Manimal Part 1 (The Beastmaster, 1982)
The early eighties brought us a lot of sword and sorcery type films. Don Coscarelli followed up his crazy 1978 horror film Phantasm with this more straightforward (but still odd) fantasy film.
Evil wizard Maax is trying to avert a prophecy of his death at the hands of Zed’s, the king, son. Zed has declared he should be put to death upon learning he desires to sacrifice children to the god Ar. Using a servant witch, Dar is stolen from the womb and transferred to a cow. A local peasant happens upon the witch before she can sacrifice the newborn. Saving the child, he raises the boy as his own.
Dar is raised to be skilled with a sword and also discovers the ability to interact with animals via a psychic link. A group of barbarians ransacks his village, killing his family. Dar plans to seek revenge. On his way, he befriends several animals, including a couple of ferrets and a hawk. He finally saves a panther from the barbarians. After a struggle, he happens upon two slavegirls and is smitten by one named Kiri. He becomes determined to free her and end the cruelty of Maax and his cult of Ar.
The Beastmaster has achieved a minor cult status, in large part for being a huge staple of cable TV for much of the 80’s. A lot of the acting falls into…well…stiff (Tanya Roberts) or scenery chewing (Rip Torn). The effects are pretty good, with some unique looking monsters. There are some odd choices (the witches have the faces of monstrous hags, but the bodies of voluptuous models). On the other hand, there are some cool looking humanoid bat creatures.
This is a fun film, really, made memorable by the interaction of Dar and the various animal friends. While not great, it is pretty light-hearted entertainment.