Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time
Genre: Low Budget Sword & Sorcery
Tagline: An awesome hero. An invincible villian. Time travel to a distant world. It’s gonna be a wild weekend.
Released by: Republic Pictures Home Video
Director: Sylvio Tabet
Plot: Dar, the warrior who can talk to the beasts returns! Now he must stop a power mad tyrant who’s traveled back in time to Earth in the early 90’s. The dark Lord’s mission is to acquire a neutron bomb, so he can return and rule their native land by means of fear and destruction!
Thoughts: The sword & sorcery genre was on an epic roll throughout the 80’s. The phenomenal success of the amazing Schwarzenegger vehicle Conan the Barbarian led the onslaught. The local cineplex, video stores and late night cable were filled with awesome boobs and blood spectacles like: The Sword and the Sorcerer, Barbarian Queen, the Deathstalker series, Sorceress and Don Coscarelli’s cult favorite The Beastmaster, a PG rated film that introduced me to the bloodlust of the Berserkers and gave me a wonderful first look at the gorgeous Tanya Roberts’ bare breasts. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. I’m referring to both the film and… forget it. The 1982 lo-fi masterpiece starred a fresh-faced Marc Singer as the titular character, who’s a virtual Dr. Doolittle of a barbarian in that he has the power to speak and control the animal kingdom. That’s a very handy skill to have in the dangerous world of dark magic, indeed.
Cut to about nine years later and we have ourselves the sequel that I first watched late one night after renting it at the nearby Video Schmideo shop. At the time I wasn’t prepared for the complete and total tonal shift towards campiness that Beastmaster 2 veers off on, but after a recent re-visit I realize that that is exactly what makes it so wonderfully bad. The film opens with a daring escape by Dar (Marc Singer in the role he was born for) from the clutches of the evil Lord Arklon (played with zero restraint by a scene-chewing Wings Hauser). His animal buddies: a tiger, a hawk and two ferrets named Kodo and Podo aid Dar in his action-packed exit from the villian’s lair.
But Arklon isn’t done being evil yet by a long shot. He meets up with a really hot witch (played by Superman II‘s Sarah Douglas) who provides him with the key to a time portal that leads to the mystical land of L.A. She’s been there herself many times and is familiar with their customs, which she proves by speaking to Arklon in the native language when she tells him to, “Chill out, Lord Dude.” The witch also tells him of a weapon called a neutron bomb that the people of this age use for something they refer to as, “A balance of terror.” With the bomb in his possession, Arklon realizes that he would be able to control the people of the wasteland he rules over with the threat of turning it into an even bigger wasteland.
However, nobody counts on the out-of-control teenage daughter of a powerful Senator (played by MTV’s Kari Wuhrer) to run her red Porsche through the time gate before Arklon and the witch can slip through. She rides her sports car into the desert and eventually hooks up with Dar where she develops a crush on the big loin clothed lug. But before any romance can happen she’s captured by Arklon’s minions and is forced to reluctantly serve as a tour guide to L.A. for the Lord and witch when they pass through the time portal together. Dar, his tiger, hawk and ferrets cross through too, only to find themselves in the crazy world of early 90’s Hollywood, where the cops immediately pick them up.
Meanwhile, Kari Wuhrer brings Arklon and the witch to a clothing store so they can update their look and blend in. But blending in is impossible for the over-the-top Arklon as he begins blowing up the store with his crazy green ray gun. Kari Wuhrer slips away and reteams with Dar, who’s just escaped from police custody. Amazing timing! She takes him on a joyride around the city and teaches him how to swear and rock. There’s an awesome eighties driving montage that includes a joke where they pass by a movie theater marquee that has the title Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time on it. WTF?!
While all this nonsense is going on, Arklon and the witch have managed to infiltrate the military base that houses the dreaded neutron bomb and steal it. But Arklon double-crosses the witch and throws her ass out of his ride, so she teams up with Dar and Kari Wuhrer to stop him.
Wait! I forgot to mention that earlier in the film there’s a random scene where Dar fights a vicious green swamp-monster, who turns out to be a creature that can talk to animals like the Beastmaster can. They have a lovely chat about how there are two brothers, one good and one bad, and the good one must kill the bad one in order to save their world. Well, in a surprise twist that Mr. Magoo could see coming from a thousand miles away, Dar and Arklon are the brothers the monster spoke of. There’s a final showdown in the city zoo and I’ll bet you can figure it out from there what happens. Animals to the rescue. Bomb deactivated. Prophecy fulfilled.
The sequel ventures forth into a scenario similar to Masters of the Universe, which could give hardcore fans of the original a bad case of mental whiplash if they’re not prepared. It was co-written by B-movie maestro Jim Wynorski (The Lost Empire, Chopping Mall, Deathstalker II) and he takes a much more comical approach to the material than Coscarelli did. The result is one fun, weird, totally entertaining and completely unnecessary movie that gets by on its own insane charm. The special effects are cheesy, the dialogue is ridiculous, the plot’s a contrived mess, the humor is really corny, but it all magically works in a totally brain-damaging way!
Watching Marc Singer, Wings Hauser and Sarah Douglas treat this crazy script with such earnestness is a pleasure. Also, this is one of the few films that feature the gorgeous 80’s babe Kari Wuhrer, whom I’ve had an enormous crush on ever since I first laid eyes on her in MTV’s Remote Control game show. She’s so adorably cute and displays genuine comic acting talent, even while delivering some lines that are real groaners. She should have been in much more. I think she’s awesome in Eight Legged Freaks where she plays Scarlett Johansson’s MILF mom. I love her.
Seeing Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time is like traveling through one yourself. It’s these kind of ape-shit crazy ideas that seemed to make sense in those hazy post-80’s days, but appear to us now as a prime example of how massive amounts of cocaine can affect your judgment. I’m not complaining though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
COMING NEXT WEEK: I review Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus!!!