With Deathstalker II we get the last Sword & Sorcery movie that Roger Corman produced in Argentina but unlike the first Deathstalker, which had a darker more serious tone, this film directed by the always fun Jim Wynorski has a decidedly more comic sensibility.
What’s interesting is it didn’t start out that way as the screenplay by Neil Ruttenberg was more in keeping with the original film but once on location Wynorski tossed that script out and proceeded to make it up as he went along, and this resulted in an interesting filmmaking approach. Each night after a day of shooting Wynorksi and his American cast members would go back to the hotel to work on the next day’s pages and with Warner Brothers cartoons being the only English programming on Argentina TV this greatly influenced the tenor and tone of the film and is why Deathstalker II comes across as a hybrid of Looney Tunes and Conan the Barbarian.
One quality that makes a true Corman production is its ability to recycle elements; whether that be using the same sets, the same actor for multiple parts, or even using footage from previous films.
According to Wynorski the plot of Deathstalker II was loosely inspired by Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night where the carefree hero meets a damsel in distress and eventually love prevails amongst their madcap adventures. Now aside from the hero bearing the same name as the character portrayed by Rick Hill in the first movie, there is no connection between this film and that one, and its comic tone almost makes it more of a parody of the first movie than a sequel as it is very self-aware.
The plot centers on Princess Evie (Monique Gabrielle) who has had to flee her kingdom to escape the clutches of the evil sorcerer and master swordsman Jarek (John Lazar) who has put an evil double of Evie on the throne. Evie is forced to take on the guise of a seer named Reena to enlist the aid of Deathstalker (John Terlesky). Reena encounters Deathstalker just as she is about to be raped by some local guards and to say his reaction to seeing a woman about to be sexually assaulted is a tad odd is an understatement, “Ordinarily I don’t mind seeing a woman get a good beating, if she deserves it, but this doesn’t look like much of a contest to me.”
This is what really sets apart the two Deathstalker films, for if this line had been delivered by Rick Hill in the first movie it would have just added to his creep factor while here, delivered by the charming John Terlesky, it comes across as funny and roguishly charming. Jim Wynorski completely understood what makes a likable rogue character and proved it by shamelessly ripping off Indiana Jones and James Bond throughout the film. Even Jarek has considerable charm as the villain, which makes him more of an interesting character than your stock moustache-twirling baddie we get in most of these types of films.
Under her guise as “Reena the Seer” and with her Crystal Doorknob of Power Evie is able to convince Deathstalker to travel to a far-off land, rescue the beautiful princess, slay the evil sorcerer and become very, very rich.
Meanwhile, Jarek isn’t letting the grass grow under him as it is very important to him that he gets the real Princess back because she and her magically created evil double are still physically linked and if the original dies so does the copy.
Jarek enlists the aid of Chin the Buccaneer (Marcos Woinsky ) and Sultana (Toni Naples) who has her own score to settle with Deathstalker as it was her temple he robbed during the film’s opening action piece.
Chin, on the other hand, is just in it for the money and recruits some extra help in the form of the Fearless Five.
“And last but not least a real find, Buddy ‘Footstool’ Laroza, only recently dismissed by Ivan the Terrible for excessive brutality.”
This group of thugs is here only to be easily dispatched by Deathstalker to show off his awesomeness so they are stabbed, broken and blown up by our hero without much impact on the story. Trivia Note: The character Chin is only in the film to allow Jim Wynorski to make an obscure Hawaii Five-O reference. I kind of admire that.
On their quest to overthrow Jarek and reclaim Evie’s throne, our heroes must survive many travails such as…
Our heroes’ journey is interrupted by a group of warrior women who put Deathstalker on trial for crimes against womanhood. Apparently, his exploits with the fairer sex have gotten around. Even for a movie such as this, the following sequence stands out as rather bizarre as all of a sudden they are spoofing Rocky (right down to the music cues) as Deathstalker must face off against Gorgo (Dee Booher aka Queen Kong) a 300 pound Amazonian giant in the ring.
Of course, Deathstalker prevails and having finally learned that Reena has lied to him and is actually Princess Evie he gives her the ole kiss-off and proceeds to make out with the Queen of the Amazons only to sneak away when he finds out he will be forced to marry her in the morning.
Deathstalker arrives in the nick of time and quickly dispatches Sultana with a thrust through the gullet and then our two leads finally make it to Evie’s castle. Though they sneak in easily enough things go south rather quickly as Deathstalker is captured and sentenced to death…again. Deathstalker is strapped down below a bladed pendulum by the resurrected Sultana and manages to rip off both Goldfinger and The Pit and the Pendulum in one scene.
Because Evie can’t go five minutes without getting into trouble, though she miraculously managed to evade capture when Deathstalker was caught, she is captured and about to be raped by a group of guards just outside the castle. She is rescued at the last minute by the Amazons from earlier and though we do get some nudity here the scene sticks out as rather distasteful in an otherwise fun romp of a movie and is more in keeping with the first Deathstalker.
Deathstalker is freed from this latest deathtrap by the Evil Evie who wants to seduce our hero so she can suck out his life force but the real Evie arrives in time to save him from La Petite Mort.
The film wraps up rather nicely as Deathstalker and Evie find themselves surrounded by Jarek and his minion only to be saved once again by the Amazons. Sultana, fed up with the whole affair, just takes off while everyone else breaks into battle mode.
Finally, Deathstalker and Jarek face off and though this is no duel at the Cliffs of Insanity both actors comport themselves quite well with the sword fighting and when Deathstalker breaks Jarek’s sword with a palm strike and then stabs him with the broken blade…well that was pretty awesome even if it was lifted from Sonny Chiba’s Five Fingers of Death.
Jim Wynorski and company clearly had fun making this movie, well except for Monique Gabrielle who apparently was not keen on the Third World amenities, but they clearly knew that it is better to have the audience laugh with you than at you and with blatant lifts from such sources as Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond, Laugh-In and Abbott and Costello this entry in the Sword & Sorcery genre stands apart from most its brethren with its wit and charm, even if some of the jokes go a little too broad or are a little too old.
Bonus Award: Jim Wynorski wins bonus points for the best integration of movies title into onscreen dialogue:
Jim Wynorski gleefully rips off dozens of films to make this comic entry in the Deathstalker series, the result is fun and exciting comedy/adventure well worth the watch. John Terlesky is a charismatic leading man, John Lazar is great as the evil villain and Monique Gabrielle whose duel role as Evie and Reena was delightful, but really the whole cast and crew did a great job for such a low budget film.