Sunday, June 5, 2016

Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans

   There's a stupid and nostalgic charm to the B section of the sword and sorcery genre. It's junk like this that forms a solid foundation that still supports movies like Conan The Barbarian and Lord of the Rings to this day. It filled out the genre, helping to popularize it in a cheap and accessible way promising trashy and pulpy one-off adventures to 'lands undreamed' of, and if the crappy special effects, poorly choreographed swordplay and grade-A nudity satisfied you, there were probably a half dozen sequels and lookalikes to sate your appetite next time as well. That's the kind of movie Deathstalker II is. Nothing more, nothing less.

   Within the first ten minutes of the movie, there's... quasi-ninja palace guards, an Indiana Jones "tribute", a sword fight, boobs, dumb one liners, a familiar pig-faced thug, a fist fight, more boobs, and an evil woman in a leopard skin bikini. Hoo boy! This is gonna be fun. The sound effects aren't just cheap, they're lackluster cheap. Every punch lands with an identical 'smek', and the metal clangs of your typical sword fight are reduced to 'tik' and 'srek'. Like someone smacking pool cues or butter knives together. The music is hardly better, sounding like it was ripped from an old Nintendo game that itself was a rip-off of say... Zelda, or Final Fantasy. It's a total meta de-evolution of rip-offs and shoddy filmmaking.

   Our hero actually pauses early on in the movie, to think of a comeback to some thugs he's about to fight. I mean, it didn't look scripted. Either he forgot his line, or director Jim Wynorski told him to wing it... and it took him a hot minute to come up with something. Then, not much later, the girl he rescues comes after him, asking for more help. "One rescue a day, that's my policy." Haha, I mean wow! I don't know if that's a great line, or a horrible line, or what- but I loved it. It's so hamfisted, but charming in a silly way. The movie embraces the absurdities and cliches of the genre and just seems to genuinely... get it. I mean, it's still not a good movie, but it seems to be aware of that too.

   At one point, the heroine introduces herself to our hero as they make a daring getaway on horseback. "I'm Deathstalker!" he replies. "Deathstalker?" She asks in disbelief, "Is that your first name or your last?" Isn't that just great? It got a genuine laugh out of me. You'll never catch anyone asking Conan for a last name, or if his last name is actually 'barbarian'. Deathstalker II has a leg up over most others of it's genre. It's both unintentionally and intentionally funny. It doesn't just shoot for simply giggles, it's going for laughs, and at the expense of all the stuff we laugh about anyways. I wondered to myself while watching the previous movie- who named this guy Deathstalker? Did he name himself? Deathstalker II might not answer that, but at least it realizes how absurd of a name it is, freely poking fun at.

   However, for every great exchange like that, there are at least two that just completely fail to stick the landing. When the hero and the heroine curl up together for body warmth at night, she asks "Deathstalker, is that your sword or are you just happy to see me?" Which would've been funny if... you know... it wasn't pitch black and nobody can see anything. I just thought, wow that's dumb. That and they keep using jokes that don't fit the period. Some of these are fine, like when one of the villain's henchmen had to call him, using a magic pond- he could only activate it by throwing coins into it. But he stops to make sure he has exact change. It was such a small but funny gag. Yet, Terlesky is continually saddled with dialog like "Get her a cigar!" or "Do you have to buy your clothes at a special store, or...?" Yeah, it just falls so very very flat. And given how funny this movie proves it can be, that's a real shame.

   The movie also liberally (which is a major understatement) recycles footage from the it's predecessor, making only the thinnest effort (if any) to disguise this fact. Big chunks of the 'rape den' scene is back, and used in three different areas in the movie! Geez! Not to mention several other scenes just tossed in here with no rhyme or reason. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how un-Conan like star John Terlesky is. He lacks the size, muscle, and square-jawed face of your typical barbarian hero. But, then again, he's not playing your typical barbarian hero. His 'Deathstalker' is a 'prince of theives' he says. He's a smartass, not a muscleman. Which is fine with me, he feels more like a Robin Hood, and that's okay.

   He says he enjoys seeing a woman get hit when she deserves it, but proceeds to step in to stop some guys from beating on a woman. He says he only carries out one rescue per day, that's his limit, but then he proceeds to rescue the same woman- again. He's definitely not the sociopath meathead that Deathstalker was in the previous movie. He's just kind of a tool. Lovable, when he's not trying too hard to act. Everyone else in the movie, except for the villain, is just varying degrees of annoying or bland. The villain is fun, but not given much to do sadly. There's plenty of action scenes, which would probably look better if they also sounded better. But they're serviceable and energetic, and I'm being generous because I had so much fun with this dumb movie.
   It's just as trashy, but twice as much fun as it's predecessor. Not to mention WAY cheaper. Like, holy shit, it's a cheap movie. The footage recycling gets old, but the movie keeps it's enthusiastic tone up thoughout. It's never boring, the cast seems to be enjoying the hell out of it, and it's all consistently entertaining. What more could you ask of a movie called Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans. Quick disclaimer by the way, no titans actually duel in this movie. Just throwing that out there. At this point, the genre could easily be called boobs and blades instead of sword and sorcery.

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