DirectorJohn Sbardellati/Jim Wynorski
Release Date(s)1983/1987 (August 30, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Pictures/Concorde Pictures/New Horizons (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: C+
- Overall Grade: B-
The Deathstalker series was Roger Corman’s answer to the popularity of barbarian movies in the 1980’s, specifically Conan the Barbarian. Four movies were released in the series: Deathstalker, Deathstalker II, Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell, and Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans, all with varying degrees of quality. The first film in the series, simply titled Deathstalker, tells the story of a barbarian who is sent on a quest to retrieve three magical items from an evil wizard named Munkar. Along the way, he finds companions to aid him, but not all of them may be on his side. The second film, Deathstalker II, ignores the events of the first, and focuses on the titular character in service of a princess whose kingdom has been overthrown by an evil magician and her doppelganger.
While many of the elements are there for a swords and sorcery adventure, Deathstalker is chock full of odd moments and bombastic music. It’s cheesy, schlocky, and very cheap-looking most of the time. It’s also full of familiar faces if you’re a fan of B movies. Richard Hill, who spent most of his career in B movies and on TV, takes the lead role. Barbi Benton was, of course, a Playboy model, and she looks amazing in the movie. Lana Clarkson, who portrays Deathstalker’s warrior friend and love interest, made a career acting in other similar movies for Roger Corman. Her life and career ended unfortunately in 2003 when she was shot and killed by record producer Phil Spector. Also notable in the cast is Richard Brooker in one of the few movies he appeared in where his face could be seen. Most horror fans obviously know him as Jason in Friday the 13th: Part III.
Deathstalker II is even cheaper and shoddier than its predecessor. It’s a movie that, besides trying to be a barbarian epic of sorts, also goes for a lot of cheap, easy laughs, and it just fails every time. John Terlesky takes over the Deathstalker role this time, who most people will recognize from The Naked Cage and Chopping Mall. John LeZar portrays the sorcerer, whose biggest claim to fame was the lead role in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Monique Gabrielle, who portrays the princess, is mostly known for being in Penthouse, as well as her memorable appearance in Bachelor Party.
In all fairness, picking on these movies and the performances within them feels a little unfair. They were low budget movies shot on location in Argentina, which was a big deal at the time, and attempted something approaching entertainment. I can’t fault them for that. And even though the series is exploitative and sleazy by nature, the movies became popular staples on video store rental shelves – thanks in no small part to the amazing video artwork of Boris Vallejo, which only further cemented their place amongst other titles of a similar sort. They’re cheap fun and appeal mostly to a male audience, but they’re worth a single watch at the very least.
Scream Factory’s limited edition Blu-ray release features two excellent transfers of both films. For Deathstalker, there’s a very nice grain structure on display with lots of fine detail. Obviously, there are a lot of opticals, so some softness does occur, but there’s some good depth to be had. There’s also some nice color reproduction and good skin tones. Black levels are fairly deep with some pretty good shadow detail, while brightness and contrast levels are very acceptable. There are some stability issues from time to time throughout, but it’s a very clean presentation, aside from some very mild speckling, thin lines, and a spot or two here and there. For Deathstalker II, this release features the Director’s Cut with extra shots that look to have been inserted from lower quality materials, but it’s a mostly strong presentation throughout. The quality is much of the same, although stability is a little more ironed out and is much cleaner by comparison, aside from very mild speckling. Skin tones fare a bit better as well. For both audio presentations, English mono DTS-HD tracks upgraded to stereo are your only option. In Deathstalker, dialogue is clear and discernible, and there’s some good score and decent sound effects, which features some mild ambience. However, there’s some light distortion, very light hiss and crackle, and a couple of dropouts present. In Deathstalker II, dialogue is also clear and discernible and there’s also some light distortion, especially in scenes with a multitude of sounds happening all at once. Sound effects are good, but there isn’t much in terms of ambient activity. There’s also some very light hiss and crackle, a couple of dropouts, but a much stronger score. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
DEATHSTALKER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B-
DEATHSTALKER II (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B
As for extras, everything has been carried over from Shout! Factory’s Swords and Sorcery DVD collection, which featured these two movies. For Deathstalker, there’s an audio commentary with producer/director James Sbardellati, special make-up effects artist John Carl Buechler, and actor Richard Brooker. There’s also the original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. For Deathstalker II, there’s an audio commentary with director Jim Wynorski and actors John Terlesky and Toni Naples, as well as the original theatrical trailer.
This release was limited to 1,000 copies and unfortunately, as of this writing, it is out of print. However, judging by how quickly it sold out, it’s a good bet that Shout! Factory might do another printing of it sometime down the road. If so, this is definitely a title you’ll want to pick up if you’re a fan of the series at all.
- Tim Salmons