Deathstalker 4: Match of Titans (1991)

These magnificent drawings do not, sadly, star in the film

These magnificent drawings do not, sadly, star in the film

We bid a “fond” farewell to the Deathstalker series with this, where Rick Hill, star of the first film from 1983, returns to the title role; and he’s not the only thing returning (psst – it’s the plot and quite a lot of the footage).

Back in the days of VHS rental, film companies seem to have done this sort of thing all the time – “this sort of thing” being making films comprised substantially of footage from previous films in the series. Long-term readers of ISCFC will remember many such films, but this also borrows pre-borrowed scenes – so, this is now the third film where we’ve seen that unfortunate chap dragged through the forest by people on horseback, and the same goes for the bar scene with the pig-fellow in it. Thanks to a virtually comatose voiceover, we’re given a brief blast of Deathstalker’s story, backed with what could be the worst music I’ve ever heard – like the test music on a cheap synthesizer, but broken.

If you’re guessing this film is about a Princess trying to get her palace or town or magic jewel or whatever back, and Deathstalker volunteering to help after rescuing her from some bad guys, then that’s the least I’d expect from you. This is not an original plot, even in terms of this tetralogy, is what I’m saying. It’s an even more specific rip-off of the first film, being based around a tournament where the secret plan is to kill all the best fighters off. Seriously, you guys!

There’s not a lot to set this film apart from the others in the series. There’s a fun scene where Deathstalker and Dionara get trapped in a cave by a baddie who causes a cave-in, saying “you’ll never get out of here!” After taking her recently dead sister’s clothes for no reason, in the next scene, with zero explanation, they’re out of the cave and just trotting along. At the tournament, there’s also a large gang of lesbian fighters, which at least makes a change from women just throwing themselves at the nearest available man (although there’s still plenty of that). There’s also the standard Deathstalker-level of boobs in this film, including the evil villainess and, in fact, just about every female character.

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There’s a fun turn by Brett Baxter Clark as Vaniat, a fighter whose approach to the tournament is an athletic, not a “barbarian”, one. After some training on how to deal with women, he goes undercover with wicked Queen Kana (Michelle Moffet, whose career along with Clark’s didn’t really go anywhere, sadly), and pretty much saves the day while Deathstalker is doing the tournament-fighting. There appear to be simultaneous male and female tournaments, but luckily all the female fighters are skinny and beautiful. There’s a bunch of stone zombies too…

Anyway, that’s quite enough of that. It’s about as fun as parts 1 and 3 (in other words, not quite as much as it thinks) but air of no-one really giving a toss runs more strongly through this one. It’s edited by someone who’s clearly deranged, for one thing – the above cave example being the most obvious, but there’s tons of scenes that just end without any sort of resolution or buildup for the next scene or anything.

Imagine, a bunch of people called Dave and John and stuff like that, and you’re introduced to one of Dave’s friends, called Deathstalker (yes, I’m still annoyed by how stupid his name is).

Well, I can’t say I’m particularly sad it’s over. They’ve been fun, sort of, but hampered by crappy budget-saving measures and everyone except the main three or four cast members being a dubbed Eastern European. After such a great second film, the rest of them should have built on that, but didn’t, and the final film doesn’t so much have a resolution as everyone got bored of filming and decided to go home.

Rating: thumbs down

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Deathstalker 3: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

No-one who looks even close to any of these people appears in the film

No-one who looks even close to any of these people appears in the film

After the second film, a genuinely funny, clever adventure, the producers decided that aiming for a film people might actually enjoy was too much of a risk! What is easy is a normal sword-and-sorcery film with a protagonist who’s sort of funny, a bit. So that’s what we get here, and we fans are left debating if “The Warriors From Hell” will be a title as equally misleading as part 2’s “Duel Of The Titans”.

Deathstalker, the most inappropriately named comedy thief of all time, is lounging about some fayre, off to meet his friend Nicias, a wizard with a strong resemblance to comic legend Alan Moore. Of course, trouble comes in the shape of Carissa, a princess with a magic crystal, the MacGuffin-est of things. The evil Troxartas, who apparently controls the entire continent they’re on, has the other magic crystal, and if they’re re-united then blah blah blah.

Deathstalker makes the comment “what is it about me and princesses?” which allows us to speculate. At the end of the last film, it looked like he was going to marry the fabulously wealthy Princess Evie (and he had his choice of many beautiful ladies after the first film too); I just think it’s easier to think of Deathstalker as being a James Bond-style title with no real continuity between the films, and part 3’s hero was referring to some other princesses. Or something. Who cares?

Even with henchmen as truly rubbish as the ones in this film are, Carissa is killed and Deathstalker decides to go and reunite the crystals and gain access to a city made of gold. In a filmmaking decision that makes absolutely no sense, he then encounters Carissa’s twin sister, Elizena, on her way to marry…Troxartas! It must be true about power being an aphrodisiac, because he not only has princesses offering themselves up in marriage, but a stunningly beautiful assistant / lover in Camisarde (Terri Treas), and he looks like every stereotype from Nazi literature of the evil Jewish usurer. Ol’ Trox hears DS’s name for the first time and goes “Deathstalker…I thought he was a myth?” which probably indicates he’s from a different universe to the guy who married the Princess and saved the world in previous movies.

Deathstalker 3 (2)

DS is helped by a woman (before he betrays her trust and has sex with her daughter, but she doesn’t know that) who tells him “you’ll be safe in this valley, don’t ride out tonight, wait til the morning”. They’re attacked in the morning by Trox’s troops and it doesn’t seem to be a trap either…anyway, Trox reanimates the corpses of 5 dead super-warriors and sends them after DS (hence the title, so it fits!), but DS makes a deal with them to free their souls, and everything congregates inside Trox’s castle – heroes, villains, undead warriors, sexy assistants, sexy farmer’s daughters, rebellious villagers and all.

I read that John Terlesky and John Lazar rehearsed for 2 weeks for their climactic swordfight in part 2. I’d be surprised if John Allen Nelson (DS) and Thom Christopher (Trox) rehearsed for 2 minutes for their swordfight in this – it’s slow, boring and clumsy, and there are ample opportunities, when Trox has a free arm with a sword in it but doesn’t use it to kill DS, where you can guess they were just pushed out there and told to improvise. It’s all a bit half-arsed, to be honest.

It’s not terrible, though. The evil assistant, after her boss / lover is killed, reveals she quite fancies Alan Moore the wizard, and his look to camera is funny – and not all DS’s lines are crap. But it’s a very pale imitation of its predecessor, and the air of pointlessness hangs over all proceedings. Still, part 4 has the DS from part 1 back to play the character, which might prove to be interesting. I wonder if anyone will make a “you looked weird for a few years back then” joke in it?

Rating: thumbs down

Deathstalker 2: Duel of the Titans (1987)

They aren't in the film

They aren’t in the film

This is as close to a classic as the swords-and-sorcery genre has, I reckon. Better than the first film in every way, a great central performance, not quite as much unnecessary nudity as the first (which, considering the director, is a minor miracle), and real genuine laughs, both in the script and in the performances.

Deathstalker is a really weird name for a wisecracking thief-with-a-heart-of-gold (mercifully, the film acknowledges this), but the way they incorporate the name of this sequel into the film is hilarious – the baddie says “I’ll get her and Deathstalker too!” (BOOM, film title appears on screen). He’s doing his thieving thing when he happens upon the young beautiful Reena the Seer beaten up by some goons outside a bar. He doesn’t seem desperate to endear himself to us with his first line – “Normally, I don’t mind seeing a woman get beaten” but he rescues her anyway, and she spins him a tale, of being cloned by the evil wizard / super-swordsman Jarek, how she’s really called Princess Evie, and how there’s riches beyond the dreams of avarice if he can help restore her to her throne.

They pop into the same bar Reena was thrown out of, and this is where eagle-eyed viewers will start having fun. The first two Deathstalkers were made 4 years apart, so viewers at the time wouldn’t have noticed them just using a load of footage from the earlier one in this; and there are some extremely bored-looking nude dancers added to the mix. Now, if you’re a nude dancer in a bar and a massive brawl breaks out, tradition dictates you duck behind some furniture and occasionally bash someone over the head with a bottle – what you don’t do is just carry on dancing, with the same bored expression on your face. Ah well, they can’t all be winners.

"Hey, shall we bother moving those production trucks out of the back of this shot? No? Okay then"

“Hey, should we bother moving those production trucks out of the back of this shot? No? Okay then”

Deathstalker and Reena head towards the castle, with your typical medieval fun along the way, which for some reason includes zombies, some of whom didn’t bother getting dressed in medieval style clothes at all. My favourite bit is when he’s captured by a town full of women, whose menfolk have died fighting Jarek. Do they use him as a sex slave? Nope, they accuse him of crimes against womankind after his reputation preceded him, set up a wrestling ring and have him take on Queen Kong in a fight to the death. THEN the ruler of the town uses him as a sex slave.

Deathstalker IIC

You don’t need me to tell you how the rest of the film goes, but that’s not why you’re here. Seeing Jim Wynorski’s name attached to a fun, well-made, cheap-and-cheerful film with jokes and a great atmosphere around it is odd, and makes me even sadder at the garbage he’s been churning out for the last decade or so. This is the film that “Your Highness” should have been, with a main cast who barely bother pretending they’re in the olden days, laughs that come from something other than insults, a lightning quick pace and a fun series of fights to keep the excitement levels up.

It’s not perfect, by any stretch. John Terlesky as Deathstalker is great; and Monique Gabrielle (making her second ISCFC appearance, after being the nude lady in “Amazon Women On The Moon”) does surprisingly good double duty, which makes her subsequent career in porn even sadder. But most of the rest of the cast is pretty wooden, even if sometimes that woodenness helps the comedy along.

If you love taint-shots, then this is the film for you. Luckily, it’s not just for taint-lovers, and this ought to be much better known than it is. The DVD is worth buying as well, for an absolutely top-drawer commentary, full of jokes and self-mockery.

Rating: thumbs up

DS2-Bananna-Required

Deathstalker (1983)

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From its first scene, this film sets itself apart from other sword-and-sorcery films of the era. When we meet Deathstalker, he encounters a guy trying to steal his horse; and a group of troll-looking fellas who are rescuing a kidnapped woman and tell Deathstalker they have no problem with him. Who should he attack?

If you said “first, the guys who look like good guys, despite their appearance; then second, the guy trying to steal his horse; then as an encore, stripping the kidnapped woman and almost having sex with her” then your power of predicting the oddities of these films is very strong indeed. Deathstalker is a bit of a slacker, a modern character trapped in this odd fantasy world, and his adventure is suitably strange.

There’s an evil wizard called Munkar, he has two of the three super-powered Thingies, and Deathstalker comes into possession of the third one fairly early on. Munkar is having a tournament, “Enter The Dragon”-style, and all the best fighters are going, to win the prize of being Munkar’s heir. Really, he’s just doing it to kill off all the best fighters and get the third Thingie. Deathstalker picks up two friends along the way – Oghris, in a pretty sweet half-mail-shirt outfit that shows off his six-pack; and Kaira, the beautiful blonde fighter whose outfit is effectively nothing, like a string that goes under her breasts to show them off.

This counts as fully dressed for her

This counts as fully dressed for her

Deathstalker wakes Kaira up one night by feeling her breasts, so they have sex and then he pretty much never speaks to her again. This is a perfect summation of this film’s attitude towards women, really – they are almost all naked at all times, and they exist to pleasure the men…and nothing else. Kaira is the only one who does anything, and she’s still just there to fawn over the main character; the rest of them are in a harem and are desperate to be with the assembled tournament fighters. To say this film has a rather neanderthal take on sexual politics is an understatement. I mean, there are a lot of boobs in this film – I occasionally make the joke that some films feel like porn with all the porn taken out, but this feels like porn with everything but the penetration left in. Still, I can imagine the teen boys this was aimed at being quite pleased with its existence in the 1980s, and that’s all the producers were bothered about.

Thanks to the low budget, the many magical transformations in this movie are dealt with off-camera. The best example of this is Munkar turning one of his underlings into a woman to go and trick Deathstalker, so bits of his body keep changing while the camera keeps swapping position on him; but it becomes a bit cheesy by the end.

If you can ignore the way women are treated in this film, it’s pretty funny. Deathstalker is quite a modern movie hero for a film from 1983, and there’s a decent sense of humour running through it. The actual plot is pretty rotten, mind – the tournament is represented by a few half-hearted montages, and you never really get much of an indication why Deathstalker is doing the things he does. But it’s short (a little over 75 minutes) and if you really like boobs, you’ll find few other films that cater to you so completely.

Get ready for some sequels! Part 2 is directed by our old friend Jim Wynorski, so I’ll say that’ll be pretty okay, then there’s a 3 and 4 which I’ll guess will be increasingly humourless and cheap. Meet me back here when I’ve reviewed all four to see if I’m right!

Rating: thumbs up

POSTSCRIPT: Lana Clarkson, the woman who played Kaira, was the woman who Phil Spector murdered in 2003, I just discovered. I’m sure these reviews have featured other murder victims, but this one bummed me out.