Deathstalker
U.S.A. - Argentina / 1983
Directed by John Watson
Starring
Richard Hill
Barbi Benton
Lana Clarkson
Color / 81 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
New Concorde Video
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2011 Shout! Factory edition
Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
5
    4   10 = Highest Rating  
Deathstalker is a low budget cheapie made to cash in on the brief sword-and-sorcery fad spawned by 1982's Conan the Barbarian. It's horribly acted, the script is an insult to the worst-written comic books, the special effects are pathetic and the sets look like they're made out of cardboard. For the life of me I don't understand how the film generated three count 'em three sequels. Could it have been the copious amounts of T & A on display? Granted, all that naked female flesh certainly doesn't hurt...
    We're introduced to the titular hunk of bronzed beefcake (Rick Hill, whose hair keeps changing length during the first 10 minutes) when he saves a woman from being raped by a band of ape-men with leprosy. (That's what they look like, anyway.) So what does our paladin of justice do after rescuing the fair maiden? He strips off her tunic and starts fondling her breasts. He sure didn't kill all those thugs for nothin'! Yet the girl seems receptive as her 'savior' is a bit better looking than the diseased humanoids he just skewered. Deathstalker's reward, however, is interrupted when he's approached by a messenger summoning him to an audience with the deposed King Tulak. The old monarch wants his throne back, so he needs a brave warrior to infiltrate the castle of the evil usurper Munkar and slay him. The man who succeeds will be handsomely rewarded. Deathstalker isn't interested. Munkar is the land's most powerful wizard and only a fool would take him on. Tulak wails that Munkar has taken captive his own daughter, the Princess Codille, and that a true hero wouldn't think twice about riding off to save her. Not my problem, Deathstalker tells the king, blowing him off.
    Now the film takes a somewhat confusing turn. Deathstalker goes to visit an old witch-woman whom he apparently knows. When he arrives at her hut she's being set upon by a squad of Munkar's soldiers, who've come to learn the location of a magic sword. Deathstalker kills most of them and drives the rest off. The witch then explains that he must seek the aforementioned sword to keep it out of Munkar's evil hands. Combined with two other magical items an amulet and a chalice, both of which the wizard already possesses the sword will grant unlimited, ultimate power. "You will be the power!" she tells Deathstalker, who agrees to fetch the sword. Thus armed, he'll ride to Munkar's castle and figure out a way to kill him. (Now wait a minute... In the beginning of the film, Deathstalker was dead set against challenging Munkar, dismissing the notion as foolish. So all of a sudden he changes his mind? It's hard to tell why, exactly, since Hill is a complete block of wood, mostly just standing around with his mouth hanging open and a vacuous look on his face.)
    Witchy-Poo tells Deathstalker where to find the mystic sword: in a cavern, guarded by a goofy-looking plastic puppet with an attitude. Our hero's claiming of the blade breaks the spell that turned the guardian into a puppet, and the creature reverts back to his normal even goofier human form. (This guy's supposed to be the film's comic relief. He fails dismally.) Now teamed with a useless sidekick, Deathstalker unexpectedly picks up two more traveling companions as he makes for Munkar's citadel: Oghris (Richard Brooker), a skilled swordsman, and Kaira (Lana Clarkson), a statuesque blonde warrior woman who prefers to fight topless. (Yowza!) Oghris informs Deathstalker that the wizard is holding a special tournament to crown the greatest warrior in his domain. The winner will be named Munkar's heir-apparent. Such a contest would seem the perfect cover for Deathstalker to get a crack at the sorcerer and the two magical items in his grasp. Besides... he can get some nookie from Kaira on the way.
    So, as in Enter the Dragon, the bad guy calls an assembly of bad-asses together to fight over who's Numero Uno. The scheming Munkar (Bernard Erhard) naturally plans to execute the winner, thus ridding the land of all warriors strong enough to oppose him. He also has foreknowledge of Deathstalker's coming and arranges a few deadly surprises for him, of course to no avail. Playboy Playmate (and supposed actress) Barbi Benton is the princess held captive in Munkar's harem; she gets a memorable scene in which she's chained to a rock, her diaphanous gown ripped off by a lusty tourney contender.
    Deathstalker which ran on USA Up All Night seemingly every other week back in the late '80s-early '90s is one of those flicks in which the best thing about it is the poster art. (In this case by renowned fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.) The script is stupid; production values are quite shoddy. It's a terrible movie, yes... but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining. A headlong belly-flop into the Cinematic Fondue Pot, the cheese here is almost too thick to cut even with a magic sword. This is exactly the kind of film that's best enjoyed while inebriated. You'll get some unintentional laughs the purposeful humor almost never works in such flicks and there are naked women running around to boot. (An element of morbid curiosity may draw some viewers as well. Lana Clarkson, the film's bare-breasted warrior chick, was shot and killed Feb. 3, 2003, in the Alhambra, California mansion of Phil Spector, the legendary music producer. She was 40 at the time of her death. Spector, who claims Clarkson committed suicide, is currently the focus of a homicide investigation.)

New Concorde's Deathstalker DVD, released over three years ago and still in print (selling for under $10), is like most of the company's product I've seen: it gets the job done and no more. The fullframe transfer is a bit muddy and rough around the edges; there's some grain, minor print damage and night scenes are often murky, but at any rate it looks better than it did on TV. I don't know what kind of theatrical release, if any, Deathstalker received back in '83... It would seem to have been made with the then-burgeoning VHS rental market in mind. I doubt anything is lost in the 4:3 presentation. The mono audio track is decent enough for a low-rent flick like this 5.1 Surround isn't really needed when your music score is performed on a Wal-Mart Casio.
    Some minor extras are tossed in as a bone. Aside from genuinely quite thin (and useless) talent bios, four trailers are included: Barbarian Queen, Barbarian Queen II (both starring Clarkson, as a proto-Xena female warrior), Deathstalker II and the one for Deathstalker itself. 1/20/04

UPDATE This DVD went OOP in 2005. Shout! Factory will be releasing a newly remastered edition (as part of a 4-film "Sword & Sorcery" collection, to include Deathstalker II, Barbarian Queen and The Warrior & the Sorceress) in August 2011. Phil Spector was eventually convicted of Lana Clarkson's murder in 2009, more than six years after the crime.
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