The Beastmaster

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I have it on good authority that The Beastmaster is a cult film in America. Apparently it’s been shown about a million times on cable TV. But here in England, where in times past we were bombarded with Bond films, Carry On films and The Great Escape, it’s less well know. Hell, until it was mentioned to me, I’d never even heard of it.

So being totally ignorant of the film, I had no idea what to expect. What I found was one of the weirdest movie experiences of my life.

First of all I must point out that I’ve had the DVD for eight months now. I popped it into the player in January, watched two minutes and was so weirded out by the sight of Rip Torn with a fake nose, shouting as some witches writhed in front of him that I didn’t play it again until September. I feared for my poor, fragile brain.

And I feared for it with good reason, as I don’t think there are many films that are more insane than The Beastmaster. Heaven knows what this film’s wide exposure has done to the youth of America.

Like I say, the film begins with Rip Torn shouting nonsense as some witches writhe in front of him. At first you just see legs. And the legs look pretty good. But then you see the hideous make-up. I’m sure many boys saw those legs and later wished they hadn’t popped a boner. But worse than the shapely legs is the fact that one of the witches wears Janet Jackson-style star-shaped nipple rings. How many boys have had their teenage years traumatised by trying to reconcile such facial ugliness with such fulsome body parts?

But the opening scene begins with some incomprehensible dialogue. Apparently a child has to die or something. But more amusing is the fact that this is the sort of film where characters introduce themselves with such cracking dialogue as this: ‘I hear you’re planning a child sacrifice.’ Well, I guess it cuts to the quick.

And then just as you’re getting used to Rip Torn’s oversized beak and his crazy overacting, he looks at a couple of his underlings and they kill themselves. Obviously this is meant to show his power, but it seems slightly silly, as Torn is being threatened by his King. With less guys to protect Torn, the chances of him getting a slap across the chops only increases. But instead the King calls Torn a fanatic (although to show how muddy the sound mix is, at first I thought he called him ‘Phonetic’) and he's escorted away.

But this scene seems positively normal compared to the next one. In the next scene we see a couple in bed. A witch then appears and pours a blue liquid over their bellies. The woman then grows pregnant, and as her expanding belly pulsates, we see some shots of an ox that shares the same tent. The woman’s belly then shrinks again and the witch screeches, ‘Your unborn child is ours!’ before escaping with the ox. Dear Lord, not only has a witch stolen your baby, but it’s now been transported into the belly of a beast. That’s something they don’t tell you about in family planning.

After this, the ox gives birth to a boy. And then as the witch is about to perform some witchy madness, a man comes along and saves the child. But not before having to fight the old hag. And the fight is surprisingly intense. The witch screams like a lunatic and people get thrown into fire. And I thought this was a kid’s film.

With the witch out of the way, the kid grows up to be Dar, a beefcake of a man who looks like the bastard child of Klaus Kinski, Kevin Bacon and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And although he has an idyllic childhood, one where he talks to men in bear suits, he has to suffer the trauma of seeing his entire village get massacred. And not only that, but the massacre is seemingly carried out by the WWF tag team Demolition and their extended family.

Bearing this is mind, you’d think Dar would be traumatised – his surrogate father has been murdered, his fellow villagers have been slaughtered and the womenfolk have had their breasts exposed before being cut down. But no, Dar’s immediate reaction is to run up cliffs and shout euphorically while waving a large piece of wood (I’m not talking about his knob – he wears leather underwear with tassels). It’s almost like he feels liberated. Who knows, maybe he was terrified about coming out to the village.

However, Dar also proves that he’s interested in women. In one scene he spies Tanya Roberts skinny-dipping with a lady friend. He can barely contain his excitement at seeing her perky breasts – he immediately dispatches a couple of ferrets to steal her clothes. And then he begins acting like a sex pest. He almost rapes the poor woman. What kind of hero is this?

And as well as being morally bankrupt, he’s also borderline incompetent as a rescuer. In one scene he comes across some eagle zombie people (?!?!?) that have a man held prisoner in a cage. Dar releases him and the eagle zombies immediately grab hold of him and turn him into sludge – he literally turns into green goo before becoming just bones. Yeah, I think I’ll wait for Conan to rescue me. I’d much rather take my chances with a man who likes to punch camels out than a man who will feed me to eagle zombies.

But Dar is also a little bit racist as well. He eventually comes across a large black man (the evil army guy in Die Hard 2) and a little white boy (what these two get up to on their own around the campfire, I don’t want to know). Dar looks at the guy and says, ‘I’ve never seen a…pilgrim who could use a staff the way you did.’ The pause before the word ‘pilgrim’ surely means that Dar is making a thinly-veiled racial slur. And I won’t even mention the NAMBLA-like implications of using the word ‘staff’ in that context.

But more worrying than this is the fact that the main bad guy likes to make gimps. I mean, sure he’s evil and all (we even see him throw a child into a sacrificial fire), but this is plain despicable. He takes ordinary men and by putting bugs in their ears and iron masks on their faces, he turns them into zombie-like gimps. Seriously, what could be more terrifying than an army of zombie gimps? Answer: nothing.

The film also deserves extra marks for having a sequence where a gimp chases a couple of ferrets (it moves like Luke and Butch from The Bushwhackers), and where the gimp gets attacked by an eagle which makes him fall to his bloody death. I’m sure that shrooms aplenty were consumed when making this film.

But I feel that I’ve neglected to mention how awesome the ferrets are in this movie. Not only do they lead a gimp to its eventual demise, but they also kill an entire group of gimps by biting through a rope that keeps a large gate in place – these animals are homicidal maniacs. And they also bite a man in his crotch and one sacrifices itself to kill the main bad guy. Fuck Dar, these guys are the real heroes.

And I like the detail at the end – even though one dies, we see that the surviving ferret has children. That means that the two ferrets were totally shagging when they were in Dar’s bag! What a couple of horny little bastards.

However, I must point out how incredibly violent the final sequence is. Demolition turns up again and Dar and the black guy burn most of them to bits. But then Dar gets into a fight with the main bad guy and superkicks him in the head. This is all pretty gnarly – men being burnt alive and guys getting kicked in the head – but then out of nowhere the eagle zombies turn up again and save the day. This film is so fucking random. I’m sure that even the greatest minds in the Western world wouldn’t be able to figure out the meaning and intent. I think I need a lie down.

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  1. Kick ass review. I dont remember this film being so weird, but I saw it as a kid, I'll have to check it out again. I do remember the ferrets being cool though. Got another couple I'd really dig your thoughts on if u get the urge/time: 10,000BC and A Few Good Men. Cheers, Tom

  2. OK, so, it's 12:27 a.m. right now. I couldn't sleep, and I thought I'd pop online to kill a few minutes before growing drowsy. My wife, however, is this was a new experience for me: gut-busting laughter with a silencer on it. Hot damn. I expect I'll return to this review again and again. The Beastmaster was my very favorite film from age 7 through age 10. I must've watched it dozens of times. I probably had much of it memorized at some point in the past. The crush I had on Tanya Roberts was without compare. And then, of course, Kodo and Podo were every boy's dream pets - I had to settle for a guinea pig. My friend Mark and I talk about The Beastmaster now and then at work - the memories are, indeed, fond. Whether this film had any influence on the man I've become, you be the judge, my friend...

  3. Glad you enjoyed the review, mate.

    And I'm figuring now that The Beastmaster must have actually had a positive impact on the youth of America, seeing as so many people close to me have such fond memories of it. :)

  4. You didn't mention the black tiger! That's the saddest part (although not the weirdest part) about "The Beastmaster." They painted a tiger black for the movie and later it died. Where is PETA when you need them? :)

  5. Yeah, I only heard about the painted tiger after I watched it. Surely it would have been easier just to get a panther? Or hell, just make the tiger an ordinary tiger.

    But another factoid that I learnt about the film. The eagle often refused to fly. So they would drop it out of a trapdoor in a hot air balloon!

  6. I'm watching Beastmaster right now, and I gotta say this is the best review I've ever seen for the movie.
    Love it