Thursday, July 5, 2018

THE BEASTMASTER (1982) (Umbrella Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: M
Duration: 118 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.77:1) 
Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos

Like probably ninety-percent of everyone who loves this sword and sorcery classic I first caught up with it on HBO in the early 80's when it was airing ad nauseum on cable, so much so that comedian Dennis Miller once said HBO was an acronym for "Hey, Beastmaster's On". It was mighty rare that I would turn on the TV and see that Beastmaster was on and not plop down on the sofa and settle in for some fantasy-adventure fun, regardless of what I had planned or should have been doing, putting off my chores till it was over. 

The film opens strong with a strange slice of sorcery, in the kingdom of Aruk an evil high priest named Maax (Rip Torn, Summer Rental) is foretold of a prophecy in which he will die at the hands of the son of King Zed (Rod Loomis, Jack's Back), inspiring the priest to send one of his super-hot witches (from the neck down at least, on top they're hideous hags) to the bedroom of the king, through witchcraft they somehow transport the king's unborn son from the queen's womb into that of a nearby cow, leading the now preggers with human child bovine into a rural area with plans to sacrifice the child to the local god Ar. The witch brands the infant's hand with the mark of Ar before attempting to kill it with a knife, but the witch is thwarted by a local villager with a unique flying weapon, who saves the child and raises him as his own, naming the kid Dar. As a kid grows we discover he can telepathically communicate with animals when he saves his father from a grizzly attack, a fact that his father says he should keep to himself for fear of the villagers superstitions. Later his adopted father and the rest of the villagers are wiped out during a raid by a barbarians horde called the Junns, who are aligned with the evil priest Maax, sending Dar (Marc Singer, V: The Final Battle) on a path of vengeance. 

Along the way Dar befriends a pair of pickpocketing ferrets, a black panther (really a Bengal tiger dyed black!) and an all-seeing hawk who help him on his journey, also befriending a gorgeous slave girl Kiri (Tanya Roberts, Tourist Trap) and a warrior named Seth (John Amos, the dad from TV's Good Times) who also join him on his quest for vengeance against the evil Maax.

As a kid of ten this was simply the best-movie-ever without a doubt, more so than Conan the Barbarian or any of the other Conan knock-offs, which this move certainly is, this gave me a love for all thing sword and sorcery. Sure, I didn't know at the time that Marc Singer wasn't a great actor, I was drawn in by everything around him, the beauty of Tanya Roberts as the slave-girl, his sinewy body draped in a loin cloth, his control over wild animals and then there's the strange and evil sorcery elements. Rip Torn is just chewing the place up with his hawkish nose and over-the-top delivery, and he's surrounded by so many cool evil incarnations, from the hideously-faced witches with drop-dead-gorgeous bodies to the leather and stud clad Death Guards who looks like extras from 80's Judas Priest music videos with glowing eyes and a green-glowing brain slug dropped into their ears (Wrath of Khan anybody?), plus other cool stuff like that all-seeing eye-ring worn by the acolytes of the Maax. The creepiest part of the movie was always the mysterious bird-men with their leathery wings who could dissolve people into green-goo, that and the whole transferring the baby from the mother's womb into a cow for some reason really got under my skin as a kid, this movie is never short on strange imagery, not surprising coming from the mind behind the Phantasm films, it definitely has a lot of kinder-trauma moments, and also with loads of nudity, of both the erotic and frightening kind, the kind of stuff that gave you confused erotic dreams as a kid.

As sinewy as Marc Singer is draped in that loincloth he does seems to be a bit tiny for a warrior, but he also had a cool-looking sword and a unique throwing weapon that while notable is not used often enough in the flick for my tastes. The movie is directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) who really proves his meddle here, bringing his eye for the strange and compelling fantasy. The evil here is not as menacing as I remember it being but it still packs a lot of entertainment value with cool looking special effects, elaborately staged battles and some cool set design and forced perspective grandeur that's eye-catching, and it was lensed by Kubrick cinematographer John Alcott (The Shining), so it looks great.  

Audio/Video: The Beastmaster (1982) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD widescreen, framed in  
1.77:1 widescreen. This looks like an older HD master, there's some contrast issues and compression artifacts throughout but grain is left intact, there's no egregious DNR-ing of the image, but it lacks depth and clarity you would get from a new transfer. However, on the bonus side blacks are deeper and the colors are better rendered, the yellow pallor of the Anchor Bay release is gone with greens and blues coming through much more naturally. Also gone is the vertical stretching of the Anchor Bay release, with more information on all four sides of the Umbrella release, this is a nice upgrade, but it's not ideal, would love to see this get a new scan.

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 or Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 with no option for subtitles. Dialogue sound good and clean without any distortions that I noticed, the Lee Hodlridge (Splash) score sounds real nice, particularly on the more robust lossless surround mix. 

Looking at the extras Umbrella carry-over the 2005 audio commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Producer Paul Pepperman plus the 55-minute making of doc from the Anchor Bay DVD, but they didn't port-over everything, so you might want to hang onto the DVD for the complete set of extras that accompanied the older release.  

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Producer Paul Pepperman 
- The Saga Of The Beastmaster featurette (55 min) 

Don Coscarelli's The Beastmaster (1982) may not be the stone-cold best-movie-ever I thought it was when I was ten but it's still a pretty awesome sword and sorcery film, and it's great to have it on region-free Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment. 

Top: Umbrella Entertainment 2018 Region-Free Blu-ray 
Bottom: Anchor Bay DVD