I’m a big fan of boisterous 80’s fantasy cinema, and Krull (1983) is one of my favourites.
The fantasy genre have always held a rather precarious position in cinema, often written off as cheap and cheesy, the ugly step-sister of the science fiction movie. The genre slowly began to gain respectability in the early 00’s with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, and today fantasy has become a mainstay of both cinema and TV (Game of Thrones, anyone?).
But it was a different story in the 1980’s. Despite the release of numerous fantasy films — Dragonslayer, The Sword and The Sorcerer, Hawk the Slayer, to name a few — they invariably failed to make an impact at the box office. However many would go on to achieve cult status when shown on television. The Beastmaster (1982), for example, flopped at the box office but was revived on TV and spawned two sequels in the 1990’s, as well as a TV series. Sadly, there was no such resurgence for Krull.
Released in 1983 Krull was directed by Peter Yates (Bullitt, The Deep) and written by Stanford Sherman (Any Which Way You Can, Ice Pirates). The film starred Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony (who was dubbed by Lindsay Crouse), Freddie Jones, and, as was often the case with films shot at Pinewood Studios, a host of homegrown British talent that included Alun Armstrong, Bernard Bresslaw, Liam Neeson, Todd Carty and Robbie Coltrane.
The story is pretty standard fantasy fare: while trying to enslave the world of Krull the evil Beast kidnaps princess Lyssa (Anthony) for his bride. Her fiancée (a somewhat lukewarm Marshall) attempts to rescue her with the aid of a group of misfits, including a magician, a gang of loveable rogues and a cyclops (Bresslaw). There’s even a kid in the group to appeal to the younger demographic. The questers have some daring adventures, there are a couple of good fights and eventually good triumphs over evil.
Despite the film’s generic story Krull is actually jolly good fun. The film successfully taps into a vein of high adventure, there’s plenty of comic relief, and the Beast is an decent villain. The special effects are engaging and — with the exception of the rather obvious blue-screen horse race at the end — very effective. There are also some great stop-motion sequences (the white spider sequence is easily the highlight of the film), and what’s more the film looks great. Director of photography Peter Suschitzky (The Empire Strikes Back) did a damn fine job: the film was shot on location in Lanzarote and Italy, and Suschitzky did a terrific job making the landscape look beautiful and, at times, ethereal. All told Krull is an solidly entertaining movie — a perfect Sunday afternoon flick.
Sadly Krull bombed at the box office, recouping less than $20 million of it’s huge $50 million budget. The critics weren’t kind either, but then again they rarely were for genre films from that period. Krull has gone on to gain modest cult status over the years but on the whole it’s been largely forgotten, which is a shame; I watched it recently on Blu ray and it holds up remarkably well. I doubt Krull will ever be reevaluated as a classic of the fantasy genre, but it’s certainly a world that’s well worth revisiting.