The courage of an eagle, the strength of a panther, and the power of a god.
The Beastmaster is a 1982 fantasy film directed by Don Coscarelli that starred Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, John Amos and Rip Torn. It is often dubbed a B-movie and cult film. It was loosely based on ideas from Andre Norton in her seminal science fiction novel The Beast Master, although did not use plot, setting, or characters from the novel. The film was marketed with the tagline “The courage of an eagle, the strength of a panther, and the power of a god.” The Dog “Koto” was an American Shepherd which saved his life early in the film.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
The film tells the story of Dar, the son of a king, who is robbed of his birthright by a power-hungry priest named Maax and his demon-like, Norn-like witches. While still in his mother’s womb, Dar is magically transferred to a cow, rendering the queen insensible. The witch takes him to a remote place, where she removes him from the cow, brands his hand, and is moments away from killing him when he is saved by a passing peasant.
The peasant adopts him as his own son and raises him in his village. While he is still an adolescent, he learns that he has a special relationship with animals. After Dar reaches adulthood, his adopted father and his entire village are murdered by the barbarian “Juns”. After lighting a funeral pyre for them, Dar begins his quest for revenge. He is aided on his quest by two ferrets (named Kodo & Podo), an eagle, and a large tiger covered in dirt or oil, making it appear black with the faintest of its orange “stripes” showing.
On the way, Dar encounters a bizarre tribe of winged beings who feed on humans. Before Dar’s eyes, one of the faceless entities seizes and consumes a man, reducing him to a skeleton. As the creatures close in on Dar, his eagle lands on his outstretched arm. The monsters back away, and Dar notices a statue carved in the shape of a bird, apparently an idol the creatures worship. Before he leaves, one of the creatures gives him a medallion with a likeness of a bird etched into it.
Later, Dar spies on a pair of attractive women bathing. He lures one of them away by having his ferrets steal her clothes and then has his panther menace her. He pretends to rescue her to ingratiate himself. She spurns his advances, and reveals that her name is Kiri and that she is a slave girl. Unnoticed by either of them, she drops a piece of jewelry on the ground which is later stolen by the ferrets.
Later, Dar meets Seth, a skilled warrior, and Tal, who unbeknownst to any of them is Dar’s younger brother. Since Tal is line to succeed King Zed, Seth is sworn to protect them. Seth also wishes to free King Zed. Shortly thereafter, Tal notices Kiri’s jewelry and Seth reveals that she was no slave girl, but does not elaborate. Tal comments that Kiri is his cousin.
Dar travels to the city and witnesses Maax sacrificing children by dropping them into a fire pit at the top of the temple that dominates the city. Dar sends his eagle to rescue a second child, thus earning the gratitude of the child’s family. He learns from the father, Sacco, that Kiri is a trained warrior, far from the slave girl she claimed to be. He also learns that she is to be sacrificed. Dar, Seth, and Tal quickly rescue her.
With Kiri’s help, they sneak into the temples to rescue King Zed. Dar is shocked to learn that the king has been blinded. After narrowly escaping the monstrous death guards (a kind of berserker driven to a killing madness by the tortures imposed on them), they all meet at a camp where King Zed stirs the townsmen into a rebellion, intending to destroy Maax. He rejects Dar’s help, though, calling him a “freak”. Dar leaves the gathering and waits with his animals.
Shortly afterward, Seth realizes that Maax has been spying on them and knows their plan. He beseeches Zed to flee, but the king laments the son he thinks is dead and is overcome by the need for revenge.
The following day, Sacco rides to Dar and tells him that the attack failed and that all of the rebels were to be sacrificed. Dar rushes into the city and fights his way up the temple steps before confronting Maax. Out of sheer spite, Maax tells King Zed that Dar is his son before killing him. Dar defeats him, but while his back is turned, the priest tries to stab him in the back. Kodo, Dar’s male ferret, jumps on his back and bites his neck, sending them both tumbling down into the fire pit.
The Jun Horde, allies of Maax, head toward them to raze the city. As the city prepares its defenses, Dar gives the bird medallion to his eagle and sends it off to find the strange creatures who gave it to him.
That evening the horde arrive. They are hampered by the sludge-filled moat that surrounds the city. They manage to set the sludge on fire, resulting in a massive explosion that kills many Juns, although Tal is seriously wounded in the attempt. Dar fights the leader of the Juns in personal combat and defeats him. Rather than retreat at their leader’s death, the survivors immediately surround their enemies. Although many Juns have been killed, they still vastly outnumber Dar and his friends. They face certain death when Dar’s eagle swoops out of the sky and lands on his arm.
The man-eating savages suddenly appear and annihilate the remaining Juns, allowing Dar and his companions to escape behind the safety of the city walls. They treat Tal’s wounds and learn that he will survive.
The following morning as Dar prepares to leave, Seth sees the brand on his hand and realizes that he was the first born son and that he should be king. Dar refuses and resumes wandering. Kiri catches up with him and the two travel together. It is revealed then that the female ferret, Podo, who is still alive, has given birth to kits who presumably were sired not long before Kodo’s death (echoing the theme “out of death, life”).
Reaction and sequels
The film was a critical and box office failure upon its 1982 release, grossing just three million dollars against a nine million budget. However, it subsequently received significant cable airplay, notably HBO and TBS leading many to dub the latter “The Beastmaster Station.” Others jokingly stated that HBO was an acronym for “Hey, Beastmaster’s On.” It became a TV mainstay and viewer favorite.
As such, the movie eventually spawned two sequels (Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time [ 1991 ], and Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus [ 1996, TV only ], and a television series. These spin-offs are commonly considered inferior compared to the original.