The Deathstalker films were these post-Conan/Beastmaster productions that delivered up goofy sword-and-sorcery stories. The first one is really shit, to be honest, but the second one is a lot more fun.
Both films were Roger Corman productions, with the first made for about half a million. It was the first of about 10 movies that Corman made with Héctor Oliviera as director or producer, using probably some kind of tax break made available by Argentina. It’s set in a sort of medieval fantasy world, where the hero is on a quest to find magical objects, and comes up against witches, ogres and warriors. It gives you what you expect, but half the dialogue is dubbed and the quality is poor. The first is really rapey, with multiple characters committing assaults.
Deathstalker also features Lana Clarkson in one of her early film roles when she was still a B-movie actress, 30 years before her murder by Phil Spector. She’s joined on screen by several model-actresses, including former Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton.
Director John Watson was actually James Sbardellati working under an alias. Sbardellati was the 1st AD on The Beastmaster as well and had already worked in that capacity with Corman. It’s likely that he is the one who approached Corman with an idea for a cheap Beastmaster-alike project. Corman was already in the mood for it, because he was mad about missing out on the rights to the Conan books when they were still cheap. He went on to work as 1st AD on a most of John Frankenheimer’s ’90s/’00s films.
Deathstalker II was directed by another Corman prodigy, Jim Wynorski, who has made more than 100 films. Most of them are absolute shite, but he has covered all the exploitation genres, including some soft-core porn. I love Wynorski’s first film with Corman, Chopping Mall, and he also did the remake of Not of This Earth with Traci Lords (her first mainstream film).
Wynorski could see the ridiculousness of the whole Deathstalker concept, so the story is better and it has much more of a sense of humour. The evil sorcerer is played John LaZar, best known for one of the greatest performances in all of cinema, as Z-Man in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. That automatically makes it a better movie. It’s campier and more fun, but it’s also nothing special.
The cast of the second film is completely different, with former Penthouse Pet Monique Gabriel in the lead female role (she was also in Wynorski’s Not of This Earth remake and several of his other movies) and the Deathstalker is John Terlesky, who was previously the lead in Chopping Mall. It’s a better film not only because it’s funny, but the story makes more sense, the action is better and the dubbing is less apparent.
The two come in a package from 101 Films that includes commentaries and trailers for both, plus a photo gallery for the first film.