Runtime: 81 minutes
Director: James Sbardellati
Starring: Richard Hill, Barbi Benton, Bernard Erhard
MPAA Rating: R
Final Score: 5/10
Deathstalker is a mighty warrior chosen to battle the evil forces of a medieval kingdom who sets off on a journey to the most challenging tournament in the land. To the winner will go the throne of the evil wizard, the ultimate mystical power and the love of the beautiful Princess Codille. But first Deathstalker must prove himself worthy of his legacy… and treachery lurks at every turn.
The story of Deathstalker will be familiar to any fantasy fan. A hero must collect powerful magical items and use them to defeat the wizard. It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s simple in concept, but Deathstalker must face different challenges for each item. Unfortunately, some parts of the story are not fully explained, and some scenes are over just as quickly as they started. This doesn’t make the movie confusing, but we also don’t get to experience the world as fully as we could. It feels as if we are rushed through the story.
Deathstalker is the main character, but we never get to know him. We get one line near the beginning about him that is used to set up his character. That is as much character development as he gets. He changes some at the end of the movie, but there is no real set up for the change. It feels as if he is being dragged through the movie by the plot. The same goes with all the characters. Even the main female character, not Barbi Benton, whose character is more of a plot point, is a mystery. We don’t know where she’s from, or what her goals are. We just know where she is going. There are very few moments with characters engaging with each other verbally. And most of those scenes are used to move the plot along, not develop characters. Action is used to show what kind of a person that character is, but we see no motivation behind the acts themselves.
The romance in Deathstalker can be boiled down to one word: sex. And there is a lot of it in this movie. Some consensual, some not. It doesn’t have a purpose for the story, it is just there. Some of the characters are shown by be in love by getting together, but there is no real relationships. Nobody talks to another person except for the plot.
The film doesn’t get to show off dialogue because the characters are not allowed to engage with each other. Many of the lines are cheesy, but they all serve to move the story forward. But they are not bad. Scenes where characters talk to each other are clear and concise. None of the lines feel out of place or useless.
Many of the scenes in Deathstalker are fight scenes. There is a large brawl in the middle of the movie that is fun to watch. But the real star is the sword fights. In fantasy movies, you want exciting sword fights, and Deathstalker delivers. They are quick and the fighters know how to handle a sword. The weapons look solid and the sound design is excellent. None of the fights are boring. Like everything else, they are used to move the story along, which means that the main character must be amazing at it. It is very satisfying watching him dispatch enemy after enemy. There are a few off moments during the fights, but nothing that ruins them.
Have you ever heard the saying: Show, don’t tell? Of course, it’s usually in the context of writing, but it applies here as well. The music in the movie is not subtle. It pounds you on the head to tell you what’s happening. This isn’t a problem during the whole movie, never the less, the music feels like it’s trying to force you to feel emotion for what’s happening on screen.
Very few things were off about the set design. There are no large panoramic shots. This means we get close views of the sets, and they are very well done. Whether it’s a ruin in the middle of the forest, or a lair in the depths of a castle, they all have a sense of age and use. The design of the castle is not exceptional, but the actual set itself looks great.
Conceptual design is where Deathstalker failed in the costume department. A few of the characters have some cool and practical costumes, but many of the characters have clothes that are so impractical that it’s laughable. In a world where fighting is a daily occurrence, none of the characters have appropriate armor. In one case, somebody’s “clothes” is just a cape and underwear. Eventually some of the characters end up just fighting in pants, but that is just part of the story. With the design choice as weird as they are, the actual quality is made irrelevant. Which is a shame because all the costumes, regardless of design, look great.
There is very little magic shown in the movie. Most of the special effects come from fights. Multiple people are beheaded, someone gets an arm ripped off and used as a club, and there are a few shots of blood spraying onto a sword blade. It all feels somewhat cheesy. What magic is done on screen is highly noticeable. They get away with a lot of the magic being performed just off screen. Camera tricks are used throughout to keep the special effects hidden.
This film is hard to take seriously, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like a fantasy movie. The lack of communication between characters forces the action to carry the film, so it doesn’t get a chance to delve into the dramatic. It firmly stays in the action territory throughout. Exciting sword fights mixed with the great sets creates a feeling of adventure while we watch the hero battle his many enemies to claim the mystical items and defeat the wizard.