The cable movie channel mainstay - Don Coscarelli's The Beastmaster arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in a glorious collector's edition set as the first entry in their deluxe UHD line VSU. Whether you grew up watching this movie on HBO or TBS - The Beastmaster remains one of the better sword and sorcery movies of the 80s standing alongside the big blockbuster genre giants of the time. Sourced from a new 4K scan of the interpositive, the film has never looked or sounded better. The Native 4K HDR10 transfer brings vivid details and colors to this fantasy gem along with 2 fully restored Blu-ray editions including one with newly produced VFX along with some incredible bonus features to match. This is an essential piece of the collection and Vinegar Syndrome knocked it out of the park. Must Own.
Note - this release is currently only available direct from Vinegar Syndrome and is back up for sale while supplies last.
After a prophecy determined he would kill the evil Maax (Rip Torn), Dar (Marc Singer) was to be sacrificed as a baby - but when the sacrifice was interrupted by his adoptive father (Ben Hammer), Dar was left with the magical power of communicating with wild animals! But when Maax leads a raid on his adoptive people leaving him the sole survivor, Dar will turn to his trusty ferrets, eagle, and black tiger and unite those who resist Maax's authority and lead a crusade for revenge!
The Beastmaster is kinda like Star Wars in the sense that I don't know how anyone alive in the 1980s didn't see this movie. Between TBS, HBO, and even small local stations running it constantly on television let alone rental shops, it felt like it was impossible to miss. I didn't even have cable as a kid and I saw it all the time at friends' houses. Flip through the channels on any given Sunday afternoon and you'd have a better than average chance of seeing a shirtless Marc Singer fighting a snaggletoothed Rip Torn as he's about to sacrifice a kid on a flaming altar. But because this movie was just always on, it was years before I ever actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end. It's one of those movies where wherever you come into it, it doesn't take long to catch up and still enjoy what's left of it.
A lot of that has to do with writer/director Don Coscarelli. Hot off his huge success with his ultra-low-budget horror classic Phantasm, Coscarelli decided not to play it safe and went for broke to bring a childhood favorite book series to the big screen. Loosely based on a series of novels by Andre Norton, The Beastmaster capitalizes on the sword and sorcery revival of the 80s. Following Conan The Barbarian in theaters by just a few months, The Beastmaster plays within the same sort of mythical alternate Bronze Age where wizards, witches, and magical swashbuckling adventures were cropping up. Several plot points are virtually identical to Conan only The Beastmaster doesn't play things nearly as straight or operatic as its barbarian cousin.
Kudus to the cast - Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts hold the screen as an attractive pair. Singer cuts to the quick nicely hamming things up where necessary while also bringing a lot of physicality to the role. Rip Torn looks like he's having a blast playing a maniacal wizard while John Amos is basically playing a new take on Little John from the Robin Hood myth. Everyone is playing full out with this movie leaning into the comedy when necessary but not letting things get so silly the film becomes too self-aware.
The Beastmaster is the right kind of movie for a younger audience - even though there's no way this movie would get a PG rating today without some snips during a few sequences. It has creepy monsters that are certainly intimidating but not too scary for the younger set. It's got gnarly-faced witches. It's got green-eyed mindless murderous minions. And it's got an assortment of animal critters to root for. At first, a lot of this all seems so silly and you start to roll your eyes, but before long you get caught up in the action and the story and you forget the goofy contrivances. Coscarelli demonstrates a tremendous knack for knowing when to push a serious story but then pull back and give the audience a little nod and a wink. Before long there's a great rhythm to the film that you just want it to keep going.
Now if only Coscarelli maintained his ownership of the film's rights and characters, we might have gotten some decent sequels. Sadly the two sequels and the really weird television show don't amount to much. The Beastmaster 2 is basically the Cannon Masters of the Universe movie all over again - and somehow even worse. I'm sure at some point I did see Beastmaster 3 but I can't say that I remember a thing about it beyond a young Casper Van Dien before he nabbed Starship Troopers and David Warner looking like he couldn't wait to get out of there to cash his check.
But because of the frequency that The Beastmaster was on television - I never owned it. Never felt the need to because I'd seen it so many times. Now watching this new 4K UHD Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, I realized it'd been the better side of 15 years or longer since I actually sat down to watch this movie. Even with the constant familiarity of "oh right this part!" I had a blast reconnecting with it. Included in this set is a version of The Beastmaster with some new visual effects. Don't worry - Coscarelli didn't go full "Lucas" on his film - the visual effects changes are relegated to some of the dodgy optical effects and have only been updated slightly. So slight at times it's not immediately apparent that anything has been changed.
The eagle carrying the kid away to safety and the distant cloud of dust of the incoming marauders were the most obvious ones to me. It's not like they added new digital effects all over the place - it's still the same rambunctious The Beastmaster straining every dollar to the final penny. There's just been some spit and polish added. But if small enhancements aren't your thing, the 4K UHD Blu-ray and the other Blu-ray disc remains authentic to the original release. With that - even if you're not 4K UHD Blu-ray ready or don't plan to upgrade anytime soon - there's still great reason for grabbing this set. Not only is this the first U.S. domestic release for The Beastmaster - it's a definitive release right out of the gate.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
After living a long life on cable, The Beastmaster finally arrives on Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray for the very first time in a deluxe Limited Edition 3-disc set from Vinegar Syndrome as the inaugural entry in their new deluxe UHD line - VSU - and limited to a run of 10,000 copies. Packaged in a gorgeous magnetic clasp book-box, the BD-100 4K disc and two BD-50 1080p Blu-ray discs are housed in a standard black 3-disc Elite case, each disc gets its own tray and isn't stacked on top of one another with a slick cardstock O-card with slightly raised textured artwork. There's also reversible insert artwork for the case, each depicting different poster art for the film. Also included is a booklet containing concept art, stills from the film, and essays. Each disc loads to its own main menu with Vinegar Syndrome's standard navigation menu structure. The 4K UHD has the two audio commentary tracks as bonus features while the two 1080 discs house all of the standard bonus feature materials.
NOTE: Due to a manufacturing issue, the VFX enhanced disc, Blu-ray Disc 2 has an error where it stops or gets pixelated - depending on your player, my Oppo and Samsung did one or the other respectively - and will skip forward. The only instance I noticed this happening hits early around the 5-minute mark. Vinegar Syndrome already has replacement discs replicated, so only a few copies that were shipped early were affected - copies that were shipped later will have the new corrected disc. If you have one of the bad discs, Vinegar Syndrome will be shipping you the replacement automatically. So worry not.
Because the original negative for The Beastmaster was left at a house when it was sold, it's feared lost forever. With that, the best elements available for this new 4K restoration was the 35mm Interpositive. While the OCN is obviously the ideal choice, this Interpositive still works a 4K miracle. At the start of the film, there is a title card warning viewers about the fluctuating grain structure and how it can appear heavier in certain sequences and less so in others. I appreciate that VS included this notice with their release because it's clear from the start that no image smoothing or DNR was employed - and the image looks all the better for it. The earlier scenes of the film is where grain is more apparent and looks larger - that's because early into filming they switched from anamorphic to spherical lenses to accommodate the eventual home video and broadcast market without having to cut off the sides to make it fit a standard era television. Once Marc Singer arrives as the adult Dar, that heavy larger grain structure subsides.
Throughout the film - details are absolutely spectacular. Facial features, the intricate - and sometimes less so - costuming, the film's production design, everything is on full display with tremendous results. The scenery for all of the California and Las Vegas desert area locations is beautiful stuff. the makeup work for the various creatures and the gnarly witches offers a cleaner look than I've ever seen them in this movie.
HDR10 darkens the image a stop or two compared to the included 1080p Blu-rays, but It looks more dramatically pleasing without being overly dark or overly bright. It hits that sweet spot. Colors are vivid with natural tones allowing for primaries to really pop. Blues and reds are stunning. Black levels are spot on with a deep inky presence and terrific image depth. The color grading combined with the enhanced black levels gives the numerous firelight sequences that desired orangey/red luminance with appreciable shadow gradience for some often stunning visuals. A little bit of speckling occurs and there are a couple of fine-line scratches that pop up here and there, but they're very rare and often barely noticeable. Some I only saw because I've effectively watched this movie now three times in as many days switching between the discs. Considering the elements used, this is a gorgeous restoration effort. The only way this could possibly be any better is if that negative ever turns up in someone's garage somewhere.
While the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray transfer is the cream of the crop, the included 1080p Blu-ray transfers are no slouch. Both the original version and the new VFX edition are sourced from the same 4K restoration and are virtually identical aside from the new effects shots - which again are so slight you may not even notice. Details are clear and clean throughout and again better than any DVD that ever came before - but don't quite enjoy the same level of clarity as to the full 4K UHD image. Colors are bold with beautiful primaries, those blue skies over the Valley of Fire State Park locations is beautiful stuff. Black levels are strong but compared to the 4K disc again, they don't quite hit the same inky depths - and the various grading of film grain can be a bit more apparent. Again - this is a terrific transfer in itself and had this movie not also gotten a 4K UHD Blu-ray, this alone would be a cause to celebrate.
The 4K UHD Blu-ray and both 1080p Blu-ray presentations come packed with impressive DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mixes. This is a case where it's 100% dealer's choice which way you want to run the movie. Both tracks are impressive in their own regards. While I would normally go with Stereo just to preserve the film's original presentation and mirror my nostalgic experiences watching this movie on television - that 5.1 mix is a welcome addition. It's not overly processed, it doesn't add new sound effects to punch up the surround quality - it just enhances the spacing and atmospherics of the elements for a little more immersive presentation. Surrounds and rears aren't always engaged, this mix is still front/center loaded but compared to the stereo track it has more heft to it. Dialog for both mixes is on point, clean and clear without issue. The fantastic score by Lee Holdridge comes through beautifully. Free of any hiss or age-related issues both tracks are clean without issues. Levels are on point without needing to be adjusted.
Vinegar Syndrome went full out for the bonus features for this new Limited Edition release of The Beastmaster. Fans get to enjoy the excellent archival audio commentary with Don Coscarelli and cowriter/producer Paul Pepperman. Then there is a brand new audio commentary with Coscarelli and Pepperman moderated by Joe Lynch giving the conversation a new dynamic for a lively and engaging listen. If that wasn't enough you get a brand new full feature-length making-of documentary which is an essential watch for fans, home movies shot on set, outtakes, stills, and tons of other archival materials from other releases. The bonus features for this release really is the full package keeping fans occupied for several hours. Even then there's a case to be made that the new version with new VFX that Coscarelli oversaw is a bonus feature in of itself so chalk on another two hours for that!
4K UHD Blu-ray Disc
1080p Blu-ray One
1080p Blu-ray Two
Just when fans would gladly settle for a halfway decent Blu-ray of The Beastmaster - Vinegar Syndrome knocks it out of the park by giving fans a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release that is an essential piece of the collection. This cable and video store favorite has never looked or sounded better. Sourced from the 35mm Interpositive for a new 4K restoration, the image is crisp and clean offering gorgeous details and with HDR10 enhanced vivid colors with terrific black levels and improved contrast. On top of that, you get two 1080p versions of the film, the original that runs the same as the 4K disc and a new version with improved VFX shots that aren't overdone or too "Star Wars Special Edition" for their own good. Toss in a new audio commentary track, a new feature-length making-of documentary, on top of hours of archival materials and you have one hell of a Limited Collector's Edition. If this is what every Vinegar Syndrome VSU release is going to be like, fans have a lot to get excited about. Beyond a simple "highly recommended" - The Beastmaster is a Must Own.