The 1980s was a wildly experimental time for pop cinema, due to all the free-floating cocaine and homoeroticism that had everyone’s brains in loops. Many subgenres rose and ultimately fell in this sweaty, coked up morass. The sweatiest of these subgenres was the brief vogue for laconic muscle-men loping through low fantasy worlds and lopping off the heads of weirdly-dubbed Italian actors. You can say this was because of the success of the awesome Conan the Barbarian, but come on. You know it was the other thing.
Tagline: The Might of the Sword… the Evil of the Sorcerer…
More Accurate Tagline: The Grease of the Pecs… the Creepiness of Everyone…
Guilty Party: Director John… Watson? Wait, that can’t be right. No, it totally is. John Watson directed this, and he’s getting the blame. Could Sherlock not be bothered to read the script? Dammit, Watson, I expect better out of you.
Synopsis: The movie opens with a shot of a series of men jumping out the window. It’s like the filmmakers were trying to warn you about the only way out or something.
Then we move on to the film’s, nay, the entire subgenre’s terrifying preoccupation: rape. Yeah, some guy has a woman tied up and he’s going to assault her. It’s gross, and the one thing that prevents these kinds of movies from being unmitigated fun. I suspect that a lot of filmmakers in the ‘80s grew so angry when their dicks got hard around half-naked and oiled up men, they had to abuse a woman to prove to themselves they were still totally chill, brah.
The woman is rescued first by cavemen and then by Deathstalker, who makes sure to kill everyone within arrow distance. Who is Deathstalker? Some guy who works out, spends most of his money on baby oil, and looks like he was kicked out of White Lion for being too flamboyant. Deathstalker kills the cavemen, while the potential rapist offers to share the woman with him. Alone in this universe Deathstalker has some morals. He kills the potential rapist, then puts the moves on the lady. So, not a ton of morals. Hey, Deathstalker, maybe wait like a day, day and a half, before trying to bang a rape survivor? Just a thought.
Deathstalker heads into a nearby town, but it’s just some tents set up in the forest. The headman is like, “Dude, go kill Munkar the wizard.” Deathstalker’s like, “Fuck that. You think I got my sweet-ass name by assassinating people?” And the headman is like, “Well, obviously. Your name is ‘Deathstalker,’ not ‘Lazy Metal Bitch Who Eats All My Goat.’” The headman is pissed because his daughter, the princess, has been kidnapped by Munkar and taken off to his harem. We cut to the harem, and it’s the most ‘80s thing I have ever seen in my life. It looks like the calm moments right before Duran Duran is going to warn everyone of the dangers posed by the Union of the Snake.
Some guys on horseback menace an old witch in the woods. Deathstalker arrives, kills two of them, but the leader, Kang, turns into a bird and gets away. Kang is also Munkar, and I totally don’t understand. It’s like Munkar is playing a live-action version of Second Life, and occasionally he wanders around as a guy named Kang. Probably because Munkar loves the shit out of Star Trek and wants everyone to know.
The witch tells Deathstalker he needs to get the three powers of creation. Munkar already has two, and if he gets the third, I don’t know, bad shit happens. There’s the Sword of Justice, the Amulet of Life, and the Chalice of Magic. She sends Deathstalker off to a cave to get the sword. This creepy little troll man hands the sword over no problem, so, yeah. Tough quest there, guys. The troll man — Salmaron (brother of Marcmaron) — was cursed by Munkar’s magic, but now that he’s free of the sword, he’s human again. Yay.
Since we’ve gone twenty minutes without an attempted rape, Watson gets antsy. A midriff-baring fencer named Oghris fights with some bad guys while they alternate between fighting and attempting to rape this woman (who is never named and I have no idea what she’s even doing there). Deathstalker shows up and helps kill the guys, so he and Oghris are pals now. Oghris explains that he’s heading to Munkar’s castle because there’s a tournament. Whoever wins gets to be Munkar’s heir. Deathstalker, confused by his feelings for Oghris, decides to go along.
The next night they meet Kaira (Lana Clarkson), a mysterious fighter also heading to Munkar’s place. She also has something against covering her breasts, presumably because they’re afraid of the dark. She pretty much instantly starts banging Deathstalker, and it’s only surprising because it’s consensual. They also appear to still be wearing loincloths, so it might just be dry humping, and they’re both worried her folks will come home early and catch them.
We go to Munkar’s village, and it’s as unpleasant as you think it is. All the fighters have gathered, and they’re mostly the kind of roided up musclemen you expect from this kind of movie. They don’t look like they can move, let alone fight. There’s also a man with a pig head there, because logic has no place in this dojo. There’s a big party for the fighters, and women are just hurled in there like chum over a reef of angry bull sharks. Even Oghris is clearly coercing a reluctant woman. Kaira in a rare bit of modesty (maybe it’s cold) has covered most of her nipples, and she also makes sure no one is coming near Deathstalker.
Munkar then brings out the princess and ties her up for the room of fighters. At this point, I’m hoping Watson was on some kind of watch list. It really paints some of his adventures in a darker context. A big fight over who gets to rape the princess breaks out, and Kaira is the only one defending her for a long-ass time. Finally Deathstalker hauls his ass out of his seat and saves the princess. Hilariously, he has this expression on his face the whole time like he’s not angry with the fighters, he’s just disappointed.
After the party, Munkar turns his weird Dungeon Master into the princess and sends him to Deathstalker’s room to assassinate him. It nearly works, but Deathstalker susses it out in time and kicks the assassin out. In the hall, he runs into Kaira, and turns back into a dude. They kill each other. That’s it for Kaira.
The tournament starts, and it’s some old fashioned killing! One guy even gets hammered into goo! It’s kind of awesome.
That night, Munkar questions Oghris. Turns out Oghris was on Munkar’s payroll the whole time, and his job was to bring Deathstalker to the castle. Let’s ignore that this makes no sense, and move right along. Oghris and Deathstalker then fight, and holy shit, it literally could not be gayer unless they had their dicks in each other’s mouths the whole time. These two are clearly in love, and the fight mostly consists of hurling each other onto the bed. Finally, Deathstalker kills Oghris, and he has a deeper emotional response than when Kaira died. You know, the chick he was banging, who was allergic to shirts and badass enough to enter the tournament: AKA marriage material.
The next day, we have the championship bout: Deathstalker vs. Pig Man. During the fight, Pig Man gets behind Deathstalker and it really looks like he’s raping him. So… you know… hooray for equality? Anyway, Deathstalker kills the Pig Man, and Munkar reveals the last bit of his plan. All the fighters who could challenge him are dead, and now he just has to take out Deathstalker.
While Salmaron (remember him?) leads the harem women in a fight against the guards (which has lots of prison shanking and even more hairspray), Deathstalker hunts around for Munkar. He finds his Second Life avatar Kang first and kills him, getting the amulet. Then out in the courtyard, he finds Munkar. After some illusions, a fed up Deathstalker just marches up to Munkar and demands the chalice. Munkar hands it over and refuses to make eye contact. It’s pretty amazing. Deathstalker hurls the newly powerless Munkar to the crowd to be torn apart, while he calls some lightning to destroy the three artifacts.
Nobody gets that power on Deathstalker’s watch!
Life-Changing Subtext: Sex with dudes can be dangerous.
Defining Quote: Deathstalker: “Heroes and fools are the same thing.” Yeah, the way you do it.
Standout Performance: I’m giving this one to Lana Clarkson as Kaira. While she swordfights as convincingly as a small child with cerebral palsy trying to hang up his clothes, she also has that whole no-shirts philosophy.
What’s Wrong: The rape. Oh, dear god, the rape everywhere. Can’t I just have a fun, stupid fantasy movie please?
Flash of Competence: Make no mistake, this is a highly dumb movie. Some of the fights aren’t bad, the Oghris plot twist was kind of cool, and the whole thing is just insane enough to be distinctive.
Best Scenes: The first scene in the movie when the cavemen show up and interrupt the first rape is kind of amazing. While the guy is sort of gearing up for it, the aforementioned cavemen sneak up on him. And they’re really not doing a very good job of it. If he looked up, or even had peripheral vision, he’d see six or seven hairy dudes just standing there like, “Dude… what’s going on?” It basically takes him until one of them taps him on the shoulder to notice, and then he’s like, “Oh shit, cavemen!”
The first scene also features some gross early ‘80s kissing. I don’t know what it is about kissing, but people didn’t figure out how to do it until the ‘90s or so. There was a period when it basically looked like two people trying to eat pudding out of each other’s mouths and it’s fucking horrifying.
Transcendent Moment: On the night of the weird party, Munkar explains the purpose of the tournament to the gathered fighters. Presumably, they already know as they wouldn’t have shown up otherwise, and we the audience also know, so I don’t know why it’s in there. No, I totally do. It’s for the film’s Transcendent Moment.
So Munkar is like, “I don’t know who will win! I’m dying soon, so whoever takes over will get to rule my kingdom however they see fit. Good or evil will rule.”
And this dude in the middle of the mud ring (oh yeah, there’s a mud ring for wrestling because the director learned everything he knows about women from strip clubs in snuff films), raises his hand and roars, “EVIL!”
That’s right. This guy is just psyched that he will get to rule the kingdom for evil. What’s evil? Who knows, but this guy is putting in the time.
Other than the, uh, troubling gender politics, Deathstalker is a reasonably fun entrant into a sadly-gone subgenre of movie. There was a time when you just needed a couple bodybuilders, some toy swords, Crisco, and loincloths, and you had the makings of a movie. They drifted away, like so much cocaine in the winds.