1/9/07

703 Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell

(1989, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)

Potatoes are what we eat!

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Includes a smarmy hero, a wizard, a couple of princesses, some magic jewels, etc.

Summary:

Squeak?Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a man with a perpetual self-congratulatory sneer, improbably named Deathstalker. Deathstalker wanders the countryside with his friend Nicias, a hunchbacked wizard with Cher-length gray hair all the way around his face, and a long coat made from the skins of a thousand muskrats. They hit Renfest-ish village gatherings so Nicias can sell agricultural prophecies while Deathstalker fights good-natured duels with giant Q-Tips.

During one such gathering, Nicias is visited by Carissa, a princess in disguise. She pulls out half a fist-sized jewel and asks him something vague. His response is vaguer still; to the best of my understanding, the magic stone will reveal the location of a lost city, filled with magic and riches, but only when all the pieces of the stone are brought together. Evil warriors in bat-winged helmets ride through the dancing festivalgoers before he can elucidate further.

Nicias casts a spell that spins him like a top before he disappears into a puff of smoke. Deathstalker steals a horse and flees into the woods, rescuing Carissa on the way out. They make camp some time later, and she explains the plot to that point while he sneers seductively. She refuses his oily propositions and heads for her own tent, where a bat-helmeted warrior stabs her in the back. Several minutes of bad fight choreography and one confusing death scene later, Deathstalker takes her piece of the magic stone and rides on alone.

Meanwhile, we see the other piece of the magic stone in the hands of sorcerous despot Troxartas, a balding, hook-nosed little man in drag. He spies on Deathstalker from afar with an echo-effect eagle and a magic pool, providing passionate commentary on the action for his torture victims and his mistress Camisarde. He laughs at the bat-helmeted soldiers’ ineptness, despite the fact that they work for him.

Deathstalker escapes by river barge and joins the camp of Princess Elizena, who just happens to be Carissa’s twin sister. He hides in the Elizena’s tent when the bat-helmeteers arrive, ensuring her cooperation by pretending his stick is a knife. She figures it out and flees, calling for help. Deathstalker steals another horse and escapes, climbing up into a tree as his horse passes beneath it. The bat-helmeteers seem to be lacking in both the vision and echolocation departments, and don’t notice him dangling mere inches above their heads.

Deathstalker tries to steal another horse from a domestic herd, but runs afoul of their keepers—a filthy hag and her halter-topped daughter Marinda, both of whom wield longbows and matted perms. The hag bares her teeth at him while her daughter pats him down for weapons, admiring his crotch at length. They offer to lend him a horse in exchange for future jewels. After his offer to catch them a rabbit is greeted with utter horror (Potatoes are what we eat!) he goes to spend the night in the barn. The bat-helmeteers arrive some time later and find the angry hag. Deathstalker apparently stole some horses and ran off with her daughter. They chase the fugitive couple, who pause for sloppy make-outs before Deathstalker sends her home.

Apparently he got away, because he soon runs into Elizena, who fled from the bat-helmeteers’ massacre of her encampment. There’s some expository banter about how she’s been engaged to marry the evil Troxartas so that her homeless people can have a nation again. It ends when the magic stone lights up and steams while Deathstalker bobbles it from hand to hand like a hot potato. Elizena recognizes it as her sister’s, and assumes he killed her. She runs away while he’s asleep.

It seems that the stones get more powerful as they get closer to each other, and it also seems that Deathstalker is approaching Troxartas’ domain, because our boat-necked villain’s stone heats up as well. He uses its newfound power to raise an army of snot-bearded undead warriors to do his bidding. He puts on his best dress and veil and takes them out the next morning, rescuing Elizena from a pair of itinerate robbers. He brings her home and forces Camisarde to bathe and dress her. Later, he catches Deathstalker sneaking into the castle after her. They chat pleasantly about killing each other while a bat-helmeteer sneaks up and knocks Deathstalker out from behind. Troxartas takes his stone and tries to assemble the whole jewel. It’s no good. There’s a third piece, and it’s still missing.

Camisarde takes the captured Deathstalker to the dungeon for a little torture. He can’t tell her about the third stone, but manages to goad her with insinuations about Troxartas and Elizena until she accidentally damages his ropes. He gets free and ties her to the wall. While Deathstalker escapes the dungeon, Nicias’ spell finally wears off, depositing him right in the middle of Troxartas’ castle.

Deathstalker finds Marinda outside, and they engage in further slovenly osculation. They camp with the undead warriors, some of whom used to be friends of his. They tell him about how Troxartas keeps their souls in a glass bowling trophy, forcing them to do his bidding. Deathstalker sends Marinda to get help and allows the undead warriors to capture him. They put him in the crypt, where Elizena gloats over what she assumes to be his corpse. He scares the willies out of her, sneering until she bashes him over the head and runs off to tell her fiancé.

Troxartas is in the tower, casting a spell to make Nicias tell him about the third stone. Elizena arrives just in time to overhear him promising to let Camisarde kill her. She runs back down to beg Deathstalker for help. He hides her with the undead warriors and then shows up in the tower to begin the final showdown. Everyone from the Renfest at the beginning shows up to storm the castle, while Deathstalker runs around freeing the undead souls, rescuing Nicias, and generally engaging the most awful fight choreography ever committed to film. He eventually corners Troxartas on the battlements and somehow loses his sword. Marinda gets herself killed bringing it back to him. Deathstalker runs the villain through, causing Troxartas’ head to explode while the rest of his body vanishes into a low-resolution electronic mist.

The surviving heroes cremate Marinda and put the stone together, revealing a city pretty much like the one they’re already in. Elizena is installed as queen, Nicias starts dating Camisarde, and Deathstalker turns down kinghood to ride out in search of further adventure.

Introduction:

Clayton, Clayton, Clayton, oh Clayton!Crow has gotten techno-weave hair implants, as well as calf implants and hinder implants. Mike and Tom admire the latter as he walks away, noting his new likeness to Jimmy Smits.

Host Segment One:

Pearl lays in a hospital bed, moaning, “Clayton! Clayton! Clayton! Oh, Clayton!” Dr. Forrester tries to introduce the film while Tom and Crow dress up as fast food workers in tall hats to ask him, “Would you like to supersize?” and “Is this together?” Mike comes in as the wobbly manager to complain that he forgot his register keys. Combined with his sick mother’s continuous demands, it’s enough to make Dr. Forrester pummel himself into unconsciousness.

Host Segment Two:

The ‘Bots put on a Renaissance Festival, hurling Elizabethan insults all the while. Mike pays exorbitant fees watch Tom juggle, kiss Gypsy, and eat a cold, half-eaten turkey leg. He runs out of money. Quoth Crow, “Get thee to the cash machine, you toad.”

Host Segment Three:

Mike comes back with more cash, but Tom and Crow feel bad for taking advantage of him earlier. Still, Mike insists that he wants more Renfest treatment, so they take his money and spank him. Mike wants still more, but the only thing left is the “Pet the camel” attraction, and the camel has died. Mike is so disappointed; they give in and take him to pet the dead camel.

Host Segment Four:

Dr. Forrester has gone out for Robitussin and Peanut Butter Cups, leaving his ailing mother alone. She moans until “Art” (Crow) comes and reads to her from a book called Love Sweet Throbbing Gondola. The graphic, overblown prose lulls her to sleep.

Host Segment Five:

Mike and Crow read a letter while Tom runs offscreen to forge the One Ring. His first attempt doesn’t quite work, so he stokes the fire until a balrog pops out. He gives his second attempt to Mike, who tries it on and feels that, yes, he has been brought and in the darkness bound. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester has brought his mother poisoned milk. He changes his mind at the last moment and drinks it himself, falling dead to the floor.

Stinger:

Potatoes are what we eat!

Thoughts:

Troxartas, Queen of the Desert.At one point Mike calls it “one of the most ambitiously bad movies we’ve ever done.” For a film appearing on MST3K, this is an incredible compliment. Sometimes a film manages to fail so horribly on every conceivable level that it passes all the way through “miserable failure” to emerge on the other side as “transcendently awful.” Films that aim for this status (Hobgoblins springs to mind) miss almost universally. Like Brigadoon and fairy gold, it can only be found by accident.

Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell manages to find it, mostly thanks to John Allen Nelson and Thom Christopher as Deathstalker and Troxartas, respectively. Sure, Deathstalker is an intensely sleazy egomaniac and Troxartas is a haltingly shrill cross-dresser, but the rest of the film isn’t good enough to support a poker-faced, bare-chested muscleman and a deep-voiced bearded type with a pointy hat in those roles. Between the unfollowable script, the nonexistent budget, and the abysmal swordplay these guys had to have known the movie would not just suck, but suck big-time. Might as well chew the scenery.

For the record, John Allen Nelson as Deathstalker takes second place on the prestigious “Most Unappealing Protagonists Featured on MST3K” list for his near-toxic levels of smarm. In case you were wondering, Joe Don Baker takes first place as Mitchell for his easy, natural repulsiveness, and John Agar takes third as Dr. Roger Bentley (The Mole People) for his overwhelming pompousness.

The host segments focus mainly on Pearl’s illness and Mike’s visit to the Renaissance Festival. Pearl’s constant whining is hilarious. Here’s a woman who takes her son’s guilt and uses it against him like a blunt instrument—if a three-ton safe dropping on your head can be called a blunt instrument. Crow’s dramatic reading of the filthy romance novel works well too, especially as he gets more and more disgusted by what he’s reading. I’ve never been to a Renaissance Festival (they just don’t appeal to me, despite my love of Fantasy as a genre) but judging by the ‘Bots excellent work in host segments two and three, it seems to involve paying a lot of money for the privilege of being continuously and creatively insulted. As my children grow towards teenagerhood, that’s something I’ll eventually get for free.

The film segments are among the best in MST3K canon. The inexplicable story and the over-the-top performances inspire a wealth of funny comments, starting with the heavy “Extra Stuff Germanic” font of the opening credits (Tom) down to “I’d like to shoot everybody in this movie, entirely in Mexico,” (Crow) in the lengthy closing credits. In between we get comments about the off-putting Deathstalker, as in, “Is it too early to hate this guy?” (Tom, at the very beginning) and “Were there Crackers in the Middle Ages?” (Crow); as well as comments about Troxartas’ ridiculous appearance, as in, “It’s hard to look menacing when you’re dressed like Maude,” (Crow) and “Jeffrey Tambour is Saint Joan,” (Mike). I like the MST3K Fantasy episodes to begin with, and this is one of the best.