The 1983 British-US co-production Krull seems on the surface to be an attempt to jump on the sword-and-sorcery bandwagon that was kicked off by Conan the Barbarian a year earlier. In fact it’s more a sword-and-planet than a sword-and-sorcery film and has more in common with Star Wars. As we shall see, it has a very great deal in common with Star Wars.
Krull is the latest planet to fall victim to the Slayers, led by the mysterious Beast. The Slayers are from some unknown planet (we know this because at the beginning of the movie we see the arrival of their reasonably impressive-looking spaceship that doubles as their castle). Two kings of Krull have decided, not without misgivings, to unite their kingdoms under the joint rule of their children, Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Lyssa (Lysette Anthony). The wedding between Colwyn and Lyssa will seal the deal but the ceremony is brutally interrupted by an attack from the Slayers. The Slayers not only leave nothing but devastation behind, they also kidnap Lyssa.
Colwyn survives but is sunk in despair. It is up to an Old Wise Man, Ynyr (Freddie Jones), to try to convince him that he must Fulfill His Destiny (yes this movie has a Prophecy) and that he can overcome the Slayers. Or at least, he has a better chance of doing that than anyone else. To do all this he will need a potent weapon that will serve as an equally potent symbol - the semi-legendary Glaive.
Colwyn will need to recruit an army. Since the Slayers are supposedly an almost invincible military force you’d think he’d need a real army but he decides a dozen thieves and cut-throats will be enough. In fact the Slayers prove to be typical movie bad guys (a bit like the Imperial Stormtroopers in Star Wars) - while they can easily overcome a disciplined army defending a strong fortfification they turn out to be utterly useless when pitted against a disorganised rabble in the open - even when they’ve managed to ambush that rabble!
The big challenge for Colwyn will be to find the Black Fortress so he can destroy the Beast. The Black Fortress doesn’t stay in the one spot for more than a day. Only the blind seer can tell where it will be and first they have to find him. The usual adventures and complications ensue.
Director Peter Yates had an interesting if uneven career. His filmography includes the action classic Bullitt (1968) so his ability to direct exciting action sequences was never in doubt.
With Derek Meddings in charge of the visual effects you’d expect this movie to impress in this area, and generally speaking those expectations are fulfilled. Meddings had done the special effects for most of the 1960s Gerry Anderson television shows as well as for the Bond films of the 70s.
The miniatures are excellent, the sets look splendidly weird and most of the special effects stand up pretty well today.
Ken Marshall is a pretty decent action hero. Lyssette Anthony looks kind of ethereal and kind of sensual and mischievous all at the same time. She’s not required to do much acting but she’s fine. Alun Armstrong does well as Torquil, erstwhile leader of Colwyn’s bandit army. David Battley isn’t too irritating as the comic relief in competent magician. Bernard Bresslaw’s height (he was 6 ft 7 in) landed him the role of the Cyclops. Freddie Jones however got the plum role and does a very competent job, being careful not to make Ynyr too loveable or too gratingly wise.
If it sounds like Krull is just a collection of fantasy clichés strung together that’s because that’s exactly what it is. We have a Prophecy, a Hero With a Destiny, a Beautiful Princess in need of rescuing, a Magical Talisman, a Quest, a Wise Good Magician, a Blind Seer and even a harmless incompetent magician to serve as Court Jester. We have an Evil Dark Lord well supplied with minions. There’s hardly a single fantasy cliché that isn’t here.
It doesn’t matter. It’s all done with energy and enthusiasm and style, the story moves along at a brisk pace, the action sequences deliver the goods and the visuals are terrific. If anything the predictability of the plot is an asset. It’s like a fairy tale where knowing what is going to happen adds to the enjoyment.
While the basic plot outline is predictable the details add some interest. The scenes with the Widow of the Web are very well done. Krull adds nothing new to the genre but it’s consistently entertaining and always great fun. Highly recommended.