If the folks at MST3K haven’t taken a look at this one yet, they should. The Beastmaster is a diet version of the Conan movies with enough cheese and absurdity to spare.
We have a solid B-fantasy movie that probably hits a nostalgic nerve for a lot of folks. Directed by Don Coscarelli (of the Phantasm series), it is no surprise this one has a bit of a cult following. I have a love/hate relationship with the film, so let’s unpack what works and what doesn’t.
We follow Dar (Marc Singer), a young man who survived an assassination attempt at birth due to a prophecy that he would be a threat to Maax (Rip Torn), an evil priest or something. Dar has the power to hear animals and control them (or at least make them his ally) for reasons. After Dar’s village is destroyed by Maax’s men, he seeks vengeance, and to get laid (seriously, he seems more interested in pursuing Kiri (Tanya Roberts) than any sort of vengeance). Battles happen and such—and that’s about the whole movie.
So, what works?
Oddly, the production of this rushed film feels more organic than any of the Marvel films. The care put into the sets and costuming showcases a love of the craft more than just having actors stand in front of a green screen. There are moments here when it isn’t clear if everyone involved was safe, and this makes the moments a bit more intense. Knowing that even the superhero suits are green screen anymore has completely killed the physical craft (in my opinion). The sets here look real because they are. I hate to put it this way, but I think the people on this set worked harder to present a real vision than most folks do today. The whole attitude of “it can be done in a computer” is unfortunate and does not age as well.
The film is also fun. There is a level of ridiculousness to everything that makes the campy adventure fun.
So, what doesn’t work?
Just about everything else.
At two hours, this film would benefit from about 30 minutes of trimming. A harder edit would have prevented it from wearing out its welcome. There is a joy to the cheese, but it can’t sustain long enough.
The story, despite being incredibly simple, is also a complete shitshow. We have major plot points that go nowhere (Dar’s quest for vengeance disappears instantly), things that make no sense (the hug-sucking creatures for one), terrible acting (do we really need a specific example, and a bloated ending that is at best a letdown. I remember liking this when I was a child and yet I remembered almost none of the film. It is just a campy crap adventure where the men are masculine, and the women are readily available (Dar sexually assaults Kiri almost immediately). I guess my child’s brain didn’t recognize any of these issues. Today, there is still fun to be had, but it is a bit harder to give this one a thumbs up with so many issues.
However, let’s be real, folks are going to watch this one for how bad it is. Sometimes there is just a need to see something stupid and rip on it. This one stays absurd the whole time, which will give you plenty of fodder. Further, the is so much extra crap here that you’ll unlikely make the same joke twice. For people wanting something to dish on, I think this is one of the better ones out there. Only watch it for mocking.
Stream with alcohol.