Turn Back The Clock
Distributed By: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Let's turn back the clock to 1982 when a cult classic first hit the theaters. The Beastmaster was not a big sell at the box office and, in fact, I had never even heard of it before 1983. That was when I became a fan of the sci-fi miniseries, V. Developing a little bit of a crush on Marc Singer in the role of Mike Donovan, I decided to find out what other films he might have been in. The Beastmaster was one result of my search and, cheesy as it was even then, for some reason, I can't stop watching it.
In The Beastmaster, Rip Torn is Maax, a high-priest and sorcerer who learns of a prophecy that foretells his death at the hands of the first born son of the king. He decides to kill the son in an effort to prevent this prophecy from ever taking place. Sent into exile by the king (Rod Loomis), Maax still finds a way to carry out his plans through one of his trio of witches. Unfortunately for Maax, the witch is able to kill the queen (Vanna Bonta), kidnap the baby, brand him with the mark of their idol, but her plan to kill him is thwarted by a poor villager (Ben Hammer) who names the baby Dar and raises him as his own.
By Dar's early childhood (Bill Jacoby), his father recognizes something in him - the ability to speak with animals, see through their eyes and get them to do things for him. These powers come to light when Dar is able to convince a bear to turn away from killing his father just by looking into his eyes. Dar's father warns him never to reveal this power to others in the village, because they wouldn't understand it.
Years later, Dar's (now played by Marc Singer) village is attacked by fanatical marauders known as the Jun. His entire village is massacred. Losing everyone he loves to the Jun, Dar vows revenge. With the help of animals he befriends along the way, Dar begins a quest to find the Jun and make them pay for what they have done. But he is sidetracked by Kiri (Tanya Roberts), one of Maax's slaves that he later learns is due to be sacrificed.
With the help of Seth (John Amos) and Tal (Josh Milrad), two travelers he meets on his journey, Dar plans on rescuing Kiri, but soon learns he has gotten himself into more than he bargained for. And when it is revealed that he is the king's long lost son, Maax redoubles his efforts to make certain that the prophecy never comes to fruition.
Now, remember, I said this movie is incredibly cheesy. Why? Well, for one thing, Dar's hair is obviously a very bad wig. Rip Torn looks less like a fanatical priest/sorcerer and more like a homeless guy thanks to his hair and makeup. Some of the special effects were kind of lame and the writing was a bit lackluster. So why is it that I can't help but watch this film over and over? What makes it a cult classic?
Well, the film came out at a time when folks were really into these swordplay, action/adventure films, featuring hard-bodied heroes and gorgeous damsels in distress who actually turn out to be top notch fighters in their own right. This was the time of Krull, Hawk the Slayer, Conan the Barbarian and more. The Beastmaster fit right in with the movies of the times and, growing up in those times, I can remember that we couldn't get enough of this stuff back then. And let's face it, despite the crazy wig, Marc Singer looks gorgeous in this film. I mean, good God, the man has muscles on top of muscles in this film and is ultra sexy. And speaking of ultra sexy, this may be one of Tanya Roberts' hottest movie roles. John Amos, though looking ridiculous with his top knot and loin cloth, wields a pretty mean staff and the animals, especially the ferrets, are awesome. And let's not forget those creepy tree people - despite not being top notch in the special effects category, these tree people scared the hell out of me when I was a kid.
I remember watching this film with my brother and acting out the sword and staff fights with him over and over again. Whenever it came on television, we had to see it and it always ended in one of us getting banged up over an overzealously performed action scene. Watching this movie even now makes me want to grab a broom handle and twirl it around, dispatching enemies as I move down the hallways of my temple...errr...home. Yup, The Beastmaster still has that effect on me.
Now, this movie may not be for the new generation of movie fans who are used to the highly advanced special effects techniques used nowadays, but for those of us who grew up with these movies, The Beastmaster will always be one of those films that we watch with a fondness born of nostalgia for the simpler times in our lives. A time when all we had to worry about was how late we could stay up, how many comic books our parents would let us buy and how soon we could round up a bunch of kids for the next wiffle ball game.