“Heroes and fools are the same thing.”
Directed by: James Sbardellati (credited as John Watson)
Starring: Richard Hill, Barbi Benton, Richard Brooker, Lana Clarkson
In a Nutshell:
Deathstalker is one of many low-budget ’80s sword and sorcery flicks made to cash in on the success of Conan the Barbarian. It’s a cheap n’ sleazy lunk-headed epic that’s spectacularly misogynistic, even by the standards of the genre.
Hunky warrior Deathstalker (Hill) is just riding around, pausing to stab up a bunch of goblins and partake in a little light rape. A witch gives him a mystical quest to recover three magical items – a sword, an amulet and a chalice. It’s not much of a quest, because he’s given the sword almost straight away by a Yoda-like imp, and the other two trinkets are known to be in the possession of Munkar (Bernard Erhard), an evil sorcerer who is holding a tournament for the best warriors in the land. The winner will become inheritor to his throne.
Deathstalker breaks the imp’s curse and it turns back into a middle-aged man, who accompanies him on his journey. Along the way, they also pick up Oghris (Brooker), a handsome young swordsman in crop top leather armour, and Kaira (Clarkson), a female warrior who’s so badass that she doesn’t wear anything on her top half at all.
Turns out Munkar has no intention of relinquishing his power and is using the tournament as a devious ploy to kill off any likely challengers to his rule. As the competitors fall one by one it is left to Deathstalker, protected only by a glistening layer of baby oil, to face Munkar. But the sorcerer has a few more tricks up his sleeve…
Richard Hill sure looks the part as Deathstalker, although his acting is so wooden that he’s in danger of catching Dutch elm disease. While Conan the Barbarian is the reason for this movie to exist, it’s interesting that Deathstalker was released only a few days before the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon hit TV screens. Hill would’ve made a pretty good He-Man, and every time he holds his magic sword aloft I was just waiting for him to bellow “I have the power!”
The best performance in the movie is from Lana Clarkson as Kaira, who manages to keep her dignity despite being topless in almost every scene she’s in. She carries herself with a steely charisma and kicks more butt than Deathstalker, who clearly can’t be arsed with all this hero lark and makes a tough job of every fight he’s in.
Bernard Erhard is totally ineffectual as Munkar, merely using his evil laugh a lot and feeding body parts to his pet slime creature. His only notable trait is his head tattoo, which mysteriously wanders around his scalp from scene to scene. At one point it even switches to the other side of his skull. Magic… or bad continuity?
Sex and Violence:
Deathstalker features more sexual exploitation of beautiful young women than a Prince Andrew birthday bash on Jeffrey Epstein’s Rape Island. For the first hour of the movie or so before we get down to Munkar’s tournament there is barely a scene go by when an attractive woman isn’t getting grabbed, pawed, groped, fondled, having her skimpy costume torn off, or having some sweaty cackling guy trying to force himself on her. Even our supposed hero Deathstalker gets in on the action on a couple of occasions. The grand set piece of all this exploitative sleaze is Munkar’s celebration on the eve of the tournament, which is simultaneously a barroom brawl, topless mud-wrestling contest, and rape party.
The exception to this is Clarkson’s Kaira who, despite having her breasts gratuitously on display for most of the movie, at least can hold her own, and has sex with Deathstalker willingly.
There’s plenty of violence, but it’s mostly badly choreographed fight scenes that usually end with a close up of corn syrup squirting onto a blade, or a severed head flying through the air. The fighting tournament itself is a major disappointment after the build-up. Without pomp or ceremony, the contestants are set against each other in the castle courtyard in front of a mob of drunken, jeering peasants. It’s almost indistinguishable from my home town on a Saturday night after the pubs kick out.
Deathstalker has plenty of cult appeal thanks to its copious sex, violence, bad acting, wobbly special effects and poor plotting. It even does some things well – the set designers did wonders with such a low budget, especially in Munkar’s castle. But for all the T&A and heads flying, it’s pretty dull between all the queasy rape or would-be rape stuff. And if the rape stuff is the most notable aspect of the movie, it makes Deathstalker a very questionable proposition indeed…
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