The Beastmaster (1982), a recap (part 2 of 6)

Last time: An evil wizard/priest and a host of witches attempted to sacrifice King Zed’s child to Ar(rrrrrrrrrrr!), but were thwarted by a passing stranger with a donkey. Raising the child as his own, Dar’s Dad learned his son could communicate with animals. Now a man, it seems Dar’s idyllic life is about to be trampled by the Jun horde.

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Dar’s Dad sips from a cup and pauses, thinking maybe he’s heard something. He hears it again and looks up to see this…

…coming up over the hill. Damn, it’s like a fantasy version of Lord Humungus; I’m half expecting him to demand their fuel and to just… walk away. Then again, considering the setting, “fuel” means dried cow pies, so I’m not sure if he’d just settle for that. Fantasy Humungus is bracketed by two armored bros, but judging by the cloud of dust spotted on the matte painting by Dar and the other young men of the village, I’m thinking this is just the vanguard. Dar’s Dad reaches for his sword and steps forward, and other old men follow suit. He then unsheathes his blade and cuts a line in the dirt at the entrance to the village, and you don’t need any exposition to tell you the message this is sending to the horsemen slowly coming down the hill towards him. The walk becomes a trot, then a full gallop, and we get a great close up of Dar’s Dad’s face.

He knows he’s a dead man, but that doesn’t stop from holding his ground as the Jun horde comes charging. Sure enough, he’s trampled by the horses as the horde invade the village.

Meanwhile, Dar and the other young men run full-out for home but they’re simply too far away. The Juns are slaughtering men and women alike, but they aren’t going down without a fight; a small group of women surrounds a horse and pull a rider off, and I’m thinking his death won’t be pretty. Other women slip a rope between pillars and a rider gets clotheslined right off his horse. Damn, these villagers are putting up a better fight than the Cimmerians in the first Conan film; it’s like they knew this day was going to come sooner or later and prepped for it. Still, for all their courage, it doesn’t stop Fantasy Humungus’ goons from tearing down and burning homes and killing people left and right.

Dar and the others show up, but he’s frozen in indecision as his eyes desperately dart around and see his world going up in flames, and people he’s known all his life being mercilessly cut down. Then a horseman comes at him from behind and he’s knocked off his feet. Dar sees another of his fellow villagers run down by a rider, and he yells in rage and challenge. The horseman comes at Dar but he’s ready for him, and he uses his hoe to knock the man out of his saddle. Dar’s on him and it looks like he literally beats the man to death with his bare hands, which draws the notice of a guy with a crossbow. Dar sees him coming and is able to scramble for a shield just in time.

The crossbowman unwisely decides to go hand-to-hand and leaps off his horse onto Dar, but our hero’s able to use the man’s own arrow against him, slamming the shield into his chest, grabbing the shaft, and shoving it home. Dar scrambles through the village and you can tell he’s looking for his dad. Or his dog, Kodo. He knocks down a horder and gets his sword, then he spots Fantasy Humungus and charges at him. Unfortunately, Dar gets clipped from behind by a horder club and he’s knocked out. But not to fear: Kodo finds Dar and begins to drag him to safety.

In his spare time, Kodo moonlights as Krypto the Super Dog. A crossbowman shoots the dog and it’s a mortal wound, but Kodo (I read that the dog’s name is really “Todo”, but if you heard Marc speak the dog’s name earlier, I think you’d swear just like me that it sounds like “Kodo”) just whimpers and shrugs it off. But even while unconscious, Dar winces in pain which implies a strong mental bond between the two. I’m sure we’ll be able to see more of this bond as the film develops, and Kodo/Todo is on the mend. I’m positive. Really. As the carnage winds down, we see a familiar flock of bald priests come riding up… along with head priest Rip Torn.

Oh, this is awesome: he got kicked out of the city to be fed to the Juns, and he wound up taking them over. Or at least, that’s what his presence here infers. I absolutely love the little touches on Rip’s new look. He’s like an aging ’60s rock star after a lifetime of poor life choices, and I dig how they’ve aged him up. Especially the skull-tipped pig tails, like an old man trying to be “hip” and “with it”, combined with his disgusting rotting teeth. Rip looks on with a smile at the carnage, then the camera pans down to the unconscious Dar at his horse’s hooves, with his open palm displaying the brand of Ar. And now I’m remembering the prophecy of how Zed’s child is supposed to kill this guy. I’m wondering if this home invasion was to wipe out anybody in that age range. I’m sure the dude’s been thinking about it all these years; he sent a witch out to do a job and she never came back. It does make me wonder whatever happened to that cow, though.

Kodo comes back for Dar and you can see the arrow in the poor dog’s side. I’m sure he’ll shake that off. He starts dragging Dar again and there’s an unintentionally comedic moment where we can tell Marc Singer is laying on a conveyer belt or something that’s helping the dog move him. Uh, oops? I think they should have either worked really hard to reshoot this scene, or remove the part where Dar could be seen at Rip’s horses’ hooves. Sure, it was a great scene, but the gaff kind of ruins it.

Later, Dar begins to stir, and he sees something as his eyes begin to open:

He comes fully awake and the vision is gone, he finds himself in the woods and… oh damn, looks like Kodo succumbed to that arrow as he’s lying on his side and he’s not moving. That arrow must have had a kryptonite head. Now fully coming to his senses, and seeing his dead dog, Dar fears the worst as he gets to his feet and rushes back to the village. And I have to give Singer props here, because his face runs through a host of emotions once he sees Kodo’s dead and then remembers the Jun horde attacking the village. Dar reaches the smoking ruins and is only greeted by a bird of prey perched on a post and staring down at him.

I love the way this scene is framed. Just a few minutes ago, we saw Dar leave through these gates, bidding his father goodbye. Now it’s like the entrance of some hellscape. Dar seems briefly to consider pondering the presence of the raptor, but his eyes are drawn to the ruins and he slowly enters. Men and women are impaled on spikes, others are strewn along the ground, and still more are tied to posts, having been used for target practice by Jun archers. Seeing all of this makes me forget just how brutal a PG movie could be; it seemed like as long as you promised that there’d be a minimum of blood you could get away with murder. Literally.

Later, probably much later, we find Dar carrying Kodo’s limp form to the ring of corpses he made of his fellow villagers. He lays his dog in his father’s arms.

Up until this point there was no music. None. All we get is Dar walking through the wreckage of his life. If you’ve read my past stuff, you might remember me saying—probably more than once—how less is sometimes more? Well, this is another example. I’m not condemning directors who would use music in a scene like this, but sometimes there’s a fine line between drama and melodrama where music or dialogue is completely unnecessary, and a good director knows that quiet can speak volumes. Dar hears his father’s voice as he talks about his destiny, and slips a glove over his left hand to hide his mark, and now I’m wondering if Michael Jackson was a Beastmaster fan. He arms himself with his father’s sword and kaypa, and sets fire to the bodies.

His father’s final advice was to search for his destiny in the “Valley of Arok”. Thus armed with weapons and a purpose, Dar hits the road. As it happens, the bird has stuck around, and it and Dar seem to share a silent conversation and then the bird takes to the sky. We get some nice aerial visuals implying this is what the eagle is seeing (fun fact: the bird apparently refused to fly on cue and had to be dropped out of the trap door of a hot air balloon). We now get a training montage as Dar runs around the tops of cliffs with a log, swinging it while wearing just a loincloth. I see director Don Coscarelli knows what the ladies like, and isn’t above a little female fan service. Hey, it’s not a bad idea; there’s a reason why Aquaman grossed over a billion worldwide.

Later, Dar breaks out dad’s sword, which is a badass looking cross between a scimitar and a katana. He works out some more, and I’m starting to think Marc Singer insisted on these scenes because he worked out hard to get this ripped and wanted to show it off. We finally cut to another scene, where Singer is still [!] in his loincloth, this time running full tilt down the middle of a stream. I guess maybe he’s training in case he has to fight on slippery stones or something. Then again, learning to fight on unfamiliar ground’s not a bad idea; more GMs should pay attention to that stuff. As Dar makes sure his blade is dry, he sees he has visitors.

Another fun fact: apparently ferrets can’t be trained, so they had a large bunch of them on set and had to bribe them with food to go where the director needed them to. Dar notices them just as they run off with his… belt? Whatever it is, the ferrets want it, and they make a dash through the underbrush. Dar gives chase until he comes to the side of a cliff and slides down ass-first. I don’t want to think of how much skin he or the stuntman lost or where they lost if from.

Dar lands in a pool of quicksand. The ferrets show up, possibly to watch a human die, but Dar is able to link minds with them, and while one furiously chews at the branch of a dead tree, the other clings to the end of the branch to force it down enough for Dar to grab onto. Dar is saved, but oh noes! The second ferret falls into the quicksand. Dar hauls himself out and then belatedly realizes one of his two rescuers has fallen into the muck. And I like how the ferret in the tree squeaks at him, like he’s saying, “Asshole, my wife fell in! Do something, dipshit!” Dar manages to rescue the little critter, and decides to call the two of them “Kodo” and “Podo” (unless I misheard those, too), and soon the pair has now become a quartet.

Sometime later, the ferrets are now situated in Dar’s purse satchel (in retrospect, I’m shocked that after Raiders of the Lost Ark, satchels didn’t catch on with men… and somehow fanny packs did) as they travel with their new big buddy amongst some rocks. Dar takes a breather and that’s when the raptor makes its return (I wasn’t able to find out what breed the bird is; some say it’s a golden eagle, others say it’s a hawk). The bird gives him a couple screeches like it’s trying to tell Dar something, then the man senses another presence; he hears growling and sees through the eyes of another beast as Jun hordsmen capture and tie it to a post. Dar decides a rescue mission is in order, so he dashes to the top of the crest and spots the creature.

It’s a black tiger! Or a tiger painted black to pose as a black leopard. The director wanted a leopard, but animal handlers told him they were a lot more skittish than tigers. And for some reason Coscarelli didn’t like tiger stripes. That’s… a really weird thing to get hung up on. Dar comes up with a plan and gives the ferrets their marching orders and whips out the kaypa. But before he can stage the rescue, he’s ambushed from behind by a horder. The two tumble down the cliff as a crossbowman rides over to get a shot in, but Dar throws his kaypa. The crossbowman ducks and thinks he’s safe, but it turns out the kaypa is like a boomerang and it whips around, catching the guy in the back. Damn, this thing is even cooler than I remember!

A second crossbowman gets Dar in his sights, but Dar yanks the first guy up and uses him as a human shield. Two down! Before the man can reload, the falcon/hawk/eagle goes for his eyes and he falls off his horse. The remaining two horders finally stop antagonizing the black tiger, but one of the ferrets makes off with one guy’s crossbow bolt. He sees Dar approaching with his sword, and reluctantly picks up his knife to join his friend to fight Dar in hand-to-hand combat. Dar cuts one dude down, and the other decides to make a run for it. But Dar uses his kaypa to cut the tiger’s rope. Now free, the tiger pounces on the last guy and Dar watches with a satisfied smile as the bastard gets mauled to death. Off-camera, of course.

Atop the cliff now, Dar grabs the rest of his gear. He looks up at the raptor and notes that he has his eyes. Kodo and Podo slip back into Dar’s satchel and he murmurs that he has his cunning. The tiger shows up, and with a nod Dar says he now has his strength. He names the big cat “Rhu” and the five head off.

Next time: Act two, where Dar meets new friends.

Multi-Part Article: The Beastmaster (1982), a recap

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