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: Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal of Time
As the 1980s wore on, cheap foreign filming locations like Venezuela, South Africa and Mexico got wise to the Cormans and Canons of the world underpaying for vistas and studio space which would be cost-prohibitive in the US or UK. And as they got wiser, they started charging a fairer price for their facilities. This change, more than anything else, ended the great era of fantasy films which sprang up in the wake of Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian. They just became to costly to make; eventually becoming tentpole releases like The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Eragon. Worry not, dear reader, I will never discuss Eragon here. It’s not nearly cheesy enough.
But as the market for fantasy flicks still existed into the early 1990s, producers had to figure out a way to make fantasy movies without the scale or cheap locations and talent they once had access to. Their solution was possibly the most cynical plot devise in the whole of genre filmmaking: “this time, they’re in our world.” And to introduce us to the concept, this weekend’s cheesy movie is one of the most slapdash of them all, Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time.
The plot concerns Dar (Marc Singer), the legendary Beastmaster of Aruk. While he helped his brother Tal ascend to the throne in the original film, Dar learns he has another half-brother named Arklon (Wings Hauser). Somehow neglected as a youth, Arklon hopes to claim Aruk for himself with the aid of the dark sorceress Lyranna (Sarah Douglas). She uses her powers to activate the Portal of Time. Despite the name, it is actually door into another parallel world where Arklon and Lyranna hope to find some advanced weapons technology capable of defeating Tal, Dar and his animal companions.
Dar, his eagle, his tiger and his two ferrets find their way through the portal and land in 1990s Los Angeles. There, they meet a valley girl named Jackie (Kari Wurher) who takes a shine to Dar and his creatures. The pair soon find themselves in one scrape after another as the Beastmaster tries to understand this strange, alien kingdom known as Los Angeles.
Arklon and Lyranna also face culture shock, starting with a visit to a clothing shop on Hollywood Boulevard, where Arklon’s interest in a new coat leads to a tangle with the LAPD. Ultimately, the two learn about a nuclear device and make their way to the desert army base where it is being held. Dar and Jackie pursue them as Dar continues to encounter strange behaviors in the people around him.
And if the plot sounds like its grasping, that’s part of the charm. While not the earliest example of the “this time, they’re in our world” phenomenon, Beastmaster 2 has a marvelous low-wattage ambition about itself. Director Sylvio Tabet, a producer on the original film, cut just about every corner he could. He even tried to cut the screen credits of original writers Jim Wynorski and R. J. Robertson. Wynorski was slated to direct, and if you’ve seen Deathstalker 2, you know his Beastmaster sequel would have veered more toward camp than cheese. Sadly, Tabet fired him and attempted to remove any reference to Wynorski or Robertson. The case went to court with distributor Republic Pictures forcing Tabet to payout the two and restore their credits.
The story above indicates the level of cynicism permeating Beastmaster 2. Besides Tabet’s shenanigans, the film was made nine years after the original. The timing suggests Tabet sought an easy cash grab as The Beastmaster became a cable TV hit. Recycling the name and getting Singer back into the loincloth of Dar would be worth a few bucks on the name value alone. But that thought comes with a certain budget-mindedness; which led to bringing the plot to modern-day Earth. Even if the film still needed trained animals, a cut-rate army base and a few animation effects, moving the setting to Los Angeles saved millions on fantasy costumes, extensive desert shooting and taking care of extras in those costumes on those tough locations. For the most part, the film is nothing but scenes of Dar and Jackie interspersed with scenes of Arklon and Lyranna. Sometimes the two groups meet up and fight. Other times the police get involved, but it is still far more contained than the original film, which had Dar facing off against several factions and saving a city realized via an large purpose-built exterior set. Problems Tabet avoided by bringing Dar to a cost-effective modern setting.
Nonetheless, Singer is fun to watch as Dar. The character is a no-nonsense he-man with few passions in life except taking care of his animals and fighting injustice. The actor brings an untroubled clarity to the part. Compared to Yor from Yor: The Hunter from the Future, his poise and easy manner seem super-heroic. The fact Singer didn’t play He-Man might be something we’ll discuss when we finally get around to the most infamous of “this time, they’re in our world” flicks, Masters of the Universe. Hauser, Douglas and Wurher are all serviceable in their roles, but also sort of forgettable. The film was an early acting role for Wurher, who made her fame as an MTV VJ and co-host of the channel’s game show Remote Control. Though she would go on to a long career, she lacks a certain verve required for the female lead in a fantasy picture; even a budget-minded one like this.
So where’s the cheese? It really lay in the cynicism constantly on display. Other than Singer’s dedication to Dar — he would play him in another sequel and as an older version of the character in the late 1990s Beastmaster TV series — everything in the frame reminds you this is sort of a scam. It betrays everything it wants to accomplish and puts the characters in rather embarrassing situations. There’s also cheese value in the way Tabet thinks so little of his audience. As it happens, that seems to occur a lot in movies using the “this time, they’re in our world” trope. Just look at that first Smurfs live action picture from a few years ago. But I can guarantee you will have more fun watching Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time than that smurfing trainwreck.
Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time is not available through any legitimate means, but can be found on Internet video sites.