Once upon a time there were these things called video stores. It was awesome…aisle after aisle of rectangular boxes each promising an incredible movie viewing experience. A staple of the action/adventure section was always a large selection of sword and sorcery titles. These titles had captivating box art, often by the likes of Boris Vallejo, featuring muscular heroes battling monstrous creatures. Sadly, the actual films rarely looked as good as the box art. Today we’re going to look at a title that no self-respecting video store would’ve been without…1983’s “Deathstalker.”
Our hero is a muscular dude called Deathstalker (Richard Hill)…duh! Though, he’s not totally the hero type. I mean, in the opening scene he rescues a damsel in distress…but that’s pretty much just so he can bump uglies with her. Early on in the film he also meets a strange old man who claims to have once been the king of the land. His daughter, Princess Codile (Barbi Benton) has been captured by the evil magician Munkar (Bernard Erhard) and he’s anxious to have Deathstalker rescue her. It would seem Deathstalker has better things to do, though, and he refuses.
A short time later, after fighting off a bunch of evil dudes, Deathstalker encounters a strange old witch (Lillian Kerr). She informs him that he can overthrow Munkar by reuniting three powers…a sword, a chalice and an amulet. Munkar already has the last two items, but she leads Deathstalker to a cave where the sword is guarded by Salmaron, a reject from the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Deathstalker quickly gets the sword, battles a giant, and helps Salmaron transform from a puppet to an old man (August Lareta).
As the journey continues, our heroes pick up two more companions, a warrior named Oghris (Richard Brooker) and a warrior woman named Kaira (Lana Clarkson) who pretty much wears a cape and nothing else. Both are on their way to Munkar’s castle for a tournament. The winner will become heir to the kingdom. Since this seems like a good way to get inside the castle, Deathstalker decides he’s in the tournament mood as well and agrees to travel with the other two. Of course, Deathstalker wastes no time bedding down with Kaira by the campfire and expressing his excitement with what can only be described as “mooing” sounds.
It doesn’t take long for our band to arrive at Munkar’s castle. There, all the tournament contestants have gathered in what is essentially a biker bar that features mud wrestling on Thursday nights. Seriously, there’s mud wrestling in this movie. With all these nasty characters gathered in one place, Munkar decides it is the perfect time to drag out his favorite plaything for their enjoyment…Princess Codile. Chained to a stone, she just about gets taken advantage of by a pig man (yes, a pig man) before Deathstalker intervenes. This leads to a giant bar room brawl that thrills Mokar. Still, muscle head doesn’t manage to escape with the princess.
What follows from here is complete craziness. Mokar orders one of his men to kill Deathstalker, and to do so he transforms him to look like the princess. During the transformation he even grabs his crotch and exclaims “it’s gone!” This leads to a really uncomfortable scene in Deathstalker’s room. I mean, remember how quickly old DS got busy with Kaira, after all. The craziness continues as our hero battles his way through the tournament as he attempts to overthrow Mokar and save the girl.
“Deathstalker” is an ultra low budget production produced by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. It has many, many, many weaknesses. The script if goofy, much of the cast can’t act, and the action scenes are choppy and ridiculous. Of course, sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered. If viewed with the right frame of mind, “Deathstalker” can be a lot of fun. I’ll be honest, for much of the film I had absolutely no idea what was going on. All that gobbledy gook about the three powers went straight in one ear and out the other…and I really didn’t care. I was having too much fun laughing because the tattoo on Mokar’s face changed sides in one scene.
Now, not to be crude, but I do need to mention that this film is completely over the top in the gratuitous nudity department. Basically, every female character in this film, with the exception of the old witch, ends up lacking in clothing at some point. Spearheading the effort, of course, are Hugh Hefner’s former squeeze, Miss Benton, and Lana Clarkson, who starred in many of these sort of films before sadly becoming known as the victim in the murder case involving record producer Phil Spector. I’ve never seen the TV cut of this film, but I would venture that Clarkson barely appears in it due to her character’s almost complete lack of a costume.
I’m not sure that there’s anyone who would call “Deathstalker” a great cinematic achievement. It’s bad…but in a good way. That, apparently, was enough to warrant three sequels! I guess you can get a long way on Boris Vallejo box art.