“Don’t Move, this beast is fierce.”
The sword and sandal genre is a long line of marginally decent too horribly bad films. When done halfway decent a semi-epic adventure story set in the bronze or silver age is a helluva lot of fun. Watching muscle bound men in loincloths swing ornate long swords while sorcerers raise stop motion skeletons and giant monstrosities is a large part of any adolescent boys film education. For those of us who first discovered film in the 1980s we have a unique perspective on sword and sandal films. Conan the Barbarian set a bar to which all movies that came behind it tried desperately to see, let alone rise above. Some films were successful in holding their own, others failed miserably. The Beastmaster is great example of the former. Released in 1982 the movie by all accounts was a box office flop. If IMDB is to be believed, the movie cost approximately $8 million to make. the U.S. gross three weeks after release at just under $11 million. For a lot of movies this return on investment would bury the film under the mountain of Hollywood failures never to see the light of day again. We aren’t just talking about any old film though, we’re talking about a sword and sandal film.
The Beastmaster isn’t a perfect movie. It isn’t even a particularly good movie in many aspects. The dialogue is passable at best. The names of the animals are downright silly. Ruh? Koto and poto (I’m not even sure I spelled those correctly)? Marc Singer’s acting is rather bad throughout the film. I could go on but fortunately there are some many other things to love about the movie it’s easy to give it’s failures a pass.
First, the premise is cool. A king whose son is stolen away in the belly of a cow, via magic. The boy later grows up with the ability to control animals. Twin ferrets that play the role of the thieves (super cleaver). An army of black leather, deathmetal band looking, killer that do little more than look badass. Rip Torn looking like a hollowed out crack addict with cool skull adorned braids. What’s not to like!
Second, The Beastmaster has a decent story. By today’s standards any remake would need to be at least three hours long. The movie suffers from a noticeable lack of large battle scenes. Other than the village raid in the first act there isn’t another major battle in the film. Dar storms the temple and saves the day, leading to the return of the Jun horde, but neither battle involves anyone other than the four primary protagonists. Dar, Kiri (the sexy Tanya Roberts), Seth (awesome John Amos), and Tal (Joshua Milrad) do all the fighting through the last half of the film, and although they are faced with what appear to be insurmountable odds they prevail each time.
Finally, and this goes to my last point about the battle sequence, the movie has the best use of deus ex machina ever used in a movie. The Winged Devourers are awesome. Possibly one of the most original creations in sword and sandal, they inject a huge amount of mystery and dread into the Beastmaster’s world. Take it or leave it, they make the film. So is The Beastmaster worth the time of day? Most of you have seen it before, of that I’ve no doubt, but if you’re actually reading this and haven’t see this film I highly recommend you do. I’ll add this caveat – 1982 was an era of practical effects. An era of multiple takes, over and over and over, until they got one right. An era of movies with grand ideas and small budgets. Take this into account, free your mind, drink several beers and you should be good to go.