Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Beastmaster
“He is a friend, he is the Beastmaster!”
This is another one that hit high on the nostalgia scale for me. I originally saw this on VHS when I was about 6-ish, once again through parental incompetence. My parents, bless their hearts, were terminally confused about ratings and films back then. They came home from the video shop one day with The Beastmaster, thinking it was some sort of kiddie friendly Disney claptrap. Needless to say, it isn’t. From that moment forth, The Beastmaster held a special place in the heart of young Jarv, but I hadn’t seen it again (it hasn’t got a UK DVD release) until very recently.
I have to admit, I was marginally disappointed with this. It’s a Sword and Sorcery by numbers piece of claptrap, but it isn’t anywhere near as brutal, there are nowhere near as many shots of gratuitous boobs and the sword fights are a bit more inept than my nostalgic recollection of it. Having said that, it’s still pretty fucking funny, but not for the reasons I thought.
Rip Torn plays Maax (pronounced “May-axe”, just in case anyone mistakes his name for a constipation remedy), a batshit insane high priest of R. Which is intrinsically funny, now I come to think of it- they couldn’t even be arsed to give the evil god a proper divine title. He’s got a thing for child sacrifice and a coven of evil witch/ demon type thingies to do his bidding. One day, they give him the prophecy that the King’s son will kill him. Being a genius, he sneaks one of his witches into the King’s bedroom in order to prevent this untimely event. Obviously, Maax was a boy scout, because his Witch is prepared with a cow (the security obviously isn’t up to much in the palace. This isn’t exactly an Al Qaeda suicide bomber). The witch transfers the unborn child into the cow (not joking), and then attempts to murder him. Unfortunately for the witch, a local peasant is on hand to rescue the baby. Years later, the fully grown lad called “Dar”, who is the Dr. Dolittle of Barbarian Heroes, is the sole survivor of an attack on his village. He goes on a quest for vengeance, recruits some animal buddies to help out, dodges some evil Batmen (don’t ask) tries to shag a slave girl (who turns out to be his cousin, but they don’t seem to care much), then kills Maax.
All good clean Barbarian hero type fun. The thing is, this is actually quite a polished film. Sure, Rip Torn gets to sink his teeth into the scenery at every available opportunity, but as a rule, the acting is quite good. Marc Singer as Dar is not only the proverbial brick shithouse, but also plays Dar with a sort of twinkly eyed charm. Tanya Roberts is serviceable as Kiri, but gets her tits out on first appearance, so clearly understands the nuances necessary to play a slave girl in a barbarian film. The big surprise, though, is the presence of John Amos as Seth. He’s great in this film- and shows remarkable dedication to hitting bad guys on the head with a big stick.
The direction is also well thought out, there are plenty of epic feeling aerial shots of Dar swinging a sword around (he could actually have done with a bit more practice, because he fucking sucks with it in battle), and everything has a properly staged feeling about it. The score in particular is superb. It’s a big orchestral number and really gives the feeling that you are watching a saga. Overall, it’s very tidy stuff.
It’s also very silly stuff. Dar’s animal companions are an Eagle (his eyes), a tiger painted black (his strength) and 2 ferrets named Kodo and Podo (his cunning). Leaving aside the enormous stupidity of the animal companions, the sword fighting itself is also sort of tame. Dar is hopeless in a fight- he loses his sword and has to resort to chucking bad guys around. Then there’s the Batmen with their nefarious hugs of death. They’re fucking funny- not at all frightening although I’m nearly certain that they’re meant to be. There’s other moments of gross stupidity in this film. For example, and I didn’t know this, but a small Eagle can apparently carry a large child. That’s useful information. Also, if a big lumbering barbarian cunt throws ” a caber” which looks suspiciously like a metal boomerang (see below) at you, he will miss. However, make sure you watch its return path. Finally, it appears that the ultimate prop for picking up semi-naked women is a large and angry-looking black tiger. This is essential knowledge that I’m sharing here.
However, what elevates this film above many of the other Sword and Sorcery efforts, are the “Dead Guards”. There’s a great section where the baddies detail exactly how you make one. Sort of Nigella makes a henchman style. Anyhow- this is how you do it: Take one peasant. Torture him for a while until his marinated in his own pain. Add some suspicious looking bondage gear, complete with dubious gimp mask. Garnish with magic glowing green leech. Allow to rest for a few minutes. Once complete, you will have an almost indestructible psychotic henchman. Hilarious. Overall, I did thoroughly enjoy this again. Sword and Sorcery films are invariably stupid (honourable exception to Conan) and all follow the same basic formula. The Beastmaster follows this formula to the letter, but is still one of the superior entries in the genre. I’d recommend this, but with the caveat that you have to be prepared for some Richter scale stupidity. I just wish they’d been a bit more hard core, and upped the nudity and death. Conan has gallons of both, so there’s no excuse really.
I did make the mistake of triple-billing this with its less than stellar sequels, which I’ll be reviewing next, Needless to say, I don’t recommend doing that.
Until next time,