The Beastmaster

The Beastmaster ★★★★

Craving something cozy, I finally removed my Vinegar Syndrome disc from its opulent package and gave it a proper spin, along with Elijah Drenner's making-of documentary. Although I can attest to seeing The Beastmaster listed in the cable guide throughout my childhood, it remained a movie I only knew by reputation until I was older and caught it edited for TV broadcast. This means I first experienced it in a kid-friendly version at a time I was moving beyond kiddie stuff. While I enjoyed it because it starred the guy from V and I liked anything that reminded me of He-Man, it didn't become an instant favorite. That never squared with the movie's popularity to me, so when I rented the theatrical cut years later, by then a full-fledged Phantasm fan, I was relieved to understand the worthy reputation of Don Coscarelli's sole swords n' sorcery epic.

I'll admit the telepathic bond between Marc Singer's cow-birthed, leather-booted hero Dar and his anipals felt a little corny when I first saw this, but it's actually effective sweetener for a violent, horror-doused fantasy flick. No other early '80s outing of its type offers mass slaughter, child sacrifice, religious fanatic suicides, berserker slaves clad in spiked fetish gear, a vexatious trio of topless witches with rubber monster faces AND a cave full of mouthless vampire beasties who dissolve their prey within veiny bat wing arms. Dar's dark path to avenging his adoptive parents' murders is lightened by an acquired family of companions, including an animal entourage (adorable ferrets, an eagle that reportedly hated Singer, a tiger dyed black), multigenerational bo staff duo John Amos and Joshua Milrad and lust object Tanya Roberts, playing along as a temple nymph with whom the hero gets much too assertive right away. These living action figures add nice flavor to a textbook quest story loaded with energetic skirmishes (the fancy boomerang!) and supernatural touches (the enchanted eyeball ring!), as they try to end the rule of maniacal deathcult priest Rip Torn, the actor having demanded to wear a goofy wax nose to aid a performance he announced he'd modeled after a turkey vulture(!).

The majority of The Beastmaster's boys' adventure trappings and myriad terrors are incredibly successful, considering the scale at which the movie was mounted versus the time and resources afforded Coscarelli and crew. Although Drenner's feature-length doc makes it clear the young director endured a terribly stressful time on the set, it doesn't show much in the final product, which I'd rank today among its era's most creative and satisfying bacchanals of bare chests and big blades, especially after this remarkable restoration job. The only letdown I felt upon this revisit came from the Jun Leader, the ostensible head villain who looks so cool, he should have gotten more personality and screen time, or at least some interaction with chattier evildoer Torn. If anyone out there's watched the other version VS included (with "updated visual effects"), please give me the scoop... does it look as bad as I assume?

Block or Report

Scrambled liked these reviews