Frosting the Cake of Krull (1983) — And the Harryhausen-Inspired Ingredients to Do It

As I write this we near the end of January, but since it is my first diatribe of 2020 (& thus the new decade), I’d like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year! And, a quick disclaimer before we dive in: all four of the films in discussion here today are fine little gems in their own right. However, elements from three of them will be cherry-picked in order to “improve” the one featured in the title.

But, in order to understand the reasoning for why I might be motivated to perform such a “What If?” scenario, we must first journey back to the year 1996, when a five-year old yours truly caught a snippet of something during a commercial in the midst of what was probably an episode of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers or Spider-Man: The Animated Series. At the time, DirecTV Pay-Per-View was a relatively new phenomenon on satellite TV, so ads for what was being offered by said service were plentiful. The one that happened to catch my eye at such an age was a very quick glimpse of the final fight in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), when the dragon that guards the cave-bound castle of evil magician Sokurah lunges forward to bite at the Cyclops that has wandered into the cave. Having never seen this film before, the only thing the thoroughly captivated younger Trevor could say to describe this moment was “the orange rhino-man fighting a dragon”. Upon investigation, my parents discovered that a double feature of The 7th Voyage, as well as Ray Harryhausen’s third & final Sinbad film, Sinbad & the Eye of the Tiger (1977), were what was playing that month on the Pay-Per-View service.

So began my life-long fascination with what I eventually learned was the work of one Ray Harryhausen, & his legions of creatures brought to life by a process he didn’t invent, but essentially perfected, called Stop-Motion Animation. 7th Voyage, Ray’s first film shot & released in color, became an instant fave of mine, & largely remains so to this day. The second feature in that double-bill, however, Eye of the Tiger, was a different story. Made in the late 70s, Eye took on a slightly darker tone than its more wholesome, very 50s style predecessor. As such, the blood-curdling screams of Jane Seymour’s Princess Farah while her brother Kassim catches on fire & turns into a baboon were a bit too intense for 5 year old me, as was the creepy witch Queen Zenobia (Margaret Whiting), her eyes transforming into the green likeness of a cat every time she performed some sinister spell. I remember watching it all the way through at the time, but the fearful reaction to the aforementioned, non-creature related scenes prompted me to not revisit Eye of the Tiger again until several years later, when such moments no longer deterred me.

Following the Pay-Per-View Sinbad double-feature, during some evening a year later, the excited urgency in my Dad’s voice as he drew my attention to the TV made yet another unforgettable impression. For as I looked up, a malevolent creature was making her entrance whilst rounding the corner, the gorgon Medusa, from Ray’s swan song, Clash of the Titans (1981). What caught my eye, outside of the gripping suspense in said sequence, was the unmistakably herky-jerky, surreal visual that stop-motion creates. Catching Clash from the Medusa scene onward was the perfect place to pop-in to it as a kid, for what followed from that moment on was a smorgasbord of Harryhausen magic, including spectacular final moments for the flying horse Pegasus & beast-man Calibos, as well as the final act debuts of Giant Scorpions spawned from the blood of Medusa, & best of all, the seemingly invincible Kraken, the four-armed, sea-faring Titan that can only be killed by Medusa’s gaze (even in her death as a severed head), turning it to stone. Needless to say, Clash of the Titans remains not only my favorite film of Harryhausen’s resume, but my favorite film of all time.

Such was the impact of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion wizardry, that even instances of the process that had no involvement from Ray’s touch were fascinating to me. They included the turtle-like aliens trying to retrieve their powerful ray-gun from an outcast teen turned homicidal maniac in Laserblast (1978), the impish little minions that spawn from the severed fingers of the vampire Radu in Subspecies (1991), the giant robots (one a scorpion, the other humanoid) sparring to the death in Robot Wars (1993), or the dinosaurs from When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), this last title being the work of Ray’s protege, Jim Danforth. Many thanks should be given to producer Charles Band & animator David Allen for continuing to feature stop-motion in feature films throughout the 80s & 90s even after Ray had retired from the business, their work being seen in the first three titles I mentioned, among many others. Even when the
films weren’t entirely appropriate for younger viewers (my Dad insisted that we turn off Subspecies upon his realization that the little minions were going to free their master Radu for some blood-spilling carnage), my love of stop-motion was undeniable.

This all brings us to the glorious misrepresentation I had as a kid of Krull (1983). Once upon a time, a homemade rack, constructed by my Dad, used to house various VHS tapes, both bought & recorded. One of the bought tapes was of Krull. What caught my eye on this VHS was the cover art, a dark orange font for the title on the side of the box (blue-silver on the front), which came in the wake of some strange star-shaped object whisking to the right. In the center of the cover, a ghoulish, cat-eyed monster, his head looming almost like a mountain, & in one of his clawed hands, held out like he was presenting something to onlookers, was a man & a beautiful red-haired woman. The man stood protectively in front of the woman, she standing slightly behind him, a look of fear on her face, in classic damsel in distress fashion. The man was holding up something, seemingly to protect them: the strange star-shaped object from the title font, now shooting green energy in a form of defense. And finally, emerging from the monster’s maw were the phantom-like legions of what appeared to be men or creatures on horseback. The image was striking enough for me to ask what this movie was about. My Dad described it as “like a Sinbad movie”. One can imagine the excitement this prospect filled me with.

Of course, it should be noted that my Dad described all of Harryhausen’s fantasy films, including Jason & the Argonauts (1963) & Clash, as “Sinbad movies”, a fact I learned not long after. Upon watching Krull, what I found was a movie that had a handful of intense moments that reminded me of Eye of the Tiger. And though it took me a few viewings, I eventually saw that there actually was at least one stop-motion creature in the movie, the Crystal Spider that guards the Widow of the Web. However, as the sole representative of the stop-motion technique in the film (done by Harryhausen protege Steve Archer, who helped Ray on Clash alongside Jim Danforth), this was like if I had watched Clash & the only creatures to be found in it were the Giant Scorpions. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, as I felt I had been jipped a little. Over the years however, it did dawn on me that Krull was very much like all the Harryhausen fantasy films, at least in the structure & type of story it represented. Truth be told, it’s very stylistically similar to Clash of the Titans.

The story of Krull involves a diabolical creature known only as “The Beast” arriving in his mountainous space-faring Black Fortress upon the titular planet of Krull, a world that is designed after basically every medieval fairy-tale you’ve ever read as a child. Prince Colwyn (coal-win) (Ken Marshall) & Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) are about to be wed, their union being a sort of peace treaty between the kingdoms ruled over by their fathers (very Romeo & Juliet style). The Beast sends his army of white armor-clad creatures called Slayers (stormtroopers, but scarier) to kidnap Lyssa, so that she may become the monster’s Bride. Colwyn is left broken in the aftermath of the Slayers’ invasion, but a wise old sage named Ynyr (yay-near) (Freddie Jones) tends to his wounds, & prompts him to retrieve an ancient weapon called the Glaive, a razor-bladed throwing star that acts almost like a boomerang. With it, Colwyn will have a chance to rescue Lyssa from the clutches of The Beast. But afterwards, they must find the Black Fortress, a difficult feat, since the Fortress will teleport to various locations starting at sunrise of every new day. Along the way, Colwyn & Ynyr find help from former prisoners exiled by Colwyn’s father (played by the likes of Alun Armstrong, Liam Neeson, & Robbie Coltrane, before they were famous), as well as shape-shifting buffoons, blind seers, & a warrior Cyclops named Rell (Bernard Bresslaw).

In terms of what it’s trying to achieve as a film, Krull is Star Wars meets The Lord of the Rings, borrowing many familiar elements from either, both being quite popular subjects when Krull was released. But, when it’s all said & done, Krull, when compared to similar films that feature the Harryhausen touch, is a cake without frosting. A cake can still be edible, & even good, without any frosting. But the icing that frosts a cake, of any given flavor, is what completes the package when it concerns the overall appeal of cakes as desserts. Stop-Motion animated creatures are the frosting that would greatly improve, in this author’s humble opinion, Krull as a whole.

But where do we look in order to find these creatures, & theoretically port them over to Krull? There’s actually a fair share of “siblings” to Krull, released throughout the 1980s, which filled the fantasy void left in the wake of Harryhausen’s retirement from cinema. Only three of them feature animated creatures though, particularly done by Phil Tippett, who also pioneered a variation of the stop-motion process called “Go-Motion”, that adds a motion blur to the animation so that the herky-jerky effect is made slightly more realistic-looking. Tippett, an avid admirer of Harryhausen’s from boyhood, entered the mainstream film industry through his work on the original Star Wars trilogy, collaborating with friend & fellow Harryhausen fan Dennis Muren at George Lucas’ ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) Company. Their efforts with traditional animation would eventually lead them to becoming pioneers in the CGI (computer generated imagery) revolution of the 90s, working on such films as Jurassic Park (1993), Dragonheart (1996), & Starship Troopers (1997).

An Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage (1984)

Following the conclusion to his first Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi (1983), George Lucas decided to produce a couple of kid-friendly TV spin-offs to the films (one of which was narrated by Burl Ives), due in part to the interest of his young daughter. These films would star Ewoks, the teddy bear-looking natives from the forest moon of Endor, whose contribution in Return of the Jedi had helped turn the tide of battle against the Galactic Empire. The first of this duo, simply titled An Ewok Adventure (1984), then later re-titled for a limited theatrical run to Caravan of Courage, was actually my very first viewing experience with anything Star Wars related. And the reason it stuck with me was the featuring of some kind of stop-motion, again, the imagery of said technique making an indelible impression on me every time I witnessed it. The movie was overall memorable enough for me to recognize the Ewoks (or “teddy bear people” as I used to call them) when my mom gave me a Return of the Jedi storybook for Easter of 1997, the year Lucas released his first iteration of Special Editions for the original trilogy, the book being a marketing tie-in. That book also started my love for the Rancor monster, as well as Return of the Jedi as a film, but that’s a story for another day.

In Caravan of Courage, the Towani family (Catarine & Jeremitt, plus their children Mace & Cindel) are marooned on the forest moon of Endor, sometime between the events of The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi. Following the wreck of their starcruiser, Catarine & Jeremitt are separated from their children, & captured by a giant, Sasquatch-like monster called a Gorax. Mace & Cindel are later found by the Ewoks, who agree to help the children rescue their parents from the Gorax’s lair in the mountains. Before that however, the prickly, teen-aged Mace tries to deny the help of the Ewoks (much to the chagrin of his little sister Cindel), & whilst out on their own, the children are menaced by a Boar-Wolf, a swine-canine hybrid monster sent by the Gorax to take them back to his lair. They hide in a hollowed-out tree over night, & awake to find the Ewoks battling the Boar-Wolf, which they manage to kill, thus rescuing Mace & Cindel.

Now, how would I port the Boar-Wolf over to Krull? There’s a moment in Krull where Colwyn & his companions are resting in a camp run by one of the many wives (no joke) of Liam Neeson’s bandit character, whilst wise old Ynyr seeks counsel from the Widow of the Web on his own. The Beast sends a shape-shifting servant in the form of one of the women from the camp in order to tempt Colwyn, & convince Lyssa that he is unfaithful to her. Colwyn refuses the “woman”, who reveals herself with pitch-black pupils & taloned hands. The Beast wipes her from existence for her failure. At this moment, The Beast, much like the Gorax in Caravan of Courage, would have sent the Boar-Wolf (perhaps more than one) as a back-up plan to menace Colwyn’s company. They would, of course, over-power & kill the creature, right as Ynyr would return with knowledge of where the Black Fortress would next appear.

It’s also interesting to note that, as a kid, I was reminded of The Beast from Krull when watching the Gorax in Caravan of Courage. I may have even confused the two monsters, since both were frightening, & both were played by actors in suits, made to look like menacing giants, who had kidnapped someone that needed to be rescued. Krull & Caravan also have a distinct “space meets fairy-tale” feel to them that would understandably confuse someone who had only seen both in passing. In that regard, it seems they were somewhat “destined” to have me cross-pollinate them.

The Battle for Endor (1985)

The second Ewok Adventure, The Battle for Endor (1985), was not viewed by yours truly as a child, but was discovered much later. It is regarded by some in the Star Wars fandom as the better of the two kid-friendly films. It also features a stop-motion creature that could be easily ported over to Krull. And, as an interesting point of comparison, the villain of the film looks like a human-sized, slightly less monstrous version of The Beast in Krull.

In Battle, the Towani family, excluding little Cindel, are killed by the Marauders, a vicious army in the service of Terak, who also has a sorceress named Charal at his side (played by Sian Phillips, who was Queen Cassiopeia in Clash of the Titans). Cindel & the Ewok Wickett meet a grouchy, marooned hermit named Noa (Wilford Brimley) & his speedy creature companion Teek. Noa eventually agrees to help Wickett save Cindel when she is captured by Charal. Along the way, an energy cell from the Towani starcruiser is used to re-power Noa’s own ship, which subsequently is used to turn the tide in battle against Terak’s Marauders, & allows Noa & Cindel to finally leave Endor.

Earlier in Battle, Cindel & Wickett take refuge in a cave whilst they mourn the loss of Cindel’s family & the burning of the Ewok village. While in the cave, Wickett accidentally awakens a creature called a Condor-Dragon, which flies out of the cave with Cindel in its clutches. Using a skin glider he built in their downtime, Wickett pursues the Condor-Dragon, which drops Cindel after being attacked by Wickett, who then catches her during her fall. For a re-purposing in Krull: Colwyn must scale a mountain in order to retrieve the Glaive weapon from a pool of lava in a cave. The Condor-Dragon would be included here as a creature that Colwyn would have to fend off as he attempts to leave the cave with the Glaive.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Blurrgs, who have since been made famous to younger Star Wars fans through The Clone Wars animated series & The Mandalorian, are featured in Battle for Endor as stop-motion creations. Because of their stronger association with the Star Wars franchise, they would not be ported over to Krull in this scenario, unlike the Boar-Wolf & Condor-Dragon, who have yet to appear in any subsequent Star Wars related media following the Ewok Adventures. Both Ewok Adventure films have yet to see a current physical release on Blu-Ray, the only alternative being an out of print DVD release from 2004. Considering my fandom experience with Star Wars started with one of these films, I think it would be in Disney’s best interest to re-release them again, as I’m sure I’m far from the only one who can say that, or who enjoys them on some level.

Willow (1988)

And now, we come to the final film from which I’d cherry pick something to make Krull live up to my expectations as a child. The Ewok Adventures were something of a warm-up for this next title, being much more fantasy-driven affairs than the original Star Wars trilogy. It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to describe Willow (1988) as the George Lucas version of The Hobbit. Written & produced by Lucas, but directed by close friend Ron Howard, Willow follows the titular Nelwyn (Lucas’ version of a hobbit or dwarf), a farmer & father played by Warwick Davis (who also played the Ewok Wickett), as he accepts the responsibility of saving a baby girl, Elora, from being killed by evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), as Elora is destined to bring about Bavmorda’s downfall. Together with cocky human warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), Bavmorda’s turncoat daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), & good sorceress Raziel (Patricia Hayes), Willow does all in his power to keep Elora safe, & bring about the demise of Bavmorda.

In the film, Willow has aspirations of becoming a sorcerer one day, & whilst Raziel is currently indisposed (having been turned into an animal by Bavmorda), Willow uses Raziel’s wand during a scene where he & Madmartigan are attempting to fend off the servants of Bavmorda. Some of these fiends are ape-like trolls, & Willow tries to use the wand to change one into a less threatening form. However, having not mastered the magic craft as of yet, Willow turns the troll into an egg, which upon hitting water, hatches into an enormous two-headed dragon, nicknamed by the production crew an “Eborsisk”, as a mockery of famous film critics Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel.

In porting the Eborsisk over to Krull, it would be used as follows: In Krull, Colwyn & Ynyr seek the Emerald Seer, who’s psychic abilities may be useful in finding the current location of the ever-teleporting Black Fortress. Using a green crystal (emerald) to enhance his abilities, the Seer is cut-off by The Beast. As an alternative, the Seer says his power can also be enhanced by a location in the middle of a swamp. As Colwyn & Co. journey there, the Seer is killed & replaced by a Changeling, one of The Beast’s servants. Once separated from the rest of the group, the Changeling tries to kill Colwyn. However, Rell the Cyclops has already discovered the corpse of the real Seer by this point, & he rushes to dispatch the impostor, killing it with a spear to the back, which causes the Changeling to shriek & distort its disguise, shriveling & sinking into the swamp (frightening scene as a kid). In this instance, the troll from Willow would be replaced with the Changeling, & upon being found out by the heroes of Krull, it would change into the massive Eborsisk to fight them.

Conclusion

In this theoretical “frosting” of Krull, these ported stop-motion creature scenes, when added to the only real such scene from the film (the Crystal Spider) would bring the total up to four sequences, which I think would’ve made the film all the better, at least as far as it had been pitched to me as a boy. As we know, all these films are separate entities, each with their own devoted followings. So, it’s likely that I’m the only one who ever thought to mix & match them. Even if it’s not a reality, at least now this alternative “vision” is out there for people to ponder, if they are so inclined.

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