Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I.

He doesn’t wear a trenchcoat or a fedora, but he’s a P.I. just the same. Garrett, the star of 13 novels by fantasy author Glen Cook, is one of my favorite series characters. Garret is an ex-Marine and street tough who runs an investigative business in the city of TunFaire, a fantastic hardboiled town loosely based on St. Louis. It’s got elves, dwarves, grolls – giant-troll hybrids – wizards and undead, and it’s all tied up in a Chandleresque worldview that meets Nero Wolfe’s structure. See, Garrett works for the Dead Man, a long-dead lich-like creature who can read and manipulate minds, when he’s interested. Often the mysteries tie up with an “I bet you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here,” moment, but other times it’s a bloody battle with backstreet thugs, rampaging gods, and evil sorcerers.

Cook keeps you on your toes. I’ve enjoyed all the novels, though I felt Angry Lead Skies was a rather strange departure that dipped deep into fan service. I’d highly recommend beginning at the beginning, because he builds a rich world reminiscent of post-Vietnam America in many ways. I’d bet green money that Mr. Cook is a big fan of James Crumley, with how Garrett sits around drinking with his war buddies and wonders what the hell they did with their lives. The favorites of mine that stick out are Red Iron Nights, a supernatural serial killer tale; Faded Steel Heat, which ties up TunFaire’s underworld in a brutal tale reminiscent of Paul Cain; and Petty Pewter Gods, which brings a lost pantheon of bizarre deities gunning for new believers.

If you’ve read Glen Cook’s excellent, gritty fantasy series The Black Company, you know is talented at building a believable world. He has a lot more leeway here with his humor, but still writes solid crime fiction with a strong emotional foundation. The evil that men do leaves ugly scars, and he does not shy from it, or make light of it. The novels have enough lightheartedness to appeal to P.G. Wodehouse fans, but dip deep into the grit to keep the hardboiled half of me happy. They’re somewhat unique, and will appeal to both fantasy and crime fiction fans.

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© 2012 Thomas Pluck

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Conan: The Musical

Thanks to my friend, my dungeon master, Peter V. Dell’Orto for sharing this link. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

Movies with Milky: Centurion

Is CG blood cheaper or easier? I just want to know why it’s so prevalent these days. Everything from Rob Zombie putting a CG Bowie knife in someone’s chest in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS to the virtual buckets of CG blood in Neil Marshall’s latest, CENTURION. It looks so fake. Are squibs too dangerous? I’m guessing it makes filming a lot easier, as the Pict just falls down and then we can add the gore later, so if they flub it, no re-shoot required. However, I’ll forgive this latest film by the guy who gave us DOOMSDAY (full review) THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS because he makes films that are just so much damn fun that I can overlook their flaws. This one has the usual- some off pacing with an overlong second act, and a few meandering subplots that could have used a rewrite- but they are easily forgiven with the tons of bloody action we get. Marshall knows how to engage the audience and he does a great job here.

My kingdom for a tongue!

CENTURION tells the story of the Roman Ninth Legion (wikipedia link) which was glossed over in the history books, due to the Romans’ brutal defeat by an uprising of the Picts. I liked this bloody version better than the fun sword & sandal version THE LAST LEGION (full review) that came out a few years back. Michael Fassbender (the British spy who can’t count to 3 in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) plays Centurion Quintus Dias, the lone survivor of the most remote garrison north of Londinium in the overstretched Roman Empire. The story begins after we meet him, and soon a guard has a spear thrust into his crotch and the place is overrun by marauding Picts, in a spectacular and bloody battle that doesn’t rely on silly movie cliches. Don’t get attached to anyone, because in a swordfight, people get hurt…

The problem with rabble is there’s so many of them!

Quintus escapes, and flees south to get the rest of the legion ready for this onslaught, but the Picts are very well prepared with ambushes. The leader has a “tame Pict” tracker played by Olga Kurylenko – Camille from QUANTUM OF SOLACE- who unfortunately had her tongue cut out by Roman soldiers as a child. Unfortunate because this gives us a mute female lead, but I guess her accent might have been odd, given that everyone has a British one. Anyway, she’s the female badass in this Marshall flick, and I like his better than Joss Whedon’s, because they actually look like they can kick your ass instead of being anime characters from a fanboy’s wet dream. She’s got the Rhona Mitra role this time, except she can’t say any snappy one-liners.

Run, Fassbender, run!!

The story bogs down a bit with betrayals and aborted rescues, but the battles are a blast, and it’s a fitting tale to explain the loss of the Ninth Legion. It’s a lot like OUTLANDER (full review) without aliens, and I’m glad more films like this are being made. If CG blood allows us to have more bloody sword & sandal flicks, then so be it! This one is definitely worth a rental, and I’ll be adding the Blu-Ray to my collection when it is released. Milky loved it as well, and recommended it. I haven’t seen this many heads get lopped off since the French Revolution (yes, I was there) and the battles will make you fondly remember BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR. Fave kill? Someone gets chopped in the mouth and the whole top of their head gets removed.

Rating:
3.5 severed tongues out of 5

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Harry Potter and the Half-Finished Movie

Let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of the novels. I’ll admit I read the first book on a girl’s recommendation, but I never liked it much; it always felt like schoolkid lit meets P.G. Wodehouse meets vague slapdash fantasy. I’m sure the books have improved with length, as another friend is a fangirl who goes on and on about how great Snape is and how dark the story has gotten. Sadly, the movies mostly feel like Cliff’s Notes to me.
Among film fans the entry directed by Alfonso Cuaron- The Prisoner of Azkaban– is usually regarded as the best. Chris Columbus did a decent job with the early ones. The films have their own look and feel, but there’s just something missing in these later ones. I’m actually glad that the plot involving Voldemort is actually moving, but you don’t even see him in this one. The wizard fight at the end of Order of the Phoenix was fun to watch, and there’s something nearly as good here but it’s badly realized and all too short. It involves seeking a relic that might destroy the ol’ Dark Lord, and Harry and Dumbledore end up in a lake full of scrawny zombies in a crystal cavern. That was somewhat compelling.

I also like how Daniel Radcliffe is making Harry his own. He’s cheekier. After all, the actor’s played the lead in Equus and run around with his wand exposed, the character has come of age and even gets to smooch in this one, he ought to have a bit of the high school rebel in him. But only barely. The story seems to linger way too long on a Quidditch match, which hasn’t been exciting since it was first introduced, and high school romance between Ron, Hermione and respective beaus. Some of this is amusing; in potion class the British actor cum professor du jour is Jim Broadbent, as Slughorn, who shows off a love potion. Wonder if that’ll show up later?

The characters work well but the story is a mess, especially for those of us who haven’t slogged through the tomes. Seems like Draco Malfoy is in league with ol’ No-Nose and his minions like the annoying as hell Helena Bonham Carter, whose characterization of Bellatrix makes me want to make pies out of my own kidneys. Michael Gambon and Alan Rickman once again hold things together, with Maggie Smith barely getting screen time but excellent when she does. We get flashbacks to Li’l Voldy, aka Tom Riddle, played by Ralph Fiennes’ nephew; the kid’s got talent and we’ll be seeing him again I’m sure. But we learn very little. He seems like a bad seed, about as obvious to become history’s greatest monster as Anakin in Attack of the Clones.
We also see a trio of flying black smokes from “Lost” who like to fuck shit up. I think they’re senior Death Eaters. They destroy the Millenium bridge, but as usual the muggle world is completely ignored, which was cute in the beginning, but makes you wonder if Hogwarts has neuralyzer spells to make people forget that three black smoke clouds just murdered hundreds of people. The film’s only interested in it for the special effects. I don’t think anyone even mentions it later. “Hmm, notice that the Death Eaters are waging war on the muggles? Maybe we ought to do sumfin’. Nah, let’s have some Butter Beer.”

I’ve heard wondrous things about the character of Severus Snape from fans, and I love me some Alan Rickman, so I was glad that he gets to do more than appear in drag as a gag in this one. He’s always been the most interesting character, and he consistently gets shafted. Here he’s implemental in the series’ biggest surprise, which director David Yates handles as clumsily as I can imagine. I mean, this is big, I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s face it. In The Empire Strikes Back, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times, the “I am your father” line is obviously important. The equivalent of Snape telling Harry that he boned his mom is given here, but it doesn’t feel like much. I knew what was coming, and it just fell flat. There was a huge tragedy and everyone seems sort of sad, but nothing like you’d expect.
I can’t say I have much hope for the rest of the series, which Yates is dubbed to direct. I kept getting hints of a great story, but the scripts lately seem cobbled together by committee. Perhaps the PG-13 rating of the previous movie hurt sales and they went for this bland high school romance. Thankfully the kids have grown up into their characters and are enjoyable company on-screen as they banter and bicker. That’s the only reason this movie gets an above average rating from me. I saw it for free at a drive-in at the end of a Mini Cooper rally, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. No wonder they’re splitting the final book into two movies- if Voldemort doesn’t even show up in this one, they’ve got a lot of fighting to do if this series is going to be over any time soon.

Rating: 3 out of 5 annoying Anglophiles

80’s Trash of the Week: Dragonslayer

For how awesome dragons are, there aren’t that many good movies with them. One of the few is 1982’s Dragonslayer, which resists being a pure action or fantasy film and injects plenty of social and religious commentary, manages some excellent special effects for its time, a dragon design that has no dinosaur influence, and an interesting take on magic. It has a slow start, but is very rewarding, as its tale references the draft and the entitlement of those in power, and also gives us one of the meanest and bloodiest dragons in movie history. Until we get to see Smaug rendered by Jackson and del Toro, I think this is the best we’ve got.
In Peter MacNicol’s first role, he plays Galen, a young acolyte to the aged and powerful wizard Ulrich, played by Ralph Richardson. The people have come beseeching him for aid in stopping the dragon that lives in the mountains. The king, Casiodorus Rex, has put in force a lottery in which all unmarried girls take part, even his own daughter. Those chosen are sacrificed to the dragon, left chained before its lair, and this keeps it from ravaging the countryside. It’s a bargain with the devil, and the people have had enough; they want Ulrich to kill it.
They are led by the young Valerian, still boyish of face but brave and charismatic. He brings a dragon scale to show Ulrich, who gives us the whole backstory in a mere sentence: If it weren’t for sorcerers, there wouldn’t be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them. Magnificent horned backs, leathern wings… soaring… and their hot-breathed wind. Oh, I know this creature of yours… Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit… crippled… pitiful. Spiteful! Ulrich seems also to be one of the last of his kind, old and nearly forgotten- but still feels responsible for the dragons his sorcerous kind unleashed on the world with their magic. As they implore him, the king’s chief thug Tyrian arrives to taunt him. The wizard is a threat to the king’s power, so Tyrian demands a test of his magic, to shake the people’s faith in him.No, of course not. They never do tests. Not many real deeds either. Oh, conversation with your grandmother’s shade in a darkened room, the odd love potion or two, but comes a doubter, why, then it’s the wrong day, the planets are not in line, the entrails are not favorable, “we don’t do tests”! So Ulrich does a test, plunging a dagger into his heart… oopsie! He didn’t pass the test. But his wisdom lasts beyond the grave. He sends his acolyte Galen and his doddering servant Hodge to bring his ashes to the Lake of Fire, and the adventure begins. They follow Valerian and his retinue on the road back to their village, with Tyrian not far behind, still plotting his murderous chicanery. Along the way, Galen goes for a morning swim with Val against his wishes, and finds his secret- he’s a she, raised as a boy by her father to keep her from the lottery. When I first saw this- they played it in the Franklin Middle School library, along with The Dark Crystal, to keep us from gnawing on the books during Study Hall- I remember the teacher’s aide’s shock at the boobies. We all tittered. Nowadays she’d have been fired, but we didn’t tell on her.

Galen being the cocky hero of the film, he decides to take on the dragon all by himself. He has Valerian lead him to its lair, where prior to their arrival, the King’s men have sacrificed a lovely lass to it. We get to see her bloody struggle with her shackles, only to be roasted alive by the great beast. The film doesn’t reveal the dragon’s full form until late in the picture, but we see it grab for her with a birdlike talon and smash a wagon with its immense tail. When Galen arrives, the drake is sleeping off its food coma of virgin flambe, so when he causes a rockslide to block its lair, he thinks that’s that. And goes to tell the King that he’s solved their dragon problem, and all the virgins can stop being roasted, and be deflowered instead. Even Valerian buys into the false hope, as her village throws a festival and burns a straw dragon, and she reveals her long-kept secret. Bad move.
Tyrian drags Galen before the King, where he performs some silly magic tricks; he’s nervous and has performance anxiety. Casiodorus Rex is a pompous fellow who doesn’t care much for his people, and he keeps his own daughter Elspeth from the lottery. When the dragon bursts forth from its lair and goes all Trogdor on the villages and the peasants, he imprisons Galen for his impudence, and holds a special lottery, planning to fix it so Valerian will get toasted.
Luckily Elspeth visits Galen, and he tells her she’s been spared all these years by her father. And with youthful outrage, she decides to pay back the people for his mistreatment, by putting her own name on all the lottery tiles. The lottery mimics the draft, which is supposed to be fair, but always seems to have loopholes that tilt it in favor of the well-off; Elspeth’s noble sacrifice emphasizes the corruption of her father; she’s so disgusted by him that she’d rather die.
Once his daughter’s fate is sealed, the King releases Galen to let him fight the dragon. The local priest, played by Ian McDiarmid- who’d go on to famously play the Emperor in the Star Wars films- has already tried calling forth the Hand of God on the creature, and got barbecued for his trouble. So Galen is their only hope. He approaches Valerian and her blacksmith father, who just happens to have a totally kick-ass spear he’s been hiding. His best work, he shows off its puissance by shaving shards of metal off a horseshoe with it. Galen fires it up with Ulrich’s magic amulet, and they make a weapon worthy of dragonslaying out of it. Valerian, being the smart one, wanders to the creature’s lair and gathers its fallen scales to make a fireproof shield.
The story follows the legend of St. George and the Dragon somewhat, with the lottery and virgins appeasing the beast, but it has plenty of its own nice touches. Before Galen rides off, Valerian is miffed with him; she doesn’t want him to die to save the princess. Now, in a common story he’d save her and get him some royal nookie, but this one has better ideas. Ones that got Disney a lot of hate mail for producing this picture, even though Paramount distributed it. Tyrian, the crabby bastard played with evil glee by John Hallam of Lifeforce (full review) tries to kill Galen one more time before he can save Elspeth, but her noble sacrifice won’t be denied- she crawls into the dragon’s lair while they’re battling.
When Galen goes after her, he finds her gruesome end, as the dragon’s litter fights over the meat on her bones. The little ones look and act like hungry bulldogs, and I’m sure many a child’s nightmares were stoked by the image of her severed foot in one’s mouth! This is what makes the movie so memorable- it sank it at the box office, but made it a sure cult favorite. It’s so nasty. And to make it even better, Galen kills all the dragon babies before going after momma. Compare this to pap like Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World where it is morally repugnant to kill giant lizards that want to eat your intestines, and aiming a gun at one is a sure death sentence that the audience is supposed to cheer. I’m waiting for Jurassic Park 4: Nuke the Site from Orbit before I watch another JP sequel.
The dragon itself, when Vermithrax Pejorative finally reveals itself, is quite impressive. It is birdlike, but looks like it can really fly, with its huge bat wings, a pointy tooth-spangled snout unlike the saurian faced one in Dragonheart. And it is frickin’ huge. Galen wisely lures it out after his shield saves him from huge gouts of flame, and stabs it with his magic spear, but it is just too powerful for one man to kill. He gets dashed around and barely escapes with his life. Valerian finds him outside, after the dragon sees its dead babies and goes to take vengeance on the countryside. He is about to give up, when he remembers the whole point of the quest- to bring Ulrich’s ashes to the Lake of Fire.

You don’t pay for a big name like Ralph Richardson and just kill him off in the first five minutes. Ulrich couldn’t make the journey, so he killed himself and resurrected! Talk about lazy. But it works. And he’s a great wizard- he was God in Time Bandits, he’s got that great voice and presence, with profound eyebrows punctuating his every expression. He takes the dragon head on, battling a spectacular clifftop duel with his powerful magic- making a solar eclipse and a thunderstorm for starters- against the dragon’s malevolent fire and ferocity. It’s well done and imaginative, and we get a fantastically gory dragon corpse at the end. What’s not to like?
Writer-director Matthew Robbins, who also gave us the quirky Legend of Billie Jean (full review) we’ve covered before, gives a marvelously cynical ending where the people come upon the dragon’s corpse and praise God for delivering them from its terror, ignoring all the work Galen and Ulrich did. And to top it off, Casiodorus Rex struts up to stick a sword in it, and his head flunky declares him “the dragonslayer.” It’s a wonderful bit of commentary in an otherwise straightforward fantasy film, and Valerian and Galen ride off into the sunset, to make sure she can’t be a virgin sacrifice anytime soon.

Dragonslayer flopped at the box office but was a smash on cable where I watched it many times. The shooting locations in Wales, well documented on Wikipedia, are gorgeous and often unearthly, cementing our belief in the fantasy realm that is never named. The little hints that sorcerers created dragons give us a peek at an interesting backstory without dwelling on it too much or miring itself in verbal exposition. Peter MacNicol, who’d go on to Ally McBeal and great roles in Sophie’s Choice, and most memorably over the top in Ghostbusters 2 (full review) made a great debut here. This is the kind of great trash you can enjoy, even if Pauline Kael probably wouldn’t.
Caitlin Clarke did a fine role as Valerian in and out of drag, and had a bigger theatrical career than one in film. She does appear in Penn & Teller Get Killed, Crocodile Dundee and Blown Away, but tragically, she died in 2004 of ovarian cancer. She had an organic talent, and her nasal voice and pleading blue eyes, paired with her plucky attitude made her quite adorable in this film. Rest in Peace, Caitlin, and know you infatuated many a young teenage boy back in ’82. I think you made me wear out the VCR’s pause button.


Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? Can’t see why not.
Quotability Rating: low
Cheese Factor: mild English cheddar
High Points: the dragon, dude!
Low Point: slow in spots, and an insipid score.
Gratuitous Boobies: split second, but nice.

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80’s Trash of the Week: The Warrior and the Sorceress

As much as I love Conan the Barbarian, I have to blame all the terrible sword & sorcery movies that followed on its great success. Even David Carradine got into the act with 1984’s The Warrior and the Sorceress, where he plays Kain the warrior. Not Kwai Chang Kane, either. In this post-apocalyptic remake of Yojimbo, he wears a black cloak with a red stripe, and carries the finest sword and throwing knives to be had at at the Rennaissance Faire.And as you can guess from the title, there’s a sorceress, but she comes later. We meet Kain as he struts into a town lorded over by the thugs of Bal Caz and Zeg the Tyrant, who battle over control of the town well. When Kain comes to town, he is met by Bludge the Prelate – everyone here is named after a Tarot card or something- who tells him the score. Carradine plays Kain as cool as usual, with a sly grin that says “yeah, I’m starring in a real piece of shit this time.”

And the Oscar winner for fight choreography isn’t…

Bal Caz looks like Andrew Zimmern with a topless slave girl on his right and a talking Gila monster advisor on his left. Kain starts playing the two bad dudes against each other in true Yojimbo style- though to be true, the story was Dashiell Hammett’s first, with Red Harvest. The thugs didn’t even bother to cut their mullets or grow them out, but that makes it even more entertaining. Zeg looks like Robert Patrick with hemhorroids, and he holds Naja the Sorceress prisoner; he wants her to create for him the “Sacred Sword of Yura” which can cut stone, I think. Because he tries to chop stone with his sword, and when it breaks, he slaps her around.

It was tough to find this rare photo of the Sorceress with clothes on.

In this post-apocalyptic hell-world, not only is the water is controlled by sword slobs in ragtag outfits, but the women are forbidden from wearing any tops. Especially the sorceresses. All the time. Now, you know I like the boobies and love sharing them, but this is like Carradine is leading a National Geographic exploration to the lost tribe of the sword-wielding bikers and their boobie bitches. Soon Kain has the two leaders in a gang war, the diaper-clad Bal Caz on his litter vs. Zeg and mullet marauders; while they mess around, Kain kidnaps the Gila monster critter and the sorceress- who was part of an order he once served- and exchanges them. So the bad guys… trade them back. I think this was to buy him time to help Bludge escape, at the Sorceress’s request. But I was too blinded by boobies to pay attention. Or I was writing this. You figure it out.

Tonight on Bizarre Foods, I’m going to eat Yoda.

So then he has to go back and save the Sorceress again, by siding with Zeg and asking to see her. By now, Zeg’s captain Queef (okay, it was probably Kief) is getting suspicious, especially after the Sorceress escapes. She’s now stripped down to a thong, and I began to realize that nudity was her power, like Samson’s hair. Kain sets her free from low-budget cross between Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and an octopus, but Queef is onto him by now. Played by Anthony de Longis who was Blade from Masters of the Universe (full review) and recently starred in Jet Li’s Fearless, he’s actually quite surprisingly entertaining in this. Sort of like Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma, the Z movie version.

Queef

They trick Kain by having a four-titted exotic dancer distract him at dinner. I wish I was kidding. The 3-boobed chick from Total Recall, eat your heart out. But this gal has a snake in her cooch or something that strikes Kain and makes him fall unconscious, but not before he tries to choke her to death. If you find yourself forced to watch this movie, fast forward to this scene if only to see David Carradine’s face when the dancer with four boobs dances out. It’s hilarious. If his eyebrow got any higher it would be off his forehead. I guess they had so many scenes with Maria Socas topless that the only way to top it was to come up with a double-breasted dancer.

Four tits, huh? Let me count those again.

They beat up Kain but he escapes while they’re fighting, thanks to yet another subplot with Burgo the Slaver, who sort of looks like a giant Jawa. If Jawas looked like leather-faced pig people under their hoods. He comes back for revenge and soon his slavers have killed the two bad guys and enslaved the whole town, including Bludge the Prelate. But luckily for us, the Sorceress has saved Kain for a change, and turned his sword into the Sacred Blade of Yura, which can cut through styrofoam anvils like BUTTA. Between Kain and his sword, and Naja with her dagger and battle thong, it’s not long before they are free. Even though Queef steals the Urine sword, Kain is able to defeat him, because David Carradine is such a bad-ass.

I will trade you all my slaves for some sunblock!

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3 or some kleenex & lotion
Could it be remade today? Not until 2084
Quotability Rating: zilch
Cheese Factor: Wisconsin
High Points: Holy shit that chick has four boobs!
Low Point: I think I overdosed on boobs
Gratuitous Boobies: Boobolplex from 09:36 till the end



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80’s Trash of the Week: The Beastmaster

I have my eyes…
I have my cunning…
and I have my strength.

The Beastmaster was a huge success on cable, and I must have watched it a few dozen times. I one day hoped to swing a sword around in a loincloth, commanding the beasts to do my will. Now I have a disobedient cat, a pair of cargo shorts and some swords hanging on the wall. I think that’s close enough.

Marc Singer, the ’80s star of If You Could See What I Hear and the V miniseries, had his first big role in this bronze age sword & sorcery flick that’s essentially Conan meets “Manimal,” or “Conaminal” as you could call it. With Rip Torn as the evil priest Mayax, John Amos as a big black Friar Tuck and Tanya Roberts as sacrificial eye candy this was second only to Highlander in the annals of awesome things to find on cable in the ’80s. It had dyed black tigers, a pair of sneaky ferrets, and killer bat-people who could digest your flesh in seconds. In a sea of shitty fantasy movies, this one rose above and is what all B movies should aspire to.

Mayax welcomes you with impaled victims

The evil priest Mayax gets a prophecy from his trio of ugly witch-bitches telling him thatt he unborn son of the king will be his undoing. Despite being told that nothing he does will change his fate, he makes the creepy sorceresses- who have model-worthy bods and faces requiring triple or quadruple bagging- go to do his evil bidding. They steal the king’s unborn son by transferring him to the womb of a cow, kill his wife, blind him, and slaughter his villagers. Only his right-hand man Seth survives the onslaught.

Rip Torn with awesome skull dreads

The witches take the cow to the woods, cut it open, and prepare to sacrifice the baby, but are interrupted by a man who happens upon them. Unlucky for them, he is a fearsome if unlikely warrior wielding a bizarre throwing blade called a Kada. He takes the child and raises him, naming him Dar. A short montage later and Dar has grown into Marc Singer, and shown an affinity for speaking to animals. A bear comes upon his adoptive father’s camp, and he saves their lives. He has the mark, and can master the beasts. He is the Beastmaster!

These pet ferrets do more than chew stuff and stink

Silly as it is, this is really only a half-notch below Conan the Barbarian, lacking some budget and the established mythos, and a huge star such as Arnold. Marc Singer is ripped for his role, and while no muscle man, he is perfectly believable as the destined warrior who defeats Mayax and the Jun horde. One day he comes home to find his father and village slaughtered by the Jun- a horde of leather-clad, masked warriors in the tradition of the Humongous from The Road Warrior, who look like they strutted off a Molly Hatchet album cover and live only for genocide. He survives only because his trusty dog drags him from the flames of the razed village. Dar takes his father’s scimitar and throwing blade, and sets out on his own- for revenge.

The Jun horde does not mess around

On his journey, he comes upon a hawk, two mischevious ferrets, and a black tiger that he saves from Mayax’s warriors. These become his allies- his eyes, his cunning, and his strength. Dar was taught to do right, and when he finds a man in a cage in the forest he releases him. Too bad he was meant for bat food! The forest is host to a group of silent bat-people, who catch their prey in a winged hug and devour them a lot like Seth Brundle in The Fly. Dar only escapes because his hawk alights on his shoulder, and they respect his kinship with their feathered brother. They have a hawk totem in camp and must worship them. What luck!

Bat people got… no reason to smiiiile

The first thing Dar uses his animal trio to do is get in a slave girl’s loincloth. Kiri is bathing in the river, and he spies her from above. He sends the ferrets to steal a piece of her clothes, and when she chases them into the forest, they lead her to the tiger! But he “scares off” the tiger. Kind of creepy, Dar! But he gets her digits- she’s a slave girl for Mayax and must return to the Temple of Ar, lest her family be killed. So Dar didst get blue balls that night.

Is that a ferret in your pocket or are you just happy to see me

His next meeting is with Seth- John Amos- and the young boy Tal. They help kick some Mayax minion ass. Seth uses a fighting staff that Amos really seems to know how to use! I remember seeing an interview where he claimed he auditioned for Indiana Jones, and I wish he got more adventure roles. He has a natural charisma, and was bad-ass enough to be a hero, but he never got the chance. Here he says they are “pilgrims,” and Dar might not believe them but he trusts their motives. Dar finally meets Mayax when he foils a child sacrifice at his temple, by having his hawk fly away with the kid. Mayax’s save is priceless- when the hawk saves the child, everyone falls to the dirt in honor of the miracle. He just stammers, “See! He wants your children!” and has a staredown with the only man not groveling- Dar. He knows a showdown is inevitable.

I wish I had this stick the last time I saw J.J.

Seth and Tal join Dar in his mission to rescue Kiri, for they have no love of Mayax. And yes, his character his spelled “Maax” in the credits, but screw that. They say Mayax. This is the first daring battle against the priest and his sacrificial cult. His fanatical followers hang themselves on command and fight to the death; his warriors have fluorescent green slugs put in their ears that drive them mad, so they kill everything in sight with spiked fighting gloves or cestus. They always reminded me of the guy on the cover to Quiet Riot’s Metal Health album. With his tiger and ferrets to steal keys and chomp on baddies, they manage to rescue Kiri, by the skin of their teeth.

It’s 18 karat! So what if it’s got an eye in it!

But Mayax is not so easily defeated. Tal took a ring off one of his acolytes, and it opens to reveal an eye with whiche he can spy on his enemies. When Seth takes Dar back to his encampment, we find the blinded king from the beginning, who doesn’t know that Dar is his son. I dunno why they don’t just tell him, but the king is a bit of a pompous jackass for a deposed, blinded ruler dependent on his followers. He wants to attack Mayax, even though he is aware of their plans. So of course, Dar has to save the day. They have an exciting battle atop of the ziggurat temple of Ar, with Mayax trying to sacrifice Kiri as Dar races up the temple steps, sword flashing through red-robed Hare Krishnas left and right.

John Amos is great as usual, but I wish his loincloth was a bit less revealing.

But even when Mayax is foiled, the battle is not over; the Jun horde is returning to protect their leader, and a ragtag band of rebels cannot stop them in their numbers. What will Dar and his friends do? Can he summon the beasts of the forest? Can John Amos take them all on himself? Are there enough ferrets in the world to nibble their ankles off? The final battle is quite exciting, with a trapped moat of burning oil that makes the battlefield look like the rim of a volcano. It may not be as epic as Conan, but Beastmaster is a surprisingly original and enjoyable story that could only have sprung from the ’80s, when all you needed for a B movie was a sword, a desert, and a girl in a ragged bikini.

Jun Leader insists that the metal health will drive you mad.

Beastmaster succeeds because despite its epic scope and nearly two-hour length, it is well-paced and the fight scenes are quite good for the time. The actors aren’t great, but certainly are more talented than most B movie casts. Director Don Coscarelli was offered the chance to direct Conan the Destroyer (full review) by Dino De Laurentiis, and he turned it down because he thought the story sucked. And while this movie is very silly and has a mishmash of all sorts of things- the psychotic Jun horde, flying bat people who digest you in their wings, animal telepathy, a crazy throwing blade, ugly oracle women, eye rings and a bronze age setting- it all seems to work. It has a sense of humor, but takes itself just seriously enough; which nudges it more toward Clash of the Titans than that Conan sequel that nearly killed sword & sorcery movies for good.

Hmm… smells like barbecue! Let’s go check it out.

Beers Required to Enjoy: none, but why not?
Could it be remade today? Please no!
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Beastmaster is vegan
High Points: Attack ferrets, John Amos kicking ass
Low Point: If I wanted to hear a whiny blind king, I’d read Oedipus Rex
Gratuitous Boobies: Tanya Roberts, yum! And more on the DVD extras

 

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