Sunday, October 4, 2009


As sword & sorcery sagas go, “Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell” (**1/2 out of ****) surpasses “Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans.” John Terlesky and company in “Deathstalker II” might as well have been swatting at each other with tennis rackets for all the swashbuckling thrills and chills that the tame first sequel failed to deliver. John Allen Nelson of “Hunk” looks like he could be the eponymous character. Mind you, Nelson is no match for Rick Hill but he is a hundred times better than Terlesky, and Mexican director Alfonso Corona shuns the juvenile antics that Jim Wynorski emphasized in “Deathstalker II.” Moreover, nobody gives an embarrassing performance in “Deathstalker III” that compares with the truly abysmal performance of Monique Gabrielle. Although it isn’t as campy as its pathetic predecessor, “Deathstalker III” contains some humor. Director Corona prefers to play things along the lines of the straight and narrow. For example, a secondary character dies under tragic circumstances so this second sequel isn't as lightweight as the first sequel. The only flaw in the original “Deathstalker” was the death of our hero’s companion too early in the action. Conversely, the character of Marinda here is introduced early in the action and survives until the finale when she helps our unarmed protagonist defeat the villain.

“Deathstalker” scenarist Howard Cohen sticks to the tried-and-true formula of the strong man who rescues a comely princess from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. Occasionally, Corona and Cohen generate a modicum of suspense, particularly in Deathstalker’s torture scene and Cohen scores with one major surprise that enhances the action. Further, Cohen has an adolescent character that is good with a bow and arrow appear at opportune moments, but he foreshadows the child’s skill with the weapon. Basically, “Deathstalker III” revolves around two multi-faceted white stones that when combined will yield their power. These two stones will take the owner to Erendor, the city of lost treasure. The villainous tyrant of Southland, Troxartes (Thom Christopher of NBC-TV’s “Buck Rogers of the 25th Century”), possesses one stone, while Deathstalker winds up with the second stone. He obtained his stone from a princess running around incognito to find a wizard. Indeed, Carissa (Carla Herd of “Wild Zone” in a dual role) has spent the last three years searching for Nicias (veteran Mexican actor Aarón Hernán) who wanders from village to village prophesying about the villagers’ future. One cool looking villain, Inaros (Roger Cudney of “The Border”), rides around with batwings attached to either side of his helmet. This entry in the quartet of sword and sorcery sagas was lensed on location in Mexico, but it is still a low-rent Roger Corman spectacle. The orchestral music by Alejandro Rulfo and Israel Torres captures the atmosphere of this mock-heroic nonsense, and Troxartes makes good use of a falcon as his eyes in the skies.

The first scene in “Deathstalker III” resembles the opening scene in “Conan the Barbarian” when the evil warriors stormed a village, killed most of the inhabitants and captured young Conan. Deathstalker is enjoying himself at a village festival, swapping blows with an adversary on a felled tree as they battle with long sticks. At the same time, the long, gray-haired wizard Nicias tells those who can afford his prices what their future holds. Nicias wears a long fur robe. Carissa has been looking for Nicias and shows him her half of the stone, fully expecting the wizard to have the other half. Suddenly, warriors on horseback wearing ominous armory ride into the village and start slaying people. Deathstalker fights them long enough for Nicias to escape and vanish into thin air with only his smoking footwear to note his presence. Carissa flees, and she winds up in Deathstalker’s camp where she identifies herself as a princess. Deathstalker is amused by his luck. “Why is it I keep getting mixed up with princesses?” Carissa tells him about Erendor and its treasure. “Enough to make my people strong forever,” she assures him. Deathstalker isn’t impressed. “Here I go again, riding hundreds of miles, fighting whole armies, up against magic maybe. In the end all I will get is flowers on my heading telling me how wonderful I am.”

No sooner has Deathstalker seen his future than the same warriors who raided the village strike his camp and kill Carissa. She gives the stone to Deathstalker. Before she dies, Carissa tells Deathstalker about her sister Belizean. According to Carissa, “It was either me or my sister and she cannot put on her own shoes.” This description fits Elizena. Later, after Deathstalker eludes Troxartes, he stumbles into a valley looking for a horse. He tries to steal one from a mother and daughter who live in the valley and live on a diet of potatoes. Marinda (Claudia Inchaurregui of “The Bikini War”) is the daughter who hasn’t set foot outside the valley and has never made love to a man. Marinda lets Deathstalker deflower her and then leads him out of the valley. Mom believes that Deathstalker has abducted her daughter so she leads Troxartes’ army after them.
Once he is safely away, Deathstalker runs into Carissa’s sister, Elizena, and Elizena is every inch the stuck-up princess that we’re used to seeing.

Troxartes hungers from the second stone. His mistress Camisarde (Terri Treas of “All That Jazz”) asks him, “Aren’t you rich enough without one more jewel?” She goes on to add, “You own every inch of land and peasant between here and the sea and me if you ever noticed.” Troxartes points out, “That city is power. The magic of a thousand generations lives in the stones of its wall waiting to erupt by the one who puts these stone together. When this is complete the world is mine. With it I’ll live forever!” Troxartes keeps track of Deathstalker with a falcon. Elizena spends the night in Deathstalker’s camp, without sharing hi blankets. The next day she leaves early, only to be assaulted by wandering swordsman, but Troxartes comes to her rescue and takes her back to his castle. Deathstalker follows, clashes swords with Troxartes, releases the warriors in his power, and defeats the dastard.

“Deathstalker III” is a relief after the abomination of “Deathstalker II. Corona and Cohen bring more dignity and pathos to this installment and—aside from the excerpts of the castle from Corman’s “The Raven”—rely less of previous footage from “Deathstalker” than any of the other entries in the franchise, including the 2003 remake “Barbarian.”