The Beastmaster (1982)

Okay, so I know I haven’t posted much lately and now that I am it isn’t even an Indian movie, but boy do I have a treat for you. Well…you might not see it that way, but I did ask over at the Facebook page if I should post it and one responsive reader said “Heck yeah, yaar!” with nobody else objecting (thanks Joelette for enabling me!). Truly in my opinion The Beastmaster is crying out to be Bolly’d up. It is Dara-Singh-sword-and-sandals meets Manmohan-Desai-clever-animals meets Hindi-cinema-separated-families meets Wadia-Brothers-fantasy-magic; but made in Hollywood so only half the melodrama and no songs, with possibly slightly better production values.

I stumbled across this on late-night television sometime in 1983, a depressed recent college graduate wondering desperately what she was going to do now that she was supposedly grown up (I have since learned not to worry about it). I’d missed the first hour or so and had no idea what was going on but it didn’t matter. I could not look away. Luckily it was on again the next night and I happened to catch it at the beginning, so naturally I had to watch it since I’d missed half of it the night before. The TV station must have paid a small fortune for it because they ran it about five times every day for months after that, and I can’t explain why I watched it over and over and over again.

Or maybe I can.

We open with three scantily-clad witches with scary heads but the bodies of supermodels. This would normally cause me to roll my eyes, but I know by now that there is plenty of equal-opportunity man-candy to come, so I don’t really mind. The “ladies” are peering into a magic cauldron, through which they are watching a sleeping woman. They are minions of High Priest Maax (because Max is too ordinary) (Rip Torn, who has gone off the rails a bit since this was made) and they have unfortunate news for him.

The woman being observed is the Queen of Aruk and she is pregnant with King Zed’s unborn son. The witches inform Maax that this son will one day kill him, and Maax vows that the child instead will die that very night. They are interrupted by King Zed himself (Rod Loomis) and his guard Seth (John Amos, hooray!), who has heard that Maax is planning a child sacrifice that night. Zed banishes him and his “heathen religion” (they worship the god Ar, which makes me giggle and think of “Talk Like A Pirate Day”) to the lands outside the kingdom of Aruk which are ruled by the barbarian Jun horde.

Before being escorted out, Maax informs Zed that it is his child who will be sacrificed that night, but for some reason Zed spares his life and lets him go. (This is not a movie built on logic.) Later that night, as Zed and his Queen sleep, one of the witches creeps in with a cow (actually, it’s a bull to begin with but I don’t want to quibble over petty continuity issues), paralyzes them with a bright blue liquid, and transfers the baby from the Queen’s belly to the cow’s, killing the Queen. She takes the cow away into the forest and then cuts the baby out of its belly, which seems needlessly complicated to me and why drag the cow bull cow into it at all? Poor thing.

The baby’s little hand is branded with the symbol of Ar, as Maax had instructed, and the witch raises a knife to kill him. But a brave if foolhardy man has stumbled across the horrific scene and he intervenes, managing to kill the witch (or at least make her go away). He takes the baby home to his small farming village and names him Dar.

Dar grows up learning to fight with swords, and when he is about ten he and his father realize that he has a gift for communicating telepathically with animals, in this case a bear. I am sort of disappointed that it isn’t a man in a moth-eaten bear suit, but you can’t have everything.

Then one fateful day the village is attacked by Juns and Dar (Marc Singer), now a grown man, is knocked unconscious during the battle and dragged away from the battlefield by his faithful—and fatally wounded—dog Todo. He awakens next to his dead dog to find the village razed to the ground and all the inhabitants killed, with an eagle perched at the gates looking at the carnage.

He gathers up all the bodies and puts Todo into his father’s arms while I sob. After cremating his friends and family, he sets off to avenge their deaths on the Juns, armed only with a fringed leather skirt, boots, gauntlets and man-purse; and his sword and his father’s kapa (a jointed boomerang-type thingie with sharp blades). The eagle goes with him.

He soon picks up some other companions, however, beginning with a mischievous pair of ferrets who steal his murse one day. Chasing them, Dar falls into some quicksand and the ferrets help get him out. One of them falls in too, and is rescued in turn by Dar.

He names them Kodo and Podo and takes them along in his bag. He has discovered by now that he can see through the eyes of the eagle when he wants, and he soon has a vision through another pair of eyes. Continuing on his path, he discovers that some Juns are tormenting a black tiger tied to a stake. Aided by the eagle and the ferrets, he rescues the tiger after a thrilling fight sequence with the Juns (seriously, it’s thrilling).

The tiger comes with them too, and is named Ruh.

As Dar himself says: in his companions, he now has his eyes, his cunning and his strength.

The only thing missing is a girl! and fear not, people whose need for eye-candy is still unfulfilled (I have animals and Marc Singer, and am quite happy). Dar and his pals run into two girls bathing in a waterfall, and Dar is smitten with one of them on sight. Raj Kapoor might feel at home, except they don’t bother even with a transparent sari.

After scaring her with his tiger (not a euphemism) he discovers that she is a slave girl to the priests of Ar (Maax and his gang) named Kiri (the lissome Tanya Roberts, whose acting however is painful to watch indeed) (to be fair, good acting is not a hallmark of this film any more than logic is).

She refuses to go with Dar, saying that her family is also held captive by the priests and runs off. I wonder if it’s maybe because he’s forced a kiss on her and been quite grabby, but she doesn’t seem that smart. Curious and still smitten, he decides to follow her trail with his animal pals. Next up: a verrrry creepy bunch of skeletal people-eating pod creatures under a tree hung with pulsating Chinese lantern-type things.

They are saved from being boiled in a big cauldron and eaten themselves by the eagle; evidently the pod creatures worship eagles, and give Dar a talisman as they let him go. He and his companions finally reach the fort of Aruk and its distinctive pyramid (Maax’s headquarters). Maax is clearly in charge of things now, and the road to Aruk is not paved with good intentions.

He is still conducting child sacrifices and terrorizing the people of Aruk with the help of his witches and some really creepy zombie death guards. Can Dar and his anipals rescue Kiri and the rest of Aruk from Maax? Who is Kiri anyway? Will Dar discover that Aruk is in fact his home, and his rightful kingdom? Are any of his family, like his father Zed, alive?

If you are still here reading this, you will likely love The Beastmaster as much as I do. Believe me when I say there are still plenty of twists and turns to come. Lots of it is pretty crazy and nobody wears much in the way of clothing, not that I am complaining.

This is not a film for people who want their cinema to consist of good acting and a realistic plot with a message, but then those people mostly don’t read my blog anyway. I have seen it probably fifty-plus times in the last thirty years, and it never gets old. If there is a heaven, it will have a Hindi version of this.

Some casting parallels are obvious: Zeenat as Kiri, Sheroo the Wonder Bird as the eagle, and these:

but who would you like to see in it?

Beware: The Beastmaster is an addiction, but like many addictions, it is also a completely visceral pleasure-fest.

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47 Comments to “The Beastmaster (1982)”

  1. Yay! Good to see some love for Beastmaster!

    Amrish Puri would have been soooo perfect for this movie. It could have beaten Indiana Jones to the villainous punch! Just one of the many lost opportunities in cinema history …

    I know it’s been a few years since I saw this, but how did I forget about Sheroo the Wonder Bird? I guess I’m always distracted thinking about what the weasels have gotten up to in that pouch. “Not a euphemism.”

    And now I can’t help wondering what would have happened if Raj Kapoor had directed a film for Roger Corman, king of the gratuitous skinnydipping scene. I’m going to have nightmares.

    • Oh yes Amrish would have made a good Maax as well. Probably better than Ranjeet, although I prefer Ranjeet any day :)

      I admit, sometimes I am jealous of those little weasels (ferrets? what’s the difference?) in his man-purse!

  2. WOW. This is the most amazingly Desai-like thing I have ever heard of in Hollywood! Must see.

    I loved the idea of the murse ferrets before Karen kind of ruined them with her innuendo :D

  3. Wow!!! I’ve never heard of this movie but it sounds like an absolutely MUST-SEE film. At least for the likes of me, who couldn’t care too much about logic or good acting if there’s so much fun to be had.

    And your review is absolutely hilarious! Have been ROFL all through. :-)

    It does indeed sound perfect for a Bollywood B-movie production.

    Dara Singh is the obvious choice for the lead role (even his name here is Dar). Although, if he were not available, Feroz Khan or Dharam would be reasonable options to consider.

    Manmohan Krishna (or Nazir Hussain) as the person who saves Dar from the witch.

    Kiri would be, like you say, Zeenie. Or Parveen Babi. But since I’m dating my characters to the 1960s – and we’re talking of Dara/Feroz/Dharam, Mumu seems quite an appropriate foil as Kiri).

    King Zed could be Prithviraj Kapoor. Or maybe Rehman (the role may not suit him but I’d like to see him in some role).

    The guard (John Amos role) could be Nazir Kashmiri (or would that be too prominent a role for him?)

    Maax is almost asking to be Jeevan. But if he has too much of an action role, Ajit may be a better option.

    I’d like to also see Sudhir and Shyam Kumar in there somewhere – I’m sure we can fit them in. A costume drama of this sort without Shyam Kumar is sacrilege. :-)

    Ok, so that would be my Bollywood cast.

    Once again, fantastic review of what sounds like a very enjoyable movie. Thanks. :-)

    • Totally fun :) I will try to provide it for you if you can’t find it (although the dvd has “extras”!)…

    • The guard looks like he gets into some fights so he can’t be Nazir Kashmiri. Kashmiri could be a priest if the film has one. Shyam Kumar for the guard!

      Jeevan definitely for the villain. And Helen! for Kiri.

      Moolchand can play the bear.

  4. The title sounds like some new exercise machine to help one drop some mega-pounds. Now, it’s stuck in my head to the tune of `Gunmaster, Gunmaster, I love you, you’re mine…Guuunmaaaaaster G9.
    Sounds like a fun movie, I know what I’ll request the interlibrary loan system to find soon.
    Raj Kapoor did do away with the sari too, in RTGM, I think.
    Thanks for sharing this one too.

  5. “Not a euphemism” is totally my new catch-phrase!

  6. I guess it has to do with age and frame of reference, but the idea of ANYONE in the world not having heard of Beastmaster until jut now is more or less unimaginable to me. Anyone who has ever watched The Sopranos, True Blood, Sex and the City, Six Feet under — they owe everything to Beastmaster, the movie that built HBO (insert “Hey, Beastmaster’s On” joke). I bet my friends and I watched it…jeez, i don’t even want to guess. Great review!

    • I think TBS was also called “The Beastmaster Station” or something like that :D I read someplace that Beastmaster is the most televised movie ever except for Gone With The Wind.

  7. Indeed this is a perfect B grade Bollywood movie kind of stuff. Indeed it has been a big lost opportunity for Bollywood.

  8. This sounds like a great film. A Hindi version would be heaven, really. I’d opt for Ranjeet over Amrish Puri. Helen, Faryal and Bindu as the 3 witches. No one can replace Dharmendra, specially in that costume.

    • YES!!! We have our three witches! Although Bindu might have to lose some weight. Maybe Padma Khanna instead. I’m with you on Dharam, he’s the only Dar for me.

  9. Oh!! Oh, I WANT to see this. Why on earth didn’t they remake this here in India? It screamed for a Bollywood re-do. :-(

  10. “I am sort of disappointed that it isn’t a man in a moth-eaten bear suit, but you can’t have everything.”

    That is really sad!Such high production values and then they save money at the wrong end!
    A remake in the bollywood of this age should have hrithik.
    but I also would prefer it to be in the 60s or 70s like raja and banno!

    Thank Go, the hero and heroine are more cold-resistant than the villains and other old people! ;-)

    So many lovely animals!!!!! *sigh*

    • Honestly it’s probably the animals that make me love it so much. Although I couldn’t see why they had to dye the poor tiger black. Marc Singer said that the tiger’s trainer told him to remember that Kipling (the tiger’s real name) “was a cat, and Singer was a mouse” and that working with it “was a religious experience every day”. And he loved the ferrets, said they were just so much fun and very well trained.

  11. Hi Greta,
    I loved this (great caps) even though I would place myself among those “people who want their cinema to consist of good acting and a realistic plot with a message, but then those people probably don’t read my blog anyway”!! That was a nice comment because it shows that you too enjoy that – even if message-brimming cinema cannot oust zany productions which are welcome from time to time.
    Hm, and one day I’ll have to do something for Raj Kapoor whose reputation is so often associated with his love of wet saris; how come the many more others that have followed suit (and were certainly less able film-makers) aren’t branded in the same way?!
    cheers!

    • It is nice to have balance in one’s movies :)

      I think that Raj Kapoor’s love of the wet sari is talked about more than others who made equally lascivious films (Sawan Kumar Tak eg) because he’s F***ING RAJ KAPOOR :D

  12. Weeeee! Beastmaster! Between this and the V miniseries, I had a huge Marc Singer crush back in the day. And of course the animal co-stars made this even more awesome; although I remember a horrible rumor at the time that the tiger died from the dye. Tanya Roberts, well, it seemed like she was in *everything* in the 80s. Anyway, I look back on films like this and think, “Why, OF COURSE I love Indian films!” A 70s Hindi version would have been fantastic, but I also think it could be reworked as a modern Telugu historical/socio-fantasy (a la Magadheera), where the hero-animal bond still appears occasionally. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLFh-26VHYw#t=2m40s

    • Ha ha, I have that same thought when I rewatch some of my Hollywood favorites: well OF COURSE I love Indian films! It’s so obvious why!! I don’t really watch Telugu cinema (yet) but from what I see of it you are right (I am sure Temple and Heather from cinemachaat would agree too) :) I remember that rumor about the tiger too, but I don’t think it is actually true. I hope not. The liner notes say that the director really wanted to cast Demi Moore in Tanya’s part (Demi was 18 years old at the time), but the executive producer insisted on Tanya. Also, the director wanted Klaus Kinski for Maax but they couldn’t agree on salary, so he settled on Rip Torn instead.

      • Memsaab – Director SS Rajamouli has a nice commitment to the hero/animal bond and as Joelette notes, Magadheera is an excellent example. Tigers! Now, I watched Beastmaster many a time back in the day and perhaps that, along with opera and Jackie Chan, was the ideal preparation for Masala! It all makes sense now….Temple

        • Absolutely with the opera too (I even wrote a post about the parallels between them here) and for me (although I appreciate Jackie Chan) it’s Bruce Lee all the way. I LOVE HIM.

  13. The 80s had some fab movies (The Princess Bride, Ladyhawke, etc.) in the fantasy genre which is my excuse for why I haven’t seen The Beastmaster yet. :-)

    I think we’re missing Pran in the desi remake – perhaps he could be the farmer/adopted father?

  14. Actually, the reason it was on so often was that there was a rule in 1983 that no hour of the day could pass in which Beastmaster was not airing somewhere. Memsaab, this is brilliant. It never occurred to me how similar this was to a classic M. Desai masala film. All the elements are there. I hope your prayers are answered and a Hindi remake is forthcoming.

  15. I pretty much watched it every day in 1983, at least after I graduated in June from college :D And seriously, when I look at all my favorite Hollywood movies, I realize that each and every one of them either has been remade in Hindi or ought to be. At least I am consistent!!!

  16. Hey, I saw that you follow a few Bollywood blogs that I also follow!

    Check out my blog at: http://bollyhooha.blogspot.com ,

    Where I poke fun at the Bollywood and give attention to those Zero Screentime Walas!

    Cheers
    The Bolly Hood

  17. WOW Marc Singer was SOOOO cute back then…somehow this reminds me of a classic 1963 Bollywood film called Shikari, starring Ajit and Ragini, the youngest of the Travancore sisters trio…

    • Ha! I love Shikari too (even managed to get it subtitled!), although they don’t have much in common besides the fantasy element and animals. At least I am consistent :)

  18. This is the type of film that I LOVE you writing about but will not be very happy viewing it. On the other hand this review is such a delight that I don’t think I need to watch the film itself.

    I agree with your casting but I think Amrish Puri would be great as Maax (well he is a classic no?)

    And suprisingly not only we do share a liking to Barbara Cartland but we love Bruce Lee too – I never know there is another person who can equally enjoy both.

  19. I wonder if Bruce Lee read Barbara Cartland? Or if she enjoyed his films too? :D

  20. A young Marc Singer = Chord Overstreet from Glee… =D

  21. I have yet to see BEASTMASTER, but I did meet Marc Singer once. I really should get this film

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