Cinemas in 1982 were positively groaning under the sheer weight of fantasy movies that included such titles like Conan The Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer and The Sword And The Sorcerer, and yet probably the strangest of these was The Beastmaster – a complete and utter batshit sword and sorcery epic from the director of Phantasm that you may only be familiar with only because Chevy Chase once dressed up as him on a halloween themed episode of Community.
Don Coscarelli was no stranger to bizarre adventures laced with imagery that usually accompanies the kind of bad trip that instantly fricassees the brain; but while Phantasm was supposed to feel like an unhinged dream, The Beastmaster is positively packed with enough weird shit to populate a dozen movies and that sticks in the memory like a childhood trauma.
Mark, an evil priest who resembles a meth addicted Vulcan and is played with foam-flecked fury by professional lunatic Rip Torn, finds himself out of favour with King Zed and does what we’d all do in a similar situation – he teleports the monarch’s unborn son from his mother’s womb into the child bearing organs of a cow and smugglers the bovine out of the kingdom like some kind of fucked up drugs mule in order to sacrifice the baby in private. Saved and raised by an old farmer who is suprisingly adept at whupping ass, the boy is named Dar and finds one day that he has the agility to communicate with animals with ESP although it’s left mercifully unclear whether he got his superpowers as a side effect from his freakish cow c-section. Growing up into the muscular form of V’s Marc Singer complete with healthy head of “Hamill hair”, his idyllic existence is shit on from a great height by the Juns, a fanatical horde of 80’s metal album throwbacks aligned with Maak who slaughter everyone in his peaceful village.
Vowing vengeance, Dar packs up his upsettingly tiny loin cloth and heads off to find his destiny in an “outfit” that make He-Man seem positively modest in comparison and manages to assemble a Mission: Impossible style team of animal critters formed of an eagle, two ferrets and a black tiger to help him in his quest.
Stumbling upon the shapely form of red headed slave girl Kiri (and immediately abuses his powers in order to worryingly engage in some “jocular” sexual harassment), Dar gains an invaluable lead to where Maak is hiding and also recruits the help of King Zed’s youngest son and his bodyguard Seth (played by John Amos of all people who is a million miles from Good Times…) and the group wages war against the evil sorcerer, his cabal of ugly/sexy witches and the might of the Jun army itself, a force so deadly it’s general wouldn’t look out of place among the demonic biker gang from the film Mandy.
The Beastmaster is admittedly a tough son of a bitch to lock down. It’s one of those odd movies that only could have come out in the 80’s that flat out refuses to pull any punches despite having a plot that screams “family adventure”. Thus the audience is “treated” to suprisingly graphic scenes of child sacrifice that look so dangerous that you can’t be totally sure Rip Torn didn’t ACTUALLY burn screaming moppets alive for the sake of cinematic immortality. Fantasy snuff footage aside; other regular helpings of relentless nightmare fuel include mutant beserkers in spiky S&M gear (I get the mask but are the ass-less chaps really necessary), the good guys casually drowning unarmed prisoners and – most notorious of all – a random race of mouthless bat-people who boil severed heads in a cauldron despite having the ability to wrap their wings around their screaming victims and dissolve them into puddles of goo.
That being said, it’s precisely this enthusiasm to cram as many horrors into our eye-holes as it can that makes The Beastmaster so trashily memorable, relying on a Frank Frazzetta style of boobs, biceps and bone splitting mayhem to bludgeon you into submission.
Everyone gives that weird, stilted sub-American accent 80’s sword and sorcery movies had at the time to spit out leaden nonsense such as “You may search for your destiny in the Valley of Aruk” while keeping a straight face.
As Dar, Marc Singer’s 34 year old weather beaten features somewhat contradict exactly how young or old we’re supposed to believe Dar is but huge amounts of credit have to go to the actor for constantly standing so close to huge, ferocious wild animals with his nipples out. Also Amos flares his nostrils mightily as Seth, Tayna (A View To A Kill) Robert’s is nothing more than a walking lust object and Rip Torn screams at everyone from behind a large prosthetic nose that makes him look like Sam The Eagle from The Muppets – so it’s pretty much business as usual when it comes to 80’s fantasy stuff.
However, the fact that it pushes it’s horror imagery so hard mixes with the clumsiness of the material to make quite the enjoyable throwback; a fact that not even it’s mountain of plot holes serves to derail.
For example, why doesn’t Dar simply use his powers to make the bad guy’s horses run them off cliffs and stuff; why does no one point out the very real fact that Dar and Kiri are somewhat related (she’s named as King Zed’s neice but it’s not really clear if it’s from another marriage) and most of all, what the fuck is the deal with the melt-happy, mouthless bat people!?
As silly and trashy as it is, it’s exactly these things that make it a blast to watch (preferably with a gang of like-minded mates and a crate of booze) as Coscarelli flings even more horrific randomness into his sword flashing, cinematic gumbo, so if you’ve an appetite for a low budget adventure that gleefully breaks a couple of taboos as it goes, then The Beastmaster is firmly on beast-mode.