B-Movie Inspiration: Deathstalker (1983) & Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987)
Having reviewed a variety of science fiction films, I felt that I should try to watch some other genres. Fantasy was the next obvious route, but as we all know, Hollywood has a real bad history with fantasy. Only recently with movies like the Lords of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy, has Hollywood given value to the fantasy genre. Perhaps CGI makes it easier now, but back in the 1980s a storm of fantasy films came out after the success of Conan The Barbarian that gave me plenty of cheese to choose from.
The Deathstalker series was one of those that tried to capitalize on the success of Conan. They even implied in the second film that the two universes were connected. There were a total of 4 Deathstalker moves, all but the first being direct to video. Roger Corman was the producer behind all 4, and I have written many times about how inspiring some of Roger Corman’s work is for a GM. However, I have to say that Corman’s fantasy is far less inspiring than his science fiction or horror. It was not easy watching either of these films.
Deathstalker is the name of a thief warrior that roams the land of whatever world the movie is set in. The first blunder is not establishing a tangible setting. One thing that draws fantasy fans into a fantasy work is the setting. It just makes the assumption you understand it is a generic fantasy world.
The movie starts out very awkwardly. I think it could benefit from better script writing and more dialogue. Maybe a starting monologue to set you up. Either way, you are presented with a confusing chase scene and battle between a captor, his pretty little slave girl captive and some goblin-looking humanoid creatures. In steps what you can only assume is Deathstalker who pretty much kills everyone and saves the pretty girl. I was left wondering why they had the captor? Why not just have the girl captured by the goblins? I really felt like they had a lot of extra fluff they did not need.
From that intro, the movie disjointedly tells a tale of an unwilling hero called to bring three artifacts (a chalice, an amulet, and a sword) together and bring down a despotic ruler named Munkar, who is of course a what?… a wizard. There seems to be common themes throughout the first two films. Magic is evil. Wizards are always taking over kingdoms through nefarious means. And there is always a princess in trouble that hardly wears anything throughout the movie.
The story is disjointed because over and over again it seems like the hero doesn’t really want to “follow his destiny.” However, he seems to find ways to do it anyway. This makes for scenes that are just a little too contrived and silly. The motivation of the hero is haphazard at best, in the beginning. It is during this time, he stumbles across the first two artifacts – the amulet and the sword. These scenes all could have been written better and were just horrible. During his journey, he meets his comedy relief – Salmaron, who otherwise seems totally useless in the story.
At some point (I might have missed it in all the very poor dialogue), Deathstalker learns that Munkar has called all the great warriors to come to the city and fight in an arena to determine the greatest warrior. He is promising his throne to the winner. Of course, this is a ruse as Munkar simply wants to eliminate the greatest threats to his rule and somehow fish out the artifacts he does not have. He only has the goblet at this point. At first, it seems like Deathstalker is not willing to attend this contest but he eventually meets two people – – Oghris, a rogue-ish swordsman with midriff-baring armor and Kaira, a female warrior who wears only a G-string and a cloak – on the road to the city to be in the tournament and he is convinced.
The rest of the movie is fairly predictable. You find out that Oghris is working for Munkar and was sent to convince Deathstalker. Somehow, of course, the great wizard new all along where the amulet and the sword were and just wanted to make sure it got to the city and the tournament. There are a lot of gratuitous scenes with naked breasts and simulated or implied sex, making this film earn its rating of R pretty handily. Through all this, Deathstalker fights valiantly in the tournament, saves the princess and kills the evil wizard.
As bad as this was, I found a little inspiration in it. There were a lot of standard trappings of a fantasy adventure setting and Hollywood, at least back then, commonly repeated them in an attempt to “reinvent.” I think one of the reasons fantasy fails so badly in the movies is because it is always the same old stuff. Despite a lot of that in this movie, there were some interesting subplots.
- Successor Contest: The concept of a contest to determine a king’s successor seemed fairly interesting. An interesting arena adventure could be formed completely around that.
- Weed Out Possible Threats: The subplot of the king actually trying to weed out possible threats with the contest was also interesting. A multi-day arena fight where the contestants are trying to kill not only the players but also the King, eventually.
- Classic Artifact Hunt: Although it was very poorly done in this movie, the classic artifact hunt is a staple of all great fantasy adventures. Never underestimate a well planned out treasure hunt. Throw in mystery, puzzles, and a competing interest and you have the makings of a long term campaign.
Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987)
Where the first one had a more serious tone (which in itself made it comical), the second one was much less so. Where the first movie was just bad, the sequel was just god-awful. The 80s snarky style with the era or setting inappropriate phrases in the script made the movie just an absolute joke. I am the last person to slam the 80s because I loved them, but this just had too much bad 80s stuff in it – the big hair, tight leather, and stupid sarcasm.
This not only seems to ignore the tone of the first film, but also the style in a lot of ways. Deathstalker is a totally different person in this one. He seems younger, smaller and more rogue, less warrior. The story introduces some blond bimbo (and I use that truthfully because the character can only be described as such) who claims to be a seer and a former princess. But the actress could not act herself out of a bag. She seemed to speak in one tone – a very loud one – throughout the movie. And worse yet, she was actually given two roles on the movie – her real self and the doppelganger-copy the bad guy made to take the throne away from her. I suppose she expected other assets to get her through the film.
Again, this was produced by the king of cheese, Roger Corman. He is also the king of recycling stuff because a good portion of the movie is recycled from the first one. From the female mud wrestling scenes to the guy being dragged by horses and the silly scenes of the pig-faced creatures, a good 15 minutes was stuff I had seen from the first movie. He also recycled many of the costumes.
The plot is almost a recycle as well. Deathstalker is “recruited” by the loud-mouth seer named Reena (who is the real Princess Evie) to return her to her thrown with a promise of great reward. Of course, the journey is perilous and the enemies are powerful. Enter the bad guy, Jarek the Sorcerer. What is he? Of course, he is a wizard. But he is also a renowned swordsman (darn multi-classers). As mentioned, he has placed a magically created doppelganger of Princess Evie on the throne. Jarek is also caught up in a love triangle between the doppelganger and this other warrior woman, Sultana. Sultana has some grudge against Deathstalker and allies with Jarek to hunt him down.
An important plot element that I should mention is the doppelganger Princess Evie. To maintain her life, she has to suck the life out of men she seduces. So she is sort of a vampiric succubus doppelganger. This ties into the warrior woman later, who are from a village where Princess Evie has drained it of all its men.
Deathstalker’s journey takes them through a trap set by Sultana’s goons, a zombie infested graveyard (with a tone of Christian symbolism even though this is a fantasy world), and into a wrestling ring with a fierce warrior woman. Yes, a wresting ring, with a very large female wrestler who I would probably know if I was into wrestling but I don’t. They even had ring girls. Also this wrestling match ended up going on forever, I guess to fill the holes the plot left. Thank God for fast-forward.
The movie ends with the two of them infiltrating the fortress of the evil Jarek (more recycled shots of the castle from the first film), and fighting their way to victory. Of course, Deathstalker ends up sleeping with both the real princess and the doppleganger. What great hero wouldn’t? The big finale is a big battle between Jarek’s men and the warrior woman of the village as well as a sword fight between Jarek and Deathstalker, which apparently the stars practiced very hard. I wasn’t impressed.
This one was harder than the first to draw any inspiration from because it was so bad. But underneath the 80s cheese, there were a few small nuggets of ideas:
- Game of Dopplegangers on the Throne: There can be many twists that can be played on characters when there is a doppleganger on the throne. But it is not always easy to role play and avoid the meta-gaming that can occur.
- Life–sucking Succubus Queen – Sucking the kingdom of men-folk would leave a lot of pissed off woman. So much so, that perhaps they would serve as a good ally to bring down such a queen.
- The Enemy of my Enemy – Player enemies teaming up is always a concern. It takes a lot of work to give the players multiple bad guys to be concerned about and then to arrange a situation where they would work together is more work. But in the end, it is all worth it because it increases the player’s motivation to engage in the adventure.