by Peter Nielsen
Following in the success of Conan the Barbarian, there were a lot of similar movies produced in rapid succession. The Beastmaster was one of them, but unlike many of the others, it was actually very good. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sword & sorcery-movies and boy, did we watch a lot of those. Most of them crap, but since we were very much into the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game at the time, anything remotely connected to this was instantly a must-see.
This adventure starts off with three vile witches telling the high-priest Maax the prophecy of his impending doom. He’s going to die by the hands of king Zed’s unborn child. In the middle of the night, a witch sent by Maax, sneaks into the sleeping chamber of the king and queen bringing a cow with her. The child is to be transferred from the mother’s womb into the cow’s, later to be cut out, branded with the mark of Ar and then sacrificed.
The queen dies in the process and the king can only stare in terror and disbelief since he’s been immobilized by the witch, who then disappears into the night. At the very last minute the child is saved by a passing hunter on his way home. He kills the witch and brings the boy back with him to the village of Emur.
Fast-forward a couple of years and the boy, now in his teens and named Dar, is in the woods training with his father, when one of the villagers is attacked and killed by a large bear and Dar “tells” it to go away. This is the moment where he learns about his ability to communicate with animals, but his father makes him promise never to tell anyone.
Fast-forward another couple of years and Dar is now a young man in the form of Marc Singer (Mike Donovan from the original hit TV-show V). One day the village is attacked and wiped out by the Jun-horde led by Maax, and Dar is the only survivor. He swears revenge and sets out after them.
On his way he befriends an eagle, two thieving ferrets and a black tiger as well as falling for the slave-girl Kiri, played by the lovely Tanya Roberts. She’s been in the TV-series Charlie’s Angels and That 70’s Show and on the big screen in such diverse movies as Sheena and the James Bond movie A View to a Kill.
It’s an amusing little scene where he first has his ferrets steal some of her clothing and then has the tiger scare her, with him coming to save the day, chasing the beast away. He then “struts his stuff” in front of her demanding a kiss as reward for his “heroics”. Let’s just say that she’s only mildly impressed by this. She tells him she’s a slave to the priests of the temple of Ar and that she must go back. He sees the whip-marks on her back and decides to follow and help her.
He arrives in the city of Aruk right in the middle of a large ceremony where Maax is preaching about Ar and how the villagers needs to appease the god with human sacrifices and then , completely devoid of empathy, throws a small child into a pit of fire. This is pretty gruesome stuff and it gets worse as Maax demands yet another child be brought forward. It’s a horrifying scene as the crying child is dragged towards the flames while the begging father is forced to watch. Maax has the villagers subdued under threat from the Jun-horde and rules with an iron-fist.
Dar saves the little girl with the help of his eagle and the malice in the priest’s eyes when he sees Dar is almost touchable. He orders him caught, but when he finds out who Dar really is, he wants him killed immediately. During one such attempt on his life, he meets and befriends a man and a boy who tells him they’re pilgrims on their way to worship at the temple of Ar.
In reality the boy, Tal, is the son of the imprisoned king Zed (remember?) and also the cousin of Kiri. The man, Seth, is one of the king’s men. They are on a mission to save the king before he is executed.
King Zed is saved but not knowing who Dar really is he calls him a freak for talking to animals and sends him away. He then leads his men in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Maax. I say unsuccessful because they fail miserably. The king is once again imprisoned and Kiri, Tal and Seth are to be sacrificed. Guess who’s once again called upon to save the day?
In the fight that ensues, Maax reveals to the king and Dar who they really are and then stabs the king to death. I told you he has no empathy towards anyone! At last the prophecy comes true when Dar finally kills the high priest. By the way, the actor portraying Maax is Rip Torn whom you’ll probably recognize from Men in Black I & II and also Dodgeball.
After the demise of the priest they rejoice and think all is well, but alas, on the horizon they can see the horde approaching…
This truly is a tale of high adventure with mighty heroes, scantily clad damsels, evil sorcerers and also a whole lot of humor thrown in. But it’s not just a lot of action, the movie takes time to establish and develop the characters and it also slows down to show us the beautiful scenery with some fantastic aerial shots. This only helps in making the movie even greater.
There are so many movies in this genre that only rely on blood and guts, but this is a surprisingly bloodless one despite all the action and sword fights.
The Beastmaster, directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep), didn’t do very well initially, but over the years it has gained a large cult following. It’s one of those movies that I come back to from time to time and must confess to actually watching it twice this past week… and it has nothing at all to do with Tanya Roberts or the fact that she doesn’t really wear all that much through it.
Well… maybe that’s part of it, but not the main reason. It’s mainly because it’s a damn good story and it has Tanya Rob… uhm… I’d better stop now!
Until next time my friends…