Manimal Part 1 (The Beastmaster, 1982)

beastmaster_poster.jpgThe 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.



Poe-Vision (Two Evil Eyes, 1990)

two_evil_eyes_poster.jpgTwo Evil Eyes is a double feature from George A. Romero and Italian horror icon Dario Argento.  The two tales are Poe inspired tales The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar and The Black Cat.

Romero’s tale is a pretty straight forward.  Jessica Valdemar married Ernest Valdemar for his riches.  She has to keep him alive, but he is nearing death. She is trying to keep her affair with his doctor, Robert Hoffman, secret.  Hoffman is a practitioner of hypnotism and has been hypnotizing Mr. Valdemar.  He dies during one of these sessions, presenting a problem for Jessica.  His will specified he must live to a certain date for her to inherit his money.

Jessica and Robert concoct a plan to freeze the body so they can claim he died after the necessary date.  But there is a hitch.  Valdemar may not be dead.  Moans come from the basement freezer…and eventually they are able to converse with him. Mr. Valdemar warns of others who want to use him to get into our world.  Robert is obsessed with learning more…and it is not meant to end well.

Argento’s the Black Cat follows crime scene photographer Roderick Usher.  He is following a series of murders seemingly inspired by the stories of Edgar Allen Poe.  Meanwhile, his girlfriend has adopted a stray feral cat.  When he kills the cat in a fit of rage, in spite of lying about it, his girlfriend kicks him out, certain of his guilt.  But the cat keeps coming back.  What ends up playing out is a gruesome telltale heart story.

Both stories have a great cast of horror veterans.  Harvey Keitel is particularly good as the unlikeable cat obsessed Usher.  The Black Cat has far more unnecessary gore than Romero’s story, but overall, they both are fairly effective stories.

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