Every film lover has a ‘guilty pleasure, a movie one enjoys despite what popular opinion says about it. The designation has been applied to films as diverse as Grease and Plan 9 From Outer Space, but one film that constantly pops up at the top of ‘guilty pleasure’ lists is The Beastmaster. Over the years, this sword-and-sorcery epic has built up a serious cult following for its flamboyant, one-of-a-kind blend of fantasy, action and flat-out weirdness.
The Beastmaster focuses on Dar, a young man living in medieval times. His life is turned upside down when his family and the rest of their village are murdered by the Juns, a group of leather-clad warriors who work the evil sorcerer Maax. Dar swears revenge and sets out to find Maax. As he begins his journey, Dar discovers that he can communicate telepathically with animals and see through their eyes. He soon gathers a team of four animal companions, including a black panther, an eagle and a pair of adorable ferrets named Kodo and Podo who like to hang from Dar’s belt.
Dar also makes human friends as he travels through the barren, desert-like countryside. He befriends Seth, a wise but fierce warrior, and falls in love with Kiri, a beautiful slave girl. Kiri provides the important key to Dar’s quest when she leads them to a city ruled by Maax. Dar soon discovers that he was the son of this city’s king and his parents were murdered by Maax, who has been searching for him because of a prophecy that the king’s son will kill him. In a thrilling finale, Dar enlists the help of both his animal and human friends to end Maax’s evil reign for once and all.
Tens of thousands of movies have been made since the invention of the motion picture camera, but it’s safe to say there has never been another quite like The Beastmaster. A sword and sorcery movie at heart, this flick also blended in elements of horror movies, spaghetti westerns, and even a bit of Oedipus Rex. Writer/director Don Coscarelli, who also made the horror classic Phantasm, melded a classic ‘hero’s journey’ plot with all kinds of amusingly out-there elements. From the acrobatic witch women who serve Maax to the cutesy antics of Dar’s ferrets, The Beastmaster always had an unpredictable and memorable surprise in store for the viewer.
It also helped that The Beastmaster was very stylishly crafted. The slick, atmospheric photography by John Alcott (a veteran of many Stanley Kubrick films) played a big part in creating its mystical mood. The film further benefited from a lush, heroic-sounding score by jazz veteran Lee Holdridge, who also did the music for the Beauty and the Beast television series. Their efforts helped make The Beastmaster a film whose style lived up to its fantastic ideas.
The other key to The Beastmaster was the memorable performances from its skilled cast. Marc Singer, who would later star in the sci-fi miniseries V, brought humor and charm to his heroic role, and Tanya Roberts brought her natural charms as his true love. John Amos, best remembered as the dad from TV’s Good Times, made a worthy warrior sidekick to Dar and cut a stylish figure in his mohawk-and-loincloth ensemble. Most importantly, the film had a killer villain in Maax. Rip Torn was memorably nasty as the hook-nosed sorcerer, bringing the right blend of authority and campiness to this fearsome character.
These many cool elements have made The Beastmaster a cult favorite with a long life. To this day, it is shown regularly on TBS and TNT (leading some fans to speculate that TBS actually stands for “The Beastmaster Station”). The Beastmaster’s enduring popularity has also led to two sequels and a television series. The film’s non-stop popularity proves that The Beastmaster is one guilty pleasure you don’t have to feel guilty about.