While still very young, Dar learns that he has an ability to commune with beasts. It’s a mental and physical connection, as Dar says that the animals can comprehend both his thoughts and his feelings. On his road to retribution, Dar befriends a falcon, Sharak, a black tiger, Ruh, and two ferrets, Kodo and Podo. The man eventually encounters Kiri (Tanya Roberts), who tells him that she is a slave. When learning that Kiri is to be one of Maax’ sacrifices, Dar makes it his purpose to save her. He receives an ally in Seth (John Amos), a warrior protecting the king’s son, Tal (Josh Milrad). They seek to rescue Kiri, who is Tal’s cousin, and free the imprisoned king and the people from under the control of Maax.
The Beastmaster (1982) was co-written and directed by Don Coscarelli, who also helmed the iconic horror feature Phantasm (1979), as well as its sequels, and the cult favorite, Bubba Ho-Tep (2003). Coscarelli specializes in delightfully absurd plots: Phantasm concerns an otherworldly mortician changing corpses into dwarf-sized creatures to do his bidding, and Bubba Ho-Tep is about a still-living Elvis Presley battling a mummy. Though The Beastmaster belongs to a more clearly defined genre, it is still vintage Coscarelli, as Dar confronts witches with repulsive, deformed faces and the bodies of young women, bird-like beings that wrap their wings around their prey and leave behind nothing but bones, and men turned into mindless brutes adorned in spiked metal armor.
Though it’s easy to sympathize with a man forced to battle seemingly unbeatable odds, Dar is an engaging character. His bond with animals is perhaps his most appealing quality. He earns the respect of wild beasts, so that the villains are identified not necessarily by malicious acts but by antagonizing Dar. Viewers may tend to disregard humans who neither believe in nor agree with the beastmaster. Dar is muscular and athletic, but he is not bodybuilder-sized like Schwarzenegger’s Conan, so he has the appearance of an everyday man, an idea reinforced by the unassuming performance from Singer. Dar does not simply swing a heavy sword. He climbs and kicks, utilizing movements that flow and help make the character more natural. This is aided by the fact that Singer has studied kung fu.
Dar spends the better part of the film as an outcast. Stolen from his mother’s womb and his tribe destroyed, he is even pushed away by the people he is helping, being called a “freak” by the marred king (who, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, is Dar’s father). The beasts are his family, as Dar allocates their skills: Sharak is his eyes, Ruh his strength, and the ferrets his cunning. But the capabilities of each are apparently limitless, as Dar’s survival is predicated on their very existence. As a viewer, it is preferable for Dar to have the unconditional support of the always reliable animals, as his human companions are burdened by the all-too-human faults of betrayal and self-preservation.
Like other Coscarelli films, The Beastmaster ultimately garnered a loyal following, and sequels were invariably produced. The first was Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991), a mildly interesting misfire that took Dar to modern day, followed by the equally uninspired made-for-TV Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996). Singer returned for both films, but Coscarelli handled neither sequel. Sylvio Tabet produced all three films, directed the first sequel, and created a Canadian TV series, BeastMaster, in 1999, which lasted three seasons. Though Dar was portrayed in the series by actor Daniel Goddard, Singer did appear in the third season as Dartanus.
The Beastmaster was loosely based on the 1959 novel, The Beast Master, by sci-fi author Andre Norton (one of the pen names of Alice Mary Norton). Although Norton received no credit for the 1982 Coscarelli film, she is credited in the series. The year after The Beastmaster, Marc Singer would star in the very popular mini-series, V, about a stealthy invasion by reptilian aliens, which was followed by a second mini-series, V: The Final Battle, and a short-lived regular series, V: The Series. More recently, Singer will be making an appearance in the second season of the currently running V, a remake of the original mini-series.
Coscarelli’s film is one of the more memorable sword-and-sorcery movies. The director retains a frantic pace, pitting Dar against extraordinary obstacles. But in a world filled with beasts, the most deadly and evil -- the witches, the winged creatures, the army of faceless soldiers -- encompass a monstrosity derived from their humanlike features. The animals, on the other hand, are kindred spirits, and Dar, who places his faith and safety in them, is the unwavering hero.