1981 Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures
During the fantasy blitz of the early eighties there was a little movie called Dragonslayer that got lost in the mix. I saw this in the theater that year but not a whole lot of people did and it ended up losing money and vanishing into obscurity. I enjoyed the hell out of it and considered it to be one of the best fantasy movies I had seen and I still do. Over the years its reputation has grown and it finally has received some well deserved recognition.
Set in the dark and murky um…dark ages Dragonslayer is set in a time when magic is dying and being replaced by religion, not a good swap in my opinion. A village is being tormented by Vermithrax, a nasty dragon who is only kept controlled by regular sacrifices of virgin village girls. This begs the question of why the hell would a dragon care if you’re a virgin or not but it’s typical of human stupidity. Anyway a delegation from the village travels to see a far off sorcerer and ask for his help in vanquishing the dragon. The sorcerer Ulrich is seemingly killed while being tested for his magical prowess so his apprentice Galen takes his place and leaves on a quest to slay the dragon. In his way are the spineless King who created, and rigged, the virgin lottery to save his kingdom. Galen must also deal with the Kings intelligent and resourceful henchman Tyrian who is far more of a threat.
Dragonslayer is not the typical fantasy movie at all. There is nothing overtly flashy about the movie, it’s dark and gritty and the characters are more subdued than the usual Hollywood characterizations. The world created here has a real lived in look and feel. There are no majestic buildings just a modest castle and a run down village. Ralph Richardson is terrific as Ulrich but the rest of the cast are just as good. Peter MacNicol is really good as the not quite typical hero Galen, and Caitlin Clarke also shines as Valerian.
The real star of this movie however has to be the amazing Vermithrax herself. This creation is the best dragon to ever grace the silver screen. A totally believable being brought to life by Industrial Light and Magic back before computers took over the world of special effects and took some of the heart and soul out of the process. Vermithrax is as real as the other actors in the movie.
It’s a shame this movie got buried when first released but I’m glad it gained attention over the years. For fans of the fantasy genre I can’t recommend this enough. If you haven’t seen it then buy a copy and watch it right now! If you have seen it then go watch it again.
The good:There are some really well done old fashioned optical effects in Dragonslayer.
Beautiful cinematography and locations.
Beautiful marine life.
Best of all there is Vermithrax. Best dragon ever!
Random thoughts and observations:
When I saw this in the theater I had the displeasure of sitting in front of two kids who wouldn’t stop talking about similarities between this movie and the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. I finally had to ask them to shut up before I used a Level 5 Spell of Kick Ass upon them.
I remember some reviewers saying this movie was too similar to Star Wars with Galen being Luke and Ulrich being Obi-Wan. Last I checked the first Star Wars was not too original either. It’s depiction of a young man on a desert world with undiscovered powers taking on an evil empire certainly couldn’t have any similarities to Dune which was published in 1965.
The full size dragon head created for this movie has lovingly been restored by the team at Tom Spina Designs. Check out their site here: Tom Spina Designs