August 14, 2011
As an obsessed Conan the Barbarian fan — the books and the Arnold Schwarzenegger films — I’m a little surprised that I’ve never seen James Sbardellati’s Deathstalker before. The same goes for Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans, Barbarian Queen, and The Warrior and The Sorceress – all of which are being released by Shout Factory on August 23 as part of their Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection.
The King of the B’s, Corman, isn’t the first low-budget filmmaker to “borrow” elements from popular films, but he’s certainly the one who did it the best — creating several features which were engaging enough to stand on their own (think Joe Dante’s Piranha, for example, which was released post Jaws). Following suit, Deathstalker uses elements of the 1984’s Conan the Destroyer — right down to parts of the score and several key scenes revolving around a powerful wizard, Thoth-Amon, who has been renamed Munkar for Sbardellati’s movie. As shameless as that may seem, Deathstalker manages to add a few of its own hilarious and entertaining touches in the form of some serious fromage.
Right from the film’s opening title credits, which features a heavy metal style font, you know you’re in for a treat. Deathstalker (Rick Hill) is a lusty warrior who stays busy sexing up the local wenches — and there are many in this movie. He wields a wicked sword, resembles a homoerotic jazzercise instructor, and is summoned by a witch who is trying to thwart the evil magic of Munkar. She needs Deathstalker’s brawn to save the day, and he makes his way to the sorcerer’s castle to do the deed.
Along the way, our hero meets other travelers — including a busty and near topless female fighter who endures the usual sword/penis jokes, but doesn’t seem to mind — and discovers that there’s a tournament happening that will pit the best combatants against each other. There’s also something about a princess and three powers, but they’re not nearly as important as the bacchanal scenes and a hysterical — but almost uncomfortable — gender-bending rape scene, which you just know will forever haunt Deathstalker and find him frequenting massage parlors in search of submissive ladyboys for the sequel. There are also many look-alikes in this movie, including an Elliot Gould/Yoda impersonator, Scott Baio on roids, and an Anton LaVey reject. By the end of the film, Sbardellati wants to remind us of another guy carrying a blade and wearing a loincloth. His final frame seems to pay homage to He-Man, which definitely elicited a giggle out of this reviewer.
If you like sword and sorcery films and can appreciate the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, Deathstalker is an entertaining way to spend a few hours. Shout Factory timed their DVD release of the movie — along with the 3 others previously mentioned, which are included in this double-disc set — with the Conan the Barbarian remake that hits on August 19. Deathstalker would be a fun way to keep the barbaric, good times rolling after you leave the theater. Deathstalker II is directed by the mammary-happy Jim Wynorski, with The Warrior featuring David Carradine, so there’s surely more to look forward to in this sword-savvy set. You also get the usual dandy Shout Factory features, including photo galleries, trailers, audio commentary, and more. Pick up a copy here.