Movie Review: Deathmaster

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(1972)
Directed by Ray Danton
Starring Robert Quarry, John Fiedler, Bob Pickett, William Jordan, Betty Anne Rees, Brenda Dickson-Weinberg LaSesne Hilton, John Lasell, Freda T. Vanterpool, Tari Tabakin

In the early 70’s, Robert Quarry was set up to be the next big star in the horror genre, taking his place alongside other greats like Vincent Price. In 1970, he played the title vampire in Count Yorga, Vampire, and followed it up the next year with the sequel, The Return of Count Yorga. Then in 1972, he was pitted against one of Vincent Price’s most memorable characters, Dr. Anton Phibes, in Dr. Phibes Rises Again. But due to a contract he had with AIP, his options weren’t that open. He was originally to play the vampire in the pilot episode of Night Stalker, but AIP put a stop to that.  That is a real shame, since Quarry really could have gone quite far. Around that time AIP decided that weren’t going to make horror films, so Quarry was pretty much out of a job.

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Deathmaster was the film that he made on his own, an independent production, after the Yorga films. Once it was finished, AIP swooped in and bought it cheap (with possible threats of lawsuits) for basically a tax write-off. The film had never been released on video, laserdisc, or anything for all these years. Yea, there was the bootlegs out there, but the prints were never really anything to write home about. So when Retromedia announced they would not only be putting it out on DVD, but also a digital re-mastered print from an original 35mm negative, there were a lot of excited people. At least I was. I had always been a fan of Quarry, and had wondered why the sudden drop off of horror movies in the 70’s.

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The film opens with a coffin washing up ashore off the California coast, and being picked up by someone who seemed to have been waiting for it. Quarry plays the vampire Khorda as kind of a cross between Yorga and Charles Manson with his long hair and goatee, and long robes. He arrives at a house being used by a bunch of hippies, and with his philosophical questions and answers, he basically takes over the small commune. But then Peco, one of the followers, starts to question Khorda and his ways. When he tries to leave with his girlfriend, he discovers that Khorda’s real self and that he is turning the others into vampires as well. Peco manages to escape, but without his girlfriend. He gets the aid of his friend Pop, an old jewelry making hippie, played by the very familiar John Fiedler, to help him rescue his girl and stop Khorda.

Quarry is excellent once again in the role of a vampire. He’s not just playing the same Yorga character again, but adding some extra flair to him. He definitely had the knack for those type of roles. With his blue glaring eyes, and that almost hypnotizing voice, he really gave off that feeling of a mysterious character, whether he was playing a vampire or not.

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Along with Quarry are a couple of other people worth mentioning. While most of the rest of the cast weren’t the greatest actors, you do have John Fiedler who everybody will recognize, who has bit parts in tons of movies. But then there is also Betty Anne Rees, who would later star with Quarry again in Sugar Hill. And then lastly, even though he doesn’t seemed to be credited in the film, Bob Pickett plays one of the hippies in the commune. This is the same Pickett who was also known as Bobby “Boris” Pickett who gave us that song The Monster Mash. The film was directed by Ray Danton, who would go on to do Young Hannah – Queen of the Vampires (aka Crypt of the Living Dead) and Psychic Killer.

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The print quality of this new disc is simply awesome, and is probably one of the best looking discs that Retromedia has put out. The extras include a 35mm theatrical trailer, as well as trailer for Count Yorga, Vampire and Sugar Hill. There is also four different still galleries, including behind-the-scene shots of Deathmaster. There are also some radio spots and TV commercials. But the best part of the extras is the audio commentary by Quarry himself, along with Fred Olen Ray. Quarry gives us tons of interesting information about the making of the film, his association with AIP, and a whole lot more. For me, the commentary alone is worth the cost of the disc.

It is really a shame that Quarry wasn’t allowed to show us what he could have done in the horror genre. He really could have been right up there with the other greats. But we do have the few classic films that he was able to do. So I guess we’ll just have to enjoy them over and over again. And maybe with these DVDs coming out, maybe his name will raise up a bit in the memory of horror fans. It should.

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