Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The best of 80's fantasy pt. 3- Dragonslayer (1981)

Why is it that Hollywood can seldom get dragons right? They try......and for the most miserably. I do give some credit to 2002's "Reign of Fire" which shows the fantastical creatures as they should be....mean....nasty....killers. I don't want to see movies about charming dragons that love people and are voiced by Sean Connery...or Rachel Weisz. I want to see the mother of all badass fantasy monsters turning peasants into charred remains with fire and tearing them apart with unholy brute strength. It's sad....but dragon lovers prayers have not been answered since 1981's "Dragonslayer." It's a tale of an ancient terror named Vermithrax....she's a grumpy old bitch so vicious that people maim themselves just to get away from her. She's here to slay.....or be slayed.

The plot has a band of desperate villagers led by a young man named Valerian seeking out the last known sorcerer Ulrich of Craggenmoor (Ralph Richardson). He alone is their only chance to rid the land of the last and oldest dragon. For many decades the kingdom of Urland has been ravaged by Vermithrax and twice a year they offer her virgin daughters chosen by lottery to avoid her wrath. Ulrich is old, but seems to be up to the challenge. The only problem is that King Casiodorus doesn't like this plan and dispatches the captain of his guard Tyrian (John Hallum) to test the old man to see what power...if any...he really has. It's Tyrian's blade vs Ulrich's sorcery....but alas....everyone knows you never bring a wizard to a knife fight and Ulrich is mortally wounded. With Ulrich dead....the villagers have no hope for the future. Enter Galen Bradwarden (Peter Macnicol)....the young sorcerer's apprentice who takes it upon himself to challenge the dragon and the corrupt government of Urland. The task is mighty and only the power of a mystical amulet that he is too inexperienced to use can help him.

The characters in this film are great.....there are plot twists galore (especially when Valerian's true colors are revealed)....and we begin to wonder if Galen actually stands a chance against the villainous Tyrian....not to mention the dragon. Keep a lookout for an early movie appearance from Ian McDiarmid. You might know him as the Emperor Palpatine in the "Star Wars" prequels. Here he has a bit part as a priest that stands against the dragon with nothing but his faith in God to help him. (spoiler...the force is not with him) At first Galen seems like a real whiney shit....but give him time....he eventually rises to the occasion and when his magic fails him...he takes on Vermithrax with one of the most awesome movie weapons ever...the Sicarious Dracorum. (roughly translated....the dragonslayer)

Forging the Sicarious Dracorum AKA the badass spear

The FX were done by ILM and still hold up pretty well in my opinion. They kind of take the "Jaws" approach and don't show you the monster until much later in the story. It works to build suspense and you'll really appreciate it when Vermithrax is finally revealed. I should also mention that this film was co-produced by Disney, but don't be fooled by the PG rating. "Dragonslayer" is dark and bloody as would definately get a PG-13 today...if not R. Vermithrax must have scared the crap out of movie makers because celluloid dragons have pretty much been pussies ever since.

"flame on" Vermithrax is ready to cook thy nuts...

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