Deathstalker II (1987)
"Twice the action. Twice the passion. Twice the adventure"
The famous warrior Deathstalker runs into a seer who predicts that he will make a great fortune by rescuing a princess and helping her get back her throne. But what he isn’t aware is that the seer is in fact the Princess Evie, who has been ousted from her throne by the evil wizard Jerak, replacing her with a magic clone that he can control and do his bidding.
The original Deathstalker was one of a plethora of low budget sword and sorcery films to be released in the wake of Conan the Barbarian and to cash in on the sudden popularity of the genre. With a budget of around half a million dollars and a simple formula of swords, sex and silliness, the film proved to be a modest hit at the box office and became even more of a surprise hit on video. Never one to miss a trick, legendary producer Roger Corman opted to keep going back to the well over the next few years with similar films like The Warrior and the Sorceress and Barbarian Queen, all of which were constructed around the same formula of sword-wielding heroes and heroines battling sinister warlords and magicians – basically anything remotely human-looking and cheap to include -and serving it up with a generous slab of 80s exploitation.
Deathstalker II doesn’t quite try to do the same thing as its predecessor and is more of an accidental spoof of the genre than a serious fantasy film. For a start, they’ve replaced muscleman Rick Hill with a decidedly-less toned John Terelsky, who looks more like a dodgy scoundrel like Han Solo than he does a barbarian. Maybe the film would have been better off calling itself something else and featuring him as an entirely different character as the clash in tones between the two films is obvious. The straight seriousness of the original has been replaced with goofy fun. Whereas before, you’d be sat laughing at the absurdity of everything and everyone being so serious, the forced one-liners and cringey dialogue in here will make you squirm and wince. Deathstalker II tries too hard to be funny with some really low-level humour and thus the only real comedic value comes from the unintentional moments of bad dialogue and cheap filmmaking.
Penny pinching does hold the film back from expanding the scope. Whenever there’s a fight scene, it’s the same three or four stuntmen used over and over throughout the film and in scenes that Terelsky wasn’t featured in, he even wore a mask and joined in the carnage. Sets from the original were re-used (and had been re-used numerous times in other films in between shoots) as are some musical cues. Stock footage from the original is also present in some sequences. The new additions aren’t any improvement and, like many of the genre, the narrative is a loose assortment of individual episodes where the hero and his accomplices have to overcome a minor obstacle to then proceed to the next one. A large gravel pit somewhere in Argentina doubles up as a canyon where one of the film’s premier set pieces takes place. There’s an Amazonian tribe who force Deathstalker to fight a giant female wrestler in a portion of the film which goes on forever. Coupled with fight against a horde of the least threatening zombies put on screen, Deathstalker II doesn’t really get the pulses racing with excitement.
Neither leads John Terelsky or Monique Gabrielle (playing the role of the twins) are the greatest performers; Gabrielle in particular looks ready to burst out laughing every time she delivers one of her monotone lines. But she looks fantastic (and disrobes) and it is hard to dislike her goofy ‘good’ character, even if she is something of a plot device to get Deathstalker into trouble. Terelsky reminds me of a low budget Bruce Campbell, filled with plenty of roguish charm and knowing winks to the camera. Bad guys John Lazar and Toni Naples are about as one-dimensional as you can get. In general, it’s hard to be too critical of anyone in the cast as they all seem to be having such a good time, as evident in the outtakes that play across the end credits. Sadly, enjoying oneself making a film does not equate to actually making a good film.
Deathstalker II is a goofy sequel, which works better than the original in some areas and fails massively in others. Technically, it’s an appallingly-made film with awful acting, shoestring production values and a sense of why bother. But on the flip side, it’s hard not to become mildly captivated by the antics of the cast and appreciate the honesty and vigour with which it was clearly filmed.
Director(s): Jim Wynorski
Writer(s): Jim Wynorski (story), Neil Ruttenberg (screenplay), R.J. Robertson (additional dialogue)
Actor(s): John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, John Lazar, Toni Naples, Maria Socas
Duration: 85 mins