Friday, April 1, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: DEATHSTALKER III: THE WARRIORS FROM HELL (1988)

Damn, we are riding our horses headstrong into April as we enter week 4 (!) of our examination of CONAN THE BARBARIAN rip-offs.  Since it is April 1st, I thought about doing an April Fool’s joke where I tell you DEATHSTALKER III is the best of the series, but a successful gag should always have a hint of believability in it.  Yes, as they say, all good things must come to an end.  DEATHSTALKER delivered in the action.  DEATHSTALKER II delivered in the comedy.  Sadly, DEATHSTALKER III only delivers in the “this ain’t nearly as good as the first two” category.

Screenwriter Howard Cohen – no doubt fuming that a DII got made without him – returns to the series to continue the adventures of our titular hero.  Deathstalker (John Allen Nelson) seems to be living the peaceful life now, hanging out at a Renaissance Fair, er, his village where everyone is happy.  And he hangs out with kids for some reason.  Oh crap, not again – this place is fixing to get wrecked. Sure enough, the baddies come riding out of the woods (these villagers never seem to hear them coming) and storm the village.  They are looking for Carissa (Carla Herd), a young woman who possesses ½ of a magical crystal.  She has come here because she believes wizard Nicias (Aaron Hernan) has the other half, but he vaguely tells her to go “to the South” to find it.  So a bunch of villagers are killed, Nicias disappears in a puff of smoke (thanks for helping, dude), and Carissa escapes with her savior Deathstalker.













Setting up camp for the night, Carissa shows Deathstalker the stone and mentions how it will produce “a city built of treasure” when combined with its other half.  She also mentions having a sister who died for it.  Oh, crap, dude is totally emotionally invested now.  This is good because Carissa is quickly killed by some men (that’ll teach her for refusing to sleep in Deathstalker’s tent) and she gives Deathstalker possession of the crystal. He escapes the men once again and runs into the traveling caravan of Princess Elizena (Herd again), Carissa’s stuck up twin sister.  She is on her way to the North (I thought we were going South) to marry Troxartas (Thom Christopher).  What she doesn’t know is ol’ Trox is an evil dude and is marrying her to get the other half of the crystal (which she doesn’t have).  Anyway, Deathstalker proves his charm by pretending to have sex with her when Troxie’s men come around and she calls him something like a ruffian.  Gee, I wonder if these two will work it out.

Troxartas or Joan Crawford?


Wait a sec…didn’t this film’s title mention something about Warriors from Hell? Where are those guys?  Oh, here we go, Troxartas decides to use some of his magic to resurrect some dead warriors to hunt down Deathstalker.  Okay, business is about to pick up as an Army of the Dead is gonna be awesome right?  Trox conjures up his spell, the earth begins to tremble and – ouch – the “zombies” burst from some Styrofoam tombs looking no worse for the wear.  Seriously, you go in thinking BLIND DEAD-esque rotting skeletons and you get rejects in community theater Knight outfits, bandages and a little greasepaint.  Meanwhile, Deathstalker tries to steal a horse from a frizzy hair woman who has a hot daughter Marinda (Claudia Inchaurregui).  Can you see where this is headed?  After a filling meal of only potatoes, Deathstalker and the girl get it on in the barn.  She obviously wasn’t listening when mom said, “There’s only one thing a man like that wants. Careful!”  The next day the villains come a knocking (seriously, they knock politely on the woman’s door) and Deathstalker escapes again with Marinda pointing the way toward Troxartas’ castle.  Anyway, Deathstalker hooks back up with Elizena, but she sees that he has the stone and thinks he killed her sister so she splits. Within minutes she is nearly raped by some hooligans and “saved” by her future husband Troxartas.  Deathstalker heads off to his castle to save her.  I’ll let you figure the rest out from here.

Man, did I get the short end of the stick or what?  I guess this is Tom’s payback for him having to do the third BEASTMASTER and TV pilot.  It is not like DEATHSTALKER III is some horrible, painful film to watch.  It isn’t and I never found myself bored with it during its 85 minute run time.  It is, however, just missing that pop, that sizzle, that anything that makes the best Corman productions stand out.  Like the DEATHSTALKER shooting locations (this one moved shooting to Mexico), this film is all over the map.  John Allen Nelson fills Deathstalker’s loincloth this go around, but he lacks Rick Hill’s muscles and John Terlesky’s natural charm.  Actually, he seems more like Robin Hood than Deathstalker.  Nelson is a decent actor and delivers the funny lines well enough, but he seems like he should be heading a 80s teen comedy and not a Deathstalker film.  I also had to shake my head at Thom Christopher as the bad guy.  He frequently dips into this New Yawk accent and looks exactly like Uncle Leo from SEINFELD.



The locations are nice but completely undermined by some really choppy editing and horrible sets.  Seriously, wait until you get a look at the castle as it looks like it should be a low-rent carnival spook house.  No joke, I fully expected the doors to pop open and a bumper car to shoot out at any moment. By far the biggest disappointment though is the confrontation with the “Warriors from Hell.”  I’m not kidding when I tell you this – the big “battle” promised on the back of the VHS box involves Deathstalker confronting the undead around a campfire and asking them not to fight him and instead turn on Troxartas.  They think for a second and agree they are being exploited, living dead and all.  So he never fights them! Classic.

The film does offer a few moments of amusement, but you’ve got to do all that digging on your own.  I chuckled when I heard the recycled theme from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.  I laughed at how Nicias disappears in the first ten minutes, only to zap into the castle in a ball of light right into the arms of guards in the finale. There is also some hilarious fight choreography that looks more like an abstract ballet piece than a fight.  My personal favorite bit though was the promise of a magical city with streets of gold when the stones are put together.  They do that and – BAM – the place looks exactly the same.  Maybe that is why Deathstalker splits so quickly? Because he realized he had been scammed and was seeing something that was a total misrepresentation of what he was told it would be.  Damn, I wish I had his intuition.

Moments of Clarity:

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