Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Deathstalker Series (1983-1987-1988-1991)

I'm a huge fan of Sword and Sorcery films, but unfortunately, movies such as these are a rare breed. There's Conan the Barbarian, Deathstalker, Ator, and the rest. And yes, that Gilligan's Island all-encompassment is indeed justfied, as most S&S flicks that aren't the three I mentioned above tend to be really crummy. Today, I'll be talking about one of the better S&S franchises, and one of my favourites-Deathstalker!

I'm not going to even touch the 'spinoff' Barbarian Queen movies though. Why? Well, as much as I want to see more sword and sorcery films, I don't want to watch three hours of rape. Yeah, the Barbarian Queen movies are FULL of nudity that you'll only enjoy if you're sociopathic. The only good Barbarian Queen 1 and 2 serve is as stock footage in Deathstalker IV.

Deathstalker: The Last Great Warrior King

Barbarian Deathstalker is told by a sorceress about the three Powers of creation, mystical objects of unimaginable power. An evil wizard named Munkar holds two of the Powers, the Amulet of Life, and the Chalice of Magic, while the third is hidden. On her instructions, Stalker seeks the Sword of Power out, and after that, he heads to the castle of Munkar, where the evil wizard is holding a fighting tournament. Accompanied by Kaira, a female warrior, Salmaron, a human turned gremlin turned back, and Oghris, another warrior, Stalker intends on defeating Munkar, and reuniting the three Powers...

Behold, the exploitation film fan's perfect barbarian film, full of nudity, violence, and all sorts of fun stuff! This makes even Conan the Barbarian seem like Conan the Destroyer.

One thing you'll quickly learn about this series is that Deathstalker is a bit of an asshole, and kinda misogynistic in his advances towards women throughout these four movies.

In the movie's first scene, a woman has been kidnapped by a guy, who definitely intends to rape her. Then, she's set upon by a group of mutants who want her for themselves. The guy runs off, almost stealing a horse from Stalker's house. Our hero comes out, fights the mutants, killing them before the woman can come to any harm, then when the guy offers to share the woman and his gold with him, Deathstalker kills him and frees the woman...And then promptly starts to have his way with her! Jesus!

Although to be fair, given that he just saved her from two sets of kidnappers and would-be rapists, she's pretty open to his advances. Not enough to not run away once he's distracted, but hey, our hero isn't too much of a scumbag. And speaking of other points of supposed misogyny, there really aren't any. He jumps at the chance to rescue women in danger. Plus, he respects Lana Clarkson's warrior character  And during the palace brawl, when he's just sitting down and watching the violent partygoers fight over who gets to take Barbi Benton for the night, he does only get involved when Kaira does, but I see it as he was waiting things out before jumping right in (hence why he was holding Kaira back at first, lest she get herself killed by a giant pig man or something). However, there is the scene with the 'princess'. Oh that Deathstalker. He is a card, isn't he!

Rick Hill is stoic as Deathstalker, in the good way, not because he can't act or anything like that. Hill's performance is quiet, and he both looks and sounds like an imposing barbarian should. Also, I've seen Rick Hill in plenty of other movies, so I know firsthand that he can act. Boy, can he act! I'm almost pissed that he doesn't get a chance to show off his acting chops here!

Bernard Erhardt is very good as Munkar. He makes for an intimidating villain, with his ghoulish visage, and his horiffic study, where he feeds the body parts of torture victims to his monstrous pet (and one such moment comes immediatelyafter a scene with nudity-Cockblockers!).

At one point, the tattoo on his face switches sides, and I'm not sure if this was a goof, or a deliberate move to show that Munkar is a freaky guy. It's probably the latter, as with something so large and time-consuming to apply, one is not likely to forget which side of the actor's face it's meant to be on. At the very least, Bernard Erhardt would have remembered.

The late Lana Clarkson is decent in the three long scenes she has.

Have you ever made jokes about how female barbarian warriors such as Red Sonja only wear a battle bikini and nothing else? Well Kaira wears nothing on her top! She only wears a pair of leather undies, and a cloak. There's no way you'll be looking at her face!...

Oh of course you will, she's Lana Clarkson! She was always a stunner, even if she was completely covered up!

Kaira does later dress into more suited Red Sonja type attire...Which is to say, she does not later dress into battle attire. She's badass, and pretty cool, but her character is killed off pointlessly, as if the scriptwriter suddenly felt like he didn't want any women in the cast or something.

The late Richard Brooker (of Friday the 13th Part III fame) does a decent job as treacherous warrior Oghris. He's pretty badass, although that is deflated a bit by the silly half-shirt chain-mail vest he wears.

Salmaron is a kinda comic-relief sideckick, but he basically vanishes in the last third, only seen in a reaction shot here and there, and a couple of scenes, where he has next to no dialogue. He's completely wasted. As for Toralva, the sorceress who sends Deathstalker on his quest, I've no idea what happens to her in the finale. It's a bit hard to tell. Who knows, it could be either either...Yes, I am away that that only works when spoken...

The captive princess (played by Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton) does almost nothing, and is pretty pointless/superfluous to the procceedings.

The action here is all fun, violent testosterone fuel ACTION! The violence is good, the fight scenes are well-choreographed,

By far the best moment comes when the Pig Warrior is beating a guy up. He hits the man 'till his fist gets tired, so he grabs the arm of a passerby in the brawl, rips it off, and starts beating his target to death with it!

The finale is great, and borderline eerie, thanks to the scoring, and the visuals. The opening credits are definitely stylish with the way they're shot for the first minute, despite an editing fuck-up at one moment. The ending is pretty abrup, unfortunately.

The score is very good, and definitely memorable.

Are you bummed out because there's only a bare handful of sword and sorcery movies worth a damn? Then check out Deathstalker. It's one of the best!

Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans

The throne of Princess Evie has been usurped by the evil wizard Jerak, who has made a demonic clone of her. She goes to Deathstalker for help, convincing him of the treasure and fame that will come his way if he goes on this quest. Together, they face zombies, Amazons, pirate mercenaries, the evil Sultana, and more in their journey...

Highly comedic in nature, Deathstalker II is so removed from the first film that it's basically an in-name only sequel. But it's so good, that it rightfully holds a place in the series. And it set the tone for the following sequels, which weren't broad comedy, but still humorous in parts.

"Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind seeing a woman get a good beating if she deserves it...But this doesn't look like much of a contest" Oh, Deathstalker, you lovable scamp! The first time I saw the movie, I couldn't believe he said that! Whether it be deliberately exacerbating bar fights, literally sleeping with the enemy, being all-round sarcastic, and completely willing to rob crypts when he's broke (after all, it's not like the dead need ten crates of gold), this movie's Deathstalker is a total dick, but an entertaining one, and very likeable all the way through.

Deathstalker II is frequently funny, with many great lines and moments. The whole thing is a hugely fun adventure, surpassed by nothing else in the series.

The events of this entry doesn't mesh much at all with the rest of the series' continuity, but that's no matter. And if you're really intent on making everything fit, you could easily view the events of this sequel as a fun dream of Deathstalker's, or an outlandish exaggerated tale of his exploits. Or hell, maybe the first film could be one of those two from this continuity's point of view. I'll end the theorizing there, as that's way too much thought to be put into this.

The acting is all great! John Terlesky makes for a great lead, John LaZar is great fun as the villin, looking like a camp cross between Tim Curry and Dirk Benedict, the fine Monique Gabrielle is adorable as Evie, and deliciously evil as Evil Evie. Toni Naples as Sultana is also entertaining. Her acting is clunky in a couple of moments, but for the most part, she does well. Maria Socas is fun too.

The score to Deathstalker II is fantastic! Memorable and extremely enjoyable, Chuck Cirino did awesome work here! The best music in the series!

The locale and effects are all decent. Especially since this movie was made for an extremely low budget.

The use of stock footage from the first movie here and there meshes pretty well, as some of this was filmed on the same sets. It also shows the Pig Warrior philosophically pondering over, then eating, the pork head again, which is fine. That's a clip that deserves to be in every movie! Over the ending credis are a series of bloopers, which are very funny!

There's one scene that I have to warn anyone epileptic who wants to watch this movie. Make sure to avert your eyes when Jerak is resurrecting Sultana.

I also recommend watching the commentary with Jim Wynorski, John Terlesky, and Toni Naples. It's just as entertaining as the movie, and well worth a listen!

To finish, you need to go watch Deathstalker II right now!

Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell

Hanging out in a rural village fair, Deathstalker is with a wizard friend, Niceas, who spends his time predicting the weather, and crops. The wizard is visited by princess Carissa, who has one piece of a magical stone, and wrongly thinks Niceas has the other. When brought together, the stones will resurrect the lost magical city of gold, Erendor. The peace of the town is soon shattered when a small army of malicious soldiers attack, killing Carissa. Niceas manages to escape, and Deathstalker takes on the quest to avenge Carissa's death, and find and destroy the evil warlord Troxartes, who has the other half of the stone, and craves the power to rule everything, raising the dead to see his vile will done...

As it was spotlighted on movie-riffing comedy show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell is probably the most well known by genre fans. Or was. Now that we're in 2014, I'm sure that at this point in time, genre fans who know of this series likely know equally about the whole series.

This is the worst looking entry in the series, in part due to the quality the film is available in. While on a technical level, this is the series' low, I prefer it to IV. Nothing against IV, but that's more a tournament type Deathstalker film, set mostly in the one location, whereas Warriors from Hell is more of a roaming adventure all over the lands, which is the kind of adventure I enjoy more.

This is also the least violent entry in the series. There's heaps of boobs here (probably the most in the series), but the rest of the film is PG level.

By the way, it's no surprise that most people dislike Conan the Destroyer. It's an extremely boring movie. But there are some people on the internet who believe the one big reason the movie failed was because of its PG-13 rating (the first movie was rated American-R). Bullcrap! Conan the Destroyer is a bad movie because the script is lifeless, and the pace slower than a tree! Rating and violence level has nothing to do with it. Deathstalker III for example, is basically a PG level barbarian film, and it's a great watch. The Ator movies were completely and utterly PG, and they were directed by Joe "Porno Holocaust" D'Amato, yet they were fun sword and sorcery flicks. What matters is if the movie is enjoyable, not if it just happens to have copious amounts of violence (not that that's an unwelcome addition, obviously)

The film's plot is pretty standard fantasy, but decent. There is one sorta plot hole though. The resurrected warriors are under orders to kill Deathstalker, even though they don't want to, and Troxartes has power over their souls, so they can't disobey. When he approaches them, Stalker talks with them for a moment, and while he offers to find the vase holding power over their souls and destroy it, the undead warriors are complled to kill him. Soon after, they bring his corpse in a body bag to the castle...where it's revealed he's not really dead. How was he not killed? The warriors didn't have a choice, literally! There's no way they could have gone along with faking his death! Another problem is that the third stone's hiding place is bafflingly out of nowhere, and completely out in the open. And there's the moment at the end where Stalker doesn't kill Troxartes when the villain's sword's stuck. Yeah, I know he won't kill an unarmed man, but for the first five seconds that Troxartes is stuck, you have free reign to kill him and not come across as an asshole.

John Allen Nelson is the least best Deathstalker, but that's not a disservice at all-Hill and Terlesky just do better. Nelson plays the barbarian as a likeable rogueish thief-Still a bit of a dick, still that sorta-misogynistic rapscallion we know and love, and can throw down fine, even if the cheap nature of the movie gets in the way of the fight scenes. He briefly attempts a British accent at the start, but only for a few lines, then it's gone.

Thom Christopher is extremely hammy as the evil Troxartes. He's decent in some parts, and entertainingly bad in others. And his sense of fashion is fabouleth! Everything Troxartes in this movie is camp-tastic!

The rest of the cast is decent. Carla Herd is good in her double role. Unfortunately Carissa, the likeable princess sister is killed early on, and the main female lead is her spoiled bitch of a sister. She's not too unlikeable though, and is decent as a secondary lead. Thankfully the female badass quota is filled by Marinda, who's an ace with a bow-and-arrow. Actress Claudia Inchaurregui can't act very well though. Terri Treas as the sorta-villainous Camisarde is my favourite actor in the whole movie, due to her entertaining performance. And finally, Alan Moore lookalike Niceas the wizard is likeable, even if he's really obviously dubbed.

This film looks cheap, because of the props, and only exacerbated by the crummy film stock. During the final battle between Deathstalker and Troxartes, the choreography is a bit clumsy here and there, in that it's clear the actors aren't struggling with locking swords at all. Also, my DVD copy starts going out of sync in the last twenty minutes. No idea why. Maybe the whole print is defective, or maybe it's just this one DVD. The MST3K version is synced up properly, that I know.

One baffling complaint many people on the internet have is villain Makut's helmet, and I have no idea what it is about this one little thing that drives some people crazy. His helmet has wings on it-So what? This is a fantasy movie, and this is where you draw the line?! And there were many historical-type helmets that had extensions like this. And some look just plain crazier than this, like certain Japanese ones, but oh no, clearly metal bat wings on a helmet is too much a concept to grasp.

A distinction this movie has is being the only Deathstalker sequel that relied on practically zero stock footage from its predecessors. Sure, it repeatedly uses that castle lighting shot from The Raven which Duel of the Titans used, and there's a few seconds of a re-used shot from the opening of Duel, but that's it.

As for the score, it's quite good, and pretty memorable...It's also apparently largely lifted from other Roger Corman movies, and Dune apparently (Wikipedia claims that the movie uses the Prophecy track, which as far as I can tell, isn't true).

Despite its cheap nature, this is still a solid entry in the series, and well worth a watch!

Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans

Deathstalker is looking for his friend Aldilar, as during a recent battle they had against a group of bandits, their swords got mixed up. Since his sword is magical, Stalker wants it back, and follows the trail of information to the castle of Kana, a malicious warlord queen who's holding a fighting tournament, with a nefarious secret plan set in motion...

The basic plot here is similar to the first movie, in that an evil sorcerer is calling together a tournament to determine the best fighters in the land. However, here, it's a sorceress, she wants to create a stone army out of the land's strongest warriors, not kill them, and the princess of the taken castle is the female warrior who's striking back. Some consider this a remake of the first movie, and believe you me, the two movies are not that similar.

Hill's Deathstalker is more comical here than his last appearance. That's not to say he's tripping over his shoelaces, or that he has the demeanor of a nerd, or an idiotic lout, or anything stupid like that. He's still the badass Stalker we all know and love! One could view this as a bit of a prequel to the events of Deathstalker II, as it helps bridge the gap between the serious barbarian Stalker of the first movie, and the comic rogue from the first sequel.

Rick Hill is back in the role he first played, and while visibly older, he still looks the part, and can still throw down with the best of them. His acting is fine, with his performance having more life than his previous stoic outing as the barbarian. There's one baffling scene though, where for no reason, Hill talks with a Scottish accent for a couple of lines. He also gets the worst/best line of the movie-"It's a man's instinct. To hunt, to fight, to laugh, to ravage women!" Bwahahaha! As for his having a magical sword, which kinda contradicts the ending to the first movie, I imagine that when the Powers were destroyed, he was left with the sword, no longer being a Power, but still somewhat magical.

The Deathstalker series tends to treat its surviving female leads like Bond Girls, which is to say come the next film, they've vanished. Though as this is the last entry in the series, and Stalker and love interest Dionara are going steady allthroughout, then I guess they end up together permanently.

Speaking of Dionara, she's an ok character. She does get one pretty hilarious line though. Deathstalker: "So why did you come here?"-Dionara: "To fight. To win"-Stalker: "To win what?"-Dionara: "Whatever the prizes are.". And the worst line in the Deathstalker series goes to...! Ok, it's not bad in hindsight, as it turns out she has ulterior motives that she's not letting on.

While her narration is a bit dully delivered, Maria Ford is a capable enough actress. Speaking off, this is the reason why I always mistakenly call Maria Hill of Marvel comics/films Maria Ford. It's a habit I've yet to overcome...

Genre actor Brett Baxter Clark is very good, and fun in the role of the fitness-nut fighter Vaniat.

Michelle Moffet is pretty great as the villain! She's hot, amusingly evil, busty, and Moffet's acting is good. In fact, there aren't really any bad performances this time round. The only problem is that she doesn't really do many villainous things in the movie's first hour. Her main henchman Raksha is a decent sub-villain, although the actor's accent can be a bit too thick to understand at times. Another, more minor villain, is Janeris, a butch lesbian psycho with her own leather clique. She's pretty entertaining, even if her death scene is obviously just Maria Ford thrusting her sword behind the actress.

The effects for the stone warriors look pretty neat, and the film's locale looks great, as this was shot in Eastern Europe, where real castles are in abundance!

The score is pretty mixed. The main theme is decent, and there's some other decent tracks throughout, but some of the music is pretty tedious dull stuff. That particular piece though is only in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Some of it sounds like Liquid Sky, funnily enough!

Match of Titans has the biggest re-use of series stock footage than all the other Deathstalker movies, pillaging clips from them, as well as the two Barbarian Queen movies. Although these instances are mostly montages (one being an introductory one to this world) or flashbacks. Sure, some are repurposed to be flashbacks to separate events, rather than what they were in previous films, but I'm never complaining about what this film does. You know why? Because the stock footage from Deathstalker III is in great quality! So a good quality version does exist somewhere!...Does being a more hopeful word than Did. I really hope that a company or genre enthusiast tracks it down and releases a spiffed-up DVD! And as for why I don't mind the repurposed footage from the Barbarian Queen movies, I mentioned that all the way above.

This is the least good in the Deathstalker series, but note I'm not saying 'worst'. Match of Titans is still a load of fun! Its only real constraint is the lack of travel and journey in the plot.

Wrap up

Watching the Deathstalker series is one of the best memories of my mid-teen years, and I highly recommend you watch these four movie if you're at all into Sword and Sorcery films, or just plain adventure. The acting was never perfect, and the sets almost always cheesy, but Deathstalker I, II, III, and IV all have a charm that makes them extremely entertaining and rewatchable! I'll leave you with this cool music video someone uploaded onto Youtube back in 2008, of a Deathstalker II montage scored to I Know What I Like, by Huey Lewis and the News. Enjoy!

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