‘Hey, Beastmaster’s On!’ was suggested to be the true meaning of HBO when it started up in the 1980’s; Don Coscarelli’s slice of Thud and Blunder, or sword-and-sorcery buffoonery if you prefer, was something of a staple of the home cable channel back in the day.
But my epic journey with the Beastmaster begins in 1983, when I won two tickets to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at my local city-centre multiplex and accidentally took my sister into the wrong film. I have a keen memory of sitting in the darkness, looking at images being conjured up in a mystical cauldron and thinking, ‘wait, what? -this isn’t what I thought Indiana Jones would be like?!’ We watched a good twenty minutes before swapping cinemas as Raiders started.
The Beastmaster is something rather different from your average hero. What is highly impressive about Dar (Mark Singer, looking like Kevin Bacon cos-playing as He-Man) is that he’s not just some well-muscled strong-man with a gilded sword, but he’s an actual master of all beasts. Well, just four beasts, but he’s more of a pal than a master. Beastmaster Dar’s pals include Sharak the eagle, who seems to have the power to summon a crowd of deadly faceless bird-man aliens. There’s also Ruh, the black tiger, and most prominently Kodo and Podo, two ferrets with which the humble warrior shares a remarkable affinity.
Yes, you heard right, this film has ferrets, up to here. Action cinema is so often coy about the portrayal of ferrets on the big screen, but The Beastmaster breaks taboos, never panning coyly away when ferrets are introduced, instead focusing in granular detail on Kodo and Podo and their lovable antics. The problems Dar encounters are usually solved by the ferrets, who do the heavy lifting for their (beast) master. Master of the Ferrets would be a more accurate title for this film, or Ferret Warrior, or Kingdom of the Ferrets, or Dar the Ferret-King. There is no way to underrate the importance of ferrets to this story.; Singer clearly developed a rapport with his furry co-stars, and they exhibit genuine chemistry together.
The cheeky mites also play a role in introducing Beastmaster Dar to his true love, Kiri (Tanya Roberts), who suffers the indignity of being introduced immediately in a state of undress into the narrative; the ferrets steal her clothes while she’s swimming in a lagoon. Kiri, Dar and Podo and Kodo set off to stop evil Maxx (Rip Torn) from taking the kingdom over from King Zed (Rod Loomis), accompanied by some great and some awful practical effects.
‘I can’t be without my little ones,’ whines The Beastmaster when Podo and Kodo are taken from him, but rest assured, when the final credits roll, Podo is revealed to have two baby ferrets of her own. Beastmaster II; Through The Portals of Time just sounds like the perfect sequel if it’s going to deliver time-travelling ferret action, and I’m here for that film at the earliest possible opportunity.