Sunday, April 3, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: DEATHSTALKER IV: MATCH OF TITANS (1991)

As mentioned in our earlier reviews, screenwriter Howard Cohen usually had a hand in every Roger Corman produced CONAN THE BARBARIAN rip-off. Cohen also directed several films for Concorde (including the SATURDAY THE 14th series and the amusing SPACE RAIDERS), so it seems fitting that Corman would bestow the honor of rehabilitating the DEATHSTALKER series to the man who created it. Ha, who am I kidding?  More than likely Corman called up Cohen and said something like this, “I’ve got a castle set in Bulgaria, Rick Hill’s phone number, a Boris painting and $50 bucks. Can you have a fourth DEATHSTALKER movie for me by Wednesday?” Yes, the series that had D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate) written all over it was given one last chance at life.

DEATHSTALKER IV opens with the most ominous of signs – narration and footage from the earlier films. When we finally get new footage, Deathstalker (Rick Hill, reprising the role from part one) is saving a young girl from some lionmen.  See those bad ass lionmen on the VHS cover over there?  Well, let’s just say they don’t look like that in the film.  Take a look:


Anyway, he saves the girl and then offers to take her to her village.  In a real gutbuster, after riding through the woods the girl says “there is my village” and it is literally three guys in a tent hanging out by a stream.  Of course, these guys will bestow some knowledge on our boy DS. Seems Cohen actually watched part three and tries to weave some continuity between films as Deathstalker is on a quest to find his friend Aldilar from the village after they got separated during that big battle (scenes from part three’s opening attack are shown).  Why does he want to find him?  Well, because they accidentally switched swords during the mêlée.  Really! He learns his buddy was last seen at the castle of local ice queen Kana (Michelle Moffett) and decides to make his way there.

Deathstalker heads in that direction (they always seem to know which way to go) and meets Vaniat (Brett Baxter Clark), a muscle-bound fighter who is heading to the castle for – wait for it – a tournament! Ah, yes, the return of the tournament. They travel together while the Stalker of Death mocks Vaniat’s healthy lifestyle (sex “saps the vital juices”).  Along the way, the duo witnesses Dionara (Maria Ford) and her sister being attacked and save them.  Well, Deathstalker tries and it results in the sister being dead and him and Dionara being trapped inside a cave. In another hilarious bit, they don’t even show how they escape from this cave after a pig-man yells, “Ha, you’ll never get out!”  Dionara explains that she was accompanying her sister to the castle for – you guessed it – the tournament!  And now she will take her sister’s place to honor her (or something).  For some odd reason this requires her to strip down and put on her sister’s skimpy outfit (does this tournament have a dress code?).

So everyone eventually makes it to this castle (the production actually uses a real castle) to enter this medieval BLOODSPORT.  But something seems off to Deathstalker and Dionara.  Guards are always patrolling the halls and Kana insists on everyone drinking lots and lots of her super wine. To make matters worse, Kana has her men interrupt Deathstalker while he is putting the muscle-bound moves on Dionara so she can have some alone time with him.  Doesn’t Deathstalker know the “no sex” rule before a fight?  Oh wait, I guess he does as he refuses Kana’s advances and she storms out in a huff, shouting at her main guard, “I need a man.  The bigger, the better.  And drunk!” The next day the tournament begins and, since Deathstalker wasn’t putting out, Kana pits him against his friend Vaniat.  But he shows her by winning while sparing his friend’s life.

Later that night, we learn our hero’s full name must be Deathstalker Marlowe as he and Dionara do some private investigation work. Seems a lot of these drunken warriors keep disappearing and Dionara knows where they might be held. “How do you know,” he asks and she drops the bomb on him that this used to be her house, er, castle before her royal family was ousted by Kana.  She shows Deathstalker a secret room and he finds the missing warriors all stoned.  No, not high.  They have literally been turned into stone and Kana’s ulterior motive in having this tournament is to collect the best physical specimens to use for her concrete commandos army. Wait, so her plan is to take fast, able bodied men and transforms them into rocks that move at a sloth’s pace.  Gotcha.  Oh, Deathstalker also spots his magical sword (remember that?) hanging on the wall of a room.  You can figure out the rest.

Oh man, the DEATHSTALKER series should have gone out on a high note, but, sadly, our hero played victim to the mightiest foe of all – Roger Corman’s cheapness.  Opening with credits unfolding over the lamest castle sketch ever and a score more fit for a T&A flick, you quickly realize that this is going to be a Corman cheapie of epic proportions. When the end credits start around the 75 minute mark, you realize that 20 minutes of that runtime was footage from other Corman films.  You have to laugh when narrator Maria Ford comes onto the soundtrack and says something like, “Kana also had fights outside the castle walls to entertain the villagers” in an effort to cover up the fact that the footage they show doesn’t match and fits in as well as Sarah Palin at a Mensa meeting.  The cheapness is even worse when we get to the stone warriors.  The back of the box entices you with this great still of a stoner getting his head sliced in half:


But guess what?  That cool bit ain’t in the movie.  Basically, you have guys covered in grey make-up stumbling around.  I should say partially covered as most everyone seemed to have missed the armpits section.

Of course, this can also be part of the fun.  Like the previously reviewed DEATHSTALKER III, there is a lot of unintentional hilarity to be had here.  You have lame fights and even lamer costumes.  You have nonsensical lines like a guard demanding to know the secret of Deathstalker’s sword and he says, “The secret is there is no secret.” My favorite bit involves the tough leader of a lesbian crew trying to show Dionara how ruthless she is by killing a servant girl.  She holds the girls head in a small bucket of water while the girl flails her arms in a helpless panic.  Uh, you know, you can use one of those arms to topple the bucket over and remedy your predicament, right?

But let’s not focus on the bad stuff. Cohen at least brings back the sleaze factor and has ample nudity, including a “this is solely here for the nudity” brawl/food fight in a brothel. All of the leads are good too.  It is cool to see Rick Hill return to the role and he delivers the intentional comedy lines well.  He also sounds a lot like modern day Dolph Lundgren.  Also this had Maria Ford pre-plastic surgery so she was looking pretty fine.  She gets into one or two catfights over the course of the film.  The film’s biggest surprise is Clark as the muscle-bound virgin.  Yeah, you read that right.  There is actually a really funny bit where our heroes are trying to teach him how to seduce Kana.  And there is a recurring gag with him always ditching the poisoned wine while Kana isn’t looking.  It is a shame that the series went out like on such a cheap effort, but I’ll gladly take this being the nail in the coffin over the bland part three. Gotta make it through life with the little pleasures, I tell ya.

Moments of Clarity:

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