Roger Corman never passed on an opportunity to jump on a trend and make a few dollars on it, so he jumped into the sword fantasy trend to co-produce the Deathstalker franchise (amongst others). 101 Films have lovingly given us a set with the first two from the Deathstalker films to enjoy. You won’t be watching these films to see an epic sword fantasy, oh no, you are here for the wild fun, and the Deathstalker films bring that and then some.
Deathstalker tells the tale of a mighty warrior (Richard Hill) tasked to battle the dark forces within a fantastic kingdom. Embarking on a journey to a brutally challenging tournament, Deathstalker seeks its magnificent spoils: the throne of the wicked wizard Munkar, an unstoppable mystical power, and the love of the beautiful Princess Codille (Barbi Benton). But first, Deathstalker must prove himself worthy of his legacy… with danger and treachery lurking at every turn.
Let’s get this out of the way; Deathstalker is a trashy old film; it relies on naked women (sometimes mud wrestling for some reason), fights and humour to get by, and goodness, it gives you them all by the bucketful. As soon as you start to lose interest in the daftness of the film, a well-timed fight scene pops up to perk you up again. But, again, it is typical Corman, keeping you watching with just the bare minimum going on.
At times Deathstalker doesn’t make a lick of sense; moments are lost in the shuffle as Sbardellati just throws things at the screen. This is a messy film that never tries to the right itself into a coherent film. But you are having a good bit of fun, and as we have seen with Red Letter Media, there is a lot of fun to be had to watch the film in a group setting. You will find yourself laughing quite often at Deathstalker; whether or not that is the intention of the film is a different discussion.
Though it does fall foul of that 80s trope of deciding that if there is a main female character, there is a chance she is going to get raped and saved by the hero. It’s an annoyance, but one that was very much of the time and not helped by Deathstalkers’ own liking to be a touch rapey. Considering he is the hero is a confusing trait to add to his personality trait.
If you are after a daft piece of 80s action, then you could do much worse than Deathstalker. Don’t expect too much from it; the smiles will soon follow. It is a typical sleazy 80s flick that does what you would expect it to.
• Commentary with director James Sbardellati, special makeup effects artist John Carl Buechler, and actor Richard Brooker
• Theatrical trailer
• Photo Gallery
• English subtitles
With a bare-bones special feature list, you can tell the work went into the film restoration instead. The commentary track keeps it light-hearted and is easy to listen to as we hear the three have a good old time while rewatching the film. Consider it along the lines of a John Carpenter, Kurt Russell commentary track, and we are onto a winner.
In Deathstalker II, the legendary swordsman (John Terlesky) finds his battle isn’t over yet as he must save the kingdom from the iron grip of the tyrannical Jarek and the seductive Sultana. Together they have ruled the land by creating an evil doppelganger of the lovely Princess Evie (Monique Gabrielle). Enlisted into the service of the real Princess Evie, our courageous hero must now return her to her rightful place of power… but can even the dynamic Deathstalker defeat Jarek?
When a film doesn’t take itself seriously, it allows you to relax and know that even if the film is not the best, at least there is going to be an attempt at a fun time. Deathstalker II brings the fun in spades. It is nonsensical and just plain daft, but you are smiling as you watch it. John Terlesky does well as the recast Deathstalker, and with a constant goofy smile spread across his face, his charisma brings a lot to the role.
His co-star Monique Gabrielle is also having a whale of a time here due to her multiple roles and over-the-top nature; she has a ball playing polar opposite characters. Her Reena the Seer character is almost purposely annoying so that when we see her evil clone. While not the best actress (let’s be honest, no one is especially great in these films), she does enough to win you over.
Deathstalker II obviously had less of a budget than the previous flick, with some of the same sets getting reused. What it does, though, is through everything possible on the screen, massive explosions, zombies (yes, zombies, cos sorcery has got to sorcery), and instead of naked woman mud wrestling, Deathstalker battles an Amazonian woman in a wrestling ring. It is just nonsense, but wonderful crazy 80s nonsense.
This is a film of its time, and thank goodness the 80s were producing madness like this, as we would be all the poorer for not having something as fun with this. Perhaps that is the issue with the cheaper modern films; they try to bring too much seriousness to the role and why films like Sharknado catch that following. They like the Deathstalker films (especially Deathstalker II), are in the know; they are firmly tongue-in-cheek, and if anything, they take advantage of that and try to entertain us even more.
• Commentary with director Jim Wynorski, and actors John Terlesky and Toni Naples
• Theatrical trailer
• English subtitles
There is no photo gallery in the second instalment, but the commentary track is all the more entertaining, much like the sequel itself. You want a fun track in these types of films, and having it in both is great. Imagine watching a film like Deathstalker I or II and having an overly serious commentary track; it wouldn’t mesh well, would it? So by keeping it silly, we can all feel the fun aspect of a series that was meant to be light and entertaining.
Are these Deathstalker films good? No, but they were never meant to be, one was a cheap ripoff of the time that somehow made a profit, and the sequel knew what film it was before it got started, so leaned heavily on it. What they are, though, are fun; you are laughing along and sometimes at the film, but damn if you are not having a good time while doing so.