SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES PRESENTS:
DEATHSTALKER: Conan…Without Class!
By Nick Cato
I spent most of the time during the second half of my sophomore year in high school daydreaming about movies. While horror preoccupied 90% of my mind, other exploitation films took about 8%, and the final 2% was dedicated to all things CONAN. From the early Marvel comics to the 1982 Ah-Nuld film version, I was always a big fan of the sword & sorcery genre. And while the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) spawned several rip-offs, none were as memorable as the 1984 schlock-fest DEATHSTALKER, which happened to be released as I trudged through the tenth grade.
Picture—if you will—a group of fifteen year-old male teenagers managing to get into an R-rated action film with no problem. Now picture—if you will—that same group of ecstatic fifteen year-old teenagers giggling with glee as the sword & sorcery epic unreeling before them turned out to feature some of the worst acting, fakest-looking creatures, and massive amounts of jiggling boobs this side of a PORKY’S film. Even one-time sex symbol Barbi Benton appears as a princess, although she was better off taking another cruise on THE LOVE BOAT than accepting whatever peanuts she was offered for her forgettable role here.
Besides the gratuitous boobs and brutal fight sequences, what truly made DEATHSTALKER such a joy to watch was the title character himself. Deathstalker was played by stuntman/actor Rick Hill, and is far less noble a warrior than Conan: he’s a conscience-less murderer and rapist, taking any woman who even looks at him as he walks by with his bulging biceps. And in what tries to pass for a plot, a king asks Deathstalker to try and redeem himself by rescuing his kidnapped princess daughter from a tattoo-headed tyrant. Like any social misfit, Deathstalker basically tells the king where to go, then proceeds to eat (yes, EAT) half of the king’s poor dog! At this point, you either buckled your seatbelt and prepared to enjoy the trash that followed, or you left the theater and spared your brain any further damage.
There was mumbling around the theater wondering just why this king asked a known, savage rapist to rescue his daughter, and why he even cared if the guy redeemed himself. But such are the mysteries of rip-off, grindhouse cinema.
In one scene that drove the audience wild, a brawl goes down where one burly man (with his gigantic mallet) smashes his opponent into a bloody pancake. Popcorn flew around the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theatre in appreciation, and at one point I started to hope some of the older guys in attendance didn’t get any ideas after the film, out in the parking lot.
Between more bouncing boobs and heads getting lobbed off, there was talk of Deathstalker also having to find three objects that were allegedly part of the world’s creation (I remember one being a sword, which he finds, but can’t recall what the other two were…and you probably wouldn’t, either). Deathstalker eventually rescues the princess (who actually looks like an old sea hag) and takes the sword of creation from the clutches of Munkar, the aforementioned tattoo-headed tyrant (and MAN did his head-tattoo look fake!). Just WHY Deathstalker went ahead and did what the king asked —after saying he wasn’t interested—is anyone’s guess.
The remainder of DEATHSTALKER features our anti-hero joining a tournament where warriors battle other warriors to the death—sort-of like a sword & sorcery tribute to the Bruce Lee classic ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). Here the blood flows deeper than your standard slasher film, as arms, legs, and heads fly, bodies are impaled; all the while Munkar looks on with a smirk, thinking everyone who stands in his way will eventually kill themselves off, leaving him to rule the world. MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
But as fate would have it, Deathstalker manages to kill the final opponent, a goofy-looking pig-faced warrior beast, and eventually destroys Munkar and the mystical objects of creation.
Unlike CONAN THE BARBARIAN, or better rip-offs such as THE BEASTMASTER (1982), DEATHSTALKER’s sloppy script and countless plot holes will cause even the most jaded fan of grindhouse cinema to shake their head in disbelief. But, if you’re looking for a real GUY/party flick, full of hot babes, endless bloodshed, and acting so bad you can’t help but yell back at the screen (even if you’re watching it at home), DEATHSTALKER is a prime example of a so-bad-it’s-amazing film. Most mind-boggling: this cinematic abortion was followed by three sequels, with Rick Hill returning in the title role for the fourth installment. None were half as good (or bad) as the original.
© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato