The second of the three “not so bad” sword & sorcery movies of the early ’80s features a tiger dyed black, an eagle that normally refused to fly, two weasels and one of Charlie’s Angels, the latter in a role that had been written for Demi Moore. And Rip Torn was in it, too, in a role that had been written for Klaus Kinski.
We are talking of course of Don Coscarelli’s The Beastmaster.
And it’s not really bad. It’s just not very good.
The Beast Master was a 1959 science fiction novel by SF giant Andre Norton – a story about a Native American character, a Navajo telepathically linked to a team of genetically engineered animals, in the distant future.
Don Coscarelli moved things back to the Bronze Age because he was a fan of old sword & sandal movies. Andre Norton was not pleased, and asked her name to be removed from the credits.
The Beast Master became The Beastmaster.
So, as far as the plot is concerned, we can again rely on IMDB:
Dar, the son of a king, is hunted by a priest after his birth, so he is sent to grow up in another family. When he becomes a grown man, his new father is murdered by savages. He discovers that he has the ability to communicate with the animals, and after that, Dar begins his quest for revenge in this Conan-like movie.
Sort of “generic fantasy quest #3” and indeed the movie is pretty flimsy and yes, somewhat “Conan-like”.
Marc Singer is a not-too charismatic lead, and the two main items of interest in the film are the weasels, Kodo and Podo (that were actually portrayed by 25 different weasels) and their funny shenanigans, and Tanya Roberts in the role of Dar’s love interest, Kiri, and her doubtless charms.
All things considered, it’s surprising that this one actually got a franchise going – two forgettable movie sequels and a TV series.
The reason why the thing worked out was because the movie became a staple of cable TV – passing so often on the screens that according to some HBO meant “Hey, Beastmaster’s On” while TBS was said to be “The Beastmaster Station”.
In Europe, viewers were severely short-charged, such as in the UK, where the movie was heavily cut for a PG rating with edits to shots of impaled bodies and the puncturing of a ring containing an eyeball, and to remove all footage of topless nudity during Kiri’s bathing scene.
In the end, I tend to agree with Gene Siskel… The Beastmaster
isn’t bad as much as it is overlong. After one of the film’s major bad guys has been bumped off, the film inexplicably goes on for another 20 minutes. In this sort of brainless adventure film, one climax is enough.
And yes, it would be quite good to see, one of these days, a faithful adaptation of the original Andre Norton book. It’s highly unlikely, but it would be a lot more interesting.