Monday, February 13, 2017

The Beastmaster

The Beastmaster was written and directed by Don Coscarelli, also known for his 1979 horror masterpiece, Phantasm. The Beastmaster -- released in 1982 -- was originally an independent film that MGM picked up for distribution.

The movie opens with the vulturine sorcerer, Maax (Rip Torn) and his Witchwomen looking into their scrying device, watching the pregnant wife (Vanna Bonta) of  King Zed (Rod Loomis) sleeping. The Witchwomen prophesy that Maax will be slain by Zed's first born.

Maax sends one of the Witchwomen with a cow. She casts a spell that binds Zed and his wife motionless in bed while the Witchwoman uses dark magic to extract the baby from the Queen and place it in the cow's stomach. The baby is taken away to a remote location to be ritually branded and killed, but a warrior from another village sees the Witchwoman with her dagger raised above the infant and kills her before she can sacrifice the child.

Flash forward a few years and Zed's son is being taught the sword arts by his adoptive father. A bear comes upon the child and his father, but the boy is able to communicate telepathically with the bear and tell it to leave them alone.

Flash forward yet again about twenty years later and we see the unknown prince as a man. His name is Dar (played by Marc Singer). Shortly thereafter Dar's village is raided by a large marauding horde called the Jun. Dar's people are wiped out, but he is dragged to safety by a village dog and hidden away. When Dar regains consciousness he goes on a mission to seek revenge against the Jun, who conveniently happen to be in cahoots with Maax,the wizard.

On his quest Dar is joined by two ferrets,an eagle, a black tiger, and the beautiful slave girl, Kiri ( Tanya Roberts). We are treated to a good shot of Miss Roberts topless in a bathing scene that left me wondering how the hell this got a PG rating. The director said they managed to get the PG rating because ,despite all of the violence, they never showed any blood on the swords. Never look a gift-horse in the mouth, I say.

 Also joining Dar and Kiri are Seth (John Amos) and Tal (Josh Milrad). Seth is a mighty warrior with a giant Bo Staff who protects Tal, King Zed's young son. The band of allies set out to destroy Maax and free King Zed.

Coscarelli adds a nice weird touch to the movie with some nameless winged men who worship birds and devour their victims by enfolding them in their wings. This would have been right at home in a story from Weird Tales magazine back in the 1930s.

The movie was well received by cable viewers so much that someone on the Tonight Show once joked that HBO stood for, "Hey! Beastmaster's on," due to how frequently the film ran on cable. I missed the cinema release of this one but caught it as soon as the Movie Channel debuted it.

John Milius's Conan the Barbarian was released May of 1982, and The Beastmaster was released in August of the same year. Because of this, critics unfairly branded The Beastmaster a copy of Conan the Barbarian. Both movies are sword-and-sorcery films and the protagonists are both driven by revenge, but aside from the standard elements that make the sword-and-sorcery genre what it is, it is obvious to the viewer that The Beastmaster is not derivative. Coscarelli and co-writer and producer, Paul Pepperman, have both stated that they had not read any of Robert E, Howard's tales prior to making the film and I believe them. Apparently the movie was loosely based on Andre Norton's 1959 science fiction novel, The Beast Master,though her name is not mentioned in the credits. Coscarelli's movie has no science fiction elements as it is pure sword-and-sorcery. The Beastmaster is one of a small handful of sword-and-sorcery films that is worth owning for multiple viewings.

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