Archive for the Barbarian Movies Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: DEATHSTALKER (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bad Acting, Barbarian Movies, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery, VIOLENCE!, Warriors with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by knifefighter

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.

I stayed.

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.

Deathstalker (Rick Hill) battles a pig-faced beast during the exciting conclusion of DEATHSTALKER (1984)

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato



Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Barbarian Movies, Fantasy, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2011 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

So, I had seen the trailer for IMMORTALS a few times and had zero expectations for this film. It looked like a rip-off of Zach Snyder’s 300 (2006), with some CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) thrown in for good measure. In other words, there was a chance this one could be a snoozefest. But then I found out that Tarsem Singh directed it, and I was suddenly curious to see it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, Tarsem Singh is the guy who directed THE CELL (2000), about people entering the mind of a serial killer. It was visually fascinating, and starred Jennifer Lopez (in one of her few good movies) and Vincent D’Onofrio as the comatose killer. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but it had some pretty striking imagery. His second film, THE FALL (2006), continued to mark him as a director with a unique vision (Read Dan Keohane’s review of THE FALL here). And now we’ve got IMMORTALS.

It goes without saying that this movie is great to look at.  That’s what Singh is all about. But what about the story?

Well, it’s kind of a mixture of original ideas and Greek mythology. It all begins with a battle between the gods and the Titans. The Titans are exiled to earth after they lose the war – encased in a big metal block and held together with steel rods.

Cut to King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who despises the gods since they did nothing to save his wife and child from death. In retaliation, he dons a mask, builds an army of savage warriors and decides to sweep the earth, slaughtering all those who oppose him. His ultimate plan, however, is to find the fabled Epiurus Bow (that creates its own exploding arrows!) and free the Titans, so they can wreck their vengeance on the same gods Hyperion despises so much.

The hero of this piece is Theseus (Henry Cavill, who is currently filming THE MAN OF STEEL, due out in 2013, wherein he will play Superman), a peasant with a will of iron and muscles to match, who is an outcast among his own people. When he sees his mother killed in front of him by Hyperion, he vows revenge of his own.

But Theseus isn’t just any muscle-bound peasant. He’s a favorite of the gods, Zeus (Luke Evans) in particular. In this film, the gods look like a bunch of Calvin Klein models lounging around in the clouds, watching humankind below.

While the gods watch Theseus’s every move, they are vowed to stay out of the affairs of humans (breaking this rule is supposed to bring them death), unless the Titans are released again, and you can see where everything comes full circle.

Along the way, Theseus comes upon a virgin oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who can see the future, and who becomes his love interest, and Stavros (Stephen Dorff), a thief who becomes Theseus’s right hand man.

There are a lot of battle scenes, either characters fighting one another, or armies clashing, and they’re all done pretty well. They’re also pretty gory. By the time you start wondering why this movie is rated R, you’ll suddenly notice heads getting splattered with sledgehammers and bodies getting cut in half by swords, and realize that this movie earned its rating with blood.

In deference to actual mythology, there’s even a scene in a labyrinth, and a minotaur of sorts for Theseus to battle. I actually thought this was an interesting take on the story, because instead of an actual minotaur with the head of a bull, we get a giant of a man who wears a barbed-wire mask in the shape of a bull. Hyperion refers to him as “The Beast” (Robert Maillet) and at one point sends him off to kill Theseus. The resulting battle is very well done. In another bull reference, the Beast, when we first see him, tends to a fire beneath a giant iron bull, which we just know is a pressure cooker used to cook prisoners alive, long before someone actually cracks it open to find out.

Singh does it all with a very painterly touch. Much like 300, it’s CGI used to create an entire world, but Singh is a much more creative director than Zack Snyder, so the images and story are a bit more interesting this time. I thought it started out a little slow, but once we get to the action scenes, it livens up immensely. Mickey Rourke does an enjoyable job playing the heavy in this one. Cavill is serviceable enough as a Spartacus wannabe. And Pinto does a good job of standing around and looking pretty.

Like other movies of its ilk, the story of IMMORTALS is its weakest link. But it made something like the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS look even weaker in comparison. Mythology, it seems, is hot again, and so far Singh has given us the best recent movie version.

This one is also in theaters in both 3D and 2D versions. I saw it in 3D, and it was fine, but 3D still fails to astound me, and I’m sure it would have been just as dazzling to look at in 2D. So save your money if you can.

I’m on the fence about what kind of rating to give this one. I’m waffling between giving it two and a half knives and three knives, and it basically comes down to, if this kind of movie sounds good to you, check it out, and if you’re not so sure, wait for the rental version.

IMMORTALS is a decent enough film, but no masterpiece. Which isn’t to say that Tarsem Singh isn’t capable of making great movies. He’s someone I plan to keep my eye on. In the meantime, even his flawed films are worth seeing.

© Copyright 2011 by L. L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives IMMORTALS ~ two and a half knives (or three knives, depending on his mood)

(Note: The horror movie 11-11-11 was also due out this weekend – as mentioned in this month’s “COMING ATTRACTIONS” column, but it must have been in very limited release, since none of our staff was able to find it.)


Posted in 2011, 3-D, Barbarian Movies, CGI, Coming Attractions, Guillermo Del Toro, Lame Remakes, Monsters, TV-Movies, Vampires with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A laboratory, with two scientists in white lab coats arguing on either side of a CGI-created chimpanzee.)

SCIENTIST #1: That chimp is too smart for its own good!

SCIENTIST#2: What makes you say that?

(CUT to chimp reading the WALL STREET JOURNAL while texting while working on a Sudoku puzzle.)

(Door to lab bursts open and in walk MICHAEL ARRUDA, L.L. SOARES, and a large gorilla.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: If only you guys had watched CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), the fourth film in the original PLANET OF THE APES series, then you would have known that Caesar here (points to the chimp) was bound to escape and lead the apes in a revolt that would mark the downfall of humankind.

SCIENTIST #1: We don’t watch movies.

L.L.SOARES: You ignoramus! How can you not watch movies?

SCIENTIST #2: We’re too busy here in the lab. Sad, but true.

MA: You should never be too busy to watch movies!

SCIENTIST #1: We wouldn’t know where to start.

LS: Start by reading  Cinema Knife Fight. We’d get you up to speed real quick on which movies to see and which ones aren’t worth your hard earned money.

MA: That’s right, and up first for us in August will be RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), opening on August 5. Based on what I’ve seen in the previews, this movie looks like it’s based on CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. That was the one that told the story of Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira, and how he led the apes in a revolution that overtook humankind.

In the previews for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, there’s a super smart chimp named Caesar (CHIMP sitting in lab waves at camera) who leads a horde of apes in a battle against humans. Of course, back in the 1970s, the apes in the APES movies were played by people in ape make-up, and Caesar was played by the late great Roddy McDowall. Here, the apes look to be CGI created, but based upon what I’ve seen in the previews, the CGI looks pretty good.

LS: Some of it looks good. Some of it looks fake. I still prefer make-up effects myself. Or a mixture of CGI and make-up. Because straight-on CGI is very uneven.

MA: I’ve always been a fan of the PLANET OF THE APES movies, and so I’m looking forward to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. That being said, however, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was probably my least favorite film of that original series.

LS: I don’t believe you just said that. I loved CONQUEST.

MA: Figures.

LS: I’m not sure if I’m going to love RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, though. But, based on the trailer, it has a shot at winning me over. We’ll see.

MA: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES stars James Franco (from the SPIDER-MAN movies and last year’s critically acclaimed 127 HOURS), and also features Brian Cox and John Lithgow in the cast.

(Behind MA & LS, the gorilla gives a “thumbs up” gesture.)

LS: On August 12 we’ll be reviewing FINAL DESTINATION 5. We’ve reviewed some of these before, and I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the series. The first movie seemed like a clever idea, but by now it’s the same formula over and over. A bunch of people barely escape dying in some horrific accident. But they were supposed to die. So Death comes to get them in various bizarre ways, and we get one weird death after another, until someone figures out how to escape their fate.

MA: I really don’t like the FINAL DESTINATION movies, so I can’t say that I’m looking forward to this one. While the first one was OK, the rest were dumb and forgettable, so much so, that I can’t tell what they were about since I’ve forgotten!

LS: That’s true. These movies are not very memorable. And I don’t expect this one to be any different.

MA: This one’s written by Erick Heisserer, the same guy who wrote the recent remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010), a film I didn’t like, so this doesn’t make me feel any better.

(Gorilla gives a “thumbs down.”)

There are two films coming out the following weekend, August 19, both of them remakes, FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011).

The original FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. In fact, on a recent movie panel, I selected FRIGHT NIGHT as my favorite horror flick from the 1980s.

Chris Sarandon made a very memorable vampire, and Roddy McDowall was terrific as horror host turned vampire hunter Peter Vincent. FRIGHT NIGHT was a horror comedy that worked.

The trailers for the remake look horrible, and since I liked the original so much, it goes without saying that I’m not looking forward to this one. This time around it’s Colin Farrell as vampire Jerry Dandrige, David Tennant (from DR. WHO) as Peter Vincent, and Anton Yelchin (who we saw as Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK reboot and as Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)) as young Charley Brewster, the high-schooler who suspects a vampire is living next door.

(Gorilla holds its nose and shakes its head.)

LS: I wouldn’t go so far as to say FRIGHT NIGHT was the best horror flick of the 80s. I can name a dozen better ones, but it was a really fun movie. This new version looks boring in comparison. I wish we weren’t reviewing it.

The new CONAN movie looks a lot better to me. I always thought the Arnold Schwarzenegger CONAN movies were pretty bad (although they are campy fun), and I wished someone would do Robert E. Howard’s iconic barbarian justice. I can’t say that the new CONAN movie will be much better, but there’s hope. It stars Jason Mamoa, and some people have been complaining because he was on the television show BAYWATCH, but that was awhile ago, and much more recently he was Khal Drago on the HBO series GAME OF THRONES, and I thought he was really good in that. It would be nice to have a really cool CONAN this time around. I hope the script is decent.

MA: Yeah, I remember liking the two CONAN movies from the 1980s with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They were a lot of fun. I haven’t really heard all that much about the remake. I know very little about it other than Ron Perlman is in it. I like Perlman, so if he’s got some decent screen time, this one might be good.

(Gorilla holds up sign which reads, “Hellboy rocks!”)

LS: We sure do have a lot of HELLBOY plugs in these columns. Is he paying you some kind of product placement money or something?

MA: What are you asking me for? Talk to the gorilla!

And we finish August with DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011), a new haunted house movie written by Guillermo del Toro. This one’s set to be released on August 26. It stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, and I’m looking forward to it because horror movies have been few and far between this summer. Hopefully it’ll be good.

LS: Yeah, this one is directed by newcomer Troy Nixey, but Del Toro was one of the writers and producers. This isn’t completely new, though. It’s another remake, this time of an ABC TV-movie from 1973, starring Kim Darby. Back then, a lot of TV movies were pretty damn great, and the original DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a perfect example of 1970s television at its best. It’s the story of people who move into a house that has weird little monsters living in the basement, who come out at night to “play.” The original movie was very creepy and effective, and I hope this new version is as good.

(Gorilla lifts a pan with the word “Labyrinth” printed on it.)

LS: “Labyrinth?” I don’t get it.

MA (rolls eyes): Del Toro wrote and directed PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006).

LS: Oh, I thought it was a reference to the David Bowie movie LABYRINTH (1986).

MA: But that doesn’t make sense. Anyway, nice touch inviting the gorilla.

LS: I didn’t invite the gorilla. I thought you brought him.

MA: I didn’t bring him.

LS: Hey, monkey, where did you come from?  Who invited you?

(Gorilla narrows its eyes and stares menacingly at LS & MA.)

MA: I don’t think it appreciated you calling it a monkey.

LS: That’s what he is, isn’t he?

MA: It’s the way you said it, I think.

(Behind them, CHIMPANZEE looks up from his newspaper, cell phone, and puzzle book.)

CHIMP: We prefer “ape” to “monkey.” It’s more sophisticated and doesn’t have as many negative stereotypes connected to it. After all, that silly game is not called “Ape in the Middle,” and that classic movie series is not called PLANET OF THE MONKEYS.

LS: Ask me if I care! I just want to know who invited him.

CHIMP: I did. I invited them too.

(The door opens and hundreds of chimpanzees and gorillas enter the lab.)

MA: What the—?

CHIMP: Relax! They’re all fans of your column.

GORILLA: We love Cinema Knife Fight and going to the movies. We go all the time.

MA: Who knew?

LS: That explains the bin with the banana peels next to the 3D glasses. Well, that’s it for COMING ATTRACTIONS for this month. Hopefully, August will be a good movie month.


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares