Saturday, June 4, 2016


   Would anyone believe I've seen worse? I know that sounds like a flimsy defense, but it's not a defense at all. Movies like Deathstalker, and there's an unholy lot of them, are naturally indefensible. They're just... bad. But why is their brand of bad so appealing and modern day bad is so... un-fun? How can a movie as poorly acted, cliched and as downright stupid as Deathstalker be so ridiculously entertaining? Well, I can't speak for any other flicks, but Deathstalker is almost self aware. Almost. If I didn't know better, and I do... I'd be certain it was. If anything, it does have a much needed sense of humor, and while it's far from high brow stuff, it fits the movie really well.

   The other thing I appreciated about Deathstalker is the look of the movie. I've seen sword & sorcery flicks that looks like they were shot entirely inside a cardboard box, with backgrounds illustrated in glorious... crayon. Deathstalker has adequate sets and plenty of colorful visual elements. There's creative lighting, fog, mist, decent costumes, and all kinds of stuff. Some of the sets later on in the movie could've easily been home to a Conan sequel. Some of the action scenes are fun, but it's important to realize fun doesn't mean good. On a technical level, the movie is competent. Nothing more. But, it manages to be fun because while they may not be skilled or well-trained, the actors and stuntmen put a lot of energy and physicality into everything.

   Deathstalker is one of the first Conan rip-offs, and it was just as trendsetting as Conan, paving the way for dozens of subsequent cheap, like-minded, T&A filled, sword & sorcery cash-in's. Most of them had amazing poster art, and often by prolific artists like Boris Vallejo. Rather than his art capturing the feel and visuals of the movies, the movies seem locked into a struggle to live up to the poster art. They rarely do, if ever, but it's endearing in it's own way. Highest quality poster art married to super cheap, silly, and trashy movies. It's terribly deceptive, but genre fans are completely aware of this, and they embrace it. It's ridiculous, but it's become a genre staple now and people even get nostalgic over it.

   Bad genre movies nowadays have the most boring cover art, lacking style, effort, and creativity. The same can't be said for the bad 80's movies of the genre. Also, the practical effects of the era, no matter how cheesy or unconvincing they were, especially in low budget dreck like this, add to the stupid and almost endearing charm of the movie. Deathstalker, for all it's painful acting and paper thin plotting, is one such movie. Stupidly endearing. My biggest point of contention is one that can't really be overlooked or forgiven in 2016. The movie is mindblowingly misogynistic. I hate throwing that word around, and I think it's become an 'easy button' in arguments these days... but Deathstalker definitely has an ugly misogynistic core to it.

   In the movie's centerpiece scene, set in a big recreational den of the movie's main villain- the sorcerer Munkar, the place is overflowing with warriors, thugs, and barbarians, all having a good time. Which consists of brawling, eating, drinking... and raping. For every one woman that seems to be enjoying herself, there's like... ten that are being raped or forced to do stuff. Granted, none of it is graphic or explicit, but it's still uncomfortable. Only made worse by the fact that the hero simply doesn't give a shit. Which fits his personality quite well to be honest, but still. The whole set becomes a big rape den.

   I wish I could say it's a sign of the times to play it off for laughs, but genre heroes- even back then, used to step in and try to stop stuff like that. If they couldn't, they certainly wouldn't approve of it. Even in Kull The Conqueror, the cheesy 90's misfire, the hero said "I don't take women against their will." Deathstalker wouldn't either, but only because it'd be too much of a hassle. See, he rescues a damsel from rape at the hands of two separate attackers consecutively, and then proceeds to pin her to a tree and try to "make love" to her. When he gets distracted and the girl runs away, he has an "Oh shucks." moment and carries on. Yes. The hero of this movie is a freakin' sociopath. Christ. Oh well. Moving on. For everything that goes wrong in Deathstalker, it finds an equally absurd thing to shamelessly entertain it's viewers with.

   Usually that means boobs and ass, but every so often it means fighting and gore or a mutant pig-faced thug, a bit of sorcery, some cheap special effects, or... well, more tits and ass. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Nevertheless, there's enough of a fantasy feel and atmosphere to the whole movie that it'd be easy to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It's extremely far from a good movie, but it's semi-self awareness and it's low brow humor make it impressively bearable. Deathstalker is stupid, guilty, dirty, cheap fun. It's completely trashy, but it's still entertaining, colorful, energetic and never-dull nonetheless. A prime beer and pizza movie. I've heard that Deathstalker II is even better as it fully embraces a sense of humor. Here's hoping people are right...

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