Ever wondered what mass media film critics thought of The Beastmaster when it first came out? Well, suffice to say, they didn't exactly welcome it with open arms and loads of applause. In fact, most of the reviews weren't even mixed--they were downright negative. But, it's still fun to read them in retrospect, knowing what a cult favorite The Beastmaster has become. Come to think of it, has there ever been a cult favorite that critics didn't savage when it first came out?
''THE BEASTMASTER,'' which opens at the National and other theaterstoday, is the kind of dopey, occasionally vicious adventure-fantasy in whichan unborn crown prince is torn from his mother's womb and magicallytransferred to a cow's, an evil priest makes child sacrifices on whim andsomeone cries, ''Everyone to the moat!'' and means it.
The movie, which is neither better nor worse than ''Conan the Barbarian,''which it resembles, stars Marc Singer as the prenatally purloined princenamed Dar. Dar looks as if he lifted weights a lot but hasn't, as yet,overdone it. Possibly because of his womb experience, he can ''talk'' toanimals, some of whom are his best friends. These include a handsome eagle,which scouts the primeval landscape for him, two frisky ferrets and a largeblack panther, played by an elderly tiger who's been given anone-too-convincing head-to-foot black rinse.
It's meant as a tiny bit of praise to say that the movie, which was made insouthern California, looks as if it had been shot in Spain or Yugoslavia. Itlooks both big and cheap.
It also features one good actor, Rip Torn, as the evil priest, wearing somesteel teeth and a hooked nose that is detachable. The cameraman was JohnAlcott (''Clockwork Orange,'' ''Barry Lyndon,'' ''Vice Squad''). The entireendeavor is a comment less on the state of the art than on the state ofHollywood employment.
''The Beastmaster,'' which has been rated PG (''parental guidancesuggested''), contains a lot of unnecessarily explicit violence and somepartial nudity.
© 1982 The New York Times Company
"The Beastmaster," a new sword-and-sorcery concoction currently at a 20metropolitan theaters, benefits from a few good casting ideas (mostly among the animals) and John Alcott's frequently impressive cinematography.
Unfortunately, the script is so disjointed, the acting so vapid and themotivations so mysterious that you end up laughing in the most inappropriate places.
Rip Torn is the rotten-toothed Maax (rhymes with Ajax), the evil Jun priestwho has a thing for sacrificing children. He is always surrounded by baldpriests and ugly witches with Russ Meyer bodies and faces by Frankenstein,which may explain his persistently foul temper. Torn reportedly showed up on the set of "Beastmaster" less than 24 hours after completing work on theforthcoming TV mini-series, "The Blue and the Gray," and for most of thefilm looks either half-asleep or embarrassed.
The other "big" names in the cast are Tanya Roberts, a latter-day "Charlie'sAngel" who handles her slave-girl-who's-really-a-princess role with endless ineptitude, and the competent black character actor John Amos asbald-but-good Seth, who plays Little John to muscular Marc Singer's RobinHood-like Dar. Dar, of course, is the master of beasts, specifically a pairof overly cute ferrets, a huge bear, a perenially circling hawk and Kipling,a 500-pound tiger dyed black to look like a huge panther.
As Dar heads for revenge, he starts collecting his furry and/or featheredentourage; had the trip been much longer, he could have entered the citydisguised as a circus. But if you want to know the roots of his animalmagnetism, you'll have to make sense of the opening sequence: A witch sneaks into King Zed's bedroom with a leashed cow, transposes his unborn child from the suddenly bloated belly of the queen into the stomach of the cow which is then slaughtered, after which the baby gets tattooed on the hand and is about to be thrown into a fire before a wandering peasant rescues him and raises him as a son. Something about "prophecy."
Alcott's cinematography is at its best outdoors, particularly in the canyonsof Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park and California's Simi Valley, wheremost of the exteriors were shot. Except for one sequence that seems to havebeen shot with the wrong lens, the Oscar-winning Alcott (he did "BarryLyndon" and "The Shining") beautifully evokes barbarian wilderness and asense of pagan wonder, but he's too frequently let down by Roy Watts'inconsistent editing.
Even less successful is the script, coauthored by producer Paul Peppermanand director Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm"). They obstruct the plot withtravails more common to Ulysses, a love story out of the pulps and dialogueout of Monty Python (as Amos wanders blithely into a plainly empty desertlooking for would-be rebels, Singer opines, "If they're out there, he'llfind them."). The writers aren't consistent, either: One kid get an arrow inthe right shoulder, and as he's healing, Amos advises that "he won't havethe use of his left hand for a while."
©1982 The Washington Post
If he can really talk to the animals, Marc (79 Park Avenue) Singer --star of this latest in the current plague of swords-and-sorcery epics --should tell them to hold out for better parts in the future. This film,directed by Don (Phantasm) Coscarelli, is occasionally bad enough to befunny, but more often it just seems interminable. Singer plays a warriorwhose mythical village is wiped out by a marauding band. He seeks revengeusing powers that just come naturally to a man who was given birth to by acow (yes, that's one of the parts bad enough to be funny). Because he isable to communicate with animals, he enlists the aid of an eagle, twoferrets and a panther. Later Singer hooks up with John Amos, once of TV'sGood Times, done up here in a leather outfit that might have come fromFrederick's of Hollywood. Another ally is Tanya Roberts, perhaps the sixthbest actress ever to play one of Charlie's Angels. She gets to show a lotmore in this film than she ever did on ABC, but none of it has to do withacting ability. When the main villain, Rip Torn, evil priest of the god Ar(or is it "R" or "Are" or "Arrrrgh"?), tries to make a human sacrifice ofher, he immediately gains the audience's sympathy, even though he has blackteeth, stringy hair and barrettes that look like human skulls. There is alot of fire, magic and impaling in this one, as well as much mincing,dicing, slicing, chopping and trimming with swords. The film wasphotographed by John Alcott, who has often worked with Stanley Kubrick andwon an Oscar for Barry Lyndon. He deserves another this time for notresisting what must have been a temptation to cap his lenses and go home.(PG)
© 1982 Time Inc.
... The Beastmaster, deeply gouged from the mists of folklore, is 40-caratclaptrap. Flexing bronze biceps, an off-the-pelvis animal pelt and ablinding set of molars, Marc Singer is "Dar," hero and freedom-fighter,sworn to the destruction of "Maax," played with a false nose by Rip Torn.Abevy of animals accompany Dar on his battle-fraught journey towards thepyramid where Maax reigns supreme, having no doubt -- who knows howbrutally? -- disposed of Spencer.
The said animals are a black panther, a mightly eagle and two long furryrat-like creatures whose genus is obscure.These assorted beasts lend him (i)strength, (ii) aerial vision and (iii) rodent cunning. When one of thelatter creatures -- let's call them rats and have done with it -- heroicallysacrifices its life by jumping on the face of Rip Torn and trying todislodge his false nose, the ensuing closeup of its mate's whisker-twitchingbereavement sent a quavery "Aaah" all through the audience.
Once or twice director Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm) picks up his paintbrushand limns for us a grand and fiery composition from out the furnaces offolklore; aided by Stanley Kubrick's cameraman John Alcott.But elsewhere The Beastmaster is strictly for children, mythophiliacs and rodent-lovers of allages ...
©1983 The Financial Times Limited
The Beastmaster, 1982 (118 min.). Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, and somejaguar-looking thing vs. minions of evil. With Rip Torn. Directed by DonCoscarelli.
Every now and then a film emerges whose every component is weak. The actors are models; the story hinges on one boob shot; the fat kid next door does better special effects. Separately, each facet is embarrassing, but taken together and mixed with a proper dose of the hermetic, somehow, paradoxically, we arrive at clarity. Sometimes such a random combination of forces - God's work - is not fully clear until you get extraordinarily fried.
In this area, The Beastmaster reigns supreme. You're embarrassed when youput it on the counter, but a true video-store worker will also be baked andgive you that knowing 'You're renting The Beastmaster, which the bald guybehind you doesn't understand, but we both know" look - "We know that we'reboth baked and I'm the video-store dude and you're the baked rentee. Twoarchetypes consummating the charter of their sacred constitution.
A metaphor. A cable classic. Eminently watchable.
© 1996 Doubleday