Summer of '82: The Beastmaster -

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  • Starring: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn and John Amos
  • Written by: Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman
  • Directed by: Don Coscarelli
  • Studio: MGM
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • Series:

Summer of '82: The Beastmaster

"The gods have put that mark on you, and someday, you'll find out why."

By Rob Vaux     August 20, 2012

 1982 witnessed a bumper crop of sword and sorcery movies, topped by Conan the Barbarian which started that summer with a bang. The whimper came later, when Marc Singer donned his infamous loincloth for The Beastmaster.  The film served as a kid-friendly version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s grown-up guilty pleasure… which really sort of misses the point. In an effort to skew younger, it undoes everything that makes Conan so glorious. In return, it offers nothing more than limp swashbuckling, abused animals and the admittedly delectable sight of Tanya Roberts in a furry swimsuit. The combination may have proven irresistible to the wide-eyed young ‘uns of the era, gazing covetously at the Conan poster and cursing the “R” rating preventing them from entering. The Beastmaster provided a viable alternative, though its dubious appeal requires a lot of audience good will to work.

Of course, the cheap sets and shoddy craftsmanship can appear quite charming to the right set of adult eyes, though no one could possibly call them good. The storyline follows routine pulp formula, with Singer’s barbarian hero stolen from his royal parents at an early age and raised in a faraway village. When his father’s killer razes the village to the ground, he sets out on a quest of revenge. He soon discovers the ability to telepathically communicate with animals… leading to lots of ferret-based mischief, eagle-eye camera shots and bad guys savaged by a tiger spray-painted black. Roberts shows up as the token gal pal/love interest, dueling it out with Singer to determine which one of them can deliver their lines in the most awkward and wooden way possible.

In short, The Beastmaster carries all the components that the boys at Mystery Science Theatre pray for. The performers at least, seem to be in on the joke, though their tongue-in-cheek presentations never let on too much. Director Don Coscarelli attempts to imbue it all with a fun-loving spirit, an admirable effort aided by the sheer ridiculousness of what’s onscreen. It’s hard not to snicker with Rip Torn shows up as the evil priest Maax, or the threadbare special effects trying vainly to sell us on the authenticity of this world.

The intended audience doesn’t care, of course, and therein lies it appeal. For while nothing onscreen impresses us, the film’s upbeat tone and general good nature prevents us from coming down too hard on it. There’s an innocence to it that becomes quietly endearing, provided you accept its flaws and take the ride for its own sake. Conan benefitted from a genuine philosophical subtext, as well as some harsh edges that didn’t sugarcoat the savagery of its world. The Beastmaster lacks that heft, but neither can Conan conjure the same wide-eyed enthusiasm that this one does.

Small wonder, then, that the film found its audience on cable re-runs rather than in the theaters (where kids still had the likes of TRON and E.T. to keep them company). On a lazy Saturday with nothing going on, it demands very little from the viewer, and its general amiability can serve as a comfort. That makes it a perfect August release: aiming low and hitting its mark without any expectations for anything more. The harsh light of adulthood doesn’t serve it well, but with an eye on nostalgia (and perhaps some alcohol to grease the wheels), its grubby visage looks a whole lot more inviting. As a closer to the greatest summer in movie history, The Beastmaster leaves a lot to be desired. But it hung in there over the years, and its cult reputation is duly earned. The very fact that we’re still talking about it speaks to something memorable in its DNA. Just don’t ask us what that could possibly be. 


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Moz72 8/20/2012 4:06:46 AM

I too am guilty of watching Beastmaster seeveral times on TBS where it had alot of play on the weekends. The fact that the film was spun off into a tv series which ran for 3 years, 1999-2002 speaks volumes about it's endearing popularity.

7thGuest 8/20/2012 5:05:46 AM

I admit that as a kid I loved this movie. I haven't seen it in years and I don't really want to see it again since I prefer to keep my memories of it as good. I may still enjoy it, but it won't be as good as I remember. Hell most of the stuff I watched as a kid aren't as good as I remember.

Although I do still want to get a pair of ferrets and call them Poda and Coda, though I may have gotten their names wrong.

Dazzler 8/20/2012 5:09:51 AM

Great solid movie, rewatchable.  Met Singer at a Chicago comic con.  Great guy.  Too bad V did work out for him, new series that is.  Looked like he was going to be big for the next season. 

spiderhero 8/20/2012 5:40:15 AM

I never saw this movie as a kid and now, having watched the trailer, I never will. For those who can watch it with fond nostalgia, I commend you.

jsmulligan 8/20/2012 6:08:13 AM

 Same boat, 7th.  Watched it several times as a kid and haven't seen it in years.  I was hoping to see it a while back and couldn't find it when I was looking.  Need to try again, I think my kid might like it... 

Wiseguy 8/20/2012 7:24:20 AM

Ditto that 7thGuest. There's a lot stuff that I'm sure fits into this category, loved as a kid but maybe should be relegated to the memory banks as to not spoil the nostagia.

But to be honest I just have never run across it playing on tv to see if it would stand the call of time to any degree.

monkeyfoot 8/20/2012 8:08:54 AM

I have to admit I've never seen this whole movie, only bits and pieces when flipping channels. It never had much appeal to me. It kind of screamed low budget which always put me off of it. I've certainly enjoyed other non-thinking low movie fun on TV but this one just never became one of them. 

I do recall something about the tiger they dyed black to be a panther died from the make-up.

noahbody 8/20/2012 8:46:52 AM

Loved it, still like and don't care what anyone thinks. It was a fun movie.

wrrlykam 8/20/2012 9:19:45 AM

Better than Red Sonja and it has Ferrets.

VTGamehendge 8/20/2012 10:02:46 AM

Don't think I ever saw the first one.  But I have "fond" memories of Beastmaster 2!

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