Beastmaster, The (1982)
Release Date: August 20th, 1982 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Don Coscarelli Actors: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos, Josh Milrad, Vanna Bonta
hree sexily-figured witches (one of which is Wayne Gretzky’s wife) with withered, wrinkled faces prophesize the death of wizard Maax (Rip Torn, adorned with a large, curved prosthetic nose) at the hands of the unborn child of the Queen (Vanna Bonta). When King Zed (Rod Loomis) learns that Maax plans on sacrificing the offspring, he banishes the evil warlock from the land – but not before a warty witch (again with the body of a Playmate) magically transfers the baby from the queen’s womb into the belly of a cow. In the dead of night, just before the necromancer can destroy the infant, a curious traveler (Ben Hammer) kills her and takes the baby boy with him to raise as his own in a nearby village.
It’s obvious that the child has a gift, seemingly linked to the surrounding wildlife, capable of calming dangerous beasts, seeing through the eyes of birds, and feeling the pain of his canine companion. As he grows into a man, Dar (Marc Singer, doing his best to channel Luke Skywalker) realizes a peaceful existence among the villagers – until Maax and his legion of merciless Jun Horde marauders return and lay waste to the countryside. With his entire adopted family murdered, Dar sets off to the city for vengeance. Along the way, while stumbling into quicksand, he hones his skill for commanding animals, using ferrets to aid in a rescue (and later, to steal undergarments from two bathing beauties). He also recruits the help of a black tiger, a hawk, and skilled warrior Seth (John Amos) and his young companion Tal (Josh Milrad).
The initial premise is coincidentally similar to “Conan the Barbarian” from the same year. The unintentional humor is a touch higher here in “The Beastmaster,” with dialogue that is awkward and delivery that regularly inspires laughs. Instead of a training montage, Dar flails a sword around his head while standing alone at the top of a craggy rock formation – until he can presumably fence with the best of them. And when Dar meets temple slave Kiri (Tanya Roberts), he tries out some hilariously smooth moves that he couldn’t possibly have learned in the village. Later, at the sacrificial pyramid, Maax and Dar have a staring contest that is absurdly hysterical.
The theme music by Lee Holdridge sounds like a combination of several other more successful adventure tunes, the cinematography employs prodding close-ups of bizarrely contorted, disfigured faces, and despite the action-oriented swords-and-sorcery elements, numerous jump scares and disturbing violence (including child sacrifices to flaming pits) make an appearance. Director Don Coscarelli (of “Phantasm” fame) doesn’t miss an opportunity to include fantastical weirdness, including a black tar moat, an eyeball ring, cultish bald assassins, peculiar handshakes, glowing green brain leeches, and as much gratuitous nudity as can be stuffed into a PG-rated movie (which in 1982 is a surprising amount).
There is some fun to be had with the visuals ornamenting the generic adventure plot, featuring diverting fantasy monsters (such as slime people that dissolve all but the bones of their victims) and battle scenes with unique fight choreography (a trick with a shield that has been penetrated by an arrow is cleverly one-of-a-kind). Stunt work, however, lacks proper editing (save for skilled fire sequences), sloppily covering up weak arrangements. Set designs, especially inside the pyramid, are moderately effective, while costumes, makeup, and lighting give the picture a fitting stylization.
A few unforgivable plot holes present themselves, namely when Dar rescues Kiri and four other slaves to depart on a raft, but then only Kiri is shown successfully fleeing (leaving the remaining slaves to disappear into thin air), and when Maax’s intended slaying of Kiri is slowed to the point that Dar can swordfight all the way to the top of a towering altar with plenty of time to stop him. But it’s actually the overambitious scope that slows down the film (evident in a tedious 2-hour runtime). In its attempt to outdo every other fantasy epic to date, culling pieces from everything in the last decade, “The Beastmaster” manages only to be one of the more forgettable of the genre.
– Mike Massie