Film Review: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Release Date: June 8th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Sylvio Tabet
Written by: Jim Wynorski, R.J. Robertson, Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, Doug Miles
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton, characters by Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Marc Singer, Kari Wuhrer, Sarah Douglas, Wings Hauser, James Avery, Robert Z’Dar, Michael Berryman

Les Films 21, Republic Pictures, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He who defies Arklon, shall be destroyed… by Arklon!” – Arklon

This is such a shitty movie but it is a wonderfully entertaining shitty movie.

Where the original Beastmaster is truly a sword and sorcery classic, this film is pretty much just a “fish out of water” comedy with some sword and sorcery elements.

I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking with this. It wasn’t like they rushed out a sloppy sequel because this came nine years after the original. But it is very cheaply made and it completely lacks the superior craftsmanship of the previous film’s director, Don Coscarelli.

What saves this film, at least in my eyes, is the over the top performances of its cast. Marc Singer is dry when compared to his cast mates but he’s still enjoyable as Dar and I’ll always be a fan of his version of the character.

However, Singer is pretty much overshadowed by the energetic cuteness of Kari Wuhrer in one of her earliest film performances. He’s also usurped by the charismatic Wings Hauser, as his evil brother Arklon. Plus, you have Sarah Douglas as a sorceress and she’s always fantastic. But the real scene stealer is James Avery, who isn’t in this as much as the other actors but you’re always locked on him when we walks on screen. Avery is used as comedic relief and he’s a master of that but I can’t discount the fact that this entire movie really is comedy.

This lacks the edge and darkness of its predecessor and if I’m being honest, I would have preferred a proper sequel. However, I still like this strange movie for all of its batshittery. It’s a very smudged up gem but it’s still a gem. But you also have to be the right sort of film fan for this movie to click for you. The average person isn’t going to find much value in the picture and that’s fine. All this shit is subjective, anyway.

Beastmaster II already had its work cut out for it, as the first film casts a big shadow. But all things considered, this is bizarre and unique enough to justify its existence and at least it wasn’t just a rehash of the previous movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with the other films within its own series.

Film Review: Solomon Kane (2009)

Release Date: September 16th, 2009 (TIFF)
Directed by: Michael J. Bassett
Written by: Michael J. Bassett
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Pete Postlethwaite, Mackenzie Crook, Alice Krige

Davis Films, Czech Anglo Productions , Wandering Star Pictures, Metropolitan Filmexport, Optimum Releasing, 104 Minutes

Review:

“If I kill you, I am bound for hell. It is a price I shall gladly pay.” – Solomon Kane

At times, this felt like two different films. I liked a lot of the stuff in this movie but it had issues with pacing and tonal shifts.

Still, this had some real badass moments and I loved the character design between Solomon Kane and the two big villains, Malachi and the Masked Rider.

The opening ten minutes or so of this film were great and got me excited for what was to come. However, after the intense and fantastic opening, things slowed to a crawl for quite awhile. The energy didn’t really pick back up until the Masked Rider appeared and started doing some evil shit. Man, he just looked sinister and cool as hell, almost like a powerful Sith thrown into a Robert E. Howard story.

Malachi also added a lot to the picture and was a nice antagonist for Solomon Kane, a hero that walks the line with one foot in Hell and the other on the side of God.

The ghouls were also pretty cool and provided a lot of intense moments, as did the ghosts in the mirrors and the big demon beast in the big finale.

I thought that the cinematography was good and the film is very well shot. It looks great, even in the moments were CGI is very prevalent.

I just wish that the film wasn’t bogged down by some of its inconsistencies.

Every part in the picture was well acted, though and that certainly boosted the overall quality of the film. James Purefoy was perfection as Solomon Kane and even if he’s not a widely known star, I can’t think of a bigger one that would’ve pulled off the character as well as he did. Frankly, I wish this had done better because I would’ve liked to have seen him return to the role for other movies. And maybe it’s not too late but it’s been almost a decade since this came out and I haven’t heard anything about a follow up. It’ll probably be rebooted sometime in the future.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before watching this. On one hand I was pleasantly surprised and on the other, I was bored for half the film. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films featuring Robert E. Howard heroes: all the Conan movies, Kull the ConquerorRed Sonja and other sword and sorcery films.

Film Review: The Beastmaster (1982)

Also known as: Invasión Junk (Argentina), Dar l’invincible (France), El señor de las bestias (Spain)
Release Date: August 16th, 1982 (US limited)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton
Music by: Lee Holdridge
Cast: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos

Beastmaster N.V., ECTA Filmproduktion, GmbH & Co., K.G., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, 118 Minutes

Review:

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

I used to love the hell out of this film when I was a little kid. It could because it was the first time I remember seeing boobies in a movie and that my parents seemed oblivious to this having boobies and lots of violence and therefore, never making me turn it off when I put it on. But then again, they were usually walking around the house doing adult things.

Anyway, I still like to revisit this movie every few years. It had been awhile seen I’d seen it this time though, maybe five years or more. But I wanted to work my way through all of The Beastmaster films since I haven’t reviewed them yet.

This is absolutely the best film in the series and I’d say that it’s the second best sword and sorcery film after the original Conan the Barbarian, which also came out in 1982.

I think that a lot of this film’s awesomeness can be attributed to it being written and directed by Don Coscarelli, the man behind the Phantasm film series, Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End. It has a very dark fantasy vibe that isn’t too dissimilar from his Phantasm series. And there are parts of this film that feel like actual horror, like the scenes with the winged demon vampire creatures that captured people within their wings and devoured them, turning them into a dripping acidic goo. Also, there is children sacrifice and all types of other hardcore shit thrown in.

The film also has a pretty layered narrative. It’s a straightforward movie where the hero is born, the hero loses the life he knows due to a tyrant, the hero grows up and then takes the tyrant down. But there are multiple villains in the movie: Rip Torn as an evil religious cult leader and a big brutish warrior with one of the coolest helmets in movie history. Plus, there are other evil abominations thrown in at certain points.

For those that might not know, Dar, the Beastmaster, has the power of befriending animals and using them as allies in his war against evil. It’s a cool concept and even though the idea comes from the book this is based on, which is really all they took from the book, it gives this story an edge over other sword and sorcery movies. Now it isn’t better than the first Conan but it is, at times, more entertaining.

I really enjoy Marc Singer in this. I also liked Tanya Roberts, here, but she was always a favorite of mine when I was a kid, between this film and A View to a Kill. Also, she’s the best thing about Tourist Trap. I think the real highlights for me though, are seeing John Amos being a total buff badass in this, as well as Rip Torn embracing his character’s evil insanity. All of the performances are better than what’s typical within this genre.

The movie has good cinematography and the shots are framed quite well. I especially like the scene where Dar faces off with the evil helmeted dark knight amongst the flames. It was well lit, well captured and the use of contrast in this sequence was well done.

Decades have come and gone since this film came out but like Coscarelli’s other motion pictures, it has survived the test of time and it is still a lot of fun to watch.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with its sequels but this is much better than them.

 

Comic Review: Red Sonja/Conan: Blood of a God

Published: February 3rd, 2016
Written by: Victor Gischler
Art by: Roberto Castro
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 138 Pages

Review:

A crossover between the characters of Red Sonja and Conan the Barbarian is kind of rare but usually, they are always fun. Plus, the comic book version of Red Sonja first debuted in the original Conan the Barbarian comic from Marvel back in the ’70s.

In this miniseries, things are pretty simple and straightforward. Conan and Red Sonja run into each other, they flirt, they kill shit and they band together to destroy an evil wizard warlord. There is a big twist in the story towards the end though, and one of Conan’s biggest enemies appears.

The action was great in this and the book is full of cool monsters, my favorite of which was a large three headed rat that looked like a rodent Cerberus.

Blood of a God also has several nods to older Conan and Red Sonja stories.

The way that the story comes together at the end and concludes was really cool.

I read through this pretty quickly. Actually, while sitting in a busy restaurant waiting too damn long for some Buffalo wings.

In the end, this was exciting, badass and hit the mark.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja and Conan comics from Dynamite Entertainment.

Film Review: The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)

Release Date: April 30th, 1982
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Albert Pyun, Tom Karnowski, John V. Stuckmeyer
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller, Simon MacCorkindale, George Maharis, Richard Lynch

Sorcerer Productions, Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd., 100 Minutes

Review:

“I will allow you to live as long as you serve me. Betray me, and I will joyfully send you back to rot in hell.” – Titus Cromwell

This was the first feature film directed by Albert Pyun, who would go on to direct such hits as CyborgCaptain AmericaKickboxer 2Kickboxer 4 and Arcade. Okay, I’m being sarcastic. I figured I’d have to point that out, as people’s sarcasm detectors don’t seem to work as well these days.

Anyway, this is a sword and sorcery movie that came out at the height of sword and sorcery movies.

That being said, this can’t compete with films like Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster but it has some impressive stuff in it.

First off, the bad guy is cool as hell and the opening scene that sees him come to life was well crafted for a motion picture with no budget. The walls of the pit he was in were made up of faces and it was just creepy as hell and looked damn good. Also, I liked the look of the bad guy in his true form and there’s this really cool bit where he rips a witch’s heart out of her chest, pulling it into his fist with telekinesis.

Also, the hero has a three bladed sword. That may seem impractical and silly but it actually shoots it’s blades like the friggin’ sword from The Legend of Zelda. Granted, they’re actual blades and not some sort of energy projection but it’s a neat idea and it works for what this film is, an imaginative but kind of hokey, violent fantasy film.

There is no one of note in the movie and with that, the acting is definitely subpar. But it’s not so terrible that you feel the need to laugh at it.

The biggest problem with the film is that it has a lot of slower, filler moments and those get quite boring. The highpoints are solid and fun but there isn’t enough of them to make this a better than average film.

People may see this and think it’s terrible and I can’t argue that it’s not. But if you pay attention to the little things that add a level of real sword and sorcery coolness to this picture, it’s an enjoyable experience for fans of the genre. The good parts are much better than the bad parts are bad. I just wish it had more of the good bits.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery films of the early ’80s.

Comic Review: Red Sonja Vs. Thulsa Doom

Published: November 1st, 2006
Written by: Peter David, Luke Lieberman
Art by: Will Conrad
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith

Dynamite Entertainment, 129 Pages

Review:

Since both Red Sonja and Conan have had new comics series start over the last few months, I’ve been in a barbarian kind of mood. I especially love the characters that have come from or evolved out of the original stories of Robert E. Howard.

While the comic book version of Red Sonja was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, she is partially based on Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino and has often times fought alongside Howard’s most famous hero, Conan the Barbarian.

In this story, we don’t see Red Sonja alongside Conan but we do get to see her face off with one of Conan’s villains, Thulsa Doom. And what I love about this version of Doom, is that he sometimes takes on the appearance of the James Earl Jones version of the character from the 1982 Conan movie but also disguises himself as a tall, brutish man. Yes, he also still transforms into a giant snake.

This story was written by Peter David and Luke Lieberman. David was one of my favorite writers a decade and a half before this when he was working on one of the greatest runs on The Incredible Hulk and also wrote some of my favorite X-Factor stories.

Here, David does a superb job of bringing these characters together in a way that was pretty unique and creative. It’s easy to just make one character good, one character bad and then pit them against each other. David did a solid job of making Doom use his guile to get the upper hand over Sonja when her guard was down.

This is action packed and badass, through and through. The final showdown between Sonja and Doom is pretty satisfying and it leaves things open for Doom to slither back into her life, somewhere down the road.

Will Conrad’s art was enjoyable. I love his style and it fits the narrative tone very well.

I also liked a lot of the covers for this series. It had a lot of variants, which is typical of Dynamite Entertainment, but for the most part, they were all stunning to look at.

Red Sonja Vs. Thulsa Doom is a damn entertaining book for fans of the sword and sorcery genre, especially the fans of Robert E. Howard.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja comics from Dynamite Entertainment.

Video Game Review: Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 4)

I know, I know… I’m really late to the dance on this one but if it’s any consolation, I intended to play this game for a dozen years before picking it up.

I’m kind of glad that I did wait though, as I was able to play the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was rebuilt for that console from the ground up. Having seen comparisons of the original PS2, remastered PS3 and the rebuilt PS4 versions, I’m glad that I had the best possible incarnation of this game to play through.

That being said, as absolutely fabulous as this is, and I’ll get to the why in a second, it did have one thing working against it, that being PlayStation 2 era clunky controls. Now it wasn’t enough to hinder the experience and I’m sure it is completely accurate to the controls of the first version of this game but having just come off of Red Dead Redemption II, riding a horse in this was like a giant step back.

Also, some of the jumping and grabbing mechanics were wonky and shooting arrows is damn difficult when compared to more modern games. The boss fight with the sand worm was tough because of the controls and really nothing else. I feel like they could have vastly improved this but I also get why they didn’t. Just as I get why they didn’t change the subtitle font from Papyrus to something less cringe for a 2018 game. In 2005, Papyrus wasn’t quite the design faux pas that it is now but it does take something away from the absolutely gorgeous design of this game.

But putting the negatives behind, I can’t speak enough on how great this game is. It is stupendous, excellent and an incredible experience. I wish it was a longer game but you also get so much out of it that you don’t feel cheated in that regard.

Shadow of the Colossus takes place in a giant, vast kingdom where nothing other than a few birds, lizards and fish live. The empty world is haunting but it is also effective, as when you do get to your destinations, you are almost always blown away by the scale of things.

The game is really just sixteen boss fights. Plus, each one is a puzzle to solve. Each Colossus needs to be defeated but the way in which you must take them down is very diverse and incredibly creative. And just about every battle is a good challenge, requiring skill, patience, timing and a good amount of trial and error in trying to figure out how to damage them. I’ll admit that a few of them were a real bitch to figure out but none of them were so hard that I didn’t enjoy the process.

Above everything else, the one thing that this game does exceptionally well is how it creates a very unique atmosphere. The game features action and danger but it is almost peaceful and calming to play. It’s really hard to describe and can really only be experienced through actual play. But this does get a full recommend from me.

But being completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to think about it for the first hour or so. I really had to get the feel for the game and absorb what it was offering. It was so different than anything else I’ve played and I’ve been playing video games for almost 40 years. But the more you play this, the more it draws you in. By the time I was midway through the game, I was in love with it.

This is a masterpiece in regards to its design and its ambiance. It’s clever, creative and stunning to look at, especially in it’s PS4 form.

If it wasn’t for the control issues I had at key parts within the boss fights, I’d have to give this a perfect score. However, I can’t ignore those issues, as there were two boss fights that frustrated me only because the mechanics added an extra level of difficulty that didn’t need to be there.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: man, it’s really hard to think of anything. This is such a unique game but I guess anything good within the fantasy action RPG category.