Roger Corman’s Cult Classics
Sword and Sorcery Collection
Deathstalker was not a good film in terms of story, character, or production value; but it was entertaining. What worked in its favor was the way it fully exploited its barbarian age setting. Usually movies of this genre are sanitized for the masses, the sex and violence is sparce, and the protagonist is given modern sensibilities when it comes to valuing life, respecting women, and having a sense of justice.
The first Deathstalker was thoroughly barbaric, he murdered, he abused women, and he only did ‘good’ when it befitted him. He was also largely silent, which was nice, as the actor playing him, Rick Hill, wasn’t very good.
Deathstalker 2 recasts the starring role with John Terlesky taking over. He’s a better actor, but his characterization is far worse. The brooding, barbaric, barely-civilized animal of the first film has been replaced with a skinny, wise-cracking, roguish character.
This guy is at worse an anti-hero. He actually helps women, just to be nice, he steals only from bad or dead people, and he actually passes up a chance to sleepy with the amazon queen just because she wants to marry him the next morning. The old Deathstalker would have slept with her, then stabbed her if she asked for a commitment.
Everything is toned down. The violence is less graphic and somewhat cartoony, the nudity is far less common. But what’s worse is the attempts at humor. It’s not just that it’s bad (though it is), the problem is that it dilutes the tone. It has a modern tinge to it which kills the setting.
The plot of the movie is that a princess is deposed by a sorcerer, who then creates a doppelganger of said princess. The princess escapes and seeks the help of Deathstalker to win back her kingdom. The sorcerer, Jarek, sends mercenaries and monsters out to capture the princess (he can’t kill her because the clone’s existence is tied to hers).
The pacing is awkward. In one scene we are introduced to a team of killers one by one, then it suddenly cuts to their fight scene, in which they’re all shooting arrows (negating the point of hiring expert killers in the first place). There’s more emphasis in the movie on introducing these characters than there is in having them contribute to the plot. There’s also a very lengthy scene where Deathstalker wrestles a large woman. It goes on for about five minutes straight, which is a significant portion of the movie’s 77 minute running time.
Essentially, Deathstalker II kept the bad from the first Deathstalker and threw away the good. It’s just as poorly made, but now lacks the exploitative elements that at least kept you interested.
The DVD from Shout factory, which includes four films across two discs (including Deathstalker 1) is quite good. The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen and comes with a commentary track.