My main thought while watching Beastmaster for the first time in about twenty-five years was “Holy crap I can’t believe my parents actually let me see this movie. There are TITS.” There are also ferrets. FUNNY ferrets. And Tanya Roberts wears an outfit so skimpy it often fails to completely hide her ass crack.
What are funny ferrets and Tanya Roberts’ crack doing in the same movie? Funny ferrets belong in a kids’ movie. Tanya Roberts’ crack does not (even one of those Disney movies full of hidden penises).
There’s lots of stuff in Beastmaster that doesn’t seem to belong with the other stuff. In fact the entire movie is just a big jumble of mis-matched pieces. I do know one thing though: it’s not supposed to be a kids’ movie. Don Coscarelli doesn’t make kids’ movies. He made Phantasm. Which I also saw as a pre-teen. Were my parents deliberately trying to screw me up?
The question I would ask Don Coscarelli is: Why did you put the funny ferrets in the movie with Tanya Roberts’ crack? Why put stuff aimed at 10-year-olds in the same flick with stuff aimed at people at least twice that age? Were you trying to be subversive? Or did you just not realize that the ferrets and the crack would clash? Do you also mix stripes with polka-dots?
Actually, here’s a real question to ask Don Coscarelli: Why the hell did you follow up Phantasm, a seminal cult horror flick, with a stupid comic book movie that combines Conan the Barbarian with Tarzan? Why not make another awesome cult horror flick?
The answer, I have already learned from IMDb’s trivia section, is that Coscarelli always loved Steve Reeves. So this is his Steve Reeves sword-and-sandals epic. That explains the ass crack and the swords. It doesn’t explain the ferrets. And it doesn’t explain the faceless bat creatures that eat people by wrapping them in their leathery wings and dissolving their flesh.
The faceless bat people are actually easier to account for than the ferrets. They’re in here because Don Coscarelli is a horror director and his true talent is for bizarre horror imagery. The best parts of Beastmaster, as a matter of fact, are the parts where it momentarily transforms into a surrealistic fright flick (not unlike Phantasm). It does this during the scene with the bat creatures. And it does it every time Rip Torn enters the chamber with the creepy witches that look like used shopping bags from the neck up and Kate Upton from the neck down.
One thing becomes obvious: As much as Coscarelli may love Steve Reeves, he loves faceless bat creatures and deformed witches more. And he loves big mysterious trees with glowing pods hanging down like macabre fruit. And he loves pyramids. And Rip Torn throwing kids into firepits. And Rip Torn just basically acting like a complete nut-job.
He seems to tolerate the sword-and-sorcery stuff for the sake of the creepy/horror/kinky/Rip Torny stuff. The problem is, the sword-and-sorcery stuff takes up most of the movie. And it’s by-and-large boring and cheesy. And the actors are almost all not very good. And the writing is borderline stupid.
Marc Singer is the titular hero, and he’s dull as dishwater. His main talent is for swinging a sword around, a skill I imagine him acquiring by practicing in his garage in a cut-off t-shirt and jorts while Motorhead blares in the background. Of course swinging a sword isn’t The Beastmaster’s only talent. He can also talk to animals with his mind, and make them do his bidding. This is the movie’s hook, and it’s totally goofy. It’s so goofy it completely undermines the entire plot, which is already dumb to begin with.
The plot is your basic old-timey-fantasy stuff. A king’s unborn son is tabbed as the future murderer of this creepy cult priest, so the cult priest decides to get rid of the kid (naturally). Of course his plan for doing away with the kid is needlessly complicated. Instead of just ripping the baby from the mother’s womb – no fun! – they have a witch transfer the child into the womb of a cow. Then the witch cuts the baby out of the cow and goes to ritually sacrifice it. But the baby is rescued by a farmer who happens to be passing by with HIS cow in the middle of the night. The farmer takes the child back to his village and raises him as his own. Before long the boy evinces a strange telepathic talent, which unfortunately only works on animals. Telepathy with bears? How interesting can it be? They only care about food and sex and pooping. It would be like mind-melding with Adam Sandler.
Here’s where the movie becomes Conan the Barbarian meets Tarzan with a dash of Road Warrior. The village is wiped out by a horde of evil horsemen dressed like Lord Humongous, and only The Beastmaster survives. He swears revenge. During a long, somewhat boring stretch, Beastmaster acquires a set of animal friends including his thieving ferrets, a black tiger that is clearly a regular tiger dyed black, and an eagle. Beastmaster also meets a pair of wandering pilgrims who beat people up with sticks and becomes smitten with a slave girl played by Tanya Roberts. Why shouldn’t he be smitten with her? She has a magnificent crack.
Singer and Roberts are cute kids but neither of them can act a lick. Roberts is inexpressive and dull enough to conjure Megan Fox. In fact, it’s possible Roberts was God’s whole inspiration for Megan Fox. God looked at Roberts and thought: “Hot but completely vapid and talentless. I know I can do better.” So he made someone hotter and more vapid and talentless. And called her Megan Fox.
The story is actually not completely worthless, it’s just kind of tediously elemental, and some of the plot details are a bit shaky. It would’ve helped to emphasize the Beastmaster’s freakiness, to make him feel like more of a misfit, then his connecting with the slave girl and the staff-wielding pilgrim and the annoying kid might’ve had some punch. But Beastmaster by all evidence is completely accepted within his adoptive village, despite his bizarre talents, and suffers no self-esteem issues whatsoever. A missed opportunity to make Beastmaster more sympathetic, or at least a little more interesting as a character.
How about, young Beastmaster gets picked on for being a Beastmaster but the village is the only home he’s known, so he swears revenge on their behalf even though they were total jerks to him? And later he discovers his true sense of purpose and finally has a real family and no longer feels like an orphan? The writing doesn’t go that deep. Later when Beastmaster is shunned for being a freak it has no bite. It isn’t set up by anything, it comes out of thin air and just falls with a thud. Singer probably couldn’t have pulled off the poignancy anyway. He’s good at swinging a sword, and smiling at hot slave girls, and squatting to show his thigh definition. Like most such movies, Beastmaster is incredibly homoerotic. Suspiciously homoerotic.
The only performer who rises above B-movie levels is Rip Torn as the crazy cult priest. Klaus Kinski was originally cast for the part but dropped out, so Coscarelli cast the next best thing, another actor who is brilliant at playing obsessive wack-jobs possibly because he is an obsessive wack-job. Torn is so accomplished at chewing scenery, he doesn’t even have to try at it. He sneers and snarls through the whole movie, and throws kids off a pyramid into a fire pit, and it’s high camp entertainment.
The film has acquired a cult reputation over the years and it’s justified. I couldn’t see any self-respecting 10-year-old sitting through this movie, and if the kid was even a little sensitive he’d probably be terrified by some of it, but college kids drunk on beer? That’s the perfect audience. If you got drunk enough you might even laugh at the ferrets. You might even laugh at the scene where one of the ferrets almost drowns in quicksand. Where the hell was PETA when this movie came out?
The almost-drowning ferret was not the only horrific instance of animal cruelty that took place during the making of Beastmaster. That black tiger that was clearly dyed black? It suffered health problems from the black dye and ended up dying prematurely. The eagle who becomes Beastmaster’s eye in the sky? It didn’t want to fly so they kept dropping it from a balloon to get the shots. Don’t even get me started on the way Singer man-handles his ferret friends all through the film. I hope they bit him on the nose.
There are lots of borderline awful scenes, and clunky line readings, and bits of plotting that don’t add up. But there’s some snappy editing and Coscarelli knows how to create an atmosphere. And there’s one scene that’s worth mentioning as a sort of semi-masterpiece. It’s the final fight scene when the barbarian horde returns to wipe out the city with the pyramid. Never mind the chintzy art direction, the scene is fantastic. Any fool who finds value in George Lucas’ CGI mural crap Anakin vs. Obi Wan fight in that last Star Wars film should have to watch the final fight in Beastmaster. Those are REAL FLAMES dude. Real flames all over the place. So many real flames you can’t believe the actors didn’t burn up. This scene could be Coscarelli’s finest moment. It wraps up a mostly garbage movie in a nice insane little bow.
If anyone decides to remake Beastmaster, keep these things in mind: no funny ferrets OR no crack (pick one or the other). CGI animals yes, CGI flames no. Make Beastmaster a 3-dimensional character or at least a 2-dimensional character. Avoid the temptation to cast Megan Fox as the slave girl. And call Rip Torn cause he’s still around and probably needs the work.