(Editor’s Note: R.A. Goli is an Australian writer of horror, fantasy, and speculative short stories. In addition to writing, her interests include reading, gaming, the occasional walk, and annoying her dog, two cats, and husband.Check out her numerous publications including her fantasy novella, The Eighth Dwarf, and her collection of short stories, Unfettered at https://ragoliauthor.wordpress.com/ or stalk her on facebook https://www.facebook.com/RAGoliAuthor/. Her stories have appeared in issues 1 and 9 of Broadsword and Blasters).
The Beastmaster is a classic sword and sorcery tale, loosely based on the novel of the same name by Andre Norton, released in 1959. The movie, released in 1982, stars Marc Singer as Dar (Dallas, 1986), Tanya Roberts as Kiri (Charlies Angels, 1981), Rip Torn as Maax (30 Rock, 2007-2009), and John Amos as Seth (Good Times, 1974-1976).
The movie begins with three dark-robed priests entering a temple where a trio of witches’ chant as they scry into a cauldron. The witches prophesize the death of the high priest/cult leader, Maax (pronounced, Mayax), at the hands of King Zed’s unborn son. Upon learning of Maax’ scheme to sacrifice his child to the god, Ar, King Zed banishes Maax and his priests. Maax sends one of the witches to deal with the problem. She casts a spell and transfers the baby from the mother’s womb into a cow’s womb, then slices it from the bovine’s stomach. She brands the baby with the mark of Ar, but before she is able to sacrifice him, a passer by intervenes, killing the witch and taking the baby to raise as his own, because that is what you did in those days.
The man trains his adoptive son, Dar, to fight and during a sparring session, a bear mauls another villager. Dar’s special ability becomes apparent when he telepathically communicates with the bear and sends it on its way. His father warns him that power such as his must be kept secret.
Years later and now a grown man, Dar’s peaceful life is shattered when Maax sends an army, known as Jun, to attack the village. Dar is spared and wakes up with ‘eagle sight’. Dar remembers a conversation he had with his adoptive father; should anything happen to him, his sword and caber (throwing weapon), would be Dar’s ‘trusted companions’, and that he must search for his enemies and seek his destiny. With everyone dear to him now dead, he sets off on his quest for revenge, with the eagle; Sharak in tow.
Along the way, Dar befriends two thieving ferrets, (Kodo and Podo), and a black tiger (Ruh). Now Dar has the eyes of the eagle (though later he realizes he can also see through the tiger’s eyes), the cunning of the ferrets, and the strength of the black tiger. By chance he meets a beautiful slave, Kiri, and decides to follow her to save her from her enslavement, but loses his way and comes across a tribe of half-man, half-bird creatures who consume the flesh of men by trapping them within their large bat-like wings. The bird-men worship eagles so when they see Sharak, they allow Dar to pass unharmed. One of the creature’s gifts Dar with a medallion depicting an eagle, which he will later use to call on their aid during the final battle.
There’s a lot of rescuing in this film. First Dar is joined by Seth and Tal (the King’s other son), and they save Kiri from being sacrificed, then save the king from Maax. King Zed’s thirst for revenge is too great and against Dar’s advice, he sends Dar away, then attacks the priests, thus Kiri, Seth, Tal and Zed are captured once again. Dar arrives to save the day again and finally kills Maax and the rest of the priests, only to have to fight the large Jun army. He sends Sharak off with the medallion and the bird-men join the battle.
The Beastmaster has our classic, well-muscled, loin-cloth wearing, sword-wielding hero, magic in the form of witches casting spells, and an enchanted seeing-eye ring, and the classic sacrificing people to a god. It’s an epic quest for revenge.
I loved this movie as a kid. My favorite parts were watching the antics of Kodo and Podo; who wouldn’t want a couple of ferret travelling companions to do their bidding? I’d not watched The Beastmaster for many years, I feared I’d be disappointed, having remembered the film through child-eyes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. While almost two hours long, it didn’t drag, was full of adventure, had a dash of humor, a few sad moments, and also, Dar in a loin cloth.
The filming locations were breathtaking, especially the huge red sandstone formations of Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. Other locations included Las Vegas, Simi Valley, and Lake Pyramid, California. Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, 1979), considered filming in Spain and Mexico, however both locations would have been too costly.
Coscarelli revealed a few fun facts during the director’s commentary. Dar’s sword was made especially for the film and was stolen post-production. Despite the many slayings, viewers will notice a lack of blood on Dar’s sword. Paul Pepperman (co-writer) explains that they wanted a PG family rating for the movie. I guess they were less concerned showing bare-breasted women on screen.
Approximately twenty ferrets were used to act as Kodo and Podo, and Pepperman, kept two of them. In the scene where the witch transfers the unborn child into the cow, she pours a magical blue liquid over the king and queen’s necks, rendering them unable to move. The blue liquid used was from emergency lights, similar to glow sticks. The original script had a black leopard as Ruh, but animal trainers insisted tigers were easier to work with and so dyed some tigers black. I personally think it’s cooler to have a black tiger.
Apparently Pepperman didn’t think the movie would be a hit or have longevity, and he was right in one respect as it only grossed around $14 million at the box office, but it has also enjoyed many late-night re-runs on various cable networks and like all great 80’s movies, has become a cult classic. If you love sword and sorcery, but haven’t seen The Beastmaster yet, do yourself a favor and watch it. If only for the ferrets.
I still miss you, Kodo.