Retro Review: Cult ’80s Fantasy Movie KRULL Makes a Comeback as a Genial, Albeit Deeply Ironic, Pleasure

Posted on: Apr 4th, 2013 By:

KRULL (1983); Dir: Peter Yates; Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony; Starts Friday, April 5.; The Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

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.

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Retro Review: John Boorman’s EXCALIBUR Delivers the King Arthur Legend Back to Its Epic, Mythic Roots at The Plaza

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2012 By:

EXCALIBUR (1981); Dir: John Boorman; Starring Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Corin Redgrave, Nicholas Clay; Mythic Movies Series presented by the Mythic Imagination Institute at the Plaza Theatre, Thurs. Nov. 15; 7:30 PM; Discussion following; $10; trailer here.

By Thomas Drake
Contributing Writer

“I think of the story, the history, as a myth. The film has to do with the mythical truth, not historical truth; it has to do with man taking over the world on his own terms for the first time.” 

  • Director John Boorman, EXCALIBUR

Short: “Merlin: STAND BACK! Be silent! Be still!… That’s it… and look upon this moment. Savor it! Rejoice with great gladness! Great gladness! Remember it always, for you are joined by it. You are One, under the stars. Remember it well, then… this night, this great victory. So that in the years ahead, you can say, ‘I was there that night, with Arthur, the King!’ For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Medium: John Boorman’s EXCALIBUR returns to the roots of the Arthurian legend following the familiar epic storyline of Thomas Malory‘s LE MORTE D’ARTHUR with some modern twists. The wizard Merlin aids Uther Pendragon in King Arthur’s conception. Merlin then has Arthur claim the Sword in the Stone to certify his claim to kingship. The story fast-forwards to first meeting between Lancelot and Arthur, who in a fit of pride shatters the Sword in the Stone. The Lady in the Lake restores the sword and the Knights of the Round Table are forged. Lancelot and Guivere’s betrayal shatters the land forcing the knights to desperately search for the Holy Grail.

Maximum Verbosity: There is a lot to say about this movie; and it tends to evoke powerful feelings by those that like and dislike it. But even on the most neutral standpoint, the movie’s cast is absolutely astounding. Liam Nielson, Patrick Stewart, Kathrine Boorman all appeared as moderate unknowns with 1980s stars Nigel Terry (THE LION IN WINTER), Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay and Nicol Williamson.

The visual style of EXCALIBUR is unique. Filmed in Ireland, British director John Boorman manages to capture a haunting fantasy in an era with stunning cinematography without CGI or advanced special effects. Boorman’s style is very reflective in this piece. He had originally hoped to do an adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but was unable to find any backers for the project so he transferred the epic scope to Thomas Malory’s LE MORTE D’ARTHUR [Ed. note: which forms the foundation for most tellings of the Arthurian legend from T.H. White’s ONCE AND FUTURE KING to CAMELOT to MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL]. Indeed, I do feel that while the Arthurian mythos has been told and retold, the heart of the tale is often lost with modern sensibilities. Camelot is very often updated with another theme in mind instead of how it was originally conceived, but Boorman manages to capture that older sensibility in EXCALIBUR. His attention to detail helped bring this iconic story to life, for example, the old Irish in the charm of making or some of the more obscure elements taken from Malory’s original work.

John Boorman's son Charlie played young Mordred in iconic golden armor in EXCALIBUR. Photo credit: Orion Pictures Corp., 1981

Some reviewers have criticized what they sense as a “rambling horrific dialog,” but Boorman’s quirky storytelling also includes many more elements of the original mythology than most modern retellings. Boorman is also well known for the acid-trippy science fiction film ZARDOZ (1974) starring Sean Connery, the timeless DELIVERANCE (1972) with its haunting banjo music and violent portrayal of the rural south, and  HOPE AND GLORY (1987), a semi-autobiographical World War II drama. Indeed, DELIVERANCE gave the director the street cred to get a budget sufficient to make EXCALIBUR. Though his career has often had as many misses as hits, EXCALIBUR did achieve Number One status at the box office when it was released. Still, his work is quite distinctive, and elements of EXCALIBUR have found their way into many other films, including enhancing the common understanding of the Arthurian mythos.

If you are a fan of Boorman, King Arthur or sword and sorcery, I cannot recommend this film enough.

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