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  Beastmaster, The Supernature
Year: 1982
Director: Don Coscarelli
Stars: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos, Josh Milrad, Rod Loomis, Ben Hammer, Ralph Strait, Billy Jayne, Janet DeMay, Christine Kellogg, Janet Jones, Tony Epper, Vanna Bonta, Kim Tabet
Genre: Action, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In a faraway, long ago kingdom, high priest Maax (Rip Torn) is getting too big for his boots, demanding child sacrifices and specifically the death of the King's soon-to-be-born son. Naturally the King is not at all pleased with this so has Maax arrested and banished from the land, but he will not be deterred and sends one of his three witches to visit the Queen that night. The witch sneaks into the royal bedchamber with a cow, and through her sorcery transfers the foetus from the Queen's womb into the cow, leaving both King and Queen for dead. Then the cow is taken to a part of the nearby forest and the baby is cut out of it by the witch; she then brands the child's hand with a special symbol and is just about to sacrifice him when she is attacked by a countryman who has been looking on, appalled. And so the child is saved, adopted by the peasant and grows up to be Dar (Marc Singer): The Beastmaster.

After the surprise success of Phantasm, writer-director Don Coscarelli and his producer Paul Pepperman, who co-wrote this too, had a bit more money to play with for this, their fourth film collaboration. It's your basic Conan the Barbarian story only with a Doctor Dolittle twist, as Dar isn't called Beastmaster for nothing, no, he can communicate with animals. Quite why this is seems to be because of his unusual birth, but after that you'd think he'd be only able to understand cows, yet he quickly makes friends with a whole menagerie, starting with his pet dog. When out with his adoptive father as a boy, they were nearly eaten by a bear, but Dar's psychic abilities calmed the savage creature, a talent that will come in handy for the rest of the film.

In fact, Dar is a lot like Tarzan with respect to the animals in his life, and they will be his best friends when push comes to shove. The story is episodic to say the least, but eventually settles down, as is so often with this style of fantasy, into a quest. More than that, it's a tale of revenge, and all because Dar's peaceful village was destroyed by a platoon of vicious soldiers, killing all but him (he was knocked out and pulled to safety by the mortally wounded dog - or rather, it looks more like he's being pulled along by the camera crew on a concealed sledge). Vowing vengeance on Maax, he is unaware the priest wants to kill him to ensure the prophecy (always with the prophecies) that Dar will bump him off won't come true.

On a sword and sorcery quest, the hero customarily gathers a collection of companions along the way, and here, before you can oil your manly chest and say, "Why, you're as strong as an ox!", Dar has a black tiger, an eagle and a couple of squeaking, thieving ferrets to assist him. Or are they weasels? Stoats? Mongooses? Mongeese? Anyway, every musclebound hero needs to prove he's not gay by roughly pulling a nubile maiden towards him, and the maiden he finds here is Kiri (Tanya Roberts), a slave girl who will soon be sacrificed by Maax. Their meeting is brief, but they shall cross paths again once Dar enters the city.

These films are pretty much all the same, but, for instance, watching Singer chatting away to a ferret he has grabbed around the neck marks it out as something a little more ridiculous than usual. It also has a nice line in grotesquerie, with the witches keeping an eye on Dar and the rebels he stumbles upon with the aid of, well, an eye. Set in a ring (how does nobody notice?). Torn shamelessly chews the scenery and is blessed with a false nose to aid his villainy - Maax is what happens if you let religious fundamentalists run your country - while Singer obviously wasn't hired for his searching acting. At one point in its history The Beastmaster was ubiquitous on TV and in video stores, and viewers of a certain age may enjoy a nostalgic glow on revisiting the film, even with its four different endings, one of which includes a baddie meeting his demise thanks to one of the ferrets (or stoats, or weasels, or martens, or - ), surely one of the least impressive deaths in the genre. Whether you're looking for easy laughs or easy thrills, you could do worse. It doesn't half go on, though. Battlestar Galactica-soundalike music by Lee Holdridge.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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