Alright, I'll admit it—I was one of those dorks who wasted countless hours of my childhood playing Dungeons and Dragons with my fellow nerds. It didn't take long for my obsession with all things fantasy to explode into a geeky gumbo of action figures, novels, T-shirts and movies. In fact, it was a self-declared quest to see every damn fantasy film ever made which led to my renting a video called Deathstalker one fateful Friday night--and the results were less than satisfying.
You see, Deathstalker was nothing more than a half-assed attempt to copy the success of the far superior Conan the Barbarian, directed by John Milius. The budget was sparse, the acting was nonexistent, and the action looked like it had been choreographed by two drunks trying to poke each other in the eyes with sticks. The film was quickly swept away into the dustbin of my mind.
Imagine my surprise when I returned to the video store and found Deathstalker II proudly on display. What the hell? They made another one? Why would anyone who sat through the original 1983 sword and sandals crap-fest bother to rent the sequel? Well, let me tell you why--the box art. You see, back in the day it was common for a large chunk of a fantasy film's budget to be used on the box art. It didn't matter that the photos on the back of the box looked nothing like the action shown on the cover--you had to see it anyway. That was all it usually took to get me to slap down my hard-earned three bucks and walk out with a guaranteed snore-fest in hand. Naturally, I rented the sequel expecting the worst.
By Crom I was wrong! While the first Deathstalker came across as Conan the Barbarian's slightly retarded kid brother, Deathstalker II (which was executive produced by noneother than Roger Corman) is sword and sorcery done Looney Tunes style--complete with wacky chase scenes, pro-wrestling, nudity, goofy musical cues, zombies and some of the best bad acting to grace the small screen. Yeah, the fights still suck--but they are more than made up for by an over-abundance of bare boobies! Throw in a ton of self-referential humor and goofy one-liners that predate the likes of “Xena” by a decade, and you have one helluva film!
The plot involves the exiled Princess Evie of Jafir (Monique Gabrielle of Bachelor Party fame) who has been secretly cloned by the evil wizard Jarek (a villain so bad-ass that he kills at least one of his followers in every scene) and his equally vile queen Sultana. It seems Jarek and Sultana are pulling a fast one on the good people of Jafir by using the clone to carry out their evil rule and besmirching the good image of Evie. Unknown to Jarek however, is the fact that the real queen has been rescued by none other than Deathstalker (John Terlesky, replacing the first film's highly untalented Richard Hill) and the Stalker aims to plant her royal nalgas firmly back on the throne!
In his quest to return Princess Evie to power, Deathstalker must overcome a series of deadly obstacles, including Jerak's hired thugs, a tribe of man-hating Amazons (are there any other kind?) and a swarm of flesh-hungry zombies. Along the way, it's Deathstalker's Bugs Bunny-like antics and endless one-liners that keep the action moving. In one memorable scene, Deathstalker and the queen narrowly escape the clutches of Jerak's minions. “You have to wake up pretty early in the morning to catch the Prince of Thieves!” he boasts. As Jerak's hoards close in on our hero the queen responds, “It is early in the morning!” Yikes.
If you yearn for '80s sword and sorcery cheese, Deathstalker II serves as an excellent antithesis to the overdrawn and self-important fantasy world featured in the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Now where in the hell did I put my 20-sided dice? (Vestron)
Donnie Darko: The DIrector's Cut (FOX), Ice Pirates (Warner), The Motorcycle Diaries (Universal), Saw (Lion's Gate), Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (Sony), The Yes Men (MGM)
Hayao Miyazaki Collection (The Cat Returns, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, Porco Rosso) (Buena Vista), Heat: Special Edition (Warner), I Heart Huckabees (FOX), Whispering Corridors (Tartan Video Asia Extreme)