Deathstalker (1983) – Film Review
Director: James Sbardellati
Cast: Rick Hill, Lana Clarkson, Bernard Erhard
By Roger Crow
When Conan the Barbarian went into production more than 40 years ago, it inspired a wave of rather similar sword and sorcery movies. Some weren’t bad, like The Beastmaster and The Sword and the Sorcerer, and others… well, there was an almost greatness to their badness.
Shot in Argentina, this curio basically consists of the eponymous hero, who looks like a generic rock star, hacking and slashing his way through grotesques, and seducing grateful women whose clothes have a tricky time staying on.
The score may be tongue in cheek, it’s hard to tell. Even for the time it’s cheesier than a fromage factory.
Made by Roger Corman’s company, it was always going to be a low budget affair, and there’s little wonder several similar flicks were made around the same time using the same sets and props. And all of them probably cost less than Conan’s catering budget.
So yes, the script is ropey, and the effects are a bit rubbish, but there’s a weird charm to it.
It’s the sort of film that is easily lampooned in shows like Mystery Science Theatre 3000, where snarky robot critics poke fun at something which is instantly laughable anyway.
Picture quality isn’t great, though we do live in an age where even low budget movies are shot in HD, but it’s very much of its time.
By the time (the ill-fated) Lana Clarkson* turns up as a warrior woman who seems modelled on a Richard Corben comic strip, it’s the sort of moment that if you’d rented the tape in the 1980s, the quality would have been degraded by static due to the amount of repeat viewings.
*Clarkson’s tragic meeting with Phil Spector in 2003 led to his arrest and imprisonment, so the movie now has a morbid fascination for some.
Back to the film, and those teenage fans who are desperate for a lusty scene involving drinking, debauchery and alluring women in a mud bath won’t be disappointed.
“Crowd scenes are epic”
It’s a wonder Hugh Hefner wasn’t one of the producers as it looks like most of the women stepped from a copy of Playboy. Costumes either fall off or are torn off with alarming regularity.
And yet for all its faults, this is still far more entertaining than Red Sonja, which was made a few years later, probably for 100 times the budget. There’s actually a scene where a pig man rips a guy’s arm off and hits the hero with it, quickly followed by an actual pillow fight. Glorious.
Not long after the evil wizard transforms an ugly male acolyte into a nubile femme fatale, the hero is trying to seduce her, which does make you wonder what pronoun they’d have used on Ye Olde LinkedIn.
And while it’s obviously a low budget movie, the crowd scenes are epic. Professional wrestlers were brought in for some of the fight scenes, so there’s a Game of Thrones feel decades before that was the world’s most watched show.
The head villain, Bernard Erhard, isn’t bad at all, strangely reminiscent of Torin Thatcher in the original Jack the Giant Killer (one of THE greatest fantasy movies).
And fair play to the guy playing the pig man warrior, who had to fight in intense heat while wearing heavy armour and make up.
A yack track with some of the creatives is genuinely fascinating as they discuss some of the tricks of the trade and highlight nuggets of trivia.
They even mention the fact that it looks like a Boris Vallejo painting, and if anyone was going to paint the video/DVD sleeve, it was going to be the genius whose work adorned countless movie posters and paperbacks.
Many will be offended, some outraged, and countless film fans who spent ages pondering what to spend their wages on down the local video shop will have fond memories of those halcyon days.
Brains in neutral, lean into the nonsense, and it works wonders.
• Commentary with director James Sbardellati, special makeup effects artist John Carl Buechler, and actor Richard Brooker
• Theatrical trailer
• Photo gallery
• English subtitles
Deathstalker II Special Features:
• Commentary with director Jim Wynorski, and actors John Terlesky and Toni Naples
• Theatrical trailer
• English subtitles
Deathstalker & Deathstalker II are released on Blu-ray by 101 Films, £18