1982: THE GREATEST YEAR – ‘THE BEASTMASTER’

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This summer marks the 30th anniversary of what is considered the greatest blockbuster season of all-time: summer, 1982. That year, the cinemas were loaded with genre-defining classics that are still shaping the worlds of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and action to this day. In this retrospective series, 1982: The Greatest Year, Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America will take a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental time in nerd culture history.  

Since I was born in 1979, I wasn’t quite old enough to go to the theaters (other than the occasional trip to the drive-in), during the magical summer of 1982. At the time, I was much more prone to watching Pinwheel and Today’s Special on Nickelodeon. Those kinds of shows pretty much embodied my attention span. What can I say? Puppets screaming nonsense and mannequins that came to life in a toy store at night were much more my forte. Luckily, all of these classics filtered to HBO and TBS a few years later. These movies opened a whole new world to me, and I hold them near and dear to this day and the rest to come. There’s no doubt that The Beastmaster, while certainly not my favorite, is very special to me. As I grow older and wiser, I both love and laugh at this particular movie. 

I believe I first saw The Beastmaster in 1985-86. By this time, I was pretty well versed in what HBO had to offer. I knew that they changed their movie rotation on a monthly basis, and I looked forward to seeing what would be on next month. I watched the original Milius/Schwarzenegger Conan every time it came on. I absolutely loved everything about it, and I still do to this day. It’s a classic, plain and simple.

Then there was The Beastmaster.  It had about half the budget and about a tenth of the care put into it than Conan did, and it shows. It had the unfortunate luck of coming out just a few months after Conan and as a result, it had a fairly lukewarm box office return. There was room for success for only one loinclothed barbarian adventurer that summer, and Dar ended up Shit’s Creek without a paddle. The film slowly but surely gained a cult following in the coming years after repeated viewings on HBO and TBS. In fact, at one point in time, TBS was referred to as “The Beastmaster Station.” HBO, in turn, was referred to as “Hey, Beastmaster is On.” They don’t show it as much as they used to, so whole new generations of youngsters will grow up without exposure to Dar and his great adventures.

While The Beastmaster has a special place in my heart, it is definitely a guilty pleasure. Let’s face it, this is a pretty goofy movie. Basically, it’s Conan meets Dr. Doolittle. Though, what it lacks in nearly every category possible, it makes up for in sheer enjoyment and nostalgia. It is a fun ride and there are some decent fight sequences throughout the film.

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THE CHARACTERS:

DAR: We have Marc Singer as Dar. I’m not sure if I knew Marc Singer as Dar or Mike from the V series and TV movies first. Dar is our hero. He kills the bad guys and stuff, namely the Jun Horde. He can also talk to animals, since he was born from a cow. Be warned though, he is sensitive and will cry if you hurt his feelings. Marc Singer would go on to play Dar in two more awful, awful sequels, as well as a short-lived TV series where he had a recurring role. He continues as a working actor to this day. And by “working actor,” I mean, you’ll never see him in a starring role for a big movie ever again.

KIRI: Tanya Roberts stars as Kiri. Tanya is best known for, well, taking her top off in her movies, as well as being on the original Charlie’s Angels. Her height of fame would come a few years later when she would star as the “Bond Girl” in Roger Moore’s farewell role as Agent 007 in A View To A Kill. Unfortunately she was also in the seminal 80’s wrestling tour de force Bodyslam that same year, thus negating her Bond success. As Kiri, she swoons for Dar. Did I mention that they’re cousins? The role of Kiri almost went to a then 18-year-old Demi Moore.

SETH: John Amos. John MOTHEREFFIN’ Amos. John has had a long and respectful career in both movies and TV. Most people know him best as James Evans from Good Times and Toby from Roots. Regardless, he’ll always be Cleo McDowell from Coming to America to me. As Seth, Amos brings his usual badassery and sticks his big boot up the ass of the Jun Horde.

TAL: He’s Dar’s younger brother, and a real wussbag. He’s believed to be the rightful heir to the throne of…wherever this movie takes place.

KODO & PODO: Dar’s ferret companions. They steal everything and have been diagnosed as kleptomaniacs. They often appear to be attached to strings and pulled along the ground. Kodo is flame broiled.

RUH: Ruh is another of Dar’s animal companions. I think he was meant to be a panther but was really just a tiger painted with black spray paint. The tiger died a few years after filming, as the black paint was toxic. Apparently PETA wasn’t around for this particular production. This hasn’t been 100% confirmed and could be just a rumor. Regardless, he is (was) a great friend to have along if you’re looking to pick up chicks or maul the Jun Horde.

DAR’S EAGLE FRIEND: I guess his name is Sharak? I had to look that one up, I admit. I guess he wasn’t given a name until the awful sequels. Sharak is a stupid bird and only good for 4 things. He can lend Dar his vision while he flies. He can claw out the eyes of bad guys with his talons. The Bat People love him. And last but not least, he can pluck children out of the air with ease and carry them, even though they weigh twice as much as he does. Come to think of it, Sharak is probably more useful than I am.

THE BAT PEOPLE: These things scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. Their favorite hobbies are sucking the life, literally, out of people with their membrane cloak/wings, and worshipping eagles. They appear to be foes at first, but turn out to be friends. Yay.

ZED: Dar’s Dad and rightful king. He is apparently paralyzed by some blue glowing semen-like substance when it is poured on his neck at the start of the movie. Can you blame him?

THE JUN HORDE : They’re not much of a barbarian horde really, more like the Jun Hors D’oeuvres after the Bat People get done with them.

MAAX: Rip Torn. Need I say more? He’s had a great long career. Unfortunately he’s probably better known these days for alcoholism and legal troubles. He’s had multiple DUIs and also broke into a bank because he thought it was his house. He was carrying a gun without a permit at the time as well. Here he plays the slightly less dangerous “Maax,” the evil priest. Maax loves sacrificin’ like Rip loves bourbon. He is evil and is devout to his pagan religion and has the pointy eyebrows to prove it. He is ultimately killed by a ferret.

MAAX’S HAG WITCHES: They are THE quintessential “Butter Faces.” They have deformed, disgusting faces but their bodies are very normal, if not attractive. They instill a strange mixture of arousal and bleh. They also display olympic level agility and are extremely flammable.

DEATH GUARDS: First, you torture your unwilling participant into insanity, then screw studded leather armor and spikes into his flesh. Finish out by putting a leech in his ear. Instant crazed and ultra strong Death Guard at your service.

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THE PLOT:

The Beastmaster is your basic swords and sorcery flick. It’s very simple in structure with a tidy little plot. So much as any movie that involves a witch sucking out a woman’s baby and depositing it into a cow’s uterus can be called tidy. Dar is saved from sacrifice and is raised by a kind farmer. The farmer raises Dar as his own and Dar demonstrates an ability to talk to animals at a young age. Later in life, his village is raided by the vicious Jun Horde and everyone is slaughtered. He sets out to avenge the man who raised him and his people. During his adventure, he assembles an impressive animal entourage in short order and falls in love with Kiri at first sight. He later gains further companions in Seth & Tal. Beastmaster has his work cut out for him — the evil priest must be killed, the evil army must be stopped, the rightful king must return, and he has to rescue Kiri. And there you go! That’s your plot.

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FUN FACTS/THOUGHTS:

  • Never let a Bat Person hug you.
  • Writer/Director Don Coscarelli turned down directing Conan the Destroyer because he thought the script was bad. I think that says more about Conan the Destroyer than anything else. He had no involvement with future installments.
  • If today’s church service involves roasting kids alive, you might want to leave your daughter at home.
  • The eagle often refused to fly on cue so in order to shoot footage of it in the air, it was dropped from a trapdoor in a hot air balloon.
  • If the hero chucks a razor sharp boomerang at you and misses, pay attention to its return path.
  • Marc Singer’s cousin is X-Men and The Usual Suspects director, Bryan Singer. His sister is Lori Singer, best known as Ariel (Kevin Bacon’s girlfriend) from Footloose.
  • The King’s bedchambers are not very well guarded, as someone can easily sneak in with a cow.
  • The movie’s tagline was “The courage of an eagle, the strength of a panther and the power of a God.”
  • Maax’s god is called…R…just R.
  • The sequel, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, is REALLY, REALLY BAD. Marc Singer reprises his role and Kari Wuhrer is in it. These are its only redeeming qualities.

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About Author

Shawn Carter

Shawn Carter is Jeff's younger brother. Together they spent their childhoods watching schlocky movies on HBO, reading schlocky comic books, and playing schlocky video games. These days Shawn still enjoys schlocky geek culture entertainment, but also has an appreciation for the classic westerns of John Ford and Sergio Leone, as well as the masterworks of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.