Like so much of the ‘80s, the 1983 fantasy/sci-fi/adventure film Krull now exists only in the popular consciousness as a tossed off bit on Family Guy. The joke is that a movie called Krull could be a major release at one time, and you know what? They kind of have a point. But it was the early ‘80s, and George Lucas had just proven that hokey fantasy/sci-fi/adventure stories could get you like, all the cocaine. And that was pretty much what the ‘80s was: a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, only instead of marbles, it was cocaine. And instead of a gameboard, it was cocaine. And instead of hippos, it was cocaine. Hang on, I think I’m lost here. Stupid cocaine.
Krull! Right. Okay, beyond the fact that, despite being insane, this was one of the most expensive productions at the time and was positioned as a studio tentpole film, the script leaves truck-sized holes in which professional nerds like myself like to fill with pointless speculation. I guarantee no one involved in the making of this movie put the amount of thought into Krull that I will, which is to say the equivalent of a listless shrug and a mumbled, “Yeah, I guess that sounds about right.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the odder excesses of ‘80s cinema, here’s a crash course on Krull. Krull is the name of a planet, one with two suns and moons, thus borrowing one of the best visual tricks in Star Wars to show the audience that this is not earth. At some point in the past, a giant alien, diffidently called the Beast, showed up in his spaceship/castle the Black Fortress and set about conquering Krull with his army of H.R. Giger leather daddies, the Slayers. The Beast is here specifically to stop the fulfillment of a prophecy that the child of Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa will rule the galaxy, which the Beast doesn’t like because he’s applying for the same job.
The planet Krull has some magic; there’s a guy who can turn into animals, more seers than should be legal, and a giant spider who can be kind of controlled with an hourglass. The Beast displays some abilities that seem like magic, but in fairness, they could be the products of advanced technology or his alien physiology. Even the spider could be understood as a form of technology, the sands of the hourglass serving as tiny sensors or something. Look, I’m not an expert on robot spiders here.
The Beast’s thought processes are murky, since his solution to the kwisatz haderach currently incubating in Colwyn and Lyssa’s ‘nads is to abduct the young lady and try to get her to marry him. Which… what? Why doesn’t he eat her? Or launch her out of a cannon? I don’t even know why I bring this up, except to establish that the Beast is a couple sandwiches short of a picnic, so his logic might not be the most airtight. What I actually want to talk about are the weird monsters the Beast uses as his army: the Slayers.
The Beast is a giant monster with superpowers, so what does he need an army for? Well, it’s possible he is the last of his kind, since he’s the only member of his species we ever see. It’s also possible his life energy is inexorably linked to the Black Fortress, since it immediately starts to crumble (SPOILER ALERT) as soon as he takes a flamethrower to the face. In any case, instead doing shit himself, he sends these obviously inhuman creatures to do his bidding. They’re humanoid, although their heads are bowling-ball-sized globes with a crest of curving spikes. The head shape bears more than a passing resemblance to both the Black Fortress itself and the crown the Beast tries to pawn off on his reluctant bride.
They first display an obviously inhuman ability during a siege, when they lightly run up the sheer sides of the castle wall. They seem to use a variation on this (and show that they either don’t breathe or can breathe underwater) when they rise from a swamp in ambush. And, most bizarrely, when killed, they let out an unholy shriek, the globe of their heads split open, and a large bloody worm thing dives into the earth (skip ahead to :42 in this clip to see what I mean). What the fuck is that worm thing? That’s one of the biggest questions of my youth right there. And it’s a question I’m going to attempt to answer in this article.
As tempting as it might be to dismiss Slayers as mindless drones, we can’t. In the clip above, one clearly demonstrates trepidation. There are other scenes of Slayers holding their spears and shouting like Hell’s Angels at last call. This isn’t the sort of behavior one would expect from a hive mind. They appear to be a relatively free-willed species who have chosen to serve the Beast and are pretty psyched about it.
The film explicitly states that the Beast has already conquered a variety of worlds, and despite the fact that we only ever see him take a single prisoner, there’s frequent talk of him enslaving people. The clue lies in the character of the cyclops. Oh yeah, there’s a cyclops character because fuck you cocaine is awesome. The Obi-Wan character (who I personally think is also from another world, but that’s just me reading too much into tossed-off bits of dialogue) explains that cyclopes were from another world that the Beast conquered and used to have “two eyes, like other men.” They made a bargain with the Beast, giving up an eye to see the future, but the Beast screwed them over and only gave them the ability to see their own deaths.
The interesting part of this is that it implies that human beings exist on a variety of worlds (possibly the result of colonization in the distant past but I need at least another couple beers to go down that path), and might be the only form of life out there except for the Beast and his servants. Setting aside the obvious question (does that mean the cyclopes have spaceships, and if so, where?), it does establish the Beast’s penchant for Faustian bargains, which brings us to the Slayers.
The Slayers seemed to have arrived on Krull in the Black Fortress with the Beast, and so are not a native species. they were likely beings conquered by the Beast early on. They were probably human at one time, entering into a bargain to be spared and possibly for some minor superpowers, including their limited aversion to gravity. The Beast screwed them over by turning them into hideous monsters condemned to serve him for all eternity. The worm thing is their brain, escaping from a doomed body to burrow home to the Black Fortress to be re-incarnated as another Slayer. Even death is no release.
The distinctive head shape is further evidence of the Beast’s design. The crown he presents to Lyssa has the same shape because it marks her as his servant while exalting her above the Slayers. The resemblance to the Black Fortress is also intentional: it’s his way of telling everyone what team he’s on. The fear of enslavement comes from this first deal with the Slayers: those the Beast does not kill are offered the opportunity to become his monstrous fighting slaves, and thus the cycle continues into infinity.
For another bit of unfounded speculation, check out my piece on Alien Nation.