Archive for the ‘ Pit of Swords and Sorcery ’ Category

Wizards_titleSo far, the ol’ Pit of Swords and Sorcery has focused on a wealth of material drawn from the gilded 1980s, but now I’m casting my memories back a few years, toward the days of Star Wars and Close Encounters, and the days when Jaws set the standard for summer blockbusters — to wit, the mid-1970s when I was writhing in the throes of adolescence, playing my first games of white box Dungeons and Dragons and reconciling myself to the notion that I would die a sad and pathetic virgin. In fact, I don’t think I actually started playing D&D until after I saw this flick, so believe me we are really talking about the dark ages here.

wizards_poster_01Into this depressing period in my life came a film that marked several milestones for me — my first viewing of a Star Wars trailer, my first experience with what might be called “adult” animation, and most importantly, my first case of lust for a cartoon character. So join us in the Pit of Swords and Sorcery for one of the more unusual entries — Ralph Bakshi’s cockeyed reflection on war, peace and jiggly boobs, as well as his homage to the great underground artist Vaughn BodéWizards.

Now I’ve been kind of hard on poor Ralph B on this blog. Not that it matters — my disdain for and amusement at Bakshi’s disastrous animated version of The Lord of the Rings isn’t really even a blip on the radar of popular culture. As the creator of numerous animated classics and a true innovator, Bakshi can easily shrug off the slings and arrows thrown his way by a minor-league rpg-writer like me, especially since in making fun of his movie I’ve derived enormous pleasure and enjoyment. So in a way, I guess Bakshi’s LotR was a smashing success, what?

Well, no. It’s still kind of a travesty, but back in 1977 when I went to see Wizards at a small theater in Portland I was sufficiently impressed that I looked forward to Bakshi’s take on Tolkien, and had high hopes for the future. Though my hopes were later to be brutally crushed, that day was a pretty good one.

Vaughn Bode’s Cheech Wizard — a short magician who likes to hang out with busty hippy chicks while wearing a big hat that hides his face. Sound familiar?

I went to movies by myself in those days. I didn’t have a girlfriend… Hell, I barely knew how to talk to women let alone ask them out on dates. My first attempt to do so took place when I was a freshman in high school, and consisted of my looking the girl up in the phone book and calling everyone with her surname until I got the right one, then nervously asking her if she’d like to go out with me. Unfortunately, she happened to be at her house with her football-player boyfriend, a couple of girlfriends, and their football-player boyfriends, and the sting of that humiliation still burns to this day. I will probably carry it to my grave.

My parents and I had somewhat similar tastes, but Wizards really wasn’t their cup of tea. Later that spring I’d take them to see Star Wars at the Westgate Theater in Beaverton, where it ran continuously for the next two years or so. A few years ago my friends and I went to the last show at the Westgate, Kung Fu Hustle, watching with lingering nostalgia before the whole place was torn down.

An interesting alternative poster for Wizards. Sheesh... She looks NOTHING like Elinore...

An interesting alternative poster for Wizards. Sheesh… She looks NOTHING like Elinore…

Anyway, enough rambling down memory lane — back to Wizards, which I saw all by my own little 16-year-old self several months before Star Wars. As noted, the trailers included a preview for George Lucas’ future classic, which didn’t suggest what a huge deal it would someday become, and after the trailers came a cartoon. Yes, this was in the days when they still ran cartoons before movies — this was an odd animation called Twins about two brothers who were totally different in temperament, ended up having various adventures, then were finally reunited (and as such was actually obliquely related to the main feature). I haven’t been able to find any reference to the cartoon anywhere, but I haven’t looked terribly hard. If anyone finds it, let me know — I wouldn’t mind reliving the experience, as it was actually pretty funny.

Before I throw myself into the cinematic acid trip that is Wizards, I’ll refresh our collective memories about Ralph Bakshi. He was (and still is) a premiere American animator, though he’s had mixed success over the years. Some of his best work was on TV, including a pretty cool animated series called The Mighty Heroes, which I watched as a kid in California, and of course the now-infamous Spiderman animated series, source of amusing gifs and memes to all and sundry.

WizBookBakshi broke a few taboos when he directed an animated version of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cata production fraught with legal difficulties. To this day there’s controversy over whether Bakshi really had Crumb’s permission to make the movie, with all parties having their own version of the story (personally I believe Bakshi, but that’s just my opinion). Fritz went down in history as the first X-rated cartoon, though today it’s relatively mild and Bakshi himself says that there’s more explicit material in an episode of The Simpsons than there was in this movie.

So when Bakshi obtained the rights to produce an animated version of The Lord of the Ringsalarm bells started ringing and people began grabbing their pitchforks and torches. My memory is a little sketchy from this period — God knows, I wish it was because of all the drugs and booze that I consumed during my wild teenaged years, but it’s actually just because I’m getting fucking old — but I seem to recall reading that Wizards was seen as a sort of “warm-up” to LotR, to test out animation techniques and reassure people that Bakshi wasn’t going to make Fritz the Hobbit. That Wizards turned out to be vastly superior to Bakshi’s LotR is one of those great ironies of film history. And not Alanis Morisette irony either. This is real irony.

The credits for Wizard are in that kind of odd computer-style lettering that was popular in the 60s and 70s for when you wanted to look cool and futuristic in movies like The Andromeda Strain. Using the style at the beginning of a fantasy movie gives us a clue that what we’re about to see is basically what would happen if J.R.R. Tolkien and Samuel R. Delaney had a misbegotten love child.

Our narrator... Rowrrr...

Our narrator… Rowrrr…

Our opening shot is live action, with the camera panning up to an open book with the words (once more in pseudo-computer font): An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of Technology and Magic. There’s a voiceover for those of us who have forgotten how to read, but it’s uttered by the husky and haunting voice of cult movie and TV actress Susan Tyrrell, so it ain’t all bad.

With Hawkwind-style prog-rock synth music moaning softly in the background, she goes on to tell the future history of Earth, and what a nasty future it is.

The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs. The first blast was set off by five terrorists. It took two million years for some of the radioactive clouds to allow some sun in. By then only a handful of humans survived. The rest of humanity had changed into hideous mutants. These mutant species floundered in the bad areas — radioactive lands that never allowed them to become human again, and made each birth a new disaster.

Queen Delia suddenly realizes that she's pregnant. Now how the hell did THAT happen I wonder?

Queen Delia suddenly realizes that she’s pregnant. Now how the hell did THAT happen I wonder?

Basically she’s telling us that the radioactive lands ended up resembling New Jersey. The tale is accompanied by still illustrations showing us what a nightmare things were for the benighted mutants. It’s effective, giving the sense of an ancient tale being told, and I think Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings would have benefited from this technique instead of showing live actors in silhouette, but I guess that’s all water under the bridge now.

Fortunately all was not lost for future earth: Then in the good lands there came back — arising from their long sleep — faeries, elves, dwarves — the true ancestors of man. They lived happily in the good areas.

So there you have it — 2,000,000 years of future history all rolled up into one nice neat minute or so of narration. Now, with more sepia-toned still images, we get to the actual meat of the story, with the tale of how Delia, queen of the faeries mysteriously gave birth to twin wizards on a stormy day a few millennia ago.

So Delia had these two kids — one was good and nice and sweet and cool and did kind things, and his name was (wait for it…) Avatar (normally a name reserved for kids born on hippy communes or conceived at Burning Man). The other was nasty, brutish, smelly, ugly, ill-tempered, repulsive, evil, wicked, mean, nasty and generally uncouth. She named him Blackwolf.

Even in the far future, tragic crack babies were still being born.

Try naming a kid “Blackwolf” some time and you see how well he turns out.

On my reviewing of the movie I sense a certain level of elitism bordering on racism, folks. First we’re told that the world is divided between the untermensch – the ugly mutants in their run-down radioactive wastelands, and the master race — the elves and faeries who live in sunshine and peace and niceness. Then we learn that wizards are born either good or evil, and can’t change their destiny or nature — one is evil and one is good and never the twain shall meet.

For a movie that later on portrays the bad guys using Nazi ideology and racism, Wizards has an odd sense of morality. Consider this — if certain individuals and races are born inferior and/or evil, then isn’t it a good idea to suppress or exterminate the “bad” ones? As with its philosophy of “Magic good/technology bad” (which we’ll explore in detail later) Wizards presents a slightly schizophrenic and contradictory worldview. And given Bakshi’s stated motivations for writing the film (see below), the whole situation seems even crazier.

Avatar in his younger days. Jesus Christ, what the hell HAPPENED to the poor guy anyway?

Avatar in his younger days. Jesus Christ, what the hell HAPPENED to the poor guy anyway?

So as he grew up, Avatar spent most of his time conjuring bunnies for his mom and bringing her flowers and nice greeting cards on Mother’s Day. Blackwolf on the other hand was a mutant and therefore naturally evil, and never visited Delia, choosing instead to torture small animals (no, really… that very line is in the movie), listen to Scandinavian death-metal and hang out with the cast of Duck Dynasty.

Finally, Delia snuffs it. Avatar tries to save her, but fails, grief-stricken. Where others see tragedy Blackwolf sees opportunity however, and he steps forward to take over as leader. Unsurprisingly, Avatar has a few things to say about all of this, and the two begin a ferocious battle, still in static images, but with a 60s rock-concert lightshow running in the background.

Of course Avatar kicks his brother’s ass and banishes him to the land of Scortch to hang out with all the other genetically-inferior mutants. Being the good villain that he is, Blackwolf doesn’t take his defeat lightly. “The day will come, my brother,” he declares, striding off into the shadow, “when I will return and make this a planet where mutants rule!”

Mom always liked YOU best, you jerk!

Mom always liked YOU best, you jerk!

Okay, I won’t belabor the point, but come on! Apparently a planet where mutants rule is bad and a planet where elves and faeries rule, keeping the mutants penned up in the fantasy equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto is good. Just because the elves are better looking than the mutants is no reason for them to lord it over everyone else… Unless of course you ask an elf in which case he’ll just silently stare down his long, aquiline nose at you, slathering you in disdain, knowing that in a half century or so you’ll be getting the senior discount at Denny’s and he’ll be barely out of adolescence.

Now, to the present, in the land of Scortch 3,000 years later. A lot of the backgrounds in Scortch were produced by fantasy artist Ian Miller, who illustrated (among other things) Michael Creighton’s Eaters of the Dead, and a whole mess of Warhammer novels and game books from Games Workshop. Wizards represents some of Miller’s early work, and these backgrounds are pretty kickass. Personally, I found that they clashed a bit with Ralph Bakshi’s more cartoony, Bodé-inspired images, but damn… They do give this flick a nice look.

Okay, I admit that you guys are three of the goofiest looking guys in all of Scortch, but hell... You're all I've got.

Okay, I admit that you guys are three of the goofiest looking guys in all of Scortch, but hell… You’re all I’ve got.

In the palace of  Scortch One, Blackwolf now sits on his throne, imperiously instructing his minions in a scene that kind of reminds me of Darth Vader talking to the bounty hunters in Empire, released a few years later.

Blackwolf’s not a bad-looking villain, though his animated incarnation is somewhat simplified compared to the painstakingly-drawn pictures from the prologue. He’s tall and emaciated, with grey skin, a long white beard and a hollow, red-eyed face. He’s gone pretty thoroughly bald, but hell what do you expect from a guy after 3,000 years? And oh, yeah — his arms are all bone, with no flesh on them. It’s an odd look, and one wonders how he actually moves his arms at all, unless he really does have muscles and tendons but, similarly to Venture Brothers’ Phantom Limb character, they’re simply invisible.

“The time has come,” he rasps. “Kill!”

Bode's Cobalt 60. Look familiar?

Bode’s Cobalt 60. Look familiar?

Damn, but Blackwolf’s got some pretty decent minions, since that’s all the instruction they need. There are three assassins and two of them — a clumsy-looking frog-guy and a horned devil wearing what appears to be a German pickelhaube, are expendable mooks. It’s assassin number three, the red android called Necron 99, who merits further attention.

Clearly, Necron’s design was inspired by Bodé’s character Cobalt 60, and when I was younger I was somewhat pissed off at Bakshi for appropriating the look in such a blatant fashion. Since then of course I’ve learned that Bodé and Bakshi were buds and much of Wizards’ look and feel is simply an homage by Bakshi to his friend. That said, check it out — it’s like Necron and Cobalt were separated at birth, man. What the hell?

(A side note here — during my research for this piece I discovered that we really dodged a bullet regarding Cobalt 60. A few years ago, hack director Zack Snider who brought us the atrocious but funny 300, the acceptable cinematic version of Watchmen and the crime against humanity and good taste that was Sucker Punch, was in negotiations to film a live-action version of Cobalt 60. Apparently the deal fell through, as I haven’t heard anything about it lately, so I hope we can count ourselves lucky that Snyder didn’t rape another batch of audiences with his subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face style of filmmaking.)

…Annnd here’s Necron 99. Separated at birth, perhaps?

The three assassins ride out through more Ian Miller backgrounds, past what looks like the unseelie court’s red-light district where disturbing faerie hookers solicit squat goblin-looking things, but draw back in fear as Necron slowly rides past. Necron proceeds out of Scortch, through battlefields and past Blackwolf’s gathering armies, finally entering the good lands where the elves and faeries have no idea what’s about to happen.

In a lovely sylvan grove, an old faerie wise man reads to his people from an ancient book: My children, the only true technology is nature. All other forms of man-made technology are perversions. The ancient dictators used technology to enslave the masses…

Okay, here comes my other rant about Wizards. All through the movie we hear about how horrific and “perverse” man-made technology is, and how nature and peace and love are the only things we need. Yet over and over again we see the “good” faeries using the very “man-made” technology that they supposedly abhor. The village elder himself is reading from a book, which is manufactured from paper, leather, twine and other “man-made” substances. Later on we see the faeries defending themselves with “man-made” weapons and armor, and at the very end of the movie…

Well, never mind. We’ll save that one for later. For now I’m just struck at how irritated, over three decades later, I am at the movie’s lack of internal consistency. Of course, it’s still a cool movie, but hell it can be frustrating.

...And so little elves, heed my wisdom. Shun technology. Avoid modern medicine, farming techniques, plumbing and electricity. THEN see how long you can hold out against the mutant barbarians.

…And so little elves, heed my wisdom. Shun technology. Avoid modern medicine, farming techniques, plumbing and electricity. THEN see how long you can hold out against the mutant barbarians.

So before the elder can give us more faerie propaganda about how evil “techology” is, Necron shows up and blows him and his followers to kingdom come. Mind you, I found his speech a bit annoying, but I think that blasting him with an automatic weapon was a bit harsh. I might have just walked out, or at least told the elder to shut up and stop reading from a goddamned book if he finds technology so fucking evil…

Never mind. Back to the movie. Necron and the assassins’ campaign of terror continues, snuffing out more elf and faerie leaders, preparing the way for Blackwolf’s forces while in the background a kind of merry jazz ensemble plays.

Necron enters a moonlit forest, seeking out more victims. In the forest are two elf scouts, Weekhawk and his friend whom everyone else knows as Deadmeat. Now to the untrained eye, it might seem that both Weehawk and Deadmeat look exactly the same, as if they’re both drawn from an identical character model (or perhaps all of Weehawk’s clan are clones? The possibility is never explored). However, if you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell them apart, as Deadmeat has an earring in his left ear, and Weehawk has an earring in his right ear. Simple, huh?

They're elven warriors/Identical elven warriors/and you'll find/ They laugh alike, they walk alike/ At times they even talk alike.../ You can lose your mind/When elven warriors.../are two of a kind!

They’re elven warriors
Identical elven warriors
And you’ll find
They laugh alike, they walk alike
At times they even talk alike…
You can lose your mind
When elven warriors…
Are two of a kind!

Given the criticism some leveled at Bakshi for making his movie look too much like Vaughn Bodé’s art, I think it’s only fair to point out the design of his elves. These are definitely not in the Tolkien mold. They’re short, dark and kind of tough-looking and a few years later the comic series Elfquest was sometimes taken to task for copping the look and feel of Bakshi’s elves. Of course, like the criticisms of Bakshi, such suggestions are a little off the mark. While there’s a superficial resemblance between the Pinis’ elves and those of Wizards, they also differ in a lot of areas, and if Marv and Wendy Pini used this movie for inspiration, so what? They took their creation in a different direction and made it theirs, regardless of its origins. In all fairness, the same can be said for Bakshi’s use of Bodé’s designs.

As they bounce through the forest on their weird two-legged mutant horses, Necron opens up, shooting Deadmeat out of the saddle and pursuing Weehawk. Our hero is no slouch. He manages to elude Necron, then draws an arrow and nails the assassin’s mount right in the eye. And yes, bow and arrow are both pieces of man-made technology, aren’t they? I guess if he really believed all that bullshit that the dead elder was spouting he’d have just thrown a rock.

Necron and his mount tumble into a ravine, but Necron is only wounded. He sneaks back and starts tracking Weehawk, finding him in a clearing where he’s set up a ring of torches and is praying over his mount Westwind, who has apparently dropped dead of exhaustion.

Damn. Those elves really love their hideous two-legged camel-horse things, don't they?

Damn. Those elves really love their hideous two-legged camel-horse things, don’t they?

Now I understand sentimentality as much as anyone, but if you’re being chased by a ruthless, relentless cyborg assassin, shouldn’t you wait before having an elaborate funeral for your loyal mutant horse? Well, who can understand elvish culture anyway?

(And actually it isn’t really a funeral anyway, since Weehawk’s mount Westwind comes back, sound as a new dollar, a few scenes later. Go figure.)

Necron muffs the deal though, stepping on a twig and triggering a ferocious attack by Weehawk, who throws himself at the assassin, sword whirling (sword? You mean a sword that was made by a blacksmith who used TECHNOLOGY??? Sorry…). Necron and the enraged Weehawk tumble over a cliff and into a river. Is it the end for Weekhawk? I think not.

The wizard Avatar's tower. Remind you of anything?

The wizard Avatar’s tower. Remind you of anything?

So now we’re in the kingdom of Montagar, at the disturbingly phallic tower of the now-ancient good wizard Avatar, where he lives in slobby splendor with his apprentice and the object of my adolescent lust, Lady Elinore.

While the years haven’t been kind to Blackwolf, they’ve been absolutely brutal to his brother. Avatar is now a short, paunchy dwarfish creature in a green smock and a floppy wizard’s hat pulled down over his eyes and held up only by his gross, oversized ears. His nose is swollen and red, his feet are gigantic (and prehensile, as he often holds his cigar with them), his hands clumsy meathooks, and he has taken up smoking.

In fact, Avatar has gone so far to seed that he looks a lot like Vaughn Bodé’s other signature character, Cheech Wizard. Another homage, I guess, but hell — couldn’t Bakshi have picked another Bodé character to copy? Cheech Wizard is kind of creepy.

Avatar’s voice is provided by veteran voice actor Bob Holt, who performed in more Saturday morning cartoons than I can count, and according to imdb based Avatar’s voice on Peter Falk’s Columbo.

(Now unfortunately I can’t get that last fact out of my head… I keep waiting for Avatar to start to leave a room, then turn around at the last second and say something like “Just one more thing… I got this nutty notion… Maybe you killed the professor, then framed Mrs. Johnson! Nah, it’s too far-fetched…”)

Lady Elinore, in a typical pose. Okay, okay... She's a total bimbo, but hey, I like her, okay?

Lady Elinore, in a typical pose. Okay, okay… She’s a total bimbo, but hey, I like her, okay?

Lady Elinore on the other hand… Woof, woof, woof! While she’s not based on any specific Bodé character, she’s a Bodé babe through and through, though I think one of her distant ancestors may also have been Betty Boop. She has purple faerie wings, thick black hair, big blue eyes, full red lips and the most alluringly buxom figure imaginable — melon-sized breasts straining against her flimsy white faerie-stripper-lingerie garment, softly flared hips, a shapely ass and pale, sculpted thighs…

Excuse me. I’ll be in my bunk.

No, never mind. Sorry, the teenaged me was in the driver’s seat for a moment there.

Elinore’s voice is provided by actress Jesse Wells, who had a decent run of TV roles back in the 70s and 80s but currently has no imdb entry, so I’m not entirely sure what she’s been up to since then. She gives the sexy elf babe a sultry but giggly voice which appealed to me at 16, but I now find a little annoying. Then again, I wouldn’t mind what she sounded like if she was saying something like “Hey, big fella… Wanna show a faerie princess a good time?”

Avatar and the president of Montagar, just clownin' around...

Avatar and the president of Montagar, just clownin’ around…

So Avatar is scanning the distance with a telescope, then shares his concerns with Elinore’s father the president of Montagar — a guy in a top hat wearing a clown mask (no political commentary here… no sirree Bob) — worried that his scouts haven’t yet returned from their mission.

“They’re really late now, aren’t they old wizard?” giggles Elinore. “Bad magic, isn’t it? And if they don’t show, you’ll know-no-more-than-you-did-be-fore [yes, that's exactly how she says it]. Tee-hee-hee.”

Or maybe, just maybe they’re effing dead and Blackwolf’s assassins are on their way. Have you thought of that Miss Faeries-don’t-wear-bras? Hm?

Okay, so Elinore’s a hottie, but that doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily portrayed as smart, which also kind of bugs me, as if a woman can be pretty or intelligent, but not both. Sigh. I have to keep reminding myself that this thing was made in 1976…

Avatar the wizard, ladies and gentlemen... the epitome of wisdom, knowledge and sophistication. And he smokes cigars with his feet.

Avatar the wizard, ladies and gentlemen… the epitome of wisdom, knowledge and sophistication. And he smokes cigars with his feet.

The president’s pretty concerned about all this, as frankly what sensible head of state wouldn’t be? He wonders — justifiably I think — whether Montagar should start arming up.

Avatar thinks this is just a waste of time. They’ll never be able to convince the people of the danger, and besides, he says, science and technology were outlawed “millions of years ago, and we must admit it’s been a peaceful world since then.”

Outlawed, huh? What’s that thing you were just looking through on your balcony, Avatar? The product of peace and love and magic? Hell, no. It was a fucking telescope.

Unaccountably the president then has a fit, demanding to know more lest he banish Avatar. Clearly Elinore has daddy wrapped around her shapely little finger, for she talks him down, explaining that Avatar’s teaching her all kinds of magic ‘n’ stuff, and can make her a “full-fledged faerie, and as you can see I’m only half-way there.”

Okay, I’m just going to leave that line alone. Some of my best friends are faeries.

Avatar starts explaining his past while below, the fearsome Necron 99 is clambering up the side of his tower.

Okay, at least Blackwolf’s minions LOOK cool. Of course they couldn’t fight off a troop of girl scouts armed with cookies, but at least they LOOK cool…

Now we’re back to still images and our sultry-voice narrator. Blackwolf lurked in Scortch for 5,000 years (wait, I though the title card said 3,000 years… Oh hell, I give up trying to keep track of what happened when), gathering an army and attempting to fulfill his promise to conquer the good guys and put the mutants in charge. Summoning demons from hell for generals, he unleashed his armies. Unfortunately, despite their demonic leadership, Blackwolf’s troops were pretty pathetic, getting bored or distracted before retreating in disorder, and the elves and faeries didn’t even have to use harsh language to drive them back.

Now we cut to one of the funnier pieces in the movie, a scene with a gas-mask clad mutant named Max mourning over his slain companion, Fritz (apparently a reference to Bakshi’s involvement in the Fritz the Cat movie).

“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They killed Fritz!”

Max and Fritz might have been an awesome comedy team if only Fritz had actually lived.

Max then opens upon the enemy with his pistol, screaming for vengeance, only to have Fritz stand up, tap him on the shoulder and explain that he’s fine (his voice is by our distinguished director, Ralph Bakshi, by the way).

Max doesn’t like this. “Damn. There you go again, stepping on my lines, raining on my parade, costing me medals! Damn!”

Of course in his frustration, Max then accidentally shoots Fritz dead.

“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! They killed Fritz!”

And so on. Yeah, it’s still funny even after all these years.

Blackwolf is unhappy with his army’s performance, and I certainly know how he feels (I played Wizard Kings this past weekend, and both Dale and Victor took me to the cleaners, slaughtering my elvish armies to the last unit, then dividing the world up between them. Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin…). He sends his legions out to scavenge for lost technology, eventually locating all sorts of cool tanks, bombers, missiles, guns, grenades and artillery. Everything’s in surprisingly good condition even after 10 million years, but no matter.

Blackwolf the Wizard frowns on your shenanigans.

Blackwolf the Wizard frowns on your shenanigans.

Unfortunately, even the best lost military tech means jack if you’ve got uninspired mooks to carry it, so Blackwolf keeps searching for something to motivate his legions and give them the edge they need to overwhelm a huge kingdom full of unarmed, inexperienced farmers and half-naked faerie babes.

Avatar believes that Blackwolf has solved his problem and now has what he needs to inspire his mutant forces, which is why he sent out Weehawk and Deadmeat. The clown-faced prez thinks this is a load of hooey, but before he can start ranting again, Necron 99 clambers over the balcony and shoots him full of holes.

Avatar responds quickly — not quickly enough to save the president, but quickly — zapping Necron with magic and knocking him out. Having just seen her father mercilessly shot down before her wide, expressive blue eyes, Elinore freaks out, throwing herself on Necron and tearing at his clothes.

Elinore shows her mean side.

Elinore shows her mean side.

(Now wouldn’t mind having Elinore throw herself on me and tear at my clothes, but I really don’t think I want to murder her father to get it.)

Weehawk now shows up a bit late to the game, rushing into the room and falling on his knees telling Avatar he’s failed both him and the president. Fade out on the scene of tragedy and fade back in on Scortch One, where Blackwolf’s minon, a lizard-man named Larry sees Necron’s little red light go out, then runs to go tell his master.

Blackwolf’s sitting on his throne in the middle of a huge swastika (a swastika! Aha! I think I know where this is going now!) playing with a couple of skulls. Larry tells him that Necron’s history. Blackwolf is delighted — that means that all of the free world’s leaders have been assassinated and his plan can begin in earnest.

“The remaining countries are now ruled by second-rate incompetents,” he says, “so confused that even now they blame the killings on those within their own ranks!”

These backgrounds kick so much ass...

These backgrounds kick so much ass…

Okay, enough about the current state of the Republican party. On to Blackwolf’s master stroke.

He strides through his fortress, past giant dynamos, swooping bombers, rows of armored vehicles and marching legions and lizard-guys throwing up Nazi salutes.

“It’s time to strike,” Blackwolf hisses as sirens blare ans summon his forces. “Sieg heil!”

And just in case Bakshi’s symbolism isn’t hammered home quite well enough, we cut back to Larry who’s wolfing down raw meat from a hanging side of beef, and when he scampers off we see that there’s a star of David branded on its side.

Okay, okay — we getit. We get it!

Blackwolf the Wizard grows weary of your tedious company.

Blackwolf the Wizard grows weary of your tedious company.

Two more of the gasmask mutants then discuss their mutual feelings. The fat one (it’s always the fat one, isn’t it?) says he doesn’t want to fight anymore, and has decided he loves birds and butterflies and flowers. His companion tells him not to worry, that Blackwolf has a secret weapon that makes them invincible, and then the fat gasmask mutant dutifully shoulders arms and happily marches off to Blackwolf’s Nuremburg Rally.

Blackwolf strides into his projection room where a couple of pixies are chained to a hand-cranked generator.

“It will never work!” declares the female. “People don’t want war. It destroyed this planet, it’s people and all records of past civilizations!”

“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh,” chuckles Blackwolf, uncovering what appears to be a 16mm movie projector. “Not all records, as you’ll soon find out!”

What follows is something of an acid trip. Blackwolf throws open the curtains of his projection booth (emblazoned with a giant swastika, naturally) and addresses the troops.

“Attention, members of tomorrow’s master race!”

And with that we get the first of many pieces of stock footage, repurposed to the world of Wizards. The first is a recolored segment from Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, that originally showed an evil Teutonic musician pounding away on a big pipe organ (no, really, it did… Go see the movie… It’s a long story).

In the name of Aleksander Nevsky... Wait... I mean BLACKWOLF THE WIZARD!

In the name of Aleksander Nevsky… Wait… I mean BLACKWOLF THE WIZARD!

The music gets everyone’s attention and Blackwolf’s legions stop shooting craps and picking up whores to listen. More processed footage from Nevsky follows (siege engines and knights with wings, devil horns and red eyes added, for example), as well as more repurposed sequences from (I kid you not) Zulu. While it’s all pretty trippy it is also far more convincing than the legions of rotoscoped guys in gorilla masks that passed for orcs in The Lord of the Rings.

Once the stock footage army has assembled, Blackwolf continues. “The time has come as I promised! The time when I reveal to you, my loyal followers, the ancient secret of war. The key to creating hysteria. Fear. GODDDDDSSSSSS!”

Yeah, that’s how he delivers it. Blackwolf’s voice, by the way, is from Steve Gravers, who passed away only a year or so after Wizards was released. Another veteran TV actor, Gravers was active in dozens of shows from the 1950s onward. Wizards was not his last role — he was active up until the very end, acting on Charlie’s Angels and a horrible possessed-auto movie called The Car before heading for the big retired actor’s home in the sky.

Having fired up his troops, Blackwolf then zaps the pixies, forcing them to crank the generator, powering the projector and providing his drooling legions with what they’ve been missing all these years — Nazi propaganda.

Always remember... The army that SLAYS together STAYS together.

Always remember… The army that SLAYS together STAYS together.

And so it is that, watching footage from Nazi newsreels and The Triumph of the Will, while listening to the Horst Wessel Song, Blackwolf’s troops are driven into a National Socialistic frenzy and thus driven to vent their righteous rage upon the elves and faeries who stand in the way of mutant lebensraum.

Yeah, we get it all. As pictures of Hitler, Junkers 88s, Panzer IVs and Focke-Wulf fighters scroll past them, the mutants throw their arms around each other, start foaming at the mouth, jumping up and down and praising Blackwolf, their beloved Fuhrer to the skies. Now I feel sorry for the elves and faeries.

Next we see an animated map of Blackwolf’s attack on East Elfland. It’s actually a pretty cool map, and it only appears on screen for a second or two. Fortunately, through the magic of modern DVD technology (there’s that word again, dammit), we can freeze-frame and learn more about the world.

For all you wargamers out there...

For all you wargamers out there…

East Elfland is the first victim. In the peaceful, tranquil forest, untouched by the evils of nasty technology and genetically-inferior mutants, a faerie leader gives a speech to her people.

“Blackmark’s armies come again!” she cries (and she does say “Blackmark” so it might be a misread or another word for Scortch… I like the latter myself). “Our cousin elves are already in the trenches. It’s our loved land too. For elfin and faerie-land united we fly!”

I believe that this was the slogan of Trans-Dimensional Airlines back in the 70s, wasn’t it? At least until 9/11, after which it became “Shut up and be grateful we’re even letting you on board.”

And so off fly the faeries in a rush of pixie dust. Now we dissolve to the trenches where grim but extremely short elves in armor attempt to peek over the edge.

Don't you worry, kid. Blackwolf's murderous demons won't even consider someone named "Peewhittle" dangerous.

Don’t you worry, kid. Blackwolf’s murderous demons won’t even consider someone named “Peewhittle” dangerous.

In one trench, a grizzled veteran named Alfie sucks on his pipe and reassures his greenhorn trenchmate Peewhittle (no, really… The damned elf’s name is Peewhittle. Jesus, if I was stuck with a name like that I’d want to die in battle too) that the enemy is a big pushover.

“Blackwolf must have lost one million men here the last time he tried to invade! And if Blackwolf’s stupid enough to try it again he’ll lose twice more! Them goblins and demons just look mean, but they’re yella! They got no cause to fight. They always give up and run with our arrows chasin’ ‘em all the way home! Hee-hee-hee! It’s always been that way and it’ll always be the same. In’t that the truth, boys?”

While I think that referring to Blackwolf’s troops as “men” is a little misleading, it’s obvious that Alfie’s confidence is misplaced, for a few moments later the fired-up neo-Fascists storm the trenches using classic Blitzkrieg tactics while wah-wah guitars play in the background.  World War II stock footage (with horns stuck on the German helmets) now runs, interspersed with images of Blackwolf’s demon cavalry and flying serpents.

The technology-hating elves now don their helmets (technology), strap on their breastplates (technology), string their bows (technology) and draw their swords (technology) and prepare to meet the assault.

I think I saw this guy at a Laser Floyd show back in '81.

I think I saw this guy at a Laser Floyd show back in ’81.

Things go okay for them until Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector, sending images of Third Reich mayhem directly over the battlefield, terrifying the poor wittle elfs and scaring them so much they throw down their weapons and run away like a bunch of pussies. The demons and mutants slaughter everyone but Peewhittle, who is left shivering in the trenches amid the slain bodies of his fellow elves.

Back in Avatar’s palace of phallitude, the good wizard is busy inspecting Necron 99 and denying Elinore’s pleas to torture information out of him. When Avatar tells her that torture is immoral and against the Geneva convention, Eliniore replies that all she wants to do is waterboard him, and that, as we all know, isn’t really torture.

No, Avatar says, he’s managed to extract sufficient information from Necron’s brain. Blackwolf has a magic dream machine that inspires his armies, and it must be destroyed. Elinore and Weehawk are both raring to go, but Avatar just climbs into bed saying he’s too old for this kind of shit and to wake him up when the world goes kablooey.

Avatar doesn’t take much convincing to change his mind, and immediately they start planning their next move. As Elinore crouches alluringly above him, Avatar asks her to sit there for a few hours while he figures it out.

Elinore poses alluringly. She’s sure gotten over the death of her father quickly, hasn’t she?

And of course, rather than punching him and calling him a sexist old man, Elinore complies, posing like a centerfold. Sheesh. There’s a part of me that’s kind of sorry that I notice this kind of sexist shit more easily these days, but for the most part I’m glad I’m a little more discriminating than I was at 16.

Avatar plans to reprogram Necron 99 and rename him Peace, “in the hopes that he will bring it” and use him to guide our three heroes to the machine’s hiding place.

More narration now. Weehawk spends a night saying goodbye to his tribe, while Elinore assures the other winged ones that she will return as Queen of Montagar (so men are presidents and women are queens? It’s an odd system they have in Montagar) and a full-fledged faerie.

Avatar leads the bound Necron… No, sorry, “Peace”… down the stairs, telling him to behave himself, lest he face painful consequences. “I got stuff that’ll take 20 years to kill you,” he says, “and you’ll be screaming for mercy in the first five seconds.”

Jesus. This is the wizard of peace and love and flowers and rainbows? I’m starting to sympathize more and more with Blackwolf and the mutants.

Peace doesn’t want this, though, and agrees to cooperate. “Peace,” he says, “wants love. Wants free. Will help.”

Avatar was forced to tie up Peace the robot after he threatened to leave if Elinore started singing.

Avatar was forced to tie up Peace the robot after he threatened to leave if Elinore started singing.

Avatar brings Peace to his old mount — the one that took an arrow through the eye — clearly resurrected through Avatar’s dark necromantic arts and relatively whole save some stitches and an eyepatch. Weehawk doesn’t trust Peace, but Avatar assures him that his powers are mighty while levitating himself into his horse-thing’s saddle but landing backwards.

Elinore, being the fluff-brained bimbo that she is, giggles and says (once more in an exaggerated girly voice), “He’s gettin’ older but not much bolder! Tee-hee-hee.”

Okay, I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers, but Elinore does have her annoying aspects. Damn you, age and maturity…

And so our slightly shorthanded Fellowship departs (reduced from nine to four due to the same budget restrictions that reduced the mutant mounts legs from four to two).

“Sing us a song, Elinore,” Avatar asks the suddenly-sulky faerie. (At this point during my original viewing back in ’77 I distinctly remember a woman in the audience loudly exclaiming, “Oh, brother!”)

“I don’t want to,” she pouts, apparently realizing that she hasn’t packed any hair care products.

Elinore's all pouty. Then again, wouldn't you be pouty if you had to put up with this guy all the time?

Elinore’s all pouty. Then again, wouldn’t you be pouty if you had to put up with this guy all the time?

“But that’s why we brought you,” Avatar says, busily digging himself in even deeper. “Come on!”

Oh, Jesus… This somewhat appalling bit of sexism goes unnoticed (most of the amazon-types I’ve known over the years would jam a foot or two of steel through my ear if I had the temerity to say something that patronizing, but I guess that Avatar and I move in different circles), and Elinore obliges, singing the following haunting tune (sung by Baywatch’s Susan Anton) over a brief montage of the devastation that the war has wrought:

Time renews tomorrow, 
When we’ve used today. 
It will find the sorrow 
And wash it all away. 

Love can play a new tune 
On this carousel. 
It may be tomorrow, 
But only time will tell. 

No one has the answer 
To give away or sell. 
Tomorrow holds the secret, 
But only time will tell.

Sorry, kid. No school today -- Blackwolf had your teacher flayed alive for teaching evolution.

Sorry, kid. No school today — Blackwolf had your teacher flayed alive for teaching evolution.

As we pan past a long line of elvish prisoners in the middle of a bombed out city, we see a family of faeries seeking shelter in a tree. The faeries’ child asks where daddy is and mommy tells him that he’s out guarding their home since their side has lost the war. When the kid asks why they lost mom tells him, “Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love.”

Oh, bloody hell… I’m going to resist the urge to start ranting again, but this whole sappy, saccharine scene with its sappy, saccharine music puts me in mind of a line from comedian Jack Handey, who said: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.”

Anyway, back to the comic relief. Hundreds of elves are standing in line, guarded by Blackwolf’s troops and tanks. Several of the gasmask-wearing mooks are trying to figure out what to do with all the prisoners, and want to ask the local priests how to proceed.

Sacreligious? Us? NEVER!

Sacreligious? Us? NEVER!

A couple of mooks kick down the doors of the temple, which is stuffed with “holy objects that they’ve saved for millions of years.” Yup, you guessed it — the “holy objects” include a Coca-Cola sign, a baseball glove, an Oscar (TM) statuette, jukebox, TV, old fashioned telephone, etc.

The two mooks eventually find the priests, two dwarvish-types in robes and bowlers who are snoozing in the back of the temple on an old tapestry bearing a CBS-TV logo.

“My sons, you say you are the victors, but there is only one victor” intones the first priest, pointing up, “and that’s Him.”

The mooks insist on an answer, but the priests tell them that they must first observe sundown and pray. And pray they do, howling and babbling, whacking each other with sticks, doing the old soft-shoe, wheeling each other back and forth on improvised crucifixes, dousing each other with water, bowing, bobbing, jumping, etc. Eventually, after five hours the mooks lose patience and just shoot all the prisoners and blow up the temple, which is what we pretty much expected from the beginning.

Back to Scortch One, where Blackwolf is talking to a hot dark-elven woman who lounges unhappily on a couch.

When you think about it, Blackwolf is kind of Scortch's equivalent of Hugh Hefner -- a wizened shriveled semi-human mummy who still gets all the hot babes because he's so rich and leads an army of killer mutants.

When you think about it, Blackwolf is kind of Scortch’s equivalent of Hugh Hefner — a wizened shriveled semi-human mummy who still gets all the hot babes because he’s rich and leads an army of killer mutants.

“Will the birth be soon?” he asks.

“Very soon, my lord,” says the not-pregnant-at-all-looking elf.

“You are young to be queen,” Blackwolf replies, “but deliver me a son and you shall help me rule this planet.”

“I don’t want to rule this planet, lord,” she says. “Just our kingdom is enough.”

“Enough?” Blackwolf demands. “Enough for mutants to stay in their place, huh? Laden with radiation so our bodies crawl with hell? We will live in the good lands. My son will grow where there isn’t death in the very waters we drink and the air we breathe.”

Now consider this exchange  – what’s Blackwolf asking for, really? A safe, clean place to raise his children in, free of death and disease. The Nazi allegory starts to break down here — a people’s desire to live in health and happiness is a long way from racist fascist lebensraum. But more on that later.

Blackwolf approaches his wise men, a trio of greenish mutants who make Python’s Spanish Inquisition look competent. He asks them whether his son will be human or mutant. They assure him that it will be a mutant, and Blackwolf displays his horrific lack of good judgment skills by believing them.

There’s at least two things wrong with calling these guys “wise men.”

“The next one won’t be!” he snarls, stalking off. His future queen rushes after him, crying out not to have her son killed.

“It is not his fault!” she sobs.

Whoa, my head is now spinning. We’ve been spending most of the flick talking about how inherently evil and inferior mutants are, and now we’re trying to create sympathy for them as victims of Blackwolf’s eugenics. The fact that he’ll kill his son if he’s a mutant is contradictory, but that doesn’t really bug me, since villains of this type are usually hypocrites, and Blackwolf’s worse than most.

Meanwhile, our heroes are now riding perilously close to the domain of the mountain faeries, which neither Peace nor Weehawk think is a good idea.

“Faerie bad. Not good. Go around,” Peace says, summing up my feelings very precisely.

Awwww... Isn't dey jus' da cutest wittle things? And don't you just want to set them on fire or something?

Awwww… Isn’t dey jus’ da cutest wittle things? And don’t you just want to set them on fire or something?

Avatar vetoes the suggestion and into the faerie domains they go. Weehawk notes that elves and faeries are bad blood cousins, which kind of contradicts the solidarity they’ve been showing all through the movie, but no matter.

A bunch of faeries now starts to follow the companions. These are somewhat different from the ones we’ve seen up to this point — they’re a bit more like Victorian flower faeries, and consequently even more irritating. Needless to say, Elinore thinks they’re cute but Weehawk sensibly tries to gut one with his sword, with little success.

The faeries get even more aggressive. One transforms into a giant pink rat and menaces Weehawk, while the others levitate Avatar and Elinore’s mounts into a tree. As they do, a rifle falls from Avatar’s pack, and Peace discreetly picks it up. Uh-oh? Is he contemplating mischief, or even worse… shenanigans?

So THAT'S what Mark Hamill looked like before the car accident...

So THAT’S what Mark Hamill looked like before the car accident…

By now Avatar’s had enough. He orders the faeries to stop saying, “Even in the houses of elves I’ve seen more sophisticated magic!”

Weehawk lets this slight slide by, but the faeries continue with their antics. Eventually Avatar calls up the powers of magic and nature to sweep the faeries away. In the confusion, Peace slips away and nearby meets up with his two fellow assassins.

Avatar continues whipping up a storm, knocking faeries left and right until at last one of the more sensible faeries whips out a magic wand and casts a counterspell, stopping Avatar’s magic cold. The faerie then smiles adorably (or at least he thinks he’s adorable. I just want to squash him with a flyswatter).

The sky clears and Avatar, Weehawk and Elinore find themselves in the middle of a faerie feast.

“Please forgive us for the behavior of some of our more care-free brothers,” says the faerie who thinks he’s so fucking cute. “I’m Sean, leader of the Knights of Stardust, protectors of Dolan, king of the mountain faeries.”

Actually, after dealing with Sean I’d have considered shooting him, too.

Sean’s voice probably sounds familiar, because it was provided by a young actor by the name of Mark Hamill, who would one day go on to fame in movies like Corvette Summer, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Eventually Avatar stops being annoyed, and discusses their mission with Sean while Weehawk walks away in disgust to go talk to the horses.

“We’ll eat alone, lest we sit with fools,” he says. Yeah, I knew I liked Weehawk, despite his dumb name.

Weehawk realizes that Peace has gone missing and raises the alarm, but it’s too late. From the forest automatic weapons fire cuts down Sean and next thing we know Elinore is magically imprisoned with her arms sunk in two blocks of stone, leaving Avatar and Weehawk to chase after her, knowing that Peace has turned on them. Or so they think, anyway.

Avatar and Weehawk race into the mountain faeries’ caves, but Weehawk falls into a pit, leaving Avatar to go on alone.

Evidently the mountain faeries take their bondage sessions VERY seriously.

Evidently the mountain faeries take their bondage sessions VERY seriously.

“You must save Elinore,” Weehawk’s voice echoes up from below. “Hurry, old fool!”

Avatar inches past the pit, muttering the mystic spell “Morrow-Krenkel-Frazetta” (a joke I even got when I was only 16).

While Avatar rushes off to save our zaftig heroine, Weehawk blunders around in the darkness, eventually facing a gigantic multi-legged insect-demon thing, but just as it’s about to finish him off, a volley of gunfire erupts from the darkness, killing the beast.

Badly wounded, Peace staggers forward mumbling, “Faerie bad. Not good.” He almost falls into the abyss, but Weekhawk pulls him back and they lie together, exhausted.

Now on to the faerie bondage scene, with the captive Elinore still trapped and surrounded by a crowd of faeries calling for her blood. The king, surrounded by his bodyguard of hot barbarian faeries, calls for calm.

Okay, the king's kind of a loser, but his bodyguards are dead butch. Especially that one on the right...

Okay, the king’s kind of a loser, but his bodyguards are dead butch. Especially that one on the right…

“Will it be brother against brother here, too?” he demands. “Only humans kill their own kind!”

(Let me take a moment to stew at this species-ist, ignorant remark… Okay, back to the movie.)

“She allowed technology and death into the golden circle!” shouts a rather haggish female faerie. “She is a traitor!”

Elinore takes umbrage at this, giggling (and Bakshi himself must have really enjoyed what giggling does to Elinore’s breasts) and telling the faeries that she doesn’t take this kind of shit from anyone, no matter how badass their king is.

Furious, Elinore blasts some of the angry faeries with magic, eliciting even more calls for her blood.

By now Elinore’s on a roll, realizing that she now has “full faerie power” and animating one of the statues on the column imprisoning her. The statue goes berserk, beating on faeries and threatening to provoke a massive riot.

I know this looks bad for Elinore, but believe me it's NOTHING compared to what female cosplayers have to put up with at Comicon.

I know this looks bad for Elinore, but believe me it’s NOTHING compared to what female cosplayers have to put up with at Comicon.

Avatar arrives just in time to throw himself on the faeries’ mercy while the animated statue starts humping Elinore’s leg. He didn’t kill Shawn, but is on a mission to save the world and if the king would be so kind as to let him and Elinore go, well, so that they can at least try to defeat Blackwolf, even though clearly the mission is doomed…

While he talks, the statue-thing starts clambering all over Elinore and she does her best to avoid it, without success.

“I have always been very good,” she says, kicking at it, “and can be even better sometimes…”

In the middle of Avatar’s speech, the image of Blackwolf appears, shouting, “My brother lies!” and a faerie arrow strikes Avatar in the arm. He takes it like a man, which impresses the king, who notes that he has kept his word not to use violence, and so can leave along with Elinore.

Hey, Avatar! This gives me an idea for my next poledance routine at the Crazy Horse!

With that Avatar and Elinore are transported into the frozen wastelands, where Elinore discovers that her somewhat abbreviated garments are inadequate to northern weather. Avatar conjures her a poncho, giving her the first decent clothing she’s managed for the entire movie. Note however, that he doesn’t bother to conjure actual shoes for either one of them, which strikes me as a bit of an inconvenience in a frozen wilderness.

The next day Avatar and Elinore dig themselves out of a snowbank and keep slogging on in the general direction of Scortch. When they’re confronted by riders, they prepare for a last stand, Elinore drawing her sword and Avatar preparing his magic (which I hope works better than it did on the faeries).

The riders are revealed to be Weehawk and Peace, who have been searching all this time, and finally get our happy couple off the glacier.

Hey, the mutants' wives are pretty cute, except for the fangs. And some of us are into that.

Hey, the mutants’ wives are pretty cute, except for the fangs. And some of us are into that.

More narration now, with an 80s montage of the rest of the journey. Traveling through the mutant lands, our heroes discover that the mutants are all gone. Well not all gone…

“All they left were their wives,” we are told, “hurling insults and rocks as the party passed through.”

Hey, don’t mutant wives get to fight, too? Well, I guess if the heroes are sexist, then the villains will be as well…

As they pass through the desert, Avatar and his companions are captured by a bunch of Arabic/Asian freedom fighters, led by a very loud viking-dwarf named Apu (no, really), who grabs Avatar and swings him around like a flag, bellowing, “AVATAR! FATHER! MOTHER! PEACE! LOVE! GRANOLA! HIPPIES! WEED! BURNING MAN!”

Surprise brohug!

Well, not quite that bad, but close. It seems that the companions have stumbled upon the last surviving elves, who have taken weapons from Blackwolf’s forces and are massing for a final assault on Scortch One.

Avatar doesn’t think much of this. He smacks Apu out of frustration with his suicidal plan, but the general takes it well, telling his followers not to hurt Avatar, and telling them that in the old days Avatar traveled the land, curing sickness and helping the bereaved. Why he never helped the mutants isn’t really explained, but I guess no one’s perfect, huh?

“And now,” Apu continues, “we have our messiah back again! He’s going to destroy his brother for us. With what? A woman-child, one elf, and a moron robot.”

Hey, you have to admit it’s a pretty accurate description. Disgusted, Apu stalks into his tent, leaving Avatar to walk sadly into the night, feeling totally pwned.

It seems that the elves have finally realized that to defeat cool-looking enemies you have to look cooler than they do.

Later that evening as Elinore and Peace look out to sea they’re attacked by one of Blackwolf’s spells, a massive red-eyed cloud that tries to seize Elinore. Avatar drives it off and then becomes Mister Buzz-kill, telling Elinore that it’s all her fault — her kind words took Peace’s mind off his internal battle with Blackwolf, allowing the wizard to attack.

We don’t have much respite after that, as one of Blackwolf’s tanks attacks. Peace tries to defend Avatar but — Surprise! Surprise! — Elinore draws her sword, kills Peace, and jumps into the tank, riding away with the gasmask mooks and leaving poor Avatar to wonder what the hell went wrong.

Shattered by Elinore’s betrayal, Avatar accompanies the rebel army on their awesome Ian Miller-designed ships as they sail to attack Scortch, but wanders around mumbling to himself, in full Heroic BSOD mode. When Weehawk tells him that they have to swim to Scortch to complete their mission, he pretty much goes along with all the enthusiasm of a damp dishrag.

Screw you losers... I'm heading off for a hot three-way with Blackwolf and that dark elf babe. (And by the way... EWWWW!)

Screw you losers… I’m heading off for a hot three-way with Blackwolf and that dark elf babe. (And by the way… EWWWW!)

Fortunately we aren’t subjected to the sight of Avatar swimming in that ridiculous outfit of his — we cut to the action after he and Weehawk have made it to Scortch and are both completely dry. Of course Avatar is still vapor-locked, mumbling nonsensically and generally carrying on like Mitt Romney after election night.  As they approach Scortch One, Avatar decides to brighten the place up a little by conjuring some nice flowers, an approach which Weehawk finds slightly objectionable.

They sneak through the lower city past the by-now expected images of Nazi-esque atrocities and nasty mutants wearing swastika armbands, and so on. Eventually Avatar completely breaks down and strides out, doing tricks for a mutant feldmarschall and his creepy looking doxy. Larry the lizard-man (remember him?) tries to warn the guy, but being a dumb Nazi mutant he ignores the danger until Weehawk shows up, gutting him with a sword and going all Wuxia action hero on the mutants who try to pile on and even going so far as to kick a fuckin’ mutant’s head off. Holy shit — Weehawk continues to blaze a trail of badassery all the way from Montagar to Scortch.

Weehawk shows what a badass motherfucker he really is. Provide your own Wuxia sound effects.

Weehawk shows what a badass motherfucker he really is. Provide your own Wuxia sound effects.

Larry the Lizard jumps Weehawk and slices his arm. Once more the mutants prove themselves to be pretty dumb, as Larry now thinks he’s killed Weehawk and rushes into the castle, muttering “Master! The enemy is dead! Master loves Larry! Master feed Larry!” Say what you will about Larry the Lizard, you have to agree that he is at least extremely goal-oriented.

Avatar is standing next to the fallen fieldmarshal, and looks distraught, but he allows Weehawk to lead him as they follow Larry into the heart of Blackhawk’s fortress.

Meanwhile on the beaches it’s D-Day as elvish resistance forces storm ashore. There’s a brief shot once more adapted from the movie Zulu in which a couple of Blackwolf’s scouts (Zulu warriors with horns painted on — what kind of message is that sending?) spot the enemy before all hell breaks loose. The elves have pretty much given up their crappy WWI tactics and now advance, fully armed and armored in Conan the Barbarian style, against Blackwolf’s tanks and artillery. Yeah, the elves may be doomed, but they’ve finally learned how to dress themselves stylishly.

Okay, assholes... No more "Peace-lovin', flower-power, tech-hatin' elf" crap. Come 'n' get some!

Okay, assholes… No more “Peace-lovin’, flower-power, tech-hatin’ elf” crap. Come ‘n’ get some!

More footage from El Cid, Alexander Nevsky and Zulu follows, interspersed with shots of Blackwolf’s mutants as the bad guys moves to engage our now totally-badass mofo elf army.

The rotoscoped enemy army from three other movies finally attacks and the elves give a fine accounting of themselves, standing firm and sending the enemy reeling back, chopping down demons, mutants and gasmask mooks and fighting to the last. And just when it seems that they might win the day…

Three guesses, folks.

Death to the British imperialists who have invaded our homeland! Oops... I mean death to the elves and faeries! Blackwolf Rules!

Death to the British imperialists who have invaded our homeland! Oops… I mean death to the elves and faeries! Blackwolf Rules!

Yes, Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector and the rotoscoped stock footage from El Cid and Zulu is replaced by rotoscoped stock footage from Patton, Kelly’s Heroes and WWII newsreels. Stunned by the terrifying images and blown apart by superior weaponry, the elves are slaughtered and Blackwolf’s armies advance in triumph.

Keep in mind that, despite the extensive use of stock footage and other varied cost-cutting measures, the battle scenes in Wizards are far more effective than those in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, released just a few years later. I admit that the images from other movies are a little jarring (especially if, like me, you’re a big fan of the movies that were used for the footage), but the battle scene is still action-packed and quite comprehensible, as opposed to the cinematic trainwreck in the later film.

This is what happens when you try to open a Wal-Mart in an elvish neighborhood, so be warned.

This is what happens when you try to open a Wal-Mart in an elvish neighborhood, so be warned.

Blackwolf himself doesn’t seem to be terribly happy with all this, and just watches grimly as Avatar and Weehawk creep up on him. Weehawk’s pretty much given up on the mission by now, telling Avatar that he can’t fight Blackwolf — he’s just too strong. Avatar agrees, but hell, it’s in the script… He has to face his brother down in single combat. Luke Skywalker wasn’t due to face Darth Vader for a few years yet, so someone has to act as an example after all.

Avatar urges Weehawk to find the projector and destroy it, and tell Elinore that “Avatar will die with her tonight. Even if we win.”

And so with that jolly thought swimming through his age- and drug-addled brain, Avatar stands up, whistles and shouts, “Hi!” to his brother.

And so it begins…

“You have aged, old fool,” Blackwolf says. “The world is mine!”

And just as he’s about to snarl, “Shall we dance?” we cut back to Weehawk as he scurries through more Ian Miller backgrounds, eventually spotting Elinore crouching, weeping in a cell. He leaps down on her, shouting, “Slut!”

Weehawk's kind of channeling his inner Simpson when he slaps Elinore, wouldn't you agree?

Weehawk’s kind of channeling his inner Simpson when he slaps Elinore, wouldn’t you agree?

Okay, okay… I really don’t think “slut” is the best thing to call her right now… Bitch maybe (though it’s kind of rude). Traitress definitely. But not “slut.” I mean, what the hell’s wrong with being a slut? Some of my best friends are sluts. And faeries. And some are slutty faeries.

Just as Weehawk’s about to gut poor Elinore like a trout, Blackwolf’s queen (remember her?) shows up, cradling her infant son in her arms (he’s swaddled so we don’t see what kind of mutant he is… it probably turns out that he’s one of the gasmask mooks, which means that Blackwolf’s queen might strayed from the path slightly).

“Stop, elf!” she cries. “Blood on blood! Fathers and sons dying! Brothers and lovers spilling false hate and rivers of life flowing away! Fool elf! Think your sword is always quick? But what else? Think!”

My god. Something tells me she’s been rehearsing that speech for weeks.

All is forgiven. Fortunately Elinore didn't tell Weehawk that she's also been torturing elf prisoners and watching Fox News ever since she got to the fortress.

All is forgiven. Fortunately Elinore didn’t tell Weehawk that she’s also been torturing elf prisoners and watching Fox News ever since she got to the fortress.

Weehawk hesitates at this, as who wouldn’t, giving Elinore a chance to explain. Blackwolf was able to control her mind and forced her to kill Peace, and she was unable to prevent it.

Aw, come on… You knew that all along, didn’t you?

And so Blackwolf’s unnamed queen and son flee the fortress, and out of the movie. Unfortunately we don’t see them again, though they certainly look like interesting characters to follow.

(And if I were writing this as a Wulf story or something, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d have written a scene in which the queen comforts Elinore in ways that only a woman can… But then again, I make no bones about my various perversities…)

Meanwhile, Blackwolf is still busy monologuing.

“The trouble with you, my brother, is that you’ve always been too good.”

(Now isn’t that just the quintessential “evil brother” line of dialog? It deserves some kind of award, I think.)

Avatar takes this in stride. “That may be,” he says, “but I still think I look more like ma than you do.”

And so it begins... The two rival wizards face each other at last, presaging a magic duel that will shatter the very foundations of reality. Or not.

And so it begins… The two rival wizards face each other at last, presaging a magic duel that will shatter the very foundations of reality. Or not.

Blackwolf isn’t amused, and is still in villain speech mode.

“There is no need for me to destroy you,” he continues. “Surrender. Surrender your world.”

Yeah, like the elves would go along. They’ve already decided that Avatar’s kind of a dork and are busy outside fighting to the death.

Avatar replies with a slow clap. “You always did need an audience, you sap. Let me tell ya. I ain’t practiced much magic for a long time. I wanna show you a trick mother showed me when you weren’t around, to use on special occasions like this.” He rolls up his sleeves. “Oh, yeah. One more thing. I’m glad you changed your last name, you son of a bitch.”

And with that, Avatar, wizard of peace, lover of nature, hater of technology, defender of magic and foe of destructive engines and machines, draws a Pistole Parabellum 1908 Luger and blows a couple of nine millimeter holes in his brother’s chest.

Fortunately for civilization, Avatar had maintained his NRA membership for the last 5,000 years.

Fortunately for civilization, Avatar had maintained his NRA membership for the last 5,000 years.

(And what’s that about his last name? Hell, they have last names? And if they do, what the hell are they?)

Yes, after our near-feverish anticipation of a massive wizard’s duel, Avatar goes all Indiana Jones on Blackwolf and pops a cap in his wizened old ass. Blackwolf doesn’t even get a death speech before he falls and — predictably — his massive villain-fortress begins to crumble.

Avatar ditches the luger and gets ready to die, but Weehawk shows up just in time to tell him the truth, that Elinore’s not a traitor, and together the trio escape just as the magic movie projector blows up, taking Scortch One along with it.

“It is done!” Weehawk yells, providing some of the most unnecessary plot exposition in cinema history. “It is done! The world is free!

You shot me. You motherfucker! I can't believe you actually SHOT me! God damn it! You fucking asshole! You SHOT me!

You shot me. You motherfucker! I can’t believe you actually SHOT me! God damn it! You fucking asshole! You SHOT me!

And now with one last narrative interlude, we’re told that the shadow creatures faded away or crawled back to hell, and the mutants fled or were mercilessly cut down by the vengeful, genetically-pure elves. While there was some rejoicing, we’re told, most simply wanted to return home. Hitler, the narratrix says, once more pounding home the message with an oversized plot hammer, was dead again!

They could live once more in peace in the land they loved so much! God-given. Amen.

And, might I add, free of the threat of genetically-inferior mutants to mess up their perfect world since, after all, only the beautiful and the pure should be allowed to live in health and safety. The rest of us get to scrape out our existences in the living hell of Scortch.

Amen.

In the epilog, back in the green and lush good lands, Weehawk captures Larry the Lizard, but Avatar tells him to just set him free. Larry goes bounding happily off into the forest, where he is probably shot a week later by the elvish purity squad.

Elinore informs Weehawk that she and Avatar are going off on their own now, to form their own kingdom. Weehawk’s the new king of Montagar, and he can just ignore the dictates of those stupid presidents and “elected” legislators.

Weehawk skillfully hides his disdain for Larry the Lizard.

Weehawk skillfully hides his disdain for Larry the Lizard.

Weehawk thinks this sounds ridiculous and just the tiniest bit creepy. “You and Avatar married, my queen?”

Avatar doesn’t think that marrying a hot busty brunette who’s young enough to be his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (etc.) granddaughter is at all strange. He has at least 1,000 years or so left, and he intends to fill them with the fleshy delights of Elinore’s voluptuous body.

Well, he doesn’t say that exactly but I know just what he’s thinking. At least it’s what I’d be thinking in his place.

Weehawk just shrugs and rides off to go be king, leaving Avatar and Elinore to contemplate the complexities of their future life together.

“Come on,” Avatar says, “let’s make it.”

Weehawk reacts with bemused horror as he imagines Avatar and Elinore's wedding night.

Weehawk reacts with bemused horror as he imagines Avatar and Elinore’s wedding night.

Elinore giggles (of course) and says, “Avatar, you’re getting older and much bolder.”

“C’mon!” Avatar replies. “I mean let’s make it out of here!”

“Suuuure you did,” Elinore says, and we cut to credits and an encore of her elf song from the beginning of the movie sung by that Baywatch actress.

Wizards is an odd movie, and I found the whole thing downright schizophrenic on many levels. Above all else, it’s both a good movie and a bad movie at the same time. Good for its images, animation, voice acting and overall mood, but bad due to the ham-handedness of its story and its contradictory messages.

One more final shot of Elinore being Elinore.

One more final shot of Elinore being Elinore.

And it’s the messages that bug me more today than they did in 1977.

Let’s see. We establish a world where there are some races born good (elves and faeries) and some that are born evil (mutants). There are two wizards who represent the same good and evil, and came into the world that way. Good will always be good and evil always evil with no hope for redemption.

So the good, pretty people get to live in the nice lands, where there’s sunshine and green grass and forests and flowers. The ugly people get to live in the blasted, radioactive wasteland, and if they try to leave and live in a better place, they are mercilessly slaughtered.

Then the evil wizard takes over the bad guys’ land and indoctrinates them with Nazi ideologies that claim just what the movie’s story espoused — that some races are genetically superior to others and that they must exterminate the “inferior” races to gain enough room to live and prosper.

It seems to me that the good, kind elves were the ones practicing Nazi eugenics, isolating mutants and forcing them to live in apartheid-style homelands from which they could never leave. Yet it’s the “evil” mutants who adopt the Nazi’s ideologies and the “good” elves who kill them for trying to find better lives.

There’s a lot of cool material about Wizards on the net (for example, it was originally called War Wizards, but Bakshi changed the name at George Lucas’ request in deference to the upcoming Star Wars). Bakshi himself says that Wizards was partially intended as an allegory of the founding of the state of Israel, which gives that whole “God-given” line at the end a somewhat unhappy political twist.

Apparently someone (http://fooray.deviantart.com/ to be precise) has done some kind of Elinore/Zaphod Beebelbrox crossover. I don't even want to know...

Apparently someone (http://fooray.deviantart.com/ to be precise) has done some kind of Elinore/Zaphod Beebelbrox crossover. I don’t even want to know…

I won’t get into the details of the mid-east situation because it’s complex and controversial, but I will at least say that all sides have their own point of view, and valid and rational arguments can be made for everyone. Reducing the mind-numbingly labyrinthine Arab-Israeli conflict to a story as simple-mindedly black and white as Wizards seems to do the entire situation an injustice. And if Bakshi is portraying the Israelis as peaceful elves and faeries who shun violence and weapons, and the Arabs as murderous mutants who embrace Nazi ideology, I really have to take exception.

And that’s all the dancing in that particular minefield I intend to do today, ladies and gents.

I won’t get too mad about the whole “technology vs. magic” dichotomy, but it’s a very flimsy device. As noted, the elves do use technology, and they use it quite extensively. Had Avatar said that “technological weapons were banned thousands of years ago,” I might not be quite so upset, but the story didn’t make any subtle distinctions. “They have weapons and technology, and all we have is love.” Riiiiight…

Yes, Cosplay Deviants has an Elinore page. Can you expect anything less from them?

Yes, Cosplay Deviants has an Elinore page. Can you expect anything less from them?

And so it is that, at the end, all the love and magic in the world is helpless against technology. The elves on the beaches were on the verge of annihilation before Avatar blasted Blackwolf with his Luger (which he probably lifted from the dead mutant fieldmarshal, though we didn’t actually see him do it). It’s something of a turnaround and a contradiction, but it could have been a very interesting story element, that in order to defeat your enemy you have to take up his own weapons, even though you hate yourself for doing it. However, that kind of subtlety wasn’t adequately explored.

In the years since its release, Wizards has remained a solid cult favorite, even as the far more ambitious Lord of the Rings has been either forgotten or (as in our case) laughed into obscurity. Its psychedelic imagery and magic vs. technology plot still appeal to younger audiences, while its sexy heroine and Bakshi’s homage to his friend Vaughn Bodé attract comic book and anime fans. Elinore herself remains popular with fan artists and (as you can see) cosplayers.

Why is Avatar smiling? I'll give you three guesses.

Why is Avatar smiling? I’ll give you three guesses.

In 1992, Whit Publications even came out with a Wizards rpg, and produced several supplements (for Montagar, Scortch and other locations), but today the game got at best mixed reviews and is hard to find today — I myself have yet to score a copy, and I like to think I’ve got a nice collection of obscure rpgs. I’d be interested to see it, if only to learn some of the details of the world that the writers developed.

More recently, in 2004 there was talk of a Wizards graphic novel, with chapters produced by various famous underground artists, then in 2008 Ralph Bakshi himself started discussing a cinematic sequel to the original. Though neither project seems to have borne fruit, rumors of Wizards 2 continue to circulate, and despite my now-mixed feelings about the original, I’d probably be first in line when it finally sees the light of day.

So like most things that I loved in my youth, my fondness for Wizards has been tempered somewhat by the experience and cynicism of old age. Though a few rough patches show, the movie still appeals to me, so strong was its influence over my teenaged years.

And Elinore. I mean, come on people. Elinore. Rowwf!

And again we’ve reached the end of another installment — too soon for some, too late for others. Stay tuned — I hope to review some bizarre rpgs soon and look forward to looking at the two competing versions of Conan the Barbarian very soon. Peace out, homies.


Sword and Sorcery Rating:

3Swords3 Broadswords

Though it has many of the tropes and expresses them well — blood, violence, swordplay, wizardry and voluptuous women (though there isn’t much beefcake on display… sorry, ladies) – Wizards hews more closely to the Tolkien model than that of Robert E. Howard, so I’m limiting it to three swords. On the other hand, what’s there pretty much satisfies this reviewer’s craving for sword and sorcery mayhem.

Comedy Rating:

2Swords

2 Broadswords

While not intended as a comedy, Wizards is fairly light-hearted and has some very good comic moments, especially the gasmask mook scenes such as “They killed Fritz!” and the scene with the two wacky dwarf priests. Overall however, the movie’s pretty grim and serious but isn’t bad enough to merit unintentional comedy.

Violence Rating:

3Swords

3 Broadswords

Wizards, for all its discussion of peace and love and non-violence, is actually pretty much soaked in blood. I mean hell — six billion people die in the first minute or two. Then there’s war, mayhem, assassination, sword fights, kung fu, stabbings, shootings, immolations, mass murder… Hell, Weehawk fuckin’ kicks a guy’s head off! Yeah, this gets three swords.

Titillation Rating:

2Swords2 Broadswords

Though in places Wizards is pretty sexy, it’s mostly in terms of window dressing. Elinore is one sexy faerie, and until Jessica Rabbit came on the scene, was the hands-down winner of my personal “What cartoon character would you most like to have sex with” competition. Most of the other women such as Blackwolf’s queen and the faerie king’s bodyguard, are also gorgeous and Bodé-esque, but as I noted, there aren’t that many sexy and underclad guys (I really have to be equitable here) and despite all the cute female flesh, there’s no sex at all. Still, kudos to Bakshi for introducing me to Lady Elinore in all her fleshy glory, so an extra half sword for that.

Awesomeness Rating:

3Swords3 Broadswords

Despite my more nuanced view of the movie as I get older and less interesting, Wizards still has that certain something, and remains pretty engaging. Perhaps the pieces fit together roughly and the message is contradictory, but Wizards continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Bakshi accomplished something with Wizards that he failed to do with The Lord of the Rings, and the world is a better place for it.

KrullTitle

Bilbo Bagshot: I was like you once. Blonde hair. Scraggly little beard. Childlike ears. Full of beans, and spunk. I let my principles get in the way of things. I once punched a bloke out once for saying Hawk the Slayer was rubbish.
Tim: Good for you.
Bilbo: Yeah, thanks. But that’s not the point, Tim. The point is I was defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity, when what I should have said was “Dad, you’re right — but let’s give Krull a try, and we’ll discuss it later.”

– Spaced, Season 2, Episode 2: Change


It’s been way too long since I’ve posted, and even longer since we’ve ventured into the bloody depths of the Pit of Swords and Sorcery. Time to change that — here’s my view on another classic blast from the past. And oh yeah — this one’s squeaky clean, so you can read it at work without fear.

Return with us to a time in the forgoten past, when men were brave and women beautiful, when a mighty warrior armed with naught but sword and honor could right the wrongs of a cruel world, when dark beasts stalked the land, and the true and noble were forced to fight for justice and freedom, and the land suffered under the yoke of a cruel tyrant. I’m talking, of course, about the 1980s, the era that gave us President Ronald Reagan, trickle-down economics and A Flock of Seagulls. It also gave us a real glut of fantasy movies, some of which were incomprehensible low-budget potboilers with lots of stage blood and naked breasts (I’m talking to you, Deathstalker), and others of which were slick, expensive productions with major directors, established actors and thrilling scores by prominent composers like James S. Horner.

Onlyamodel
“It’s only a model…”
“Sh!”

The problem was that, despite these huge advantages, most of the high-budget fantasies stumbled and fell just as hilariously (or in the current case, as dully) as their low-rent brethren. Case in point – Krull, an attempt at mythic high fantasy that shoots itself in the foot in the first five minutes. Combining the talents of director Peter Yates (best known for the thrill-a-minute cop classic Bullitt, Murphy’s War, the Deep and others), a skilled if largely unknown cast, and the aforementioned composer James S. Horner, Krull sure looked as if it had everything going for it. Too bad it actually turned out to be two hours of leaden dialog, predictable plotting and an ending that roars out of left field like a runaway minotaur on steroids.

A heavenly chorus and soaring orchestra herald the opening of the film as a spinning, bladed octopoidal thing flashes past the camera as credits roll and we are greeted by shots of a vast tree stump flying through the void of interplanetary space. Hey, wait a minute! This is supposed to be a fantasy flick and we’ve already got a Star Wars homage as the opening shot? Not a word of dialog has yet been delivered, and already Krull is lurching off the rails.

At length, the tree stump descends to the surface of the titular planet, crashing down and shattering the very earth with its passage. A voiceover informs us that “many worlds have been conquered by the Beast and its army of Slayers.” Now if any of you are expecting Hawk or Buffy to ride out from the evil tree stump (aka “The Black Fortress” — hey, Beast – Very original name for your black fortress. “So we have this fortress, and it’s black. Waddya think we should call it?”), you’re going to be disappointed, since the Beast’s invincible army seems to consist of about 20 or so armored guys on horseback. These, apparently, are the Slayers, and they must be pretty badass, since there seems to be about enough of them to play a softball game, but not conquer entire worlds.

It was, of course, prophesied that the Beast would one day unleash his slayers against the peaceful world of Krull, so here they are, right on schedule. The narrator goes on to tell us that the prophecy also says that a girl of ancient name shall become queen, that she shall choose a king and that together they would rule Krull. So far, so good — that’s a pretty standard prophecy. But he goes on to note that their son will then go on to “rule the galaxy.”

Princessndad
And when he arrives, daddy, PLEASE don’t call Prince Colwyn a “candyass” again.

Here we go again — how did we get to ruling galaxies from this one podunk, severely underpopulated fantasy world with a dumb name? I strongly suspect that some studio suit insisted that they punch up the script with sci-fi references, as well as shots of the Black Fortress flying through space, to make sure that they brought in the Star Wars crowd. Well, take it from me — it’s bloody confusing.

Okay, on to the palace, garrisoned by guards who appear to be wearing motocross armor, and the cute and charming Princess Lyssa, swanning about and looking adorable but worried, as her true love, Prince Colwyn, is late for the wedding. Her father reassures here that traffic is a bitch since the Beast showed up, and that Colwyn may have had to take an alternate route to get to the lonely castle. Like most fantasy castles, Lyssa’s crib is located in the middle of nowhere, with no roads, no supporting villages, farmland or administrative structures. How do the people inside survive? Magic, I guess.

Sure enough, Prince C and an escort of a half-dozen armored cavalry gallop through the wilderness as Lyssa and her father deliver the requisite lump of plot exposition. You see, dad is nervous about the marriage, but Lyssa says that an alliance between her and Colwyn’s kingdoms is vital to defeat the slayers. Marriage, she insists, is the only way to “guarantee” the alliance.

The king seems a little dubious about this, and given how his army performs in battle against the Slayers a couple of scenes hence, I can’t say that I blame him. As far as I can tell, all that an alliance between the two kingdoms does is give the Slayers twice as many incompetent warriors to kill mercilessly. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of the story. You know what’s coming, though, so why bother?

So Colwyn and his father (I believe his name is King Tull, and they never establish whether his first name is “Jethro” or not, but it really isn’t going to matter) arrive and the two kings imediately fall to bickering. True love will triumph, however, for it’s obvious that Lyssa and Colwyn are nuts for each other. Even though it looks as if they’ve just met, they immediately fall into a liplock and all seems well.

kingtull
And for the last time STOP CALLING ME “JETHRO”!

That night, Krull’s two moons rise and the two kings declare that they’re forming a single kingdom under their children’s rule. Prince and Princess proceed to the nuptuals, unaware that a vast army of, well, ten or eleven slayers, is on its way, bent on ruining what should be the happiest day of Colwyn and Lyssa’s lives.

Blissfully unaware that death is riding nigh, the happy couple prepare to take their vows, surrounded by more of the motocross-armored guardsmen, who tap their swords against their shields, sounding very much like one of those prison movies where the prisoners all start banging simultaneously on their tin cups.

Krullian marriage ceremonies are interesting. Colwyn douses a torch in a font of water, saying that the fire will not return save from the hand of the woman he chooses as his wife. Lyssa takes a handful of water, and it immediately starts burning. Instead of screaming in pain, she hands it to Colwyn. Exactly what kind of magical powers marriage gives Krullian couples isn’t made clear, but it looks pretty cool. Or rather, it would have looked cool if the flame effect didn’t look incredibly cheap and tacky. At any rate, before Colwyn can seal the alliance by snatching the flame from Lyssa’s hand, the Slayers attack and all hell breaks loose.

The fortress’ heavy doors don’t really help much as the Slayers just blow them open, allowing all ten or twelve of them to mount a fearsome charge, sweeping away the motorcross-armored guards. There’s lots of colored laser fire and more thrilling James Horner battle music, lots of innocents perish, Slayers leap through windows, Colwyn fights like a tiger, and so on. At one point, Colwyn cracks open a Slayer’s helmet, revealing a writhing little slug-like thing that reminded me of the alien from The Hidden, but once more we don’t really have any explanation as to exactly what this thing is.

Lyssa attempts to flee to safety elsewhere in the castle but is captured by the slayers. What a surprise. Elsehwere there is great derring-do as Colwyn dispatches various Slayers, swings across the room on a rope, engages in exciting acrobatics and generally showboats it while the remainder of the defenders, including both kings, are butchered like orcs in a dwarf shooting gallery. Colwyn is knocked out while trying to save Lyssa but — thank all the gods! — not slain, and the battle is pretty much over.

CnLWedding
Hey! Keep that flame away from my wedding suit, chief! It’s due back at the rental place tomorrow!

The dozen or so Slayers, their cute but helpless captive in tow, ride heall for leather back toward the Black Fortress. Happy, happy Slayers are they, cheering and shouting, waving torches around and celebrating their victory even though they’re actually a bunch of alien slugs in armor.

The next morning, a lone rider approaches the castle, a day late and a dollar short to warn the occupants. The rider, who turns out to be someone named Ynyr (not pronounced “Whiner,” though it really should be) the Old One, treats Colwyn’s wounds and assures him that Lyssa’s still alive, but beyond his reach. Colwyn apparently recognizes Ynyr, and notes that he must be “down from the Granite Mountains.” That’s about all the explanation we get, but it looks as if Colwyn trusts him and is ready to go off adventuring with his guidance, so I guess he’s someone important.

Needless to say, after some minor baiting from Ynyr (“I came to see a King, but found a boy instead” — snap!), Colwyn declares his intention to save Lyssa from the Beast, and we’re off to the races. It isn’t quite that simple, Ynyr tells him (is it ever?), and Colwyn’s going to have to be prepared to face the Beast itself. No man, he says, has ever gazed upon the Beast and lived. With this kind of encouragement, most would-be heroes would probably say something like “Well, I wish ‘em all the best, and I’ll send a gift certificate to the wedding,” but Prince C is made of sterner stuff, and he immediately agrees to do whatever it takes to bring the Beast down.

First thing’s first — Ynyr tells Colwyn that he will need “the power of the Glaive” if he expects to fight the Beast mano-a-mano. Of course! It’s so simple! The power of the Glaive! Why didn’t think of that? All we need to do is get the Power of the Glaive and everything else falls into place!

What the hell is the Glaive, anyway?

SlayersAdvance
When the slayers advance, I keep wanting them to chant “Yo-we-yo… Yoooo-yo!” like the Wicked Witch’s soldiers.

According to Colwyn, the Glaive is only a symbol and doesn’t exist. Ynyr poo-poos this notion and tells him that the Glaive is in a cave on the highest peak of the Granite Mountains (whoever named Krull’s geographical features didn’t have a lot of imagination — calling something the Granite Mountains is kind of like calling a huge body of water the Wet Ocean, but who am I to judge? The only thing I ever had named after me was a wimpy NPC in a Battletech scenario book). Without it, Prince C’s life will be worth less than a wheelbarrow full of dead ratlings in an elven brothel. Or words to that effect anyway.

So, once more — what the hell is the Glaive?

It was once a great weapon, Ynyr says, and in the hands of the right man, it can be again.

Yeah, but what the hell is it?

Oh, never mind. Clad in the world’s tightest pair of grey-and-black striped breeches, Colwyn hikes up into the mountains and easily retrieves the Glaive. It is, in fact, the spinny bladed octopoidal thing from the opening credits, though we never find out exactly why it’s so powerful, what it was doing hidden in the mountains, and why Colwyn’s the only man who can wield it. Krull manages to do this quite a lot — pulling mythic elements out of its own ass without explanation, foreshadowing or foundation, and the Glaive is only the first time we’re forced to deal with this terribly unsatisfying plot device.

(A word about glaives, by the way — as all of you loyal D&D players know, the glaive isn’t really a magical bladed throwing star. It’s a medieval polearm that features a single-edged blade, sometimes accompanied by a hook along the opposite edge. The whole throwing-star angle seems to have taken on a life of its own thanks to this flick, however, and this version of the glaive is used by the dark elves in World of Warcraft as well as some other places. Thanks, Krull for making weapons terminology even more confusing…)

TheGlaive
The glaive. From the cave.

We’re wondering at this point what happened to poor Princess Lyssa. She has been imprisoned, it seems, in a giant eye-shaped cell, and the Beast is saying that he wants to make sweet, sweet love to her flawless alabaster body. Or that he wants to marry her, which amounts to the same thing. Once again, we have no real explanation of the Beast’s motives in making his generous offer, and once more the Evil Dark Lord wants to marry a hot chick who hates him, when any number of women on any number of other worlds would probably jump at the chance, even if he isn’t much in the looks department.

Colwyn then comes bounding down the mountain slope, grinning triumphantly and displaying the Glaive to Ynyr. Rather than congratulate Colwyn on a job well done, Ynyr — aka Mister Buzzkill — then tells him that there’s more work ahead. The Black Fortress, you see, vanishes each sunset and reappears in another location the next morning, and no one knows for sure where that is. All is not lost, however. Get ready for another random plot element yanked out of the screenwriter’s nether orifice. To find the location of the Black Fortress, they’re going to have to seek out the blind Emerald Seer, who dwells but a day’s journey distant. Come, let us ride!

(Another side-note — this particular style of storytelling has been described as the “Plot Coupons” format. To quote Wikipedia: A plot coupon, and the somewhat less-well-known plot voucher, are the names Nick Lowe gave to specimens of plot devices in his essay “The Well-Tempered Plot Device,” which was published in Ansible in 1986. A plot coupon is an object whose possession or use is necessary in order to resolve the conflict upon which the plot hangs, when this necessity clearly springs from the arbitrary decision of the author to make it so necessary. (The name is derived from a joke: When the characters have collected enough plot coupons, they can trade them in for the denouement.) For example, if the main plot of a novel concerns an ancient artifact that was broken into several pieces, and which must now be collected, reassembled, and activated in order to defeat an alien threat, the separate pieces of the artifact are surely plot coupons.)

ErgoArrives
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your comic relief for the evening.

The intrepid pair ride out of the mountains and into the forest primeval, and while setting camp are startled when a meteor streaks out of the trees and lands in a nearby pool. Yes, apparently things like this happen all the time in Colwyn’s kingdom, for neither of them seem terribly perturbed, even when the meteor turns out to be the film’s comic relief, a would-be shapeshifter and wizard named Ergo the Magnificent (by his own admission, he is “Short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose and wide of vision”). When he threatens to turn Colwyn into a bat but rolls a one on the miscast table and turns himself into a goose, we know that this is going to be a very long movie indeed.

After rejecting the idea of travelling with the hoi-polloi, Ergo takes leave of Colwyn and Ynyr and strides into the forest, only to encounter a hulking, one-eyed figure and run screaming back. Remember that hulking figure — he’ll be important later.

Back at the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness, the Beast continues suavely chat-up the princess, giving her leave to wander anywhere she wants, and telling her not to worry — he’s really not such a bad guy once you get to know him. That’s such an old ploy — I think Morgoth used it on elf women back in the First Age. It didn’t work for him, either.

Our intrepid duo — now a not-so-intrepid trio now rides through a narrow pass that Ynyr says will save a half-day’s travel. Hold up a minute — I thought he said the Seer was a day’s journey from the Granite Mountains? They’ve been traveling for a full day already, and now he says he can save a half day? Sheesh, don’t take directions from this guy. Mapquest might not be perfect, but it’s better than Ynyr.

InYourEye
Uh, excuse me, Mister Beast? You have someone in your eye…

It only gets worse — Ynyr leads the party straight into the clutches of Torquil and his bandits — as scurrelous a band of rogues, scalawags and ne’er-do-wells as ever swashed a buckle. After the usual give and take, Colwyn persuades the whole scurvy lot to join him in his heroic quest to face and defeat the Beast. Torquil’s a bit reluctant, but in the end he throws his lot in with the good guys, along with his entire untidy band, which just incidentally includes a young actor named Liam Neeson, fresh from playing Gawain in Excalibur. Though he was to go on to be the celebrated star of many films, some great (Schindler’s List) and some not-so-great (The Phantom Menace), here the celebrated Mr. Neesom was just another bandit, cannon-fodder for Prince Colwyn’s campaign to rid Krull of the Beast.

(Also among the bandits Rhun, played by a young Robbie Coltrane, today best known as Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, who was also in a ton of other kickass flicks and TV series, including playing the title role in the classic BBC detective series Cracker. He was also the voice of the title character in Gooby, but we won’t speak of that here.)

Insert your own Qui-Gon Jinn reference here.

Insert your own Qui-Gon Jinn reference here.

The Fellowship — oops, I mean, company of adventurers — rides on through the still-depopulated wilderness, encountering no one besides some more slayers and the mysterious cyclops guy from the forest, who kills the slayers with his tri-pronged spear then disappears. This is the signal for another exposition bomb from Ynyr, who tells everyone listening that the cyclopses originated on another world, made a deal with the Beast, trading one eye for the ability to see the future. Needless to say, the Beast screwed them over, allowing them only to see the time of their own deaths, and from that point forward the cyclopses have really had it in for the Beast and his buddies.

End of exposition. Back to the adventure. Colwyn, Ynyr, Torquil and Ergo hike into the forest, where Ynyr locates the Emerald Seer behind a wall of sheer rock. Ynyr tells the Seer that they’re seeking the Black Fortress, the Seer tells them where it’s going to be, and off they go, riding to rescue the princess.

Oops, nope… That would be too easy. Once more, the movie throws down another beartrap, and the Seer can’t help right now. He levitates his magic emerald and gazes into it, but unfortunately the Beast catches wind of his presence and smashes the damned thing. Yup, we’re SOL again, and once more we have to go to another ass-born location that has never been mentioned before. Only in the Emerald Temple, located in the treacherous heart of the Great Swamp (yes, yet another imaginative place name) can the Beast’s power not interfere with the Seer. Okay, everybody — off to the Emerald Temple!

seer
If only the Emerald Seer would just open his eyes, he wouldn’t be blind anymore.

In a trice, the adventurers are on the edge of the swamp, along with the Seer himself and his acolyte, young Titch, who seems to be there only to fulfill the movie’s “cute kid” quotient. They venture into the swamp, but things don’t go well, as they’re ambushed by slayers. All seems lost despite still more swordplay and derring-do, but the intervention of the mysterious cyclops turns the tide of battle and wins the day for the forces of good and niceness.

The cyclops is named Rell and sports a fine and cultured British accent. He’s been lurking in the background since reel one, and now Colwyn, recognizing Rell as an excellent spear-thrower despite an obvious lack of depth perception, invites him to join his merry band. Yup, we got us another companion, though if this were an rpg, the GM would be complaining about how difficult it is to run large parties.

Rell is played by none other than Bernard Bresslaw, a fixture of the classic British Carry On series. Swords and Sorcery fans will also recognize him as Gort the Giant in the peerless Hawk the Slayer.

On into the misty (but surprisingly level and easy-to-walk-through) depths of the swamp. Ergo babbles on about wanting a gooseberry pie, Titch says he wishes he had a puppy, and we all say we wish we were watching Bullitt.

Why the Emerald Seer has us all "seeing" double!

Why the Emerald Seer has us all “seeing” double!

Meanwhile (this movie has a lot of “meanwhiles”), Lyssa continues to run, lithely and sexily of course, through the various tunnels of the Black Fortress, which look a lot like someone’s small intestine. That’s it! She’s actually imprisoned in the Beast’s duodenum… Beastly shows her a vision of the crown and cloak she’ll wear when she’s his better half, but she still doesn’t want to be married to an evil overlord, especially when he’s from a radically different species.

Meanwhile (what did I tell you?) Prince Colwyn’s party encounters yet another complication (in addition to “meanwhiles,” Krull is absolutely fill to overflowing with complications as well) in the form of the requisite quicksand pit. Up to this time the “swamp” has been as flat and dry as the Jersey Turnpike in July, but now it actually becomes swampy — due, the Seer tells us to “the power of the Beast.” Our adversary, it seems, has the power to make swamps actually swampy.

All the party escapes. save of course one minor cast member whom no one really cares about, but it was all a ruse, allowing a Slayer-spawned double of the Seer to sneak up, kill the real Seer and hide the body in the space of about 30 seconds. The unsuspecting Colwyn orders the advance but fortuitously leaves Rell behind to guard the rear. Once the party has vanished, Rell discovers the real Seer’s body concealed beneath the surface of the swamp and races off to warn Colwyn. He needs to be careful as he runs headlong through the swamp — that depth perception problem would probably cause him to run right into a tree or something.

goodside
Hey! Make sure you’re shooting me on my good side!

Okay, we’re within sight of the temple. Now the fake Seer informs Colwyn that only the seeker of knowledge can accompany him to the temple, which is very convenient if you happen to be an evil magical clone seeking to murder the heir to the throne of Krull. Prince C readinly agrees, and off they go. As soon as they’re out of sight, the fake Seer grows claws, snarls “Here is the knowledge you seek!” and reaches out to throttle Colwyn.

Wham! Rell’s spear is again right on target, the fake Seer cries out, and Colwyn draws his sword and guts the imposter. The imposter collapses into a mess of goo, which Ynyr informs us was a changeling, proving himself to be a wealth of useful information as soon as it’s not useful anymore.

We’re sunk, right? The Emerald Seer was the only guy on the whole of Krull who could possibly help find the Black Fortress, wasn’t he? I mean, if there was someone else who might help, Ynyr would have mentioned it before, right? Now that the Seer is worm food, Colwyn needs another plot coupon to save his planet, but if they came up with one now, out of the blue, wouldn’t it obviously be another maguffin born magically from the screenwriter’s ass?

“There is one who might help,” Ynyr says.

Oh, god damn it… How many more times does this have to happen? It’s as if the writer looked at his pile of finished script pages and said, “Oops! We’re only half-way through this thing — how the hell else can I complicate the story and pile another 20-30 minutes onto the running time? I know! The Seer will be killed and Ynyr will tell them that what he said before about how the Seer was the only one who knew the location of the Black Fortress was wrong, and there’s one more place they can go for help!”

puppy
I’m sure you agree that Ergo is a hell of a lot cuter as a puppy.

Okay, I give up. Who, you ask is the one who might help? Actually, Colwyn asks for you, and Ynyr replies, “The Widow of the Web.”

Of course! The Widow of the Web! What was I thinking? Of course, she can…

No wait. Who the hell is the Widow of the Web (and no, she’s not a woman whose husband spends all of his time on line surfing for porn), and why wasn’t she ever mentioned before?

Sorry, I got carried away. I know who the Widow of the Web is. She’s another ass-born NPC that the DM comes up with because the party is so incompetent that they got their main plot-hook NPC killed, that’s who.

The rest of the party seems to know the Widow, however. Torquil snaps “That creature helps no one, and none who go there return!”

I guess the Widow’s a pretty cranky babe and kills anyone who dares approach, but Ynyr has a solution for that problem too. You see, Ynyr knows her name. It is, he says, an ancient and powerful name.

And that’s that. We’re off to see the Widow, the Wonderful Widow of the Web (all you geeks can feel free to insert a WWW joke here). In the fading light of the twin suns (Krull has two suns and two moons, which doesn’t strike me as a terribly efficient arrangement), the party marches out of the swamp, and Ergo, showing what a big heart he has concealed beneath his gruff exterior, transforms himself into a puppy for Titch’s benefit. The kid loves his new pet, and appears to have totally forgotten the tragic death of his beloved master.

bigtrees
I’ll give you three guesses what this forest is called. And no, it’s not called “The Forest of Undersized Trees.”

In the Forest of Giant Trees (and yes, Liam Neeson actually calls it that — Krullian naming conventions remain as obvious as ever), Ynyr takes his leave and heads off to meet up with the Widow on his own. The others make camp, grumbling about the lack of food. Torquil asks Liam Neeson’s character Kegan whether “one of your wives” lives in a nearby village, and if she can provide food. He has seven or eight, you see. This is, by the way, the first and only suggestion that Krull consists of anything other than castles and wilderness, and unsusprisingly we never actually see the damned village.

Mareth, the wife in question shows up with tons of provisions, and throws herself on Kegan while a cute blonde chiquita who accompanied her from “the village” makes doe-eyes at Colwyn and persuades him to eat. That’s plot material, I imagine, but we’ll just have to wait to find out, as we cut to Lyssa as she continues her exploration of the Beast’s gastrointestinal tract.

The Beast shows up in silhouette, to continue his campaign to win Lyssa’s affections. “You have chosen a paltry kingdom on an insignificant planet,” he says. Hey, genius — if it’s so freaking insignificant, why are you bothering to conquer it? Answer me that one, Einstein.

Lyssa says something about love, to which the Beast replies “Love is fleeting. Power is eternal!” Yeah, that was one of Morgoth’s old lines, too. The princess is still being all stuck-up and snooty, so the Beast adds that while he may be kind of ugly in his native form, he can assume any shape that she wants and — wait for it — appears in the form of her beloved Prince Colwyn.

“But there’s no love in that form!” Lyssa protests. I’d point out that this doesn’t bother Hugh Hefner’s various 20-year-old girlfriends, but Lyssa’s from another planet and probably doesn’t understand the gold-digger mentality, or the fact that there are scads of eligible, attractive females who don’t give a rat’s ass what a guy looks like as long as he can keep them in expensive cars and designer dresses. But hey, Krull’s a different world, right?

EvilPrinceC
Either this is Prince Colwyn’s evil doppelganger or he’s developed a serious eye infection.

“And you think there is love in your boy-king?” the Beast chuckles, showing her an image of Colwyn in the arms of the blonde hottie at the campfire. Lyssa doesn’t buy it, of course and an instant later Colwyn confirms it — he was only helping her find a contact lens, it seems, as she suddenly develops a severe case of redeye, informs him that “My master said ‘make him betray her and if not, kill him’” then immediately grows long fingernails and attacks. Whew! I was afraid that Lyssa might actually think Colwyn was unfaithful! Good thing we got that out of the way.

Well, the blonde succubus doesn’t really do much. In fact, just the opposite — she confesses that she didn’t kill Colwyn because she loved him the moment she set eyes on him. He is, after all, such a loveable guy, with no visible personality traits to speak of… Some chicks dig that, especially the cute minions of evil dark lords.

“Nyah, nyah, nyah!” Lyssa says smarmily. “It is you who are betrayed! Power is fleeting! Love is eternal!” Yeah right. Tell that to my ex-wives…

The Beast isn’t too happy with this assessment, and seeing how pear-shaped his plans have gone, kills the blonde hottie with his remote Villain-o-Matic skills. Revealing himself to be a large-headed Giger-alienesque freak, he plays his hole card. If Lyssa will consent to be his bride, he’ll stop the Slayer attacks and let all of Krull go free. More of that dark lord blame-the-victim crap if you ask me.

Meanwhile (there’s that word again) Ynyr has made it to the Web, where presumably the Widow lies in wait. What follows is a pretty cool FX sequence in which he clambers over the webs, only to be menaced by a big see-through stop-motion spider. Okay, here comes death incarnate. Time to call the Widow by her true name.

“Lyssa! It is I, Ynyr!”

Lyssa? Isn’t that the heroine’s name? Isn’t that kind of odd, that the Widow and the princess have the same name? Is there some mystical connection between them? Is the Widow perhaps Lyssa’s unknown mother or sister?

WidowNotHot
Okay, which do you prefer? The old and bitter Widow of the Web…
widowhot
…Or the new and improved, sexy Widow of the Web?

Actually, I think it’s part of that prophecy from the start of the film in which the princess is supposed to have an “ancient name,” but that was so obscure that none of us remember it, and just think it’s weird. However, hearing it, the Widow Lyssa freezes time for a while with a magic hourglass, allowing Ynyr to make his way to her love nest, a sphere in the midst of all that sticky webbing.

Time for some more exposition. It seems that Ynyr and Widow Lyssa had a thing going a long time ago, but he dumped her because he had a lot of responsibilities, he was a workaholic, he didn’t have time for a family, etc., etc., etc. The Widow then informs Ynyr that they had a son that he didn’t know about, but that she killed him when he was born. Being imprisoned in the web was, she says, her punishment.

Oh piffle, says Ynyr. Killed our son? Think nothing of it! I forgive you and all is well. And oh, yeah — you’re now young and beautiful again because my love for you is undiminished. And by the way, where is that nasty Black Fortress going to appear tomorrow?

Oh, that’s easy, Widow Lyssa replies. It’s going to appear in the Iron Desert.

Hot damn! We’ve finally got a place name that sounds vaguely creative. I guess “Sandy Desert” and “Hot Desert” were already taken. Unfortunately, she says, Ynyr is screwed, since no one can leave the Web alive. Au contraire, Ynyr tells her. He’s got to — a young girl is in danger. A girl, he says “with your name.” This seems to sway the Widow somewhat, and she comes up with something.

She can’t freeze time again, since the hourglass only works once, but if Ynyr takes the hourglass’ sand with him, he can escape, though his own life will run out with the sand. And so will the Widow’s, but that’s okay. She’s tired of living in a big ball in the middle of a web with only a see-through spider for company. She will, she says, give her life to the girl who bears her name.

spider
Okay, I have to admit that the spider is pretty cool.

Hey, sounds like a deal! Bearing the sand in one hand (hey, I’d have put it in a pouch or something, but then again I don’t live on Krull), Ynyr races across the web toward safety as the Widow passes away into the great beyond. He heads down toward camp, tells everyone that the fortress will appear in the Iron Desert and conveniently dies, eliminating the need to bring him along any further.

At last we know where the Black Fortress will appear! The Iron Desert! But that’s a no-go, Colwyn says. The Iron Desert is a thousand leagues distant. There’s no way they can make it there in time!

Oh, for another ass-born plot coupon, another twist, another previously-unmentioned aspect of Krullian mythology that the writer made up on the spot to keep the story going! If only someone could –

“Fire mares!” Rell declares. “Fire mares can travel a thousand leagues in a day!”

Oh dear gods of law and chaos, if they invent one more plot device out of thin air, I’m going to eat a Glock, I swear.

(And, just incidentally, isn’t “In the Iron Desert” a bit vague? The Black Fortress is huge, but is it that huge. Just think — “The Empire State Building will appear tomorrow at dawn… In the Sahara Desert!” My first question would be, “Yeah, that’s great, but exactly where in the Sahara Desert? There’s about ten million square miles of nothing out there, and it’s not likely that I’ll just stumble across the thing, is it?” Needless to say, none of our heroes brings this up. They all seem to feel that “In the Iron Desert” is all the location data they need, and all immediately start programming their GPS devices.)

Clydesdales
Ride, firemares, ride! Ride to freedom! Or, if you can’t do that, ride into a box canyon and get yourself trapped, while completely forgetting that you can actually fly as well as run as fast as a Bugatti Veyron.

Okay, now we’ve got to capture fire mares. We cut to the admittedly thrilling image of a herd of Clydesdales charging into a box canyon, pursued by Torquil’s bandits. As they do, Colwyn and his boys rush from surrounding rocks, swinging lassos and grabbing a nice selection. They tame down pretty quick, and presto! We now have a herd of fire mares of our very own, and are ready to ride to the Black Fortress and our final date with destiny.

How the fire mares, which can run a thousand leagues in a single day and, as we later discover, can actually fly, are so easy to capture and tame is a question best left unanswered. Right now, it seems that Rell the cyclops has to stay behind, as he knows that it’s time to die. If a cyclops opposes his fate, Titch says helpfully, he will bring down a terrible fate upon himself.

Now we all know what’s going to happen, don’t we?

Colwyn and the company ride forth, sans both Ynyr and Rell, and trigger the ability that the fire mares didn’t bother to use on their own. The mares’ hooves burst into flames, they shift into high gear and — yes — they soar into the air, accompanied by thrilling James Horner music, riding across the sky like ET on Eliot’s bike.

myass
Help! My ass is on fire!
(And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a joke that works on so many levels…)

Just as the sequence is starting to grate on the audience’s nerves, Colwyn trots into the Iron Desert, looks up and says, “There it is!”

Yup, with no searching whatsoever, he’s found the Black Fortress, looming on the horizon like a great carbuncle of doom. It is, however, almost dawn, and “we must get in before the twin suns rise.”

The company makes it to the fortress and immediately starts to scale its handily-stepped walls as various doors open and slayers emerge. They fight their way up the walls in a desperate race against time.

(Parenthetically, I’d actually love to have seen what happened if the fortress shifted while they were still climbing the walls. One wonders — would the fortress vanish beneath them, causing them to fall to their deaths, or would our heroes go careening through space, clinging to the side of the fortress like Captain Jack on the Doctor’s TARDIS?)

It looks bad for our boys. The suns are almost up, and they’ve found the enemy’s fortress — surprise! — heavily defended by a well-entrenched, well-armed garrison force. Who’d have thunk it? But all is not lost, for across the plains, mounted upon his own firemare, comes the mighty cyclops Rell, who has chosen to defy his own destiny and aid his friends in their time of need! Gee, we never saw that coming, did we?

As they desperately try to advance up the fortress walls, poor Rhun gets in the way of a slayer bolt and dies in Colwyn’s arms, telling him “I was wrong. The journey was worthwhile.” As he really didn’t put up much of a fuss throughout the movie, and was never more than a spear-carrier, this statement doesn’t really mean very much, but then neither does Krull.

holddoor
Rell learns that in Krull as in many first-person shooters, you take damage simply by standing in a doorway.

Our boys’ bacon is saved when Rell arrives, clambers up the walls to join them, and charges single-handed into one of the sally-ports, bashing on the defending slayer and holding the gate open for Colwyn and his warriors to storm inside just as the suns rise. The doors slowly slide shut on poor Rell. Colwyn tries to save him, but the Slayers attack and suddenly the Cyclops is much thinner.

Oh well, que sera sera, sacrifices are often necessary for the greater good, he’s in a better place now, life’s unfair sometimes, he died a hero, we’ll never forget him, we could have sworn there were WMDs in Iraq, we’ll be welcomed as liberators, mission accomplished, and other useless, stupid excuses for failure, and on into the heart of the Beast’s fortress!

There are more slayers to fight, bridges to cross and intestinal passages to race down. A few nameless bandits perish in the ensuing struggle, and a dramatic high point is reached when Kegan pushes Torquil out of the way of a slayer bolt and takes one for the team. Dying in his captain’s arms (that happens a lot in this movie, too), Kegan says to tell Merith (the wife who provided all the provisions) that he loved her, and that those other seven or eight wives meant absolutely nothing to him. Insincere to the last, that’s our Kegan.

Our heroes are separated by the old retracting floor trick, leaving Ergo and Titch to face a squad of slayers. For once Ergo’s magic works, and he transforms himself into a tiger, defending the innocent kid while ripping the slayers a new one, while on the next level up, Corwin, Torquil and the surviving bandits make their way to the center of the fortress, a giant glowing golf ball of doom where I guess Lyssa’s been imprisoned all this time. How did she go wandering all over the fortress, then? Logic begins to show signs of wear and tear.

khazad
To the Bridge at Khazad Dumb!

But there’s no way in! The golf ball of doom is impenetrible! There is one way, Colwyn declares, whipping out the Glaive (remember that thing?), which he tosses at the golf ball. Faithfully, the Glaive snaps out its blades and begins to buzz saw through the golf ball.

Elsewhere, Titch and Ergo make their way through the intestines — I mean “passages” — while Torquil and his men get sucked through a wall and caught in a room with — are you ready? — crushing, spiked walls. Ranulf (another anonymous mook who gets a name when he dies) gets skewered, but the walls stop closing as soon as the Glaive breaks through the prison walls, reuniting Colwyn with his best girl. Unfortunately, Torquil and his sole surviving bandit are stuck amid the nasty spikes and effectively out of action for now.

Colwyn’s now ready to take on the beast in heroic naked single combat, but Lyssa advises him to fight him someplace else where his power isn’t so great. I guess hanging out in the Black Fortress had some advantages after all. Colwyn smashes up some corridors for no apparent reason, then they fall back from the golf ball, knocking off a few slayers on the way and await the Beast’s attack.

If you think that the story’s making less and less sense as we go on, you’ve got no argument from me. I think it’s probably best to sit back, let the last ten minutes or so unspool, and not ask too many questions.

The giant golf ball explodes, and the Beast emerges. He’s kind of blurry, still has the big Giger alien head, and can spit fire at Colwyn. Prince C flings the Glaive a few times and appears to score a hit, sending the Beast toppling over onto his back. Colwyn scrambles forward to retrieve the weapon but the supposedly dead Beast goes all Jason Voorhees on his ass and comes back to life, pursuing the fleeing prince and princess through the intestine corridors and into a stalactite-filled cavern.

BigHeadBeast
Sorry, folks… This is about the best shot of the Beast we get in the whole fraking movie.

As he was unable to retrieve the Glaive, Colwyn believes that they’re now defenseless. Lyssa, however, knows better.

“Colwyn,” she says. “It’s not the Glaive, it’s you!”

“No, Lyssa,” Colwyn replies. “It’s us! It’s us he can’t defeat! It will not return to me except from the hand of the woman I choose as my wife.”

flameon
Colwyn tries out his cool new Johnny Human Torch Flame-On powers.

Now while the rest of us are scratching our heads and wondering if Lyssa and Colwyn have completely lost it, Lyssa herself gets the idea. “I give it only to the man I choose as my husband,” she says. And before you start sniggering about exactly what “it” is, recall that these were the wedding vows from the beginning of the movie, though what happens next doesn’t even make sense in that context.

She opens her hand up, and behold, there’s the badly-animated fire effect from the start of the film.

“Take the fire from my hand,” she says, and he does, while the Beast roars in frustration and unleashes his own deadly fireballs. But he hasn’t reckoned with the power of Krullian wedding vows, for now Colwyn has his own magical powers. He counters the Beast’s attack with a toasty fireball of his own, overwhelming his foe’s puny assault and setting the Beast aflame. In a few moments, the Beast is the center of a raging inferno that not even John Travolta, Joachim Phoenix and the entire crew of Ladder 49 can put out.

EyeExplodes
My eyes felt just like this while I watched the end of Krull, and so will yours.

Okay, what the bloody freaking hell just happened? Out of absolutely nowhere, we learn that Colwyn has super fire powers, and to use them all they had to do was finish the marriage ceremony? Is this common on Krull? Or is it just these two lovebirds who can do it? Where, oh where, in the vast universe of unlikely plot developments, deus ex machina endings, ass-born characters and bad storytelling did these “flame” powers come from, and why wasn’t there any foreshadowing or suggestion of it before he decided to use it?

Oh, hell. I give up on this movie. Just get it over with.

The Beast is slain and, as always, his fortress begins to collapse. In the crusher room the spikes retract, freeing Torquil and company, while Titch cuddles Ergo the tiger, who apparently took a wound while fighting the slayers. Locating Titch by the sound of the bells on the Emerald Seer’s staff, our heroes link up with little effort and flee. Colwyn uses his new human torch powers to blast an opening in the wall, and they escape just as the fortress just as it collapses into ruin.

(You know, just once I’d like to see an evil dark lord’s fortress that doesn’t collapse when its master perishes… Some of those places are pretty prime real estate, and the heroes could make a real killing by selling the property to investment capitalists. Just a thought, mind you.)

Out into the green fields they flee, to watch the show as the last remnants of the Black Fortress get sucked back up into the sky. Good thing the Black Fortress decided to show up in a relatively pleasant spot this time, wasn’t it? If it had been in an arctic wasteland or the middle of the ocean, our heroes would have been royally screwed.

And so our heroes — the five who survived, that is — savor the triumph. Ergo’s going to live (unlike other comic relief characters, who shall remain nameless, though their names are usually “Snails”, you actually don’t mind that Ergo survives, since he was actually vaguely entertaining and effective), Torquil is to be Colwyn’s new Lord Marshal, the land is at peace, and justice reigns.

picnic
The dark lord is overthrown, his fortress has fallen in ruins, and we have lost many bold companions. Time for a picnic!

In case we forgot, the narrator (who sounds like the late Ynyr, actually), now provides us with a voiceover of the orignal prophecy: A girl of ancient name shall become queen. She shall choose a king and together they shall rule our world, and their son shall rule the galaxy! The audience groans, then sighs in relief since the entire affair is finally over.

Despite its impressive production values and promising cast and crew, this film should probably have been called Krawl given its sluggish pace and predictible storyline. You can’t blame the director, the actors, the crew or the composer, since they all do what I consider to be excellent work. The fault here lies with the script and the relentless Plot Coupon cliches. Once we’ve accomplished something, we need to do something else. Once we’ve done that, there’s another complication, which sends us off in yet another random direction. We need the Glaive. Why? Because we need it. We need to go to the Emerald Temple? Why? Because we have to. We need to talk to the Widow of the Web. Why? Because she’s the one we need to talk to. And so on, and so on. The story seems to have been made up as the writer went along, rather than working from any kind of coherent vision or outline.

dragged
Colwyn and Rell later found out that the critics’ response to Krull made being dragged over stones behind firemares seem almost pleasant.

Sheesh, what a letdown. The flick bombed when it was released, and it wasn’t until Ron Howard made Willow that anyone attempted a high fantasy type movie again. And then Willow tanked, too, and we had to wait in the wilderness until Peter Jackson came along and rescued everyone.

One infamous anecdote listed on imdb.com states that the movie’s producer, a suit by the name of Frank Price, thought that Krull would do better if the heroine had an American accent, so all of British Lysette Anthony’s dialog was dubbed by Laura Crouse, who played Maggie Walsh on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as numerous other TV roles. Another signature British actor, the soon-to-be-famous Robbie Coltraine, had his voice dubbed by English TV actor Michael Elphick. Why is a question often asked about Krull (why Krull? Why the space sequences? Why the static, predictable plotting? In fact, why was it made at all?), and as with all those other questions, we’re unlikely to ever get an answer.

Krull died a quiet death in theaters, making back only about $16 million of its $27 million budget. While it has its adherents, and as bad fantasy movies go, is not too bad, it’s been largely forgotten and neglected, at least until its recent release on DVD. The DVD, by the way, features comentary by Peter Yates, star Ken Marshall and none other than Lysette Anthony, who must be a hell of a good sport about this, since if that had been me who’d had my voice dubbed by a damned yank, I’d have been good and pissed. (I am told that after the short shrift she was given, the good Ms. Anthony still refers to Krull  as “the movie that shall not be named” by the way.)

And so ends another catastrophic and traumatic film review of a movie that isn’t even bad enough to be good. Next time we’ll get back to broadswords, pecs and naked breasts, and leave the world of high falutin’ fantasy to the Tolkien geeks. See you soon.


Sword and Sorcery Rating:

2_half

2-1/2 Broadswords

Though it is not without its charms (for once the comedy relief is actually tolerable and you kind of like him), Krull is really kind of a train wreck. It’s paint-by-numbers fantasy that doesn’t know whether it’s Star Wars or Excalibur, its plot is dull and predictable, and its ending is downright incomprehensible. It uses all the right cliches and concepts, so it gets an extra sword for its good intentions, but I think even that is pushing it somewhat.

Comedy Rating:

No Broadswords

This movie is not funny. Not even when it tries to be.

Violence Rating:

2_swds

2 Broadswords

Okay, there’s a pretty good body count, and there’s a decent battle or three. Despite all the mayhem, sword- and laser-fights however, I never really felt a lot of excitement or concern for the characters. Also, for a S&S movie, the deaths are kind of bloodless. Let’s be generous and give it two swords. 

Titillation Rating:

No Broadswords

Again, I’ve failed in my efforts to bring you a titillating sword-and-sorcery flick. Nothing even remotely sexy in this film, unless you count Lysette Anthony running around in a gauzy wedding gown, or Ken Marshall’s perfectly toned ass displayed by his grey and black striped trousers. And the Beast wants to marry Lyssa? That’s not sexy… It’s creepy.

Awesomeness Rating:

half_swd

1/2 Broadsword

I’m beginning to feel kind of bad for this movie, so I’m going to give it a half-broadsword out of pity. It had everything going for it but failed on about every level. I can’t even say that there was much to enjoy, save for an interesting glimpse at Liam Neeson’s early career.

You know, based on the above ratings, Krull is the worst movie we’ve reviewed so far. I really wouldn’t go that far  – the honor of worst probably belongs to Dungeons and Dragons, but there’s a lot of competition — as it does have its moments, but it just ain’t the kind of flick that we at the Pit live for. I’ll see if I can come up with something a little more to my liking next time. Or maybe more bizarre roleplaying games. Or just pictures of cute cosplayers. Hell, I don’t know — work’s been hell and I’m trying one more rewrite of my novel to please my kickass would-be literary agent. I promise I’ll be back. No, really…

When I first considered putting these reviews on my blog, most comments were to the effect of “What a stupid idea. You should consider running a porn site instead.” Besides those, the most frequent comment was, “When are you gonna do Beastmaster?” Well, wonder no more. That day has come.

Oh my god! They’re hot, Hot, HOT!

Beastmaster or, more accurately, The Beastmaster (it was made back in the days when movie titles used definite articles, unlike later days when we got titles like Fight Club and 300), is another epic from the 1980s (like so many other sword and sorcery flicks), when as we all know Ronald Reagan was president, cocaine was the drug of choice, Duran Duran and Motley Crue played on the radio, and Madonna was just another annoying pop-star who dressed like a cheap whore.

The Beastmaster was ostensibly based on the work of the same name by celebrated SF author Andre Norton, but the flick differed from its source material so radically that the good Ms. Norton had her name removed from the credits. It stars a young and handsome hunk named Mark Singer, lithesome lovely ex-Charlie’s Angel named Tanya Roberts, the buff and deadly John Amos (aka Kunta Kinte and the father on Good Times) and a menacing, putty-nosed Rip Torn as the chief villain. It was by written and directed by Don Coscarelli, the genius behind the low-budget horror sensation Phantasm, and featured all kinds of cuddly, ferocious and feathered animals as our hero’s friends and allies. With a pedigree like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Of course, that’s a rhetorical question, as Beastmaster (okay, okay, I’m dropping the definite article, too… sue me) was lambasted by critics and tanked at the box office. Then a strange thing happened — it went to cable, where it became a staple for premium channels (prompting, according to the little fun facts booklet that came with the DVD, comedian and conservative asshat Dennis Miller to suggest that HBO actually stood for “Hey! Beastmaster’s on!”), spawning two sequels and keeping Mark Singer and his co-stars in the public eye for years (nay, decades) to come.

Not bad for a flick that was released at the same time as An Officer and a Gentleman, Friday the 13th 3-D, ET the Extraterrestrial and The Road Warrior. Even less bad for our favorite, the low-budget, evil wizard, bulging-pectoral, naked breasted, hacking and chopping extravaganza that is sword and sorcery cinema.

Leo the MGM lion show his displeasure about not being cast as Dar’s companion.

(And also before beginning I’d like to note that I am enormously grateful for the aforementioned little fun facts booklet that came with the DVD for some excellent trivia and behind-the-scenes info. The booklet, it seems was written by the storied Andy Mangels, whom I’ve met and socialized with several times, and who is a bit of a legend in the world of comic book writing… Nice booklet, Andy.)

Join us then for the adventures of Dar, barbarian warrior par excellence, his animals, his sword and his bulging pectoral muscles.

The MGM lion introduces the action, setting the tone for the beast-fest that follows, and leading into a title card that says Leisure Investment Company presents. Now this fills me with confidence. If there’s anything that says sword-and-sorcery adventure, it’s Leisure Investment Company. Well, it’s okay, we can let it slide… Let’s get to the swords and nudity, shall we?

We open on a carved stone face that rotates before our eyes, opening a wooden gate to allow a bunch of robed figures, clearly up to no good, to march through, toward a towering stone pyramid. Inside, a trio of witches writhes around that great staple of sword and sorcery cinema — the magical pool of water in which their enemies can be observed.

The witches are an odd lot — the bodies of hot nubile custom car models and the faces of George Romero zombies. I can’t say that it’s a terribly erotic combination, unless you happen to swing that way, which I don’t. I generally like women to be alive, or at least have all their flesh intact before I’ll even consider going out for coffee.

In strides our villain, the villainous Maax (pronounced “May-Axe” fyi), played with villainous intensity and villainous facial prostheses by the villainous Rip Torn. The role was originally intended for the villainous and bugfuck-crazy actor Klaus Kinsky, but the deal fell through over a $5,000 difference over salary, leaving our boy Rip to take up the slack. Given what we now know about what a maniac Klaus was, the resulting film might have been completely different. One of the great “what ifs” of swords-and-sorcery history…

King Zed, back when he still had eyes.

“Maax, high priest of the city of Arak, the god Arrgh has spoken.to us.” Yes, it does indeed sound like the god’s name is “Arrgh.” “The truth is known to ussssssssssssss. The truth is hungry. The truth is horrible. The prophecy dooms you!”

Maax is unfazed by this and insists that they tell him the prophecy and damn the torpedoes.

“You will die at the hands of Zed’s unborn son.”

“Then,” Maax replies predictably, “Zed’s unborn son will die.”

Well, isn’t this a sad kettle of fish? You know how prophecies go in works of fiction such as fantasy novels, Greek tragedy, movies and the Bible… The baddie is told that a certain child will grow up to kill him, so he has all the children killed, or the parents killed, or the parents of the parents’ friends killed, expecting to frustrate the prophecy, but lo and behold the very act of trying to kill the child sets in motion the forces that allow said child to kill said baddie… We’ve seen it before, but Maax apparently hasn’t, and continues to insist that Zed’s kid is toast, and the prophecy will be frustrated.

Just then another complication arises — it’s King Zed, marching in with his personal guard, led by the imposing warrior Seth, played by the versatile John Amos. Yup, not only is Maax planning to kill Zed’s kid, it turns out that Zed is king of the whole damned city-state. And he has the lack of good taste to show up just as Maax is planning the dirty deed.

Zed suggests that Maax has been planning a child sacrifice. Maax replies that Arrgh demands the life of an unborn. Zed nixes the plan and exiles Maax, telling him to go practice his creepy religion in the outlands with the barbarian Juns.

Maax by firelight. Not a pretty sight.

Maax responds to this by simply digging himself in deeper, telling the king that the unborn child he plans to sacrifice is Zed’s and that it must be cut from its mother’s womb, branded with the sign of Arrgh and sacrificed.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t really set well with Zed, who says that he has the power to put Maax to death. Maax doesn’t reply, but only nods at one of his red-robed acolytes, who obediently swings a funky chain-weapon, impales its blade in the ceiling beam and hangs himself right there in front of god, the king and everybody.

Okay, Maax is obviously trying to make a point, though I cannot for the life of me see what it is. He’s confessed to high treason, murder, evil magic and various other crimes, told the king that he intends to gruesomely kill his unborn child, and opened himself up to a decree of death by slow torture. So what does he do? He orders one of his bodyguards to kill himself, evidently just to spare Seth the trouble. Many and mysterious are the ways of evil high priests of Arrgh.

The king doesn’t seem to take the hint and follows through with his plan, not to have Maax torn apart by rabid stoats (which is what I would have done in his place, to be sure), but to exile him instead, so the next scene is of Mister M and his cronies riding out to exile through the city gates, while in the background a red-robed figure leads a what appears to be a brahman bull along the street. Remember that cow — it’s important later.

Well, King Zed is going to be terribly sorry for showing mercy to Maax, for in the next scene the mysterious robed figure, who turns out to be one of those hot chicks with the zombie faces, sneaks into the king’s bedchamber where he and his wife are sleeping, immobilizes them with a magic potion and uses Arrgh’s evil magic to literally suck the unborn child out of its mother and into the womb of the cow, which stands placidly outside.

Now I don’t care that they’re evil witches, and their faces could stop a clock, but at least they’ve got nice asses…

Now that, I have to admit, was quite a feat. If it were possible in the modern era, with our overall lack of magic and sorcery, it would revolutionize the science of obstetrics, and probably end the whole abortion controversy once and for all. Unwanted pregnancy? No problem — find one of those fanatical pro-lifers who protest outside abortion clinics and transfer the unwanted fetus into her. Presto! No problem. All you need is a pro-lifer who’s willing to give birth to, raise and care for your unwanted child and…

Oh. Sorry. Never mind. Back to the movie review.

Later that night, the evil priestess offs the cow and crouches beside it in the moonlight, apparently delivering the baby by Caesarian section, though I suspect they didn’t call it that. She brands it with the aforementioned sign of Arrgh and gets ready to do the bloody deed and finish off the poor screaming kid.

Fortunately for the infant, a bald guy with a donkey happens upon the scene and pretty much instantly digs what’s going on. I mean, consider this — a weird blue fire, a robed hottie with a face like a dead tuna, a slaughtered cow, branding iron, a sacrificial dagger and a screaming infant… The conclusion is unavoidable. The creepy-looking chick is up to something, and it’s time to whip out the spinning bronze ginzu of death.

Yes, the humble donkey-guy carries a deadly throwing weapon that he uses to impale the would-be murderess. He creeps up on her, only to find her robes empty and the evil priestess herself standing, hissing behind him. At first it looks as if the guy is doomed, since she is able to levitate his sword away and knock him backwards just by gesturing (yet another common s&s cliché).

Our savior is made of sterner stuff however — he grabs the levitated sword that she conveniently stuck in the ground right in front of him, and impales the hag, then flips her into the fire where she immolates instantly. Scratch one witch. Don’t worry, though… Maax has two spares.

(This, by the way, is why burning of witches was so popular. They ignite quickly and burn brightly, providing both warmth and a cheery blaze.)

Young Dar learned from his wise and enlightened father how to really annoy his neighbors. Then later on he got all blonde and sexy.

Well, luck is with our infant, for the kindly man turns out to be none other than Young Dar’s Father (that’s what it says in the credits folks). Lacking any other name, we shall cal him Lothar of the Stilt People, a race of kindly farmers who live in the village of Imor, in houses built, for no apparent reason, on tall stilts. Lothar brings the young child home to the accolades of the other Stilt-folk, and in a twinkling our infant is about 12 years old and his foster-father is training him with sword and brass throwy-thing, which we later find out is called a kaypa (or at least that’s how it’s pronounced).

Lothar and young Dar have a great time risking their friend Tees’ life by knocking his hat off his head with the kaypa, but as they’re laughing raucously at their own hijinks, Dar’s spider-sense starts tingling, and the victim of their jackanapes is grabbed by a really big bear.

Now that would normally put a kink in anyone’s day, but instead of fleeing, Dar confronts the bear, walking fearlessly up to it and apparently persuading it to take a hike. It’s a day late and a dollar short for Tees who is dead as a doorknob. Lother, who saw how Dar sent the bear packing, tells his son to keep his secret powers just that — a secret.

With that, Dar runs off to organize a funeral party and we jump ahead another decade or so to see that skinny Dar has grown up into a hunky, muscley blonde California surfer-dude.

His father looks a bit older, but is still in good shape, the diet and outdoor life in Imor must agree with him. He bids the hunky Dar good day, and our hero heads off with his faithful dog Kodo and all the other men of the village to toil all day in the soybean fields.

Dar doesn’t seem to be the most devoted of workers, as he spends time throwing a stick for Kodo.

Rather than returning the stick, the heroic Kodo returns, telling Dar “Bark, bark, bark! Woof!” This translates to “Hey, you moron! I see dust rising in the distance! The Juns are coming! The motherfucking Juns!!!” Fortunately for Kodo, Dar understands at least the rudiments of what he’s trying to say and rallies the other farmers to hustle back to the village, for a plume of dust is indeed visible in the distance, heralding the coming of the fearsome Jun tribesmen.

Dar wins the sixteenth annual Imor farm implement relay race.

Back in Imor, Dar’s father observes the approach of the Jun horde, led by the fearsome Jun chieftain, who looks kind of like Lord Humungus from The Road Warrior, only with bat wings on his head. Lothar and the other villagers make a stand, but they don’t do much to slow down the attacking Juns, who ride into the town, killing as they go.

Meanwhile, Dar and the other men of the village race across the fields, desperate to stop the enemy before they can get to the village’s supply of candied yams.

The Imorites are no slouches in the defense department, for they make a pretty good account of themselves, pulling Juns off their horses and tripping them up with ropes, and when Dar’s forces arrive it looks as if the tide might just turn.

Dar knows his stuff, too — a Jun cavalryman shoots a crossbow bolt through his shield, but Dar simply turns the shield around so the bolt points outward and kills the Jun with it. Take that you Jun bullies!

Regrettably, Dar’s part in the battle is short for, as he flings himself at the Jun chieftain, another rider bashes him from behind with a mace, sending him tumbling insensible to the ground. The heroic Kodo, who knows what life would be like under the Juns, races to Dar’s side and pulls his unconscious body to safety, even though he gets a crossbow bolt in the side for his troubles.

As the victorious Juns exult and carry of prisoners, their real leader shows up with his escort of red-robed priests. Guess who? Yup, it’s our pal Maax, the hardest-working villain in show biz! He grins happily at the carnage, and we cut away to the unwounded Dar, regaining his senses nearby, his faithful pooch dead beside him.

Kodo the dog. RIP.

Dar has a brief glmpse of the destroyed village through the eyes of a nearby eagle who just happens to be passing, and rushes back to Imor, finding just about everyone dead. Well, actually everyone’s dead — butchered, stuck full of arrows, impaled or otherwise rendered irrelevant to the plot. Angry and sad, Dar stacks the bodies, including his father and beloved dog, then sets the whole mess on fire and takes up his sword, striding away with his foster father’s voiceover echoing in his ears.

Dar, the gods have put their mark on you, and someday you will find out why. Til then this mark will be your guide. My sword and my kaypa will be your trusted companions. Protect Imor your home, and if anything should happen to me, look for our enemies, the Juns, and you may search for your destiny in the Valley of Arak.

On his way out of the ruined village, Dar once more encounters the black eagle, which appears to adopt him and allows him to see through its eyes. KEWWELLL! Finally, a sword and sorcery hero with cool powers instead of a muscle-brained steroid case…

Okay, I think we’re all aboard the plot train now. Dar, son of the king of Arak, must seek his destiny and avenge his people’s destruction at the hands of the savage Juns and the evil Maax with the help of his amazing animal companions. What else does he need?

Well, a couple of boon companions and a hot chick would be perfect, and we’ll have them in short order. In other flicks, he would also need a comedy relief character such as Snails the thief or Ergo the Magnificent, but the good Mister Coscarelli has spared us that particular cliché, and pretty much everyone in this movie takes his or her job seriously. Thank goodness…

Cut to Dar, sexily working out with his mighty sword on a clifftop while his eagle soars overhead, and I think we’ve made it to the end of Act One.

Had Beastmaster been filmed in 3D, this scene might have been even more interesting.

That evening, while cooling down from his manly workout, Dar encounters the film’s other stars, a pair of mischievous ferrets who make off with his sword belt. He pursues them through the forest, until he falls off a cliff into the ubiquitous adventure movie quicksand pit. Dar uses his special powers to command the two ferrets to gnaw through a branch so that it falls and rescues him, he crawls to safety and on the way rescues one of the ferrets who’s gotten himself sucked down into the muck. With our characters now fully bonded by shared peril, Dar names his new friends Kodo and Podo, and it looks like the adventuring party is nearing completion.

But we’re not done yet. Now Dar gets another animal-vision, this time of an unfortunate black tiger who has been captured and is being tormented by a trio of Juns. Well, hell — they’re torturing an animal and they’re Juns. That’s two reasons to kill them right there, and before you can say “Michael Vick,” Dar is all over the evil barbarians. He sends his ferrets to go mess with the Jun mooks while he polishes off the others — throwing the kaypa at one and sending his eagle to rip the eyes out of the other.

The kaypa misses on its first leg, but we’ve seen these movies before and know that most throwing weapons are actually boomerangs, and sure enough the kaypa swings around to land with a thunk in the middle of the Jun’s back. The ferrets keep the last two Jun mooks from getting to their crossbows, Dar hacks the first one down, then frees the tiger and lets it have its way with the last surviving Jun. A good workout and a healthy meal — just what every tiger needs to start the day.

Well, we’re about ready now. Dar notes that the eagle is now his eyes, the ferrets are his cunning and the tiger is his strength. The tiger he names Ruh. I guess the eagle doesn’t get a name, huh?

Now Dar demonstrates that his luck has changed. The whole stolen-child-human-sacrifice-burned-village thing is in the past, for as he approaches a picturesque waterfall and deep green pool beneath, what do you think he sees?

It was scenes like this that made the 1980s worthwhile.

Yup, you guessed it — a couple of beautiful young women swimming naked, one blonde and one a Charlie’s Angel. Yes, it’s the gorgeous Tanya Roberts, known as Angel Julie Rogers, Bond Girl Stacy Sutton and of course as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Oh yeah, she was also in That 70s Show. And here she is, all wet and topless. Dar knows what to do — the blonde is obviously only incidental to the movie — the real objective is the cute redhead.

Accordingly, he takes action as only the Beastmaster can. He has the ferrets steal the redhead’s stuff, causing her to (regrettably) slip into her very brief fantasy chick outfit and pursue them into the brush. After seeing this flick a million times now, I at last find myself wondering exactly what the ferrets stole, since she’s swimming in her fantasy chick outfit and can slip back into it rather than run nakedly into the forest after the ferrets… I checked the DVD and it looks as if they stole a towel or something, which wasn’t a really big part of the average hot fantasy babe’s equipment, but it worked, so who am I to fault Dar’s cunning plan?

But this is only part of Dar’s cunning plan. He then sends Ruh in to confront her and of course terrify the beautiful woman that he has the hots for. In some says, I’d say that Dar was history’s first stalker…

So while the redhead is staring at the monstrous tiger in utter wide-eyed terror, Dar slips up behind her, embraces her in his manly arms and says “Don’t move. The beast is fierce. If we show no fear, we might escape.”

He then uses his Beastmaster powers to tell Ruh to bugger off and let the Dar-monster make his moves… Ruh is reluctant but finally splits and Dar turns to take his reward, an awkward kiss, which ends — much to our relief — with the redhead knocking him to the ground and throttling him, demanding to know who he is.

“I am Dar,” he says. “I am no threat to you.”

Yeah, right…

Now that his first ploy has crashed and burned, Dar plays the sympathy card, telling her that his village *sniff* was burned… by the Juns *sniffle* and that he has sworn revenge. This causes her to waver and Dar turns the tables, flipping her over and lying astride her, chuckling like a pedophile on “To Catch a Predator” right before Chris Hansen shows up.

Kiri demonstrates that she knows how to top from the bottom.

Well, Dar’s not a complete boor, and he actually has the courtesy to ask her name before he tries to ravish her. She replies that she is Kiri, slave to the Temple of Argh. What luck!

Dar sees that Kiri’s back is scarred and comments that “They whip you like… like a beast!” and all his libidinous plans for the afternoon suddenly go right out the window.

Feeling like a complete jerk, Dar lets Kiri get back up and tries to make up for his behavior by offering to help her escape. She looks tempted but turns him down since her whole family will die if she runs away. She splits leaving Dar looking pretty damned ashamed of himself.

Okay, now Dar’s got another quest — to get Kiri the hot redheaded slave to take that outfit off again. He gathers up his animal allies and heads after her. Ironically, they’re going to the exact place where the bad guy that he has sworn vengeance upon lives, but he doesn’t know that yet.

Hey folks, it’s a fantasy. Go with it.

As the fellowship…  Sorry, I mean Dar and his companions… head into the wilderness, night falls and they spy an odd collection of glowing cocoon like pods hanging from a gigantic tree. As there is ominous music playing, we know that something bad must be about to happen. They cautiously creep toward the place, and discover a boiling pot filled with human body parts and a captive in a cage, obviously intended for the evening’s meal. Before Dar can turn around and run back toward the safety of the nearest town brothel, which is what I would have done, he is confronted by the camp’s occupants, a crowd of tall, faceless inhuman figures who advance on him in ominous silence.

Batman! Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana… Batman!

The guy in the cage looks like a total mook, but Dar frees him anyway, apparently figuring that it’s best to have as many allies watching your back as possible, even if this guy looks like, at best, a 1st Level Commoner. Alas, it doesn’t work, since the poor shlub flees right into the arms of the faceless creatures — literally. They wrap him up in webby batlike wings and when they open them up again — presto! — only bones left. These guys are self-contained rendering plants with wings… Very impressive.

Now the horrific walking cuisinarts advance on Dar, sizing him up as the main course, but when Dar’s eagle swoops down and alights on his shoulder, they back off and instead give him a medallion inscribed with an stylized eagle — it’s apparently the creatures’ corporate logo, and they have to respect and defend anyone with the ability to telepathically communicate with large birds. Yeah, that one’ll do you or me a helluva lotta good if we ever run into them, won’t it? We’d be shish-kebabs in five seconds flat.

Now assured of the eternal friendship of the creepy faceless wing-people, Dar continues on his journey, finally reaching the city of Arak, which of course is where he was born. Errr… conceived. Errr… transferred from his mother’s womb into a cow. Oh well, it’s his hometown but he doesn’t know it. More of that fateful sword and sorcery irony.

Arak is a little less pleasant than it was when Dar left. It’s surrounded by a moat of boiling tar, and thousands of impaled bodies lining the roads. Apparently the local equivalent of the Patriot Act is in effect.

The Arak Chamber of Commerce was puzzled by the lack of tourist trade after the Jun conquest.

Dar’s welcome in his old home town makes the Fellowship’s entry into Edoras look positively festive, as streets and their cute little stucco huts are deserted and the stench of death permeates every corner of the place. Dar slips into a conveniently-discarded cloak and heads toward the center of town to find out what the locals do for entertainment.

Well it just so happens that it’s human sacrifice day in Arak, and the high priest Maax is at the top of an Aztec-style pyramid busily doing what he loves best — throwing screaming children into the flames and raving to the populace about how they’d better follow the will of Argh or they’ll all end up this way.

After throwing a pudgy kid into the fire (yes, he really kills kids in this movie, that sicko), Maax says that Argh demands more blood and has an adorable blonde girl dragged up the steps to her doom.

Well, this is all too much for Dar. He spots Kiri in the crowd, but to his credit decides that saving an innocent child is more important than getting a little sugar from the slave chick, and besides if he rescues the little girl it’ll score beaucoup points with his would-be girlfriend.

Accordingly, while Maax chews scenery like a real pro, Dar commands his eagle to swoop down and grab the child even as Maax tries to shove her down the chute with his skull-staff. The eagle triumphantly flies away with the kid, the people all fall on their faces in wonder — all except Dar, of course, who really doesn’t fully understand the concept of low profile yet. Maax looks deeply disappointed (no, I mean really disappointed), but recovers quickly, saying that the child’s rescue was a sign from Argh, accepting the sacrifice and carrying her into the heavens in one piece rather than as a stream of tiny ashes.

Maax doing what he does best… Terrifying innocent children.

Of course this satisfies no one, any more than when the Catholic church tried to tell us that the priests weren’t molesting all those choirboys. But the people are pretty thoroughly cowed by this time, and all go home, leaving Dar to wander the city streets that night, seeking out the little girl’s home and returning her to her jubilant parents.

By this time, we’re pretty sure that Dar’s a different type of barbarian hero. Sure your Conans and your Talons and your Deathstalkers do “good” kinda/sorta, but only if it’s to their benefit, and even then only if there’s some hot piece of female ass involved (or possibly male as well in the case of Deathstalker).

For you D&D nerds out there, most of these guys are chaotic neutral with occasional good tendencies. Dar on the other hand, seems to be one of the few who actually strayed permanently over into chaotic good territory and does stuff because it’s right and proper and good and not just because it might get him laid.

The happy peasants, including father Sacco, pretty much fall all over Dar with gratitude, calling him “Master” and swearing eternal loyalty and friendship. See folks? How many people talk to Deathstalker like that? Damned few, let me tell you. I’m still thinking that chaotic good is the way to go…

Sacco, ladies and gentlemen… He’s not really the heroic type.

Sacco sits Dar down and brings him up to date, providing vital plot exposition along with a peasantish meal of gruel and water. The Juns captured the city, you see, imprisoned the king in the pyramid. It further seems that Maax has been a busy little villain, for he is now the Juns’ high priest and has been left in charge of the city, assisted by his red acolytes and his “fiendish witch women.”  The king’s son (presumably not Dar, who was never actually born) has disappeared, and the Juns are using Arak as a kind of human sacrifice ATM machine, taking children and nubile women to feed the demon-god Argh.

Never mind all that crap, Dar says, what about that hot redhead? Where is she?

(Okay, so Dar may be chaotic good, but he still lets the little head do a lot of his thinking. You really can’t help it when you’re a barbarian.)

Fortunately for the forces of good, Kiri and the other slave girls have also been taken to the pyramid for sacrifice. Now Dar can rescue them both, saving the kingdom AND getting some hot naked reward-sex in the bargain. This is kind of the same thing that Talon did in The Sword and the Sorcerer, but with all due respect Dar is nowhere near the horny slimeball that Talon was. Now firm in his commitment to save the city and rescue the smokin’ hot redhead, Dar, pats the girl on the head, thanks Sacco for the meal, takes his leave and vanishes into the night.

Okay, back to the darkness of the evil pyramid. Maax is communing with his witches and his red priests.

“Argh wants this stranger,” he says. “Bring him to me, this ‘Master of the Beasts.’ This ring will lead you to him.” With this, he slips an oversized gold ring onto the finger of his lead red priest, and the hunt is on.

Dar can’t talk right now… He’s all choked up…

In the nearby wilderness, Dar is hanging with Ruh and planning his next move, unaware that the ring-wearing priest is in the tree overhead. The ring opens to reveal an eyeball, which then transmits images of Dar back to Maax, who immediately sees the mark of Argh on Dar’s palm and realizes that Dar is actually Zed’s son.

Maax responds to this the way that evil priests have done since time immemorial. He orders his minions to kill Dar.

Easier said than done, oh scenery-chewing one.

The first priest tries to strangle Dar with a hanging noose (they’re crafty, these assassin-priests of Argh) while a second rides up bearing a crossbow. Rather than immediately shooting Dar in the neck, the second priest only watches while Ruh sneaks up from behind and rips the first priest a new one. Failing his morale check, the mounted priest then rides away, despite his superior weaponry and the fact that his would-be victim is on the ground gasping for air.

Oh well, they’re mooks for a reason. Dar sends Ruh after the fleeing priest and we watch the chase in beast-o-vision for a few moments until Ruh gets overconfident and falls into a pit.

Okay, NOW the stupid priest swings up his crossbow and gets ready to use it. Before he can puncture the poor helpless Ruh however, a heavy staff swings out of nowhere and nails the priest right in the breadbasket. Nearby stands… yes, it’s Seth, the captain of the king’s guard from the beginning of the flick, and a young boy (guess who!), leaning on their staffs and laughing.

This only pisses off the priest, who attacks with his weird chain-weapon, but of course Seth just brushes it off and kicks his ass once more, sending him tumbling into the pit trap, where Ruh looks skyward, says (in tiger-language) “Thank you, god!” and proceeds to chow down.

Haw! Haw! Watching mooks get eaten by tigers is funny!

“You face the animal on his own terms,” Seth says sagely as the priest’s screams echo up from the pit, “you find you are not so very strong.”

(And now for a little ancient history — I have to recount yet another anecdote from my days of watching cheap fantasy flicks in theaters. We attended with a bunch of SCA people, many of whom make gamers and computer nerds look positively well-adjusted. One particular individual who was prone to the occasional pretentious comment watched the scene in which Seth beats the priest’s ass with his big stick and loudly commented, in the middle of the theater and with an entirely straight face, “He who fights a master of the staff is thrice a fool.” Yes, there really are people like that in the world, gods help us all…)

At this point Dar shows up and bares his mighty sword (okay, I think we’ve managed to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to sword jokes, so I’ll lay off), prompting Seth and his young ward to stand on guard, as if to say, “Okay, bring it, Blondie.” Fortunately, Dar continues to show himself to be smarter than the average barbarian, realizes that they helped to save Ruh and thanks them for their help.

The trio then shove a fallen log into the pit, allowing Ruh to escape. The kid is impressed by the tiger. “Is he yours?” he asks.

Dar replies, “We fight together sometimes,” which only adds to his cool-o-meter rating. “I hope someday to be able to repay your kindness.”

He then gets ready to leave, but Seth reminds him that life is a circle, which suggests that he probably saw The Lion King, even though it won’t be made for 5,000 years or so. This catches Dar’s interest, so he stays to exchange more exposition, telling Seth that he’s the last of the Imorites. Seth introduces himself and the boy, whose name is Tal. They are, he says “Pilgrims on our way to worship at the temple of Argh.”

Study hard, my young pupil and one day you’ll be a muscular
babe-magnet like Dar.

Yeah, right… And I’m the Queen of Hyboria…

Dar comments that Seth’s pretty good with a staff for a humble pilgrim, to which Seth replies that all pilgrims have a deep love of life, “especially their own.”

“I too am on my way to worship at the temple of Argh,” Dar says, glancing meaningfully at his sword.

(Apparently, by “worship” they mean, “kill every mother-loving Jun, gut every miserable red priest and behead every single solitary evil witch in the entire freaking kingdom, then slice Maax into tiny pieces and feed them to the ferrets.” Pilgrims, you see, speak in their own secret language.)

The three agree to travel together and it looks as if this particular movie’s fellowship is pretty much complete. Later that evening, Seth dispatches with pretense, saying that he’s busy raising an army, and taking Tal back home to confront Maax and free his father, the king.

Again, the ol’ sword-and-sorcery coincidences abound. Tal is Dar’s brother (or at least half-brother), but neither of them know that (or at least we don’t think they do, as I’m not sure whether Lothar ever told Dar about where he really came from), and they’re going to rescue the old king, who is actually Dar’s own father. Imagine what fun that will be…

Dar also tells the whole story, introducing his animals, including the ferrety brothers, whom he says steal trinkets and treasures for him… I guess that’s how he manages to pay his bills at the inn. Among the stuff that the ferrets took is, of course, Maax’s eye-ring, even though we never saw them lift it off the red priest’s body. In a moment of sheer and unutterable bad luck, Dar tells Tal that he can keep the ring if he likes it. Now, why anyone would like that tacky piece of crap, I have no idea — it looks more like it should be hanging around Flava Flave’s neck than adorning the finger of the young prince of the realm. Then again, the kid’s young. He hasn’t really developed a sense of taste yet, so he puts the ring on, and the plot continues.

You take your lousy human-sacrificin’ Argh-lovin’ paws
offa MY hot cousin! 

Also among the junk is Kiri’s belt and when they see it, Seth and Tal react badly. Dar lamely explains that it belonged to a slave girl and that he’s trying to save her before she becomes the next sacrifice to Argh. Seth is still a bit overwrought, but does nothing other than to brusquely state that they will leave at dawn.

Hmmm… Kiri is no slave girl? You mean she might be, like, a princess or something? Maybe Tal’s sister?

Oh gods, I hope not… That would make her Dar’s sister, even though he doesn’t know it, and when he finally rescues her, they’ll…

Oh, gods, no!

Well, not quite that bad… Tal reveals that she’s his cousin. That would be okay if they were in, say, Florida, but not in others (some research reveals, surprisingly, that cousin marriage is legal in California but not in West Virginia. Go figure). And if Tal’s only his half-brother, well, then if she’s on his mother’s side that takes her out of the running altogether, so I think we need not worry about Dar and Kiri producing flipper-babies if and when they do finally get together. We will keep a weather eye out for information on Tal’s mother so we can make sure Dar isn’t heading straight into the shallow end of the gene pool.

That night while our heroes are sleeping, Maax’s ring opens its beady little eye just as Dar sends his eagle off to seek out Kiri, seeing her and the other temple virgins (well, women anyway) clad in white, escorted by a number of red priests on foot. I’m not really sure where they’re supposed to be going, as we were under the impression that they were going to be sacrificed at the giant pyramid, but that doesn’t matter. Our heroes’ rescue plans unfold.

The next day, the future victims are being herded along by the squad of future red priests toward the river where a rope-drawn ferry awaits, manned by three cloaked figures. Gee, I wonder who they’ll turn out to be…

We are filled with shame for our failure. Please drown us in the river.

At the dock, Kiri shows what a plucky little thing she is by kneeing a priest in the victuals, to which the priest responds by pounding her and shoving her head underwater. This kind of moves up our heroes’ schedule, so they redouble their efforts to drag the ferry to the dock. As soon as they arrive, Seth wastes no time in clobbering the priest that’s molesting Kiri (remember, he who fights a master of the staff IS thrice a fool), then Dar whips off his cloak and the other priests are so impressed by his ripped physique and his snarling black tiger that they put up very little fight, ending up as either prisoners or acolyte cutlets.

Dar approaches Kiri and gives her the old “The beast is fierce” line, and of course it’s obvious that romance is in the air. Just as they’re busy tying up the captive priests, another squad of baddies arrives, this time on horseback and armed with crossbows (which seem only capable of striking the ferry’s dragon figurehead rather than any of the actual people on board). Our four heroes start hauling away on the rope, but they’re moving too slow, so Kiri very sensibly ties the captive priests to an anchor and pushes them overboard. Dar cuts the ferry loose and they drift down the river, away from the squad of frustrated priests.

Now this is all well and good, and Kiri is now rescued and in the strong, beefy arms of Dar, but there were several other sacrificial maidens in the caravan. What the hell happened to them? There was a brief shot of them running away, but for all intents and purposes they’ve disappeared from the film. I imagine that they didn’t get far, since those mounted priests are probably royally pissed and won’t be too sympathetic if they find the fleeing women.

Heh heh… Heh heh… Dar’s gonna, like, score. Heh heh… Heh heh.

(There’s a movie convention that I find kind of annoying, actually — the disappearing minor character. Once they have served their purpose, minor characters walk away, jump out a window, or otherwise vanish, never to be heard from again. Remember the scientist guy who rescues Domino at the end of Thunderball, for example? He jumps out of the Disco Volante right before it blows up, but when we see the liferaft, only Bond and Domino are in it. Did the guy die? Did he swim away? Damn…)

Sorry, more woolgathering. Back to the river, where our four intrepid adventurers are now drifting along as carefree as Jim and Huck. Tal asks Dar to rescue his father, and we all know that Dar’s going to say yes. However, he decides to use the situation for his own gain (there’s that chaotic alignment rearing its ugly head again), and asks Tal to send Kiri over to ask him.

“What can I do to convince you to help us?” she asks.

Yeah, yeah, we get the picture. Dar holds out for about five seconds, but moments later they’re snogging like horny sophomores, and Tal says confidently, “I think he’s going to help us.”

Nah, kid. What was your first clue?

The next day, the companions part ways as Seth ventures out to find allies, and the other three head back toward Arak to raise some hell before the cavalry arrives.

Dar sends the eagle to go fetch Sacco, who suddenly transforms into the dreaded comic relief, protesting that he’s a coward and asking the eagle whether he can get someone else instead. That’s it, Sacco… Way to pay a guy back for saving your daughter…

The Juns were able to recruit several members of the band Slipknot to their evil cause…

Fortunately Sacco’s transformation into Snails is brief. He eventually relents, and in the next scene transports Dar, Kiri, Tal and the animals through the city gates. Unfortunately, that damned ring is still on Tal’s finger, and transmits images of the three intruders straight to Maax’s command center where, like the evil guy that he is, Maax begins to make plans to give Dar and his companions a warm welcome.

Dar, Tal, Kiri and Ruh sneak into the surprisingly unguarded temple and slip down a narrow corridor. Let’s see, that’s a low-level fighter (Tal), a low-level rogue (Kiri) and a mid-level druid/barbarian and his animal companions. We’re going to have to lower the challenge rating of the upcoming encounters just a little if they’re going to survive…

Dar first encounters open cages filled with green-eyed fetish-freaks wearing spiked claws and vambraces… As this is the eighties, it’s not surprising that the villains include members of failed heavy metal bands among their hordes.

Dar avoids the spiked gauntlets by grabbing chains that hang from the ceiling for some reason, then pulls a random lever that shutters all the cages so Tal and Kiri can follow. Good gods, pulling a random lever? Do you have any idea what would have happened if the party had pulled a random lever in my campaign? I can at least say that it sure as hell wouldn’t have closed the cages.

In the next corridor, the trio finds a grill in the floor and look down to see an unfortunate prisoner being tortured in order to transform him into one of the heavy-metal guys from the cages — Tal says they’re called deathguard, and extreme torment transforms them into wild beasts. Mind you that doesn’t really sound like the best way to create an army of killers, since they’re as likely to kill Juns as the Juns’ enemies, but these barbarian hordes aren’t really known for their logic and sensible conduct.

The keys that they need to open the king’s cell are in the chamber where the deathguard is being made, so Dar sends the ferrets in to nab them. While Kodo and Podo are being lowered down, Kiri slips away, opens a convenient hidden door and vanishes. WTF???

While they go down, Tal explains more of the process of deathguard creation, as the priest encases the prisoner in “deadly armor” (the armor is deadly? Hell, that’s one nasty deathguard), drains his blood and damages his brain “with a mysterious green liquid.” (I suspect it’s Reanimator juice, but that’s only a guess.) Finally, the priests drop a glowing green leech down the victim’s ear (“Khaaaaaannnn!”) and slap on the black disco-bondage helmet, and voila. One deathguard ready to go.

Kodo and Podo then throw another monkey wrench into things by surprising the priests, who are distracted long enough for the deathguard to break free, kill them, bash down the door and escape. In the process he snaps the line holding the ferrets, but before Dar can do anything, Kirri reappears to show him the secret door. She’s changed into a cute little rogue outfit complete with dagger, which Dar notices with obvious interest. Dar urges Tal to follow along, telling him that the ferrets will “catch up.” Well, he’s the Beastmaster, I guess he knows best…

Ever the source of useful plot exposition, Tal tells Dar that the outfit indicates Kiri is actually a “trove warrior” — an ancient sect that used to control the pyramid. That’s about all we ever hear about the matter, but it at least succeeds in making Kiri more than your average screaming piece of barbarian arm-candy.

They find the king’s cell and Dar looks around for the key-bearing ferrets, but Kiri discovers that the door is unlocked. DON’T DO IT, KIRI! IT’S A TRAP! NO ONE LEAVES THE KING’S CELL UNLOCKED UNLESS THEY PLAN TO SLAM THE DOOR AND LOCK YOU IN AS SOON AS YOU’RE…

Oh, never mind. They go in even though everyone in the audience is screaming at them not to.

Tal and Kiri go to rescue the king, while Dar creeps back down the hall looking for Ruh. The tiger seems MIA until he jumps out, killing a guard who was about to ventilate Dar.

Dar returns to the cell, and discovers that the king is there, but unfortunately he’s missing his eyes. The damned Juns apparently used them as salad garnishes.

“Uncle,” Kiri says. “It’s me.” Unfortunately the king just isn’t very observant right now for some reason…

Oh, what a feeling/Stabbing on the ceiling…

While the heroes try to get the king on his feet, Maax and the witchy-chicks sneak up and slam the cell door behind them. Wow… Never saw that coming, did we?

Maax chuckles in his evil, Rip Torny way, and says they’ll be sacrificed at dawn. They haven’t reckoned with Ruh, however, who is still outside and once more saves the day by charging down the corridor, forcing the two villains to retreat into the cell with their captives. Maax grabs Tal and holds a knife to his throat while Dar and the witch-woman square off, and Ruh sits at he door, looking at Maax as if he’s a half-pound piece of Porterhouse.

The witch blinds Dar with pixie dust, then crawls up onto the ceiling (yes, witches can do that, apparently), preparing to drop down on him from an unexpected angle like Lestat in that awful Queen of the Damned movie. Dar has luckily not seen Queen of the Damned, but he’s the Beastmaster, dammit, and through Ruh’s eyes he is able to see where the witch is, and in short order turns her into an oversized cocktail weenie.

Kiri manages to get the knife away from Maax just as Ruh bashes the door down (I didn’t know tigers could do that… I guess you learn something new every day), but Maax is nimble for an evil high priest, and escapes leaving the heroes behind. They get the king on his feet and prepare to flee while elsewhere in the dungeon, the key-bearing ferrets lead the berserk deathguard on a merry chase.

Now it’s Tal’s turn to find the secret passage, and he leads the escapees into an adjoining room where he turns a crank to raise a big stone skull that’s blocking the exit. Dar sends Ruh along to protect the others, then turns back to go find those mischievous ferrets. Kiri urges him to follow but the big loveable lug refuses, returning to the dank recesses of the dungeon.

Look out for that deathguard!
What deathguard? Ohhhh, THAT deathguard…

Dar’s search for the ferrets is short indeed, for he runs into a crowd of red priests, who send him fleeing back into the skull room, where he cuts the chain holding the skull and seals himself back in. Outside, the priests are too busy bashing down the door to notice the arrival of the ferrets, quickly followed by the deathguard, who proceeds to engage in some spiked vambrace-fu while Kodo and Podo slip beneath the door for their touching reunion with the Beastmaster. Of course he’s already sealed off the exit, but what the hell… They’re too cute to be angry with for long.

As it turns out, Kiri also stayed behind (it’s love, I tell ya!), and leads him down the alternate escape path, down the air shafts.

Oh my gods… Another hero escaping down airshafts… When are villains going to learn to make their airshafts too small to crawl through!

The deathguard breaks through, but the lovers are away, and emerge from the airshaft high on the castle walls. Kiri is definitely a higher-level rogue than we’d originally thought, and brought the requisite 50 feet of rope, allowing them to scale the cliff even as the Deathguard scuttles along the airshaft after them. As they’re halfway down, he shows up, and begins hacking away at the rope, but the Beastmaster still has a few tricks left. The eagle swoops down on the deathguard, he overbalances and tumbles down the cliff to a merciful death.

All seems well, but wait! The rope was damaged and now it’s fraying! Oh no — Dar and Kiri are going to pancake…

The pair plummet to certain death, but fortuitously land on a shipment of soft, comfy pillows that happen to be passing by.

After this incident, the city gate of Arak was known as “The Deathguard Tenderizer.”

No, actually they land in the back of Sacco’s wagon, proving again that Dar’s Luck stat is one of the highest ever recorded. Finding the gate blocked, Dar has the eagle carry the ferrets up to the top of the gatehouse and sets them to work gnawing through the rope.

While they’re waiting for the ferrets to finish, Kiri proves her worth by nailing an approaching guard with an eagle-shaped shuriken, but then gapes in horror as four deathguards approach, followed by a whip-wielding priest. They make for the gate, but the ferrets aren’t done yet. All seems lost.

Up in the gatehouse, the lone guard sees Kodo (or maybe it’s Podo… hell, I can’t tell) chewing on the rope, and makes ready to cleave the poor creature, but Podo (or Kodo) deftly slips up his tunic and demonstrates the British pastime known as “ferret-legging.” Bitten in a very uncomfortable place, the guard accidentally chops the rope, then plummets and goes splat as the ferrets scramble to safety. As the wagon lurches through the gate, Dar chops the counterweight rope and the heavy gate slams down, squashing the deathguards in an imminently satisfying fashion. The two ferrets complete the escape by dropping into the wagon as it leaves.

*Whew!*

Strong men, too can cry, Mister Lebowski. Strong… men… too.. can… cry…

Our triumph is short-lived, for in the next scene King Zed shows what a dick he is, lurching about, pontificating, rejecting everyone’s pity and insisting that he only needs 35 warriors to kick Maax out on his Jun-lovin’ ass.

Dar, Kiri and Seth look dubious at this, and Dar stands up to give Zed the straight scoop — sure, they can kill Maax, but once he’s gone the Juns will be all over the city like a duck on a junebug. He needs a while army, not 35 peasants with sticks.

Despite this sage advice, and the support of Kiri, Seth and Tal, Zed continues to insist that the conquest of Arak will take only a few hours, that the citizens will greet them with kisses and flowers, that there won’t be any insurgency, they’ll find the WMDs and the entire invasion can be paid for by oil revenue from the moat full of tar that surrounds the city. Dar, he says, is just “a freak who speaks to animals,” and “I NEED NO COWARDS BY MY SIDE!!!”

This is all too much for Dar, who turns and leaves, tears running down his face. Once more, Dar shows himself to be a cut or two above the average movie barbarian, showing that he actually has emotions other than bloodlust and horniness. Kiri shows up to offer Dar some sympathy (no, unfortunately not that kind), but even she can’t help him.

Damn. I KNEW we should have voted for Obama.

“Go crawl down a hole with your animals,” Zed sneers, and returns to planning Operation Araki Freedom. And what a humdinger of a plan it is — his own son will lead the charge, and their subsequent Shock and Awe tactics will send Maax down to defeat. Unfortunately, Tal’s still wearing the eyeball ring, and Maax’s surviving witches hear the whole plan. Seth finally notices the staring eye of doom and stabs it out with a stick, then warns Zed that Maax knows all their plans.

Zed, predictable, refuses. Years ago, you see, Maax killed his queen and enslaved him, so he’s just gotta have revenge. His neocon advisors have assured him that they know EXACTLY where Maax is hiding his WMDs and no namby-pamby, terrorist-loving liberal is going to stand in the way of the final liberation of Arak. The plan stands, even though Maax knows the whole thing.

“We’re doomed,” Seth says mournfully.

Zed replies that you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want, then heads off to his ranch to go clear brush.

Oh, wait… At least now we know that Tal and Dar don’t have the same mother. Maybe Kiri isn’t really his cousin…

Oops… Back in the dungeon, Kiri called the king “uncle.” Aw, crap. I guess Dar and Kiri will have to have genetic counseling before they do the deed…

While you’re planning my horrible death, I think I’ll take a little nap…

The next morning Dar awakens to see Sacco riding hell for leather from the city. He confirms that, as all the liberal doomsayers predicted, the whole plan went to hell — Zed underestimated the number of troops needed to hold the city, they never found any WMDs, the insurgency proved stronger and more resilient than they’d anticipated, Zed’s advisors had no real plans for governance of Arak after the invasion, and they never developed a viable Arak exit strategy. For this reason, Zed and all of Dar’s friends are going to be sacrificed at sunset. Go figure.

Cut to the menacing pyramid and a crowd of thoroughly dispirited Arakis. A cart arrives carrying Tal, Seth and Kiri. Maax looks down on the sacrificial fire and is well pleased.

But never fear. The Beastmaster is riding to the rescue, even as Kiri has her oddly Catholic-looking robe ripped off (she still has her trove warrior outfit on underneath, unfortunately) and is dragged up the pyramid, where the despondent-looking Zed sits.

Now it’s Maax’s time to shine.

“Your king Zed has denied the god Argh,” he bellows. “Now he will die as will his kin!

(Okay, he’s no Jeremy Irons, but damn this man can devour scenery…)

Dar arrives, galloping through the unguarded gates and unleashing his multipronged counterattack. Maax could, of course, have foiled Dar’s plans completely just by barring the gates and putting men on the walls, but once more the evil overlord misses the most obvious defenses.

Okay, kids, is THIS sword and sorcery enough for you?

Dar rides into the city square and tosses the ferrets into the cart where Tal and Seth are bound, then starts hacking guards. The ferrets quickly gnaw through Tal and Seth’s bonds, the two escape, throw off their robes (Seth still has his leather bondage armor), grab swords and we’re off to the races.

For a kid Tal proves pretty badass, slicing guard after guard. The crowd goes berserk and turns on the priests, Seth swings his cleaver left and right and even Ruh gets into the act, chowing down on some unfortunate guards who probably weren’t even supposed to work this shift.

Dar battles his way to the top of the pyramid, where Maax is having a hard time getting Kiri to hold still for sacrifice. Once Dar makes it all the way, one of the witch women casually informs Maax that he’s now doomed, since the unborn has arrived.

Well, it looks as if maybe Dar’s “surge” has saved Zed’s Arak strategy, but Maax can’t resist one last dig before he gets his just deserts. He gives up on trying to sacrifice Kiri and instead strides over to Zed, where he tells him that his unborn son has arrived. Just as Zed realizes that Dar’s his son and that he’s been acting like a complete Jerk, Maax stabs him, then attacks Dar.

Here’s why history records Maax last words as “YEEEEEOWCH!!”

For a moment it looks like the weenie priest might have the upper hand over the beefy Beastmaster, but it doesn’t last long. Dar stabs Maax with his own dagger, and the priest falls. Dar turns on the witch woman, but she is able to turn herself into a pigeon and escape… Why Dar doesn’t send his eagle out for a quick snack is anyone’s guess.

Back to some action packed fighting on the pyramid as Seth and Tal finish off the last guards and the victorious Arakis swarm up the steps.

All seems well until we see that Maax isn’t quite dead yet. He rips the dagger free and advances on Dar who is busy carrying Kiri down the steps. The ferrets see what the bastard is up to, and Kodo launches himself at Maax, Maax screams and they both go tumbling into the sacrificial flames, exploding like cheap fireworks. Both Podo and the Beastmaster are terribly despondent, but at least the city is free and we can now celebrate…

Oops, not yet. From the top of the pyramid, we see the dust of the approaching Jun horde. Apparently news travels fast in the world of the Beastmaster. Despite the demands of many to flee, Tal concurs with Dar’s advice that they stay and fight. The people cheer (didn’t they just want to flee a second ago?), and soon they’re pulling down the bridge and covering over the petroleum moat under Seth’s guidance.

Dar likes his Juns served hot.

Back at the pyramid, Dar isn’t sitting idly around mourning Kodo. He remembers the bat-people’s medallion and hands it over to his eagle, who flies off with it.

That night, the people are arrayed to defend their city, and the Juns arrive in all their Road Warrior-type glory. The people retreat through the gates and the Juns charge… right into the disguised tar moat (I guess they forgot it was there after the last time they conquered the city). Despite some well-placed crossbow bolts, the Arakis shut the gates, leaving Tal, Seth, Kiri and Dar on the other side to set the tar on fire. Tal gets bolted as he tries, but Kiri sets a Jun on fire, then Dar kicks him into the moat and we’re treated to a pyrotechnic fantasy as the whole thing goes up in flames, taking half the Jun army with it.

Wow… I’m still of the opinion that any movie in which a guy catches on fire is automatically cool, and this flick is no exception.

The Juns are still dangerous, and some of the survivors get across the burning moat, but Dar and company hack them individually as they do so, in a flaming, blood-soaked conga line of death. Soon numbers begin to tell, however, and our heroes are quickly surrounded by angry, oily, smoking Juns. Finally the Jun chieftain leaps his horse across the flames and challenges Dar to single combat.

Dar has his cool Beastmaster sword, but the Jun chief has a big flanged mace with extendable spikes, and as we all know if a weapon is exotic it must automatically be superior to all others, so it’s a pretty even fight. After a ferocious struggle, the chieftain ends up impaled on his own mace spikes, Dar kung-fu kicks him, and flings him into the flames. Victory! Hurrah!

Hey Juns! SURPRISE!

Of course Dar is now surrounded by vengeful Juns who just saw him off their chieftain, so his work has only just begun. Dar and Seth stand back-to-back and prepare to meet the gods personally, when the black eagle flaps down out of the night and alights on Dar’s arm.

No, the eagle hasn’t come to witness his master’s last few painful moments of life. He’s brought friends. Yup, the bird people from earlier in the movie… They apparently still feel some kinship with Dar, and busily envelop and devour the surviving Juns as Dar and friends retreat back toward the gates. The people cheer, the Juns die, and we get Tal into one of the stucco huts to see to his crossbow-wound.

Yeah, Tal lives and will become king. As he’s getting ready to leave however, Seth sees the mark on Dar’s hand and realizes that he’s the true king. Nah, that’s not for me, Dar replies. Tal will make a great ruler.

“Besides,” he says, “he already has the strongest right hand that any leader of men could want.”

Seth for his part can’t really argue with this, and the two buff barbarians say their farewells. Dar leaves his kaypa in Tal’s capable hands and departs from the city, Ruh at his side. *sniffle.*

Awwwwwwwwwww…!

No wait, we’re not done yet. While Tal and Seth say goodbye to the black eagle, Kiri comes running after Dar in all her red-haired, blue-eyed hotness, Dar sweeps her up in his manly arms and says…

“Nope, sorry. You’re my cousin. I just can’t. It’s just too creepy. I don’t want flipper-babies.”

Dar… I… I know you’re my cousin, and I know that our children may be born with two heads but… but I LOVE you!!.

No, of course he doesn’t… After all, Wagner’s hero Siegfried was the son of a brother and sister, and fell in love with his aunt Brunhilda… That’s a classic fantasy and it’s way more creepy than Beastmaster.

Actually, their eyes meet and we end the film with Dar and Kiri embracing on a picturesque mountaintop while Ruh patrols nearby, the eagle flies overhead, and Podo appears with two cute baby ferrets, just enough to carry on the dynasty.

So that’s it. As was previously mentioned, Beastmaster kind of tanked when it was first released, but has attained cult status in the intervening years, spawning two sequels and a TV series. In many ways it’s the iconic sword and sorcery movie, and manages to do just about everything that a low-budget fantasy epic is supposed to. Of all the flicks we’ve reviewed this is a real fave and not just because I love animals and think that Tanya Roberts is hot.

In the decades since the release of Beastmaster, its principals have done relatively well. Tanya Roberts got those gigs as a Bond girl, Sheena and the sexy-but-dumb neighbor on That 70s Show, Marc Singer has worked steadily, doing voice work, TV series and starring in the series V, even landing a role in the Beastmaster TV show in 2002. John Amos was and continues to be a household word in the world of television drama, with recurring roles in The District, Men in Trees, The West Wing, 30 Rock and more.

As for Rip Torn… well, he’s been in just about everything from Robocop III to Will and Grace, Dodgeball and — like John Amos – 30 Rock. Oh yeah, he also played Tom Green’s father in what many considered to be the worst movie ever made, Freddy Got Fingered, and also starred in a police video that portrayed his drunken rant at police officers after being arrested for DWI in 2004. He was busted for DWI again in 2006 and yet again in 2009. On January 29, 2010, Torn was arrested after breaking into a Litchfield Bancorp branch office in Lakeville Connecticut, and in December, 2010 he plead guilty to reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, criminal mischief and the illegal carrying of a firearm. Rip received a two-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence and three years probation, and has so far managed to keep his drunken ass out of the slammer, but stay tuned — he’s only 82 years young and there’s still plenty of time. His mugshot remains one of the most popular on the Internet, along with such luminaries as Nick Nolte and Yasmine Bleeth.

Rip Torn then…
…and now. Which do YOU prefer?

And so we draw yet another episode to a close. Join us again next time as we descend once more into the blood-soaked Pit of Swords and Sorcery. Fight on!

Sword and Sorcery Rating:

4 Broadswords

You really can’t do much better than this one, including as it does a toned and brawny swordsman, cute animals, sword battles, evil priests, a sacrificial pyramid, wicked witches, a lost prince and a hot redhead who is at least partially naked. The Beastmaster rules.

Comedy Rating:

1-1/2 Broadswords

There’s actually not a lot of intentional humor in this film, and what there is consists of cute animal shots. That’s really okay, since there also isn’t a lot of unintentional humor here either. For once, the script actually strikes the right balance, and isn’t too over-the-top or so ridiculous that you have to laugh.

Violence Rating:

3 Broadswords

Battles, sword fights, murders, stabbings, animal attacks… What more can I say?

Titillation Rating:

2-1/2 Broadswords

A fair amount of skin is on display here (and I’m not discounting the gorgeous Mark Singer running around in a loincloth either), but there’s only one really good nude scene. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it — it’s Tanya Roberts, who is good for two swords right there — and the rest of the movie is actually pretty chaste. Now the whole thing about Dar and Kiri being cousins, THAT’S a little weird…

Awesomeness Rating:

4 Broadswords

This one goes all the way, folks. It’s the gold standard for beefy sword-and-sorcery adventure. All hail Dar!.

Is this the best movie we’ve reviewed so far? Actually, in my admittedly prejudiced opinion, it is. Go down to the video store and rent it today, and you’ll hear your delighted friends declare, “Hey! Beastmaster’s on!”