibly silly and cheeseball, and you'll have to be an established fan of this particular sort of movie to really appreciate it.

However, when I was seven or eight years old and Beastmaster 2 was first hitting VHS and cable, I was the perfect audience for its childish sensibilities. I had seen and enjoyed the first movie previously, and I thought this sequel was awesome and a whole lot of fun.

The cast seem to have had fun making the movie. Wings Hauser chews up the scenery as Arklon, Sarah Douglas seems to know Lyranna's lines are going to be getting groans from viewers, and Kari Wuhrer is quite lively as Jackie. Marc Singer returned to the role of Dar, and it's kind of unfortunate that the film and its setting make Dar look rather dimwitted.

Beastmaster 2 is decent for B-movie entertainment, but it does appeal to me a great deal less at thirty than it did at eight.


Although I had been a fan of the previous two films in the Beastmaster series, I didn't give the third installment a fair shake when it hit VHS in 1996. In my teens, pickier about the look of movies, I was put off by the low budget television appearance of Beastmaster III's cinematography. Produced by Sylvio Tabet, producer/director/co-writer of Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, The Eye of Braxus was directed by veteran TV show director Gabrielle Beaumont, who for more than twenty years had been working on shows like The Waltons, M*A*S*H, Knots Landing, Dynasty, The Dukes of Hazzard, Hart to Hart, Star Trek: The Next Generation, etc., so it makes sense that the film looks like a desert-shot episode of your average TV show of the era, but that aesthetic wasn't what I was looking for. I rented Beastmaster III as soon as it was available on video store shelves, and yet was never able to watch the whole movie.

Revisiting it nearly twenty years later and actually sitting through its entire running time, I found that it was actually a much better sequel than I had given it credit for.

The screenplay for Beastmaster III was written by David Wise, who himself had a success television career, working almost exclusively on cartoons, writing episodes of the Star Trek animated series, the late '70s Godzilla cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Transformers, and many episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among others. The plot Wise came up with ties back the first movie, catching up with the character of Tal, who had been a child in the 1982 film, as he sits on the throne as king of Arok, replacing former king Zed, father of Tal and of Dar the Beastmaster, who was murdered in the final scenes of the franchise starter.

Dar lives as a nomad, wandering the wilderness of their land with his faithful animal sidekicks Sharak the eagle, ferrets Kodo and Podo, and Ruh, who over the course of the three films inexplicably goes from being a black tiger to a normal to here being a lion.

Rescuing a traveling family from bandits, Dar learns that the family was driven out of their land after it was conquered by sorcerer Lord Agon and his personal army, the Crimson Warriors. They've come to Arok to seek the assistance of Tal in fighting back against this tyrant.

Unbeknownst to the public, Lord Agon is aging and weak. To retain a more youthful appearance, he has to regularly sacrifice young men, placing them between two statues that emit some kind of energy beam that reduces the men into a glowing essence that Agon absorbs. This rejuvenates him, but the effect doesn't last long. To truly gain the power he seeks, Agon plans to open the tomb of his god Braxus and unleash his evil upon the world. To open the tomb, Agon requires an object called the Eye of Braxus, for which his warriors are scouring the land, and which legend tells that Tal has knowledge of.

Before his death, Zed indeed did pass along the Eye of Braxus to his young son. He didn't tell Tal what the object was, but Tal wears it as a necklace. The object comes in two pieces, and Tal gives half of it to Dar for safe keeping.

Soon after learning of Lord Agon's activities, Tal is captured by the Crimson Warriors and taken back to the sorcerer, imprisoned in his base. Aided by Tal's bodyguard Seth (also a character from the first movie) Dar sets out on a rescue mission, not realizing that by taking his half of the Eye of Braxus with him to Agon's that he could be giving the tyrant exactly what he wants.

While the campy Beastmaster 2 had largely ignored the potential of the world in which these movies are set, instead just having fun dropping Dar into 1991 Los Angeles, part 3 delves further into this land of magic, gods, and monsters, having Dar traverse more of the landscape and have encounters with its inhabitants - bandits, mercenaries, a mountain tribe, even carnival folk.

Dar and Seth both find potential love interests along the way. Dar with a treachous female mercenary named Shada, who gets intimate with him as part of her mission to obtain the Eye of Braxus, and Seth with a sorceress/carnival fortune teller named Morgana, with him he has a troubled history that they are quickly able to put behind them so she can help in the battle against Agon.

It all builds up to an altercation with the dinosaur-looking, acid-spitting god Braxus himself, an awesome turn of events.

Marc Singer reprised the role of Dar again for this entry, likely for the last time given how long it's been, rounding out the trilogy. John Amos, who played Seth the first time around, did not return and was replaced by genre icon Tony Todd. Amos or Todd, you're winning either way. Casper Van Dien donned a rather horrible wig (or just had silly looking hair, I'm no expert on these things) to fill the role of King Tal. The legendary David Warner portrays the villain of the peace, and you can always count on him to bring some gravitas. Sandra Hess and "special guest star" (so television!) Lesley-Anne Down do well in the roles of Shada and Morgana respectively.

Of everyone involved with the production, the name that sticks out to me the most is Scott Phillips, who worked in the special effects department. This Scott Phillips is the same man who would go on to write and direct the fantastic independent zombie movie The Stink of Flesh.

Beastmaster III is far from being a great movie, but none of the Beastmasters are great exactly. What they are is some very fun sword and sorcery entertainment. As a fan of parts 1 and 2, I should have had more appreciation for 3 in 1996 instead of giving up on it within minutes due to its production quality... I watch much worse and a whole lot cheaper, so I can't really explain why the television look was so repellent to me.

After The Eye of Braxus, Beastmaster went even further into TV territory, as Sylvio Tabet went on to produce a Canadian television series based on the property. Starring Australian actor Daniel Goddard as Dar, the TV series ran for three seasons, from 1999 to 2002, and ultimately consisted of sixty-six episodes, of which I have seen zero.

No comments:

Post a Comment