Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Krull
As we’ve discussed before, Star Wars opened the flood gates for fantasy films in the 1980s. Unlike today, where fantasy must cordoned off into into urban settings or the work of J.K. Rowling, the studios wanted anything vaguely like Star Wars to fill their film slates and grab a piece of an emerging market. Some of these were shameless ripoffs like Starcrash. Others went the extra mile to become beloved classics like Labyrinth. And then there’s Krull: the midpoint of extremes.
Born because Columbia Pictures wanted a fantasy movie, screenwriter Standord Sherman was hired to create a world and a screenplay. If you’re expecting more of a behind-the-scenes story there, sorry. Krull came about because of a very straightforward studio request. Consequently, there are a great number of straightforward things about the film. Which only make its occasional insanity all the more wonderful.
The plot concerns Colwyn (Ken Marshall), the prince of the planet Krull, who must journey for leagues and leagues to save his betrothed, the princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony), from the Beast (the voice of Trevor Martin and a stuntman in a deliriously terrible costume). Once again, pretty straightforward. But the leagues Colwyn must travel are filled with odd set pieces as he acquires the only weapon on Krull powerful enough to defeat the Beast and gains a small band of thieves as companions. Also, the Beast is an alien who has heard of a prophecy which states Lyssa’s child will rule the galaxy. He intends the father that child and bask in its reflected glory. So, y’know, curveball there.
Colwyn’s troop includes Ynyr the Old One (Freddie Jones), Torquil (Alun Armstrong), the leader of the thieves, and Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) — short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose and wide of vision. Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane appear as members of Torquil’s band, but they don’t have much character to speak of. Neeson’s character is said to have a wife in every village and Coltrane’s character stands in the background a lot. A Cyclops named Rell (Bernard Bresslaw) also joins the quest after a while, much to Ergo’s initial dismay. As the journey progresses, they seek out the Emerald Seer, confront the Beast’s Slayers in a deadly swamp, and face the Widow of the Web in hopes of learning how to get into the Beast’s spaceship/stronghold, the Black Fortress.
Meanwhile, the Beast tries to tempt Lyssa into marrying him instead of Colwyn by offering her riches and trying to prove Colwyn’s love for her is a fleeting thing.
At one point, Colwyn and his fellowship corral some Firemares to catch up with the Beast’s constantly moving home in a scene which resembles a heavy metal album cover while the Cyclops stays behind to die.
If the details sound intriguing, that’s part of the charm. Krull is such an excited mishmash of fantasy elements that it leaves you wanting to know more. But as it is in a constant hurry to catch up with the Beast, it can only linger on notions like the Emerald Seer or the Cyclopses losing one eye to learn the future for only a moment before rushing off to introduce Ynyr and the Widow of the Web’s long-dead love child. And because of budget constraints, much of Krull, as a world, is alluded to, but rarely realized. While Ynyr runs off to talk to his ex, we’re told Colwyn and the others are staying in a village. But from the look of things, it’s just as much forest set as the production could afford to make. Oh, and its obviously a set. Similarly, much of Krull seems devoid of civilization despite Colwyn and Lyssa’s fathers complaining about how the Beast is interfering with the road systems and enslaving towns across the countryside. The end result is a world that seems sparse, but offers enough detail for you to fill in the blanks.
To be fair, the scope Krull wanted to convey would not really be feasible until The Lord of the Rings nearly twenty years later. It manages to pull off that sort of landscape using a handful of Welsh vistas and the freaky design of the Black Fortress. But just as often, the limitations show in obvious sets meant to be exterior locations, the awful realization of the Beast — the costume was so dreadful, director Peter Yates shot it in tight close-ups and under heavy filters to hide some of its shortcomings — and that strange emptiness to the world. But like the details mentioned above, the limits of the budget also form a charm of their own. If you’re on its wavelength, you end up rooting for the film itself. It’s trying so hard to be a legit fantasy film on a Star Wars scale, but lacks for some key understandings of the genre and the ability to realize fantasy ideas with practical effects.
Which definitely puts the blame at the director’s feat. Yates made a number of fine films in his career like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Breaking Away, and Bullit. He reportedly wanted the challenge of an effects heavy film when he began prepping Krull, but ultimately hated the experience. According to one of the effects crew, Yates took a two-week vacation in the middle shooting. Effects magician Derek Meddings (Superman) supervised the effects team, so some shots are dazzling, but many also betray Yates’s fatigue. They’re not bad per se, just overly familiar.
But wrapped up in a fine James Horner score — built in part from his Star Trek II soundtrack — the movie is still a fun exploration of a half-realized Dungeons & Dragons campaign altered with some ideas from R.I.F.T.S. The budget limitations will make you laugh, but much of Krull is worth watching. Once you see the Firemares, you’ll definitely understand why.
Krull is available for rent on the usual streaming platforms. It’s also available on a super cheap Blu-ray disc release.