Written by: Don Coscarelli & Paul Pepperman
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Release Date: 1982
Runtime: 118 min
Available on Amazon Prime
The Beastmaster is a story of revenge and the fulfillment of a prophecy. A maniacal High Priest of Ar, Maax, played by Rip Torn, is told of his death at the hands of his ruler’s unborn son by his consort of witches. Maax refuses to allow the prophecy to be fulfilled. He sends one of his witches to steal the unborn child from its mother, brand it with the mark of Ar, and sacrifice it. Maax’s witch is successful in stealing the unborn child but is unable to carry out the sacrifice when interrupted by a good Samaritan who happens upon the ritual in the woods.
The good Samaritan takes the newly born infant under his care and raises him as his son. He names the boy Dar. The two live peacefully in the stilted homes of the village of Emur, an agrarian society. Dar’s father instructs him to use a sword and other weapons for protection. While training, the pair discover Dar’s unusual connection to animals; the ability to touch an animal’s mind and befriend it.
The two live happy agrarian lives as Dar matures into manhood, the character now played by Marc Singer. Dar’s lifepath changes suddenly as the Jun Horde invades his village. The Juns are a marauding band of nomads that take and do what they want. They raid the village of Emur and slaughter every man, woman, and child. Dar only escapes this fate thanks to his loyal cross-bolt wounded dog dragging his unconscious body away from the village. When Dar regains consciousness, he discovers he is the last of the Emur and heads out for revenge, guided by the brand given to him at birth by Maax’s witch, the mark of Ar.
Along the way, he joins up with several animal companions, a golden eagle named Sharak, two thieving ferrets, Kodo and Podo, and a black tiger named Ruh. With his bestial abilities, Dar can see through his animal companion’s eyes and communicates with them through thought. They prove to be invaluable companions. Dar also befriends several human and inhuman companions. Kiri, a slave girl of Ar and cousin, is played by Tonya Roberts. Seth, the exiled king of the guard, is played by John Amos. Tal, Dar’s younger brother and heir to the throne is played by Josh Milrad.
The Beastmaster is loosely based on Andre Norton’s book of the same title. Other than sharing the title and a few other aspects of the novel, the similarities end there. The Beastmaster didn’t have excellent theater success, finishing fifth in its opening week. Its notoriety came later on with its excessive rebroadcasting on cable television. It repeatedly aired on HBO, TBS, and the TNT networks so much that the station’s acronyms began to represent something else. The comedian Dennis Miller renamed HBO “Hey Beastmaster is On,” while TBS became known as “The Beastmaster Station.”
It is in this time frame that I watch it repeatedly. I was found in front of the television whenever it aired, glued to my seat. Oddly after the repeated viewings, one aspect always eluded me until now. The most significant oversight I overlooked was the relationship between Dar and Kiri. Until recently, it never occurred to me that the two were closely related. Tal is Dar’s younger brother, though it is not revealed until the end of the film, and Kiri is Tal’s cousin making Kiri also Dar’s cousin. Dar and Kiri are seen together at the movie’s end, implying a future romantic relationship. One can not overlook that Dar spied upon Kiri while bathing and actively pursued her as a love interest throughout the film. The knowledge that they were cousins muddies the waters of the romantic elements of the story.
Though one must remember it is just a movie and not take it so literally. Several questionable things occurred in the film. For example, the Juns leader decides to take on Dar in single combat at the siege of Aruk, King Zed’s kingdom. It was obviously to give the film a revenge aspect, but it was odd, out of place, and poorly executed. But the single most head-scratching moment for me was Kiri’s wardrobe change as Dar, Tel, and Kiri secretly entered Aruk to free Zed from his imprisonment. While Dar and Tel watch an Ar Priest create a Death Guard, Kiri slips away through a secret passage only to reappear in a new outfit, for which Dar utters the line, “Why is she dressed like that?” No explanation is given or other resolution for the wardrobe change. Why this didn’t end up on the cutting room floor is a mystery to me. Perhaps Tonya Roberts looked too good in the outfit to allow the scene to hit the cutting room floor.
Even though the producers made odd choices in the film, they made some outstanding gaming elements to steal.
Oil of Paralyzation
One of Maax’s witches pours a luminescent blue liquid over the throats of King Zed and his Queen as they sleep in their bed as she enacts a magical incantation that transfers the queen’s unborn son into an animal vessel. The King and Queen wake in horror, unable to act or speak; the strange blue liquid paralyzes the two as they watch in horror as their unborn child is stolen. Several RPGs feature paralyzation but non that I am aware of using it in a potion form that is applied like an oil.
The Eye Ring
To track the progress of Ar’s priest in their search for Dar, the Maax’s witches created a magical ring using one of their eyeballs as the centerpiece for the piece of jewelry. The fleshy eye is protected on the ring by a retractable metal lid which the witch can retract at will. The eye continues to broadcast whatever comes into view, and its images are displayed in a watery cauldron for all to view. The eye is still living flesh and part of the witch. When one of our heroes destroys it with a burning stick, the witch suffers the same pain and wound as if the eye was still in its socket. This has the hallmarks of an exciting and strange magical item to bestow upon a band of adventures with its lid only opening at the witch’s will and used as a spying device.
Unnamed Eagle Worshipping Creatures
These tall, gaunt, nearly faceless bipedal creatures are, by far, the most terrifying monster to appear in this film. Having no monicker, they tower over their prey as they engulf their meals by enclosing them in their webbed bodily arms, holding them as their digestive excretions consume its flesh, leaving only bones when released. They strike with lightning speed and little noise, catching their prey unaware. Their bat-like wings grant them the ability to fly, which ties into their worship of eagles. Their on-screen consumption is grotesque and terrifying to watch. Encountering one of these bizarre creatures in an RPG setting will send a chill down your players’ spines.
Used as mindless muscle, DeathGuards are men encased in deadly armor with spiked bracers and madding glowing green eyes. Death Guards are mindless killing machines. The Ar priests drain their future Death Guard of its blood and replace it with a mysterious green liquid and leeches in the ear that damages the brain. It is incredibly torturous for the victim, transforming them into wild beasts. They will kill anything it meets with no fear whatsoever, even their creators.
Jun Hoard Leader
We don’t learn much about the Juns or their leader. What we do know is he sports a cool-looking helmet. It is a full-face metal mask with large protruding bat-like wings on each side. Even though the leader never speaks a single word, his headgear denotes status and power within the Juns. It is simple yet very effective.
The Beastmaster, still to this day, is one of my favorite fantasy movies of the era. It is only second to Conan, staring Arnold Schwarzenegger. There have been two sequels to the movie, Beatmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991) and Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996). I think I’ve viewed the first one, but the other, I certainly have not. My love of the original keeps these sequels at bay, for I often find sequels rarely enhance the original. The Beastmaster no longer dominates cable television programming. To view it, one must own a copy or subscribe to a streamlining service that offers it. Currently, The Beastmaster is available to subscribers to Amazon Prime. If you are a subscriber and have never watched it or it’s been a long time since you viewed it, I recommend you settle down for a viewing. It is one of many excellent fantasy-based films that came out in the 80s and is a great resource for inspiration.
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3 Comments Add yours
Sometimes it seem everyone marries their cousin in the UK. OK I didn’t but in some communities it is absolutely the norm and I have never known anyone to have an issue with it — though genetics suggests we probably should? However that bit of the review puzzled me until I realised you must be American! 🙂
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CJ, You got us! Yes, we’re all American, and while intermarrying does happen here, it’s not the norm in most places. Thanks for reading Stephen’s review and leaving us a comment.