25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s – Part II

28 Sep

In watching 25 Fantasy Films from that glorious decade that was the 1980’s, I noticed one thing.  I noticed that there is a trend amongst most of the films that seems as though the films scripts came from a book on how to make a film in that genre.  For many of these films, the elements that are all too similar are:

  1. Girl gets kidnapped, boy must gather a group of other characters to kill the evil mystical sorcerer and rescue his love.
  2. Show many beheadings, dismemberments, and disembowelments
  3. Nudity.  Must contain loads of pointless nudity.  (But only women with perfect hair)
  4. Dialogue?  Doesn’t matter.  Write whatever comes to mind.
  5. Main character must stand on top of a mountain and flex his muscles while swinging his sword/axe/etc.
  6. Main character must never have facial hair, although the rest of his appearance has to look like he’s never heard of grooming before.
  7. Did we mention loads of Nudity?  Well, add more.

25 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

Part II

Film #6

~ Conquest ~

Director:  Lucio Fulci
Year:  1980
Cast:  Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martín, Sabrina Siani
Language:  English (Dubbed)
Country:  Italy
Specs:  88 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: NC-17

Ilias (Occhipinti), armed with a magical bow, embarks on a journey through a mystical land to rid it of the evil sorceress Ocron (Siani), and all the evil she brings.  Along the way, he joins forces with Mace (Rivero), a nomadic outlaw also intent on ridding the land of all evil.  Together they dodge the many attacks of Ocron and her minions, until they reach the wicked enchantress for a fateful battle not all will survive.

When trying to find a word to best describe this film, I nearly settled on one word thats origins can be found in early Yiddish.  Unfortunately, dreck would be too kind of a word to use for this so-called work of art.  This repulsive, vile, disturbing piece of drivel is nary deserving of the few minutes it takes to compose this brief reaction to the film.  In fact, I’m sure I’ve spent more time in writing this short article than the filmmakers did in devising a coherent script with any semblance of an intriguing story.

The film opens on some baffling scene of a ritualistic pagan ceremony in which a naked woman with a metal mask (a la the Hasbro GI Joe character of Destro, were he a female {and were he naked}), along with an assortment of beastly half-man/half-creature beings, tear apart another naked woman, and eat her innards and brains.

Classic art at its finest.

Were it that the film continued on without repetitive scenes of dismemberment or cannibalistic bestiality it may have been worth the “ink” this article is written with.  Sadly, that cannot be said.

To further muddle up the films appeal, the entire thing is shot in a foggy, dark, only just distinguishable light.

The best thing to be said of this waste of celluloid is the musical score.  Haunting, unusual, and vivid in every way.  Too bad the picture accompanying it is not.

PS.  In case you were still wondering if I thought this film were any good, you, along with the director of this film, need serious psychiatric help.

My Rating* / F (Is there a rating lower?)

Available from Amazon: Conquest

Film #7

~The Beastmaster ~

Director:  Don Coscarelli
Year:  1982
Cast:  Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  118 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

After witnessing the slaughter of his entire village by an evil tribe of barbarians led by the a diabolical cult leader Maax (Torn), barbarian warrior Dar (Singer), who possesses an extraordinary ability to communicate with animals, embarks on a perilous journey to seek revenge. Along the way, Dar takes in a number of exotic creatures and joins with a skilled hunter (Amos) and beautiful slave girl (Roberts) who also have fallen victim to the villainy of Maax and his followers.

I remember as a child loving this film about a sword carrying barbarian who could communicate with animals (á la “Tarzan”) and carried a boomerang style “knife” weapon.  How a little maturity and age can remove the rose-colored glasses!

This B-movie, while surely a late night cable cult classic, is nary worthy of the multiple viewings, nor sequels/TV series foisted upon the unsuspecting masses.  There is simply too much in the way of even the most liberal application of suspension of disbelief for this camp-fest to rise above the mediocrity that it is.

It begins with the bewildering intro of a demonic witch using some perplexing sorcery in which a young child is transported from his mothers womb into the womb of a nearby cow.  The mother dies, the witch cuts open the cow, and begins to offer the child to a large bonfire as a sacrifice in some unexplained ritual (why didn’t she just cut him from the mother, who died anyway?).  Flash forward a few years, and this child, now a young boy, can communicate with animals (never explained, but I would assume it’s due to his being born of a bovine?).  We are then treated to a series of pointless meanderings in the story, such as a random unexplained attack from some black mask wearing tribe on Dar’s small village in which the people are all impaled on giant upright spears, to get us to a few scenes of topless women, a gratuitous nude bathing Tanya Roberts, and birds eye POV of the landscape, which switches from lush overlands similar to those of Scotland to vast desert canyons similar to those found in Arizona.  We get to see Dar communicate with nearly every animal he comes across (including the black painted tiger who’s stripes are clearly visible underneath the black paint in a number of shots) while deciding to go from a tunic and sandals to a loincloth and barefoot barbarian, complete with a falconry arm guard (even though he had yet to come across the hawk he would “befriend”).

Of course the giant, hawk-worshipping, eyeball-treehouse living, embryonic bat-like creatures, and the green-eyed, spiked armband wearing, brainless “zombie” creatures are interesting characters, but rather pointless to the overall arc of the “story”.  Even more baffling to comprehend is why in the scenes with the horses, Dar doesn’t seem to be able to use his abilities to communicate with animals much at all?  Couldn’t he simply tell them to buck off the murderous marauders?

Lastly, anyone who finds incest wonderful will likely have a different opinion, but why in the world should I find romantic and believable the continued love story between Dar and Kiri once they learn they are cousins?  Cud.

However, contrary to what my review may imply, the film is watchable, and campily entertaining in an unhinged sort of way.  Perhaps I’ve seen too many of these sword and sorcery films now that even the most feeble of films seems sublime?  More likely it has to do with the childhood memories thing.

My Rating*** / C-

Available from Amazon: The Beastmaster (Special Edition)

Film #8

~ Conan the Barbarian ~

Director:  John Milius
Year:  1982
Cast:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Mako
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  129 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: R

After witnessing the slaughter of his entire village at the hands of the evil cult leader Thulsa Doom (Jones), a young Conan is taken as a slave where he grows into a hulking young barbarian (Schwarzenegger).  Escaping from his masters, Conan begins a quest, aided by fellow vagabonds Valeria (Bergman) and Subotai (Lopez), to find Doom and bring justice to the land, while fighting off various creatures and cretins along the way.

“Crommmmmmm!”.  The film that set the bar for all the rest.  The original.  This film starts off with a display of excellence in filmmaking.  The opening scene of SPOILER ALERT: Conan’s mother being killed is so excellently framed and edited, that the viewer is instantly privy to the caliber of film about to be seen.  The excellent score also sets the tone for this film as an epic tale of swords and sorcery, with tinges of classics such as “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Bridge on the River Kwai”.  Pure excellence.

The wonderful thing about the story is that there is an air of believability to it all.  The darkness.  The dankness.  The dirtiness.  The characters are rarely out of place, complete with unkempt hair, grimy costumes, and aged equipment that solidifies the barbarian lifestyle Conan would have lived.  Of course, as is often a staple of this genre, there is plenty of beheadings and other gruesome violent acts, as well as a number of topless scenes.  However, contrary to many of the other films in this genre, they lend itself to the story, and only occasionally seem gratuitous and exploitative.  They truly display what one can imagine the life of a barbarian (granted, in a fantastical environment) would have been like.

The story rarely meanders off into pointless plot points, and does an excellent job of answering any questions that the viewer may have.  An entertaining film from a member of the “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” era of Hollywood.  Easy to see how so many copycats (and a sequel) were spawned from this tale.  Sadly, it seems the copycats missed what made this film so enjoyable.

With Conan, it appears it may truly have been lightning in the bottle.

My Rating**** / B

Available from Amazon: Conan – The Complete Quest or
Amazon Video on Demand: Conan the Barbarian

Film #9

~ Deathstalker ~

Director:  James Sbardellati
Year:  1983
Cast:  Rick Hill, Barbi Benton, Richard Brooker, Lana Clarkson, Bernard Erhard
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  80 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85:1 / MPAA Rating: R

Deathstalker (Hill), a barbarian warrior, is sent on a quest to find three magical items (a chalice, an amulet, and a sword) in order to defeat the wicked sorcerer Munkar (Erhard).  Along the way, he partners up with Kaira (Clarkson), his female counterpart, and a ragtag group of misfits.  Together, they decide that entering a tournament held by Munkar will be the best way to gain acceptance to his inner chambers, where they can kill the cantankerous ruler.

I am a fan of sword and sorcery tales.  I thoroughly enjoy a well written tale of magic, dragons, warriors, quests, and the rag tag group of races usually associated with tales in this genre.  Unfortunately, films such as this one are likely to ruin any kind of appreciation I or others may have for this genre.

For starters, the story itself is the most banal form of entertainment to grace the silver screen.  Better yet, there is no story.  Instead, this atrocity is little more than an excuse to make a soft-core barbarian tale.  Loads of gratuitous nudity, unintentionally laughable love scenes, the most featureless acting I’ve ever witnessed (were these actors stoned the entire production?), the most absurd of violence (decapitated heads, arms, fingers, etc.) (violence that is so phony looking even Tom Savini must have thought it amateurish), and make-up effects that any high school production would have one up on, fill this poorly directed, framed, and (written?) waste of celluloid.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this film is that the two women leads (who spend the film in some form of undress, natch) are none other than former playboy playmate Barbi Benton, and Phil Spector murder victim Lana Clarkson.  Even that, however, is akin to watching the latest reality TV star in their big screen debut (“From Justin to Kelly” anyone?).  In fact, the best thing about this film is the magnificent poster by the fantasy artist Boris.  Stunning.

I wonder how this film ever was shown on the classic USA Network on the Caroline Schlitt/Gilbert Gottfried/Rhonda Shear hosted show “USA Up All Night”?  It must have either been edited down to 10 minutes, or was a screen full of black bars for nearly the entire 80 mins.

Even more of a mystery is how this stinker warranted not one, not two, but THREE sequels?  Perhaps the filmmakers (Roger Corman is the executive producer after all) just wanted to see more T+A, and wrote a “story” around it.

Two swords down.

My Rating* / F

Available from Amazon: Deathstalker

Film #10

~ Krull ~

Director:  Peter Yates
Year:  1983
Cast:  Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, David Battley, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane
Language:  English
Country:  United States
Specs:  121 mins. / Color / OAR 2.20:1 / MPAA Rating: PG

Princess Lyssa (Anthony) is about to form an alliance with another kingdom by marrying Prince Colwyn (Marshall) when she is attacked and kidnapped by a ruthless alien monster known only as The Beast.  Armed with a magical boomerang, and accompanied by a mystical group of characters, Colwyn sets out to infiltrate the Black Fortress, lair to The Beast, thus rescuing his young love, and bringing an end to the evil creature and his horde of murderous followers.

Goofy unmotivated plot mars this fantastical foray into malarky.  In fact, it felt as though complete scenes had been excised, or truncated, in order to “move” the picture along.  Unfortunately, little in this film is engaging, from the mediocre special effects to the smiling one dimensional performance of the Prince.  Why oh why, one must ask, would anyone choose to follow this prince into anything, let alone sure death against an alien that has chosen to teleport to a different location location every day for no apparent reason, other than to show the shoddy special effect of the “meteor ship” disappearing/reappearing?

There are so many plot holes in this film, that at times I felt I were watching a mystery instead of a fantasy pic.  The mystery was why did this get the green light?  Why didn’t it make it past a first draft on the screenplay?  Why do the characters do what they do?  How did they know which tunnels to go down in the ship?  How did he know how to kill “The Beast” (don’t get me started on how anticlimactic that scene was).

On the positive side, the score by James Horner, as well as the appearance of Neeson and Coltrane, are welcome additions.

Seeing this as a child, I remembered little of it beyond the cool and exciting knife boomerang weapon the prince carried, and how intriguing that was.  I only wish that I had not re-watched this film.  Some things are better left to memories, as this film surely will testify.

My Rating** / D

Available from Amazon: Krull or
Amazon Video on Demand: Krull

To Be Continued…

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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Movies


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