The Beastmaster (1982) — It’s an animal planet after all

“Don’t move. The beast is fierce. But if we show no fear, we might escape.”

Justin’s rating: I was just saying to my wife, “Hey honey, I’m in the mood for a movie where Rip Torn throws little kids into fires to appease his angry god. Any ideas?”

Justin’s review: My first indication that there was a movie series called Beastmaster actually happened during an episode of NBC’s first season of Community, in which Pierce dresses up like the titular Beastmaster with a fake eagle strapped to his arm. In talking with Al, I was told that this series actually got kind of bonkers, and that was enough of a reason to see it for myself.

In this sword-and-sandals flick, a young baby named Dar is magically transferred from his queen mother to a cow’s womb by witches at the behest of priest Maax (Rip Torn!) who’s freaked out at a prophecy stating this baby will one day kill him (got all that?). But thanks to a botched ceremony and a last-minute rescue from by a peasant, Dar survives with a strange gift branded onto his hands by the witches. This mark grants him a AA discount at most hotel chains, six free photo sessions at Glamor Shots, and the ability to control animals.

It’s this last ability that will benefit now-adult Dar — who looks like a hunky Kevin Bacon — as Maax finally catches up to him and tries to finish what he began so long ago. Narrowly escaping his village’s destruction thanks to an emergency wolf evac service, Dar starts gathering an animal army and goes on some fun adventures to find his destiny before bringing justice to the homicidal priest and his cadre of witches.

In addition to a giant eagle, Dar gains the services of a pair of playful ferrets and a giant panther who’s actually a painted tiger but, shh, we won’t tell if you won’t. There’s no shortage of bad people to kill in this world, whom Dar dispatches with sword, beast, or his boomerang blade thingie. During each of these fight scenes, the soundtrack gets oddly cheerful, like a National Geographic special that just so happens to feature homicide. But he doesn’t slaughter everyone he meets, because Dar meets a feisty redhead (is there any other type?) named Kiri (Tanya Roberts), who decides to tame the beast her own way. He also befriends a pilgrim played by John Amos, who I best know as one of the bad guys from Die Hard 2.

Dar then fights off some truly creepy bat-people, rescues a kid from a human sacrifice pyramid, saves Kiri from a enslavement, and continues to use his animal companions like a Swiss army knife to handle every situation.

Now I’m not usually into these barbarian-style fantasy movies, but Beastmaster’s far too fun to ignore. This movie moves along at a nice clip, keeping the fight scenes, humor, and weirdness (including vampire bat-people who digest people whole in mere seconds) zipping without much in the way of downtime. And the animal angle, well-done cinematography, genuinely creepy bad guys, and Dar’s major muscle groups all lend their service to this fantasy road trip.

Allegedly, Beastmaster gained a huge following thanks to over-exposure on TBS and HBO, lending the nicknames of “The Beastmaster Station” and “Hey, Beastmaster is On.” I don’t know if those nicknames actually happened, but I dearly want to believe so because that’s hilarious.

As long as you can set aside any expectations of serious plot developments, Beastmaster is a decidedly easy watch. It’s pulpy fantasy nonsense that kept me hooked even while I acknowledged that this was all empty calories and overacting and eagles airlifting people sixteen times their body weight.

Didja notice?

  • Those are some ugly witches
  • So… why did his guards just kill themselves? This opening scene is so confusing!
  • Blue goo and live cow births, just another normal night for some
  • Lotta hideous witches in this world
  • The guy getting his head nearly chopped off by the flying blade and shouting, “YOU OLD FOOL!”
  • Could that treehouse be any higher?
  • Whole lotta impaled people
  • Yes, Dar, you can swing a sword while standing on a rock. You’re very impressive.
  • “Why yes, those are ferrets in my pants. Thanks for asking.”
  • Ahaha I made my ferrets steal your bra. I’m a grown-up, if you couldn’t tell.
  • Mmm, head stew
  • This priest is really into child sacrifice
  • Emergency eagle air lift
  • Eye ring!
  • Enjoy your stay in the panther pit
  • Dang, Kiri is cold-blooded when she drowns three guys in one go
  • Green leeches in the ear, fun times
  • A whole bunch of nudity for a PG-rated film. 1982 was a different time, folks.

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