Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dragonslayer (1981)

Ah, here we go, a review that I have long dreamed of tearing into. You knew it was only a matter of time before I finally reached out into the ether and brought to you all a movie produced by the Walt Disney company. You know, besides the other one I talked about. I mean, hey, they're only one of the most prolific producers of films, both animated and live-action, so it really was only a matter of time when I'd finally find a reason to talk about one of their films that has always left a major impact on me. But...during Kaijuly? My review of Pete's Dragon garnered questions about whether that could even be valid, as it's so damn family friendly.

Because nothing says "family friendly" like child abuse and kidnapping.

So, Dragonslayer...oh man, this one has a history to it. Way back when, you could say Disney went through a sort of dark phase. Beginning essentially with 1979's The Black Hole, they cranked out some films that definitely stood out among the ranks of Disney's work as being quite different. Not so much in the way of musical numbers or whimsy, leaning more towards things like mystery and dark things lurking in the fringes. If you were a child of the 1980s, you may have been privy to the fact that Disney actually made horror movies back then. O h yeah, that was a thing that happened. Not slasher movies, mind you, but genuine creepfests that could really stick with you. They even gave us a dark sequel to the Wizard of Oz that some people have claimed scared the shit out of them as kids.

I don't know why. It never bothered me. Weird.
During this darker era, Disney worked on some films with Paramount and one of those films was a fantasy film that featured a tone and event so mature that it caused some serious controversy. This is Walt Disney Productions putting their name on a film with nudity and gore in it. Yes, there is a Disney film with both of those things in it, because it had to happen at some point. And hey, it stars Peter MacNicol! He was in Ghostbusters II! Are people still mad about the Ghostbusters reboot?

"Of course! I wasn't asked to cameo in it!!"
Our story takes place in the kingdom of Urland, which I am fairly certain is about as real as Vigo the Carpathian. Anyway, this is a place that is being terrorized by the presence of a big ol' nasty dragon called Vermithrax Pejorative. Now there's a name. To keep the dragon less "burninate-the-countryside-y", the king partakes in that oldest of traditions: throw virgins at it. Because virgin sacrifice is always the go-to solution when it comes to horrible giant things. Is there a massive magnanimous monster tearing up the countryside? Give it two virgins and call the giant doctor in the morning.

I have been assured that he's not just two guys in a big labcoat. Most by him, but who is gonna question a giant doctor?
To stop the virgin sacrifice lottery from happening, a young guy named Valerian seeks out the wizard, Ulrich of Craggenmoor, for aid. One of the accompanying soldiers, Tyrian, acts like a dick, trying to basically prove the wizard ain't worth shit. In reply to this, said wizard invites the guy to stab him, which dickhead obliges...and Ulrich promptly dies. Whoops. Galen, the wizard's apprentice, is fairly shaken by this whole situation. I mean, he hasn't even learned the really cool spells yet, like the one that conjures blow jobs from thin air or the one that make fish turn into mermaids. I hear that he tried that one but it turned out a lot different than he expected.

I suppose if you're a foot fetishist, it would probably be fine.
He and Hodge, Ulrich's elderly manservant (no to be confused with man-children), burn the wizard's body into ashes and Hodge informs the now wizardless apprentice that he's gotta go find some burning water to toss the ashes over, as it was his dead master's wish. But hey, at least he gets a fancy amulet out of the deal the belonged to Ulrich, because it's a bit hard to use that when you're a bunch of ashes in a pouch being toted around. Thus, our hero, Galen, decides to take on the task of saving Urland's virgins...oh, and the country too. Tyrian, being the bright ray of sunshine that he is, wants to remind us who he really is, so he kills Hodge.

"I like stabbing stabbing old men and being a prototype for Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham!"
But before all that happens, Galen doesn't have time to focus on things like Tyrian's old man stabbing lust, as he's busy questioning his sexuality, because Valerian is one pretty man. A very curvy pretty man...with shapely hips...alright, maybe I'm the one questioning my sexuality. Well, that soon becomes a clear non-issue as Galen discovers upon diving into the water with Valerian that his new buddy has baps.

Thank you, Walt Disney.
Yep, we just got some not-at-all-implied nudity in a Disney film. I'm fairly certain that if you look hard enough you might even see Galen's dick, because he was quite bare-assed when he jumped in. Kudos to both actors too, as they both have nice asses, which is a refreshing sight when you've seen many unsightly asses during viewings of questionable "erotic" films, like I have. Suffice to say, this may make things a bit more awkward going forward. Apparently, Valerian pretended to be a man to avoid the lottery, which I can't say she\s wrong for doing. Who wants to play fair when getting eaten by a dragon is on the menu? And for that matter, what's this shit about it always being virgin women getting fed to beasties? Men are virgins too, dammit. I'm betting Tyrian knows that all too well. It's probably why he's so cantankerous.

"I just want to sheathe my sword in someone who loves me."
But yes, Hodge dies and Galen follows Valerian to Urland so he can attempt to be a hero of some kind. He tries to close the dragon's cave, which does seem like something someone should've tried doing at some point and he's repaid for this by being arrested by Sir Tyrian of Dicklandia. He's brought before the king, who berates him for sealing the cave up because he might've just pissed off the big bad rather than stop it. Well, at least he did something besides feed innocent young women to it, ya douche! But, Galen isn't up for any sort of fair trial here. His kingship just yoinks his amulet and drops his ass in the dungeon, which makes me wonder if Urland is just Ünderland back in the day. It would explain some things, me thinks.

"He knows too much..."
While in the dungeon, Princess Elspeth decides to be a bitch towards the guy who tried to do something. Galen rebuffs her though by pointing out that she's been rumoured to have been left out of the lottery, along with pretty much all the other rich young ladies, meaning the whole thing is rigged to only prey on the poor and their system is broken. Could you imagine living in a country where the poor are systematically shoved down while the rich get to pretend that everything is completely fair and not at all biased in their own favour? That'd be almost like one of those rich people who constantly takes advantage of people being a serious contender for president of the United States.

Oh...oh, right...right...shit.
Facing the potential reality of her father being a massive douche, she confronts him about this and he blatantly lies to her about it, thus confirming for her that it actually is true that she's an entitled bitch who was never at risk. And hey, wouldn't you know it? The dragon is still actually alive, as we see is get back out of the cave, which causes an earthquake that probably woke up a bunch of grabboids. Sorry, I can't help by reference other giant monsters, it's like a tic. Galen gets loose though, so that's good. The local holy man goes to confront the dragon, calling it the devil, and that's bad. Why? Because he gets burned alive and decides to set fire to everything else on the way to the holy man's town. Good job there, padre.

"My bad."
Now that all hell has once more broken loose, the lottery for virgins to feed to the dragon...who probably couldn't give a shit...is being held again. But with a twist! You see, the princess has decided not continue being one of the more unlikable people in the film anymore, thus has rigged it so her name would be picked regardless. And the king can't back out either, because doing so would mean admitting they've been rigging shit from the get-go. Thus he turns to Galen, offering up the amulet in the hopes that he actually can somehow save his daughter and maybe stop the dragon that no one else has been able to stop. Our boy uses the amulet's magic to whammy a big ol' enchantment for this spear Valerian's dad made, which actually happens to be named Dragonslayer.

Dropping that name like it's a mic, son.
Valerian makes him a shield out of dragon scales, because he probably needs a shield for the whole not being roasted alive thing. I bet that priest from earlier wishes he'd had a shield that was all fireproof. On the bright side, he finally knows what the afterlife is like though, right?

"Actually, I'm still alive. Does anyone have a bucket of water and some aloe vera?"
Eeeehhhhh, riiiiiiight....moving on. It's about this time our two leads acknowledge their feelings for one another, serving as a reminder that people really need to stop waiting to confess their feelings right before facing imminent death. Being turned down sucks, sure, but so does realizing you're in love with someone who also loves you only for them to be killed by a dragon. Just saying. Galen goes to rescue the princess but he didn't really factor in the other threat: the film's dickhead. Yes, he finds himself facing off with none other than our favourite  old man stabber, Tyrian! Whom he kills, because Tyrian isn't really that great. Not a big shock, as we mostly knew him for being talented at killing old men.

"I guess I'm the old man this time..."
Galen goes to find the princess, who had already gone into the cave, and he arrives in time to find her dead as fuck. Now, the scene with the nudity? Yeah, that was pretty shocking. The old man stabbing? That was bad, but not particularly graphic. The burning priest? that should be a damn metal album cover, seriously. But this part? This is the part that made my jaw drop when I first saw this film. Not just the idea that Disney killed off a princess, which feels odd in and of itself, but because when Galen finds her...she's being torn into pieces by baby dragons and eaten. Disney made a film where a princess is killed and eaten in a gory fashion by dragon babies. Let that sink in.

It's even better if you imagine this taking place in the same world as the other family-friendly magical Disney films.
Just imagine, somewhere in that same world Aladdin is having fun with his Genie pal, Hercules is wearing Scar's dead pelt, Ariel is collecting sporks, and Rapunzel is enjoying not having to brush more than her bodyweight in hair. Oh, and Peter Pan is kidnapping children to sacrifice in his war against a pirate who he started shit with. I am horrible, aren't I? Galen kills the babies, because we don't need more of these things running around, and proceeds to find Vermithrax living in a lake of fire and being the most brutal thing ever. After a valiant effort is made to fight the dragon, he only manages to hurt it and also loses the spear in the exchange. If not for the shield his new girlfriend made him, he'd be all sorts of dead. You know, like the priest.

"I'm not dead, dammit! I'm just tired. I'm gonna just take a seat down over here."
Since the whole "save the princess and kill the dragon" plan fell apart, Valerian tells him it's time for them to split, but the amulet has the power of rewinding the film to remind us that Galen was supposed to throw his master's ashes in the burning lake and that his master probably planned this all along. Well, minus all the people dying the probably could've been saved if he'd just thrown the ashes in when he reached the cave earlier in the film.

Whoopsie!
Sure enough, the old wizard rises from his grave in the flames. Sadly, he tells Galen he doesn't have long, informing his apprentice that he must destroy the amulet when the time is right. He teleports away to face off against the dragon on the mountaintop, they duke it out in classic wizard/dragon fashion, and Ulrich lets Vermithrax grab hold of him as they fly off. Galen smashes the amulet and the old wizard dies once more, exploding himself and killing the dragon in the process. The people all believe God is responsible, the asshole king stabs the dead dragon in attempt to claim the victory for himself, and our real heroes decide to leave this country behind before they actually do become Ünderland. We do get a cute bit at the end though where Galen wishes they had a horse and suddenly one appears, suggesting that either his wizard master is hanging around somehow or that perhaps Galen is now truly a wizard. Either way, that's the end of our tale.

"This movie is nothing but anti-dragon propaganda! I'm calling my lawyer...wait, I ate her...damn virgin lawyers..."
This movie was a delight when I first saw it and it still is now. It's one of those fantasy films that so rarely gets any love and it truly is a shame, because it has what may be one of the best dragon designs in all of cinema. Vermithrax Pejorative stands out easily as menacing presence on-screen and I lament not being able to see this on the big screen. To be fair though, I wasn't born yet, so it would have been rather tricky to swing. But yeah, the giant monster in this particular film really does shine, making this a fine addition to Kaijuly and him a great addition to the already large collection of recognized giant beasties.

"Flattery will not stop me from eating you."
I also have to give serious props to the actors in the film, most notably our leads who really come off as extremely likable throughout. You want to see Galen and Valerian pull through it all and get their happily ever after, as it is a Disney film still, but there are so many parts that leave you feeling like it might not happen. I was even afraid they might force Galen into some ill-conceived romance with the princess, which thankfully never happened. Which brings me to the other thing that impresses me: Disney's balls.

Close enough. Anything else I'd just have to censor.
To make this film the way they did, never cutting out the scenes that clearly would offend some people, giving us a story that isn't all songs and sunshine, showing that even in the end things can have a serious darkness to them, that was superb. It wasn't all tied up into a nice perfect package in the end. The land was still in bad shape, the king was still a dick, the princess was still rotting in a cave, and Galen's master ultimately saved the day rather than Galen himself. It was unconventional and I adore that about it. It's a great story overall with beautiful effects work from ILM and some memorable performances, so I highly recommend checking this out as soon as possible. It's worth your time and definitely worth the time I put into writing about it. So, until next time we meet, if anyone else wondering about that priest? Oh well... Later days, bleeders!

"Really, I'm fine. You can just go."

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