By Andrew Kemp
A few years ago I attended a science-fiction double feature (woo-oo-oo) at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. This particular series had been running monthly for over 10 years at that point and the theatre was packed with die hards, who I assumed were, like me, there to see David Lynch‘s DUNE (1984), a theory I confirmed when the host of the series stood up and begged the audience to stay for the night’s second film, the infamous fantasy flop KRULL. The host pointed at a guy in the front row. “It’s his fault,” the host shouted. “He’s begged me to program this movie for years!” The guy in question raised his hands in the air and took a small ovation. I had always planned to stay—who goes to a double-feature just to see one film?—but I immediately guessed that Krull Fan and I were going to be sharing an empty room.
Shows what I know. Nobody left. In fact, I’d wager the crowd even grew a little as some KRULL fans wandered in late, apparently happy to dodge David Lynch to get to their main event. KRULL, I learned, has its fans. And, as the movie chugged along to its laugh-out-loud finale, I became a bit of a fan myself. Now, Atlanta audiences get their own chance to rediscover KRULL when it starts a big-screen run at the Plaza on Friday.
If STAR WARS (1977) was the huge stone thrown into the Hollywood water, KRULL was that last tiny ripple on the other side of the lake, marrying science fiction and fantasy together from a similar recipe, but achieving dramatically different results. KRULL, an American production shot in England at the legendary Pinewood Studios, concerns a mythic alien beast, creatively named The Beast, who descends onto a peaceful planet populated by fantasy characters—think Druidia from Mel Brooks’s SPACEBALLS (1987) and you’re halfway there. After The Beast wrecks the planet’s ruling kingdom, survivor Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) goes about the business of rescuing a captured princess (Lysette Anthony) in the usual way, by gathering a band of allies and pursuing a quest for a mythical weapon of legend known as The Glaive. This weapon, a five-bladed throwing star, is the only thing capable of slaying The Beast, which is pretty darned convenient when you think about it, since the critter’s not even from around there.
If the plot sounds right out of a game, that’s no coincidence. Plenty of rumors link KRULL to a pitch for a Dungeons & Dragons movie that never happened (D&D creator Gary Gygax denied this, but it’s unclear whether he would have even known), and KRULL was one of the earliest films to attempt the cross-platform synergy marketers swoon for today, with a KRULL video game adaptation appearing in arcades and on the famed Atari 2600 home system soon after the film’s release. In fact, pretty much everything about KRULL suggests a charmingly misguided belief that the creators were building a world people would want to return to again and again. Instead, KRULL was a major box office disappointment and dropped into obscurity, wearing the label of “failed franchise” as if on a sandwich board over the words “please help.”
But enthusiasts like Krull Fan have helped the movie make a comeback as a genial, albeit deeply ironic, pleasure. While the sum of its parts may add up to very little, the parts are often enough fun to help viewers overlook the film’s rough patches. KRULL has imagination, and it’s chock full of bits that could have been iconic in a better movie, none more so than Colwyn’s Glaive, the film’s answer to the lightsaber. The weapon sits at the center of the film’s plot and marketing, but poor Prince Colwyn barely gets to use the thing, as if the production had only one to spare and couldn’t risk breaking it. (Or perhaps the Glaive’s non-presence is an attempt to duck the logistics of the thing. It seems as if though one should only throw a five-bladed star if one is absolutely certain of having no future as a piano player.)
The film also boasts a suitably gruesome main monster, encounters with giant spiders and sorcerers, a bumbling wizard (all 1980s fantasy films were required to have a bumbling something or other), a friendly Cyclops and even a future Hollywood star—pre-fame Liam Neeson appears as a surly convict enlisted to Colwyn’s quest. There’s much to love about KRULL, even if it’s pretty hard to love KRULL. Frankly, the movie can be a bit of a slog at times. But there’s something to be said for ingenuity and imagination, both of which KRULL has in plenty. The film came from a time before special effects made it easy to create whatever world you could imagine, and from a time when fans of the fantastical had to settle for whatever they could get. KRULL is hardly one of the best fantasy films of the era, but it’s endearingly goofy, hand-made and eager to please.
Unless, of course, you’re hoping to see Colwyn really cut loose with that Glaive. If so, you just have to keep waiting for the inevitable sequel. It’s got to be coming along any day now, right?
Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.