As I’ve said before, there’s something to admire about a movie that points to the fences and swings with everything that it has. Because Krull is just that movie. It really wants to be the epic fantasy movie– it wanted to be the movie that did for epic fantasy what Star Wars was for space opera. And by god, it throws everything it can think of up on the screen to become that, and more. I mean, it’s not just an epic fantasy movie. It’s an epic fantasy movie that’s hiding inside a full-on sci-fi space-opera, like a Russian nesting doll. On top of that, it’s got prologue and epilogue voice-over to let you know that this is just the tip of the iceberg of the total amount of story here. Yes, it was laying the groundwork for sequels and prequels and all sorts of things that were never meant to be.
It is truly, gloriously insane, but it is not lacking in ambition.
So, the movie is set on a boilerplate medieval-tech fantasy world. Kings and princesses, wizards and castles, swords and crossbows. Everything you need for your epic fantasy. Except, who should be landing on this planet? YES, LANDING, because they are ALIEN INVADERS OF PURE EVIL. Seriously. they’re aliens, but they might as well be demons, and they’ve got a certain degree of “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” thing going on. Of course, the bad-guy grunts are, in essence, second-rate Stormtroopers, including being terrible shots with their rayguns, at least when it comes to shooting at the protagonists. The main difference with these guys is, when you smash their helmet open, some lizard-snake inside the suit shrivels up and disappears, complete with shrieking noise.
I’m getting ahead of myself. See, once the Dark Lord lands his Black Mountain on this planet, we’re pretty much in pure fantasy mode, save the rayguns. The Black Mountain moves from place to place on the planet, teleporting to a new location each sunrise. This is actually a key plot point. I’ll get back to that. Anyway, while this is happening, we get some more boilerplate fantasy: the prince of one kingdom (Ken Marshall) is arranged to marry the princess of another kingdom (Lysette Anthony), so they can unite their kingdoms in harmony. Even though it’s an arranged marriage, they actually seem to like each other– they’re far more into it in terms of “we must united our kingdoms” while their fathers are not as keen. Also: Ken Marshall is just a trifle too cocky. This is his primary character trait. So, the wedding begins, and wouldn’t you know it: halfway through the ceremony, it’s interrupted by second-rate stormtroopers who murder ALMOST everyone, save Ken Marshall, who is just knocked out for long enough for the plot to get going, and Lysette Anthony, who is kidnapped.
Why does the Evil Alien Overlord kidnap her? I want to say “something something prophecy something something name of ancient power” but the main reason is because THAT’S THE PLOT, PEOPLE. Ken Marshall has to go save his bride, since their wedding was interrupted (even though, both fathers and just about everyone else of note in the two kingdoms: dead. I’m saying, this political wedding is something of a low priority at this point.) Wedding ceremony interrupted, by the way, is also a Key Plot Point.
Ken Marshall really just floats through this moving on pure Handsome and Charm. But it works, it really does. And he has glorious hair, which Deep Space Nine fans will recall, doesn’t last.
So once the Prince comes to, he’s joined by a Not Obi Wan—literally, it’s just, “Hey, you’re the old hermit who lives in the mountains.” “Yes, I know more than I let on. Let’s go.”—and it’s full on Quest Time. Since it’s Quest Time, there are a few Plot Tokens to collect. One involves the Prince getting some ancient and powerful weapon that’s up the top of some mountain in a volcano. This pretty much involves the Prince dealing with some lava before he can get The Glaive, which is a spinning bladed star that he can throw and control magically, since he earned it by sticking his hand in the lava. Even though he has it from the beginning, he LITERALLY NEVER USES IT until the end. It just sits there, Chekov Gunning in his pocket the whole time.
Next order of business is the Assembling Of The Party. Honestly, most of the rest of the first half of this movie is gathering a handful of people to join the Prince on this quest, and then the rest of the movie involves picking those people off. First there’s the Bandit and his company of Redshirts. Seriously, it’s a large group of thieves, and they’re pretty much here to die in various skirmishes over the course of the movie. But among them are future famous people Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrain.
Really, the meeting between the Prince and the Chief Bandit (and his Redshirts) is pretty funny. They set upon the Prince to rob him, and he’s all, “No, join me on my mission.” And they respond, “Why would we do that?” “I’m the KING.” “King of jack all.” Because, really, the Dark One’s devastation has been pretty complete. But then the Prince is all, “Yeah, but I’ve got the keys to your shackles.” “Oh, then we’re in.” Except for the Chief Bandit, but he’s got a bit of the Noble Thief in him—which is kind of a sudden change, but whatever. He decides to keep his manacles on, nobly, until the quest is over.
More companions include a Cyclops, who first hangs on the outskirts, a little boy whose master was killed and replaced by the evil—I’ll get to that—and Ergo the Magnificent. First, the Cyclops. They have this whole thing where the Cyclopses made a deal with the Evil One where they traded one eye for the power to see the future, which: dumb plan. And the Evil One only gave them the power to see their own death. Which kind of sucks. Now, how this mythology works, since the Evil One is flying around on his spaceship, and hadn’t come here before, I don’t know. I mean, they actually know a lot about The Evil One, it appears, which means he must have come to the planet before, and… this just makes my head hurt.
ANYWAY, the Cyclops is big, tall, has one eye, and throws a mean spear. He doesn’t really join the group until the boy’s master is killed.
So, on that, and more to the point, the quest plot, before I get to Ergo the Magnificent, who is indeed magnificent. Remember how the Black Mountain teleports every day? It makes trying to get to it a challenge. So the plan is to go see some Green Wizard in the swamp who can see the future, and he’s a blind old man with a little boy to guide him around. To get a read on the Black Mountain, they need to go to some sacred shrine in the swamp, and on the way there, the Green Wizard is murdered and replaced with an evil double while no one is paying attention. Then he leads the Prince to the sacred shrine, but alone, so he can kill the Prince, but before he gets the chance, the Cyclops (who found the body of the real Green Wizard) charges in and spears the bastard.
Which means A. the kid might as well tag along, because where else is he gonna go? and B. they still don’t know how to find the Black Mountain.
I’d love to say: Enter Ergo the Magnificent, but he actually showed up a lot earlier. And he has little to do with solving this problem. Ergo is a magician, but kind of a pathetic one. He’s all talk and bluster (“Ergo the Magnificent: Short of Stature, but Tall of Power; Wide of Vision, but Narrow of Purpose.”) The main thing he does is be useless, changing himself into animals, and not helpful ones. Except he does change into a puppy to cheer up the little boy. But he’s also just awesome, because the actor totally commits to Ergo. I’m not sure if David Battley did a lot more work in England in the 70s or something, but the only other thing I know him from is playing Charlie Bucket’s math teacher in Willy Wonka, where again, he commits brilliantly to the absurd.
To get back to the plot: needing a new way to figure out where the Black Mountain is going to be, the Old Man suggests The Widow Of The Web. Everyone loses their shit, because the Widow of the Web is BAD NEWS. But this is part of what I love about this movie, because it totally comes off as a D&D Campaign where the original plan got messed up, so the Dungeon Master is just winging it. Random battles and other dangers pop up all the time, and the Plot Coupons come out of thin air. Anyway, the story is that NO ONE sees the Widow and survives, but Old Man thinks he can do it, because they have history. So he goes to climb up with mountain, while everyone else hangs out in a village with one of Liam Neeson’s girlfriends. YES ONE OF THEM because he has many, because it’s Liam Neeson.
The Widow in the Web sequence is pretty neat, in that the Widow is in this little nest in the middle of a giant spider web, with a GIANT FRICKING SPIDER guarding her. So the Old Man starts climbing the web, and the Spider comes for him, and then he calls out to the Widow, using her real name. And this is one of the points where it really feels like the Rules of Magic are just totally arbitrary. Because she has enough power to, like, keep the spider at bay, but only for a little bit. So it’s a matter of buying him enough time to get inside the nest with her. Then once he’s in there, they have this whole thing about how he loved her once, but it wasn’t meant to be. And he plays it like it was his fault, but it strikes me that she was the one who chose to live in the middle of a mystical death trap for no good reason. I don’t know, this is all laying the groundwork for the prequel that never happened. She tells him where the Black Mountain is going to be, but then he can’t get out without the spider killing him. Really, I don’t get this: she doesn’t have control over the spider. It’s just there, screwing with people who try and get to her, and keeping her trapped. So she does something with an hourglass—because, sure, why not—and breaks it open and gives the sand to the old man. The sand is now his life, as long as he can hold onto it, and the spider won’t go for him. Cool. But then he leaves the nest, and the spider goes totally shithouse, going after the Widow, and she, the Spider and the whole nest go up in electricity.
I don’t even know what that was all about, but it looked cool.
The Old Man manages to get back to camp with the last bit of sand falling out of his hand, so he dies right after he tells them where the Black Mountain is going to be. Of course, new problem: where it’s going to be is REALLY FAR AWAY, so this information is nearly useless. But then Ken Marshall remembers a nearby field of magic horses that run really fast. So they go there and catch some horses. I mean, there’s probably more to it than that, but that’s the next plot token: Superfast Horses.
So, they catch those, and get ready to ride, but the Cyclops stays behind, because that’s where he’s supposed to die. And if a Cyclops tries to avoid his foreseen death, all he gets is a more horrible death. A little bit of bitter goodbyes, but fine. They ride, and it’s a cool riding montage. Did I say “cool”? I mean “way overlong”. I mean, I know they ride a thousand leagues, but we don’t need to see it ALL.
They get to the Black Mountain right as the sun is rising, and they have a hell of a time getting inside it, since the Not-Stormtroopers are shooting like crazy at them, everyone is pinned down, and they’ll be screwed if they don’t get inside before the sun rises. But then! Out of nowhere, the Cyclops comes charging in on his Firehorse. And he pretty much blazes his way up the mountain, taking no shit from any of the Not-Stormtroopers (their blasts don’t even slow him down), and kicking every ass. He gets to one of the automatic doors and holds it open so everyone else can scurry inside. And as they get in, it shuts on him. And, seriously, without it being gory, it’s looks as painful and gruesome as the filmmakers can pull off. This scene haunted me as a kid.
The heroes all move through the fortress, getting picked off and split up by randomness. At one point Ergo and the boy are separated from everyone else. When they’re attacked, Ergo breaks his pattern of uselessness by turning into a goddamn tiger and just mauling the hell out of the Not-Stormtroopers. And that’s pretty awesome. But, really, Ergo, that tiger-form would have come in handy earlier.
Ken Marshall FINALLY uses his spinning-death star to cut through walls and get to his lady. Meanwhile, everyone else trapped in a spike-room. It’s in there that the last of the expendables gets killed by being an idiot. Like, there’s these spikes coming out of the wall, and when everyone trapped gets close to the door and stays still, the spikes stop. Good. But then Idiot is all, “Wait, I dropped my knife” and goes back for it, and what does he get for his trouble? Gruesome, slow death. It’s what they do here.
Ken Marshall gets to the princess, and has his big battle with the Beast, using his spinning-death star, which works pretty well until it gets stuck. The Beast is ready for Round Two, though, and Ken is unarmed. Except for the power of LOVE.
And I mean this in the most literal way. Remember I said the “interrupted wedding ceremony” would be important? Yeah, it involved a passing-of-magical-fire ritual between husband and wife, and now that comes into play. Lysette Anthony gives the fire back to Ken Marshall, because she’s still had it all this time since she didn’t get to pass it back to him in the ceremony. So now he can just open up with FLAMETHROWERS OF LOVE.
With the Beast defeated, the Death Star… er, the Black Fortress just falls apart, at exactly the right dramatic rate for the surviving members of the party to run away. Survivors make it out as the thing blows up for good, and everyone has a good relaxed laugh. End of movie.
Except for that epilogue voice-over—repeated from the beginning– which lets us know that Ken Marshall and Lysette Anthony will rule their world, and they’ll have a son that will RULE THE GALAXY. Uh, spoilers for Krull 2?