triumphing over the TZ disaster
in the twilit and allegorical film art of Don Coscarelli
by Gary W. Wright
It was difficult to be a moody, self conscious and sadolescent Jedi in the Dark days, weeks and months after the helicopter crash that killed child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le and actor/director/writer Vic Morrow around 2:20 am in the early morning of July 23, 1982 on the John Landis set of the twilit and allegorical Landis, Joe Dante, George Miller and Steven Spielberg film, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983). For within days of the TZ disaster, it was discovered that George Folsey jr., the producer of the Landis episode of the film, and star crossed lovers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, overall producers of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, had worked with Landis to track down and illegally use Chen and Le after hours near dangerous explosives on the fateful and fatal night, meaning the TZ disaster was not quite the random and unlucky mishap it had appeared to be at the outset.
Just as enraging and frustrating was the shock confirmation soon after from the head J.D. Jedi himself, George Lucas, that despite the revelation that Kennedy and Marshall’s illegal actions contributed to the shocking deaths of Chen and Le in the TZ disaster, he would still honour a commitment made before the disaster to work with Kennedy, Marshall and Spielberg on a sequel to the allegorical, Kennedy and Marshall produced and implicitly Landis roasting Spielberg film, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). This from the man who had primly preached that the Good Force of law and order, peace and politesse must be with you always in order to succeed in this life and the next in the first two implicitly and ironically Spielberg roasting installments of the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy, the allegorical Lucas film, STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977), and the equally allegorical Irv Kershner film, STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)? Young Jedi like my friends and myself at the time hit the roof in outraged and incoherent fury at this blasphemous nonsense, convinced that Lucas was revealing himself to be Lord Stinkious, Darkest of the insidious and duplicitous Dark Lords, a cruel and callous Sith Lord indifferent to human life and only interested in amassing beastly blockbuster profits!
The fact that Lucas did not mention the TZ disaster at the time and to this day only strengthened that conviction. The fact that working with Lucas on an Indy sequel allowed Kennedy, Marshall and Spielberg to flee to Ellstree Studios in England to begin pre-production work on the film and thus avoid any more revealing and incriminating interviews with the police and press regarding the TZ disaster also affirmed the conviction of youthful Jedi that Lucas was indeed Lord Stinkious. This Dark conviction became certain when a double bill of STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE and STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRES STRIKES BACK and the preceding trailer for the once eagerly awaited trimax for the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy revealed in October of ’82 that the allegorical and implicitly Spielberg roasting Richard Marquand film was titled STAR WARS EPISODE VI: REVENGE OF THE JEDI (1983). For everyone knew true Jedi flowing with the Good Force only acted in self-defense, never in vengeance! !Lucas was Lord Stinkious!
Thus, by early October of ’82 and to the shocked, confused, infuriated and embittered dismay and disappointment of youthful Jedi in Canada and around the world, the daylit Skyrocking dream had been brutally and violently replaced by a twilit and Skyfalling nightmare-a depressing cinematic nightmare that has never been swept away by another inspiring cinematic dream. Though not for want of trying. For into this nightmarishly new angry, confused, depressing and embittering era surprisingly arrived perhaps the first allegorical film to take on Folsey, Kennedy, Landis, Lucas, Marshall, Spielberg and the TZ disaster, the eerily twilit, prescient, Ozian themed and allegorical Don Coscarelli jr. film, THE BEASTMASTER (1982), with a main theme that curiously evoked that of the allegorical and implicitly Lucas roasting telefilm series, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978-79).
‘Don’t move. The beast is fierce. But if we show no fear,
we might escape.’
Ironically, the film was an implicit and Lord Stinkious supporting reply to the allegorical, Ozian themed and implicitly Lord Stinkious roasting Miller film, THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981), which saw the implicitly Miller linked, Mad Max Rockatansky-played by Mel Gibson-triumph over the implicitly Lord Stinkious linked Lord Humongous-played by Kjell Nilsson-and his blockbuster gas lusting biker and hot rodder minions in the post-apocalyptic Outback. Coscarelli and co-writer/producer Paul Pepperman affirmed that implicit Miller roasting and Lord Stinkious supporting intent of THE BEASTMASTER by the resemblance of the film’s psychic, vengeful and Arthur and Tarzan evoking hero, Dar-his name also evoking death defying American stuntman, Dar Robinson, perhaps best known for being the first person to successfully leap off the CN Tower for the allegorical Peter Carter film, HIGHPOINT (1982), and fittingly played by Vancouver born and raised Canadian actor, Marc Singer-to Mark Hamill, the American actor who played determined and idealistic young Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker, in the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy. Dar’s prowess with his unusually long and samurai like sword and his triumph over the mad and implicitly Miller linked high priest, Maax-played by Rip Torn-and the huge, helmeted and Lord Humongous evoking leader of the Jun warriors-played by Tony Epper-also reaffirmed the implicit Miller roasting and Lord Stinkious supporting intent of THE BEASTMASTER.
Creating the film in the Simi Valley, a beautiful but desolate desert landscape north of Los Angeles that evoked the equally beautiful and desolate desertscape of western New South Wales, Australia, where Miller created THE ROAD WARRIOR, reaffirmed the implicit intent of THE BEASTMASTER. Dar’s unique multi-bladed throwing knife that returned like a boomerang evoked the deadly razor tipped boomerang of the Feral Kid-played by Emil Minty-in THE ROAD WARRIOR, reaffirming the implicit allegorical intent of THE BEASTMASTER. Indeed, the youthful Dar-played by Billy Jacoby-resembled the Feral Kid, openly affirming that the film was replying to THE ROAD WARRIOR. Dar’s eagle companion and his ability to see through its eyes by way of a psychic link also implicitly affirmed that THE BEASTMASTER was taking on THE ROAD WARRIOR. For the sight of the eagle soaring through the sky and the sweeping shots of the desert landscape seen through its eyes evoked the sight of the gleefully demented gyrocoptor pilot-played by Bruce Spence-soaring through the air in his gyrocoptor and the sweeping shots of the post-apocalyptic desert landscape of THE ROAD WARRIOR seen from his eyes throughout THE BEASTMASTER, a link strengthened by the fact that the shots from the eagle’s perspective were also shot from a helicopter.
The Ozian allusions in THE BEASTMASTER reaffirmed the implicit Lord Stinkious supporting intent of the film, reminding us not only that THE ROAD WARRIOR was an Ozian themed film, but that the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy and the allegorical and implicitly Don Shebib roasting Lucas film, AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973), were Ozian themed films as well. Indeed, the lovely and feisty Kiri-played by Tanya Roberts-evoked Dorothy as well as Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organna; Dar’s two ferrets with their Toto evoking names, Kodo and Podo, symbolized Earth and, hence, the Scarecrow; his unique black tiger, Ubu, evoked the Cowardly Lion and, hence, Fire; his eagle evoked Air and, hence, the Great Oz; and Dar with his unusual samurai sword evoked the Tin Man with his axe and, hence, Water.
However, while the shocked and outraged young audiences of ’82 could see that THE BEASTMASTER was an implicitly furious reply to THE ROAD WARRIOR, they could also see that the film, like many of the films in the years leading up to 1982, was eerily and presciently filled with all sorts of memories of the future TZ disaster. Eerie and prescient memories of the twilit and disastrous future that caused outraged and shocked young audiences to embrace and interpret THE BEASTMASTER in a completely different way than that intended by Coscarelli and Pepperman. A solemn embrace that surprised its creators and led to the film becoming a smash hit when it was released on the new all film cable television channels in Canada and the United States in the fall of ’82 after it had quickly disappeared from theatres in August.
For the film began with Dar’s father, King Zed-played by Rod Loomis-banishing mad Maax from his city to the Jun wasteland for life after discovering that the Evil high priest had been planning to sacrifice Dar after his birth. This beginning eerily and presciently evoked the sacrifice of Chen and Le by Landis on his set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and the hope of many youthful audiences at the time that Landis would be banned forever from making films, linking Maax to Landis. The twilit trio of witches-played by Janet DeMay, Janet Jones and Chrissy Kellogg, respectively-that aided mad Maax in his Evil deeds reaffirmed his link to Chen, Le and Morrow, and reminded us that Kennedy helped Landis track down and use Chen and Le on his set on the fateful and disastrous night of July 22/23, 1982. After having one of his witches steal Dar from his mother’s womb, Maax was banished from the scene. Thus, he did not see that a humble but sturdy and implicitly Kershner linked farmer named Gar-who presciently anticipated the arrival of Gardevil, and played by Ben Hammer-from a village outside the royal city killed the witch and rescued and adopted Dar.
Significantly, twenty years later, Maax showed up at the village of Dar in command of a group of brutal and violent Juns under command of the Jun leader. Seeing mad Maax in command of the Juns and their leader and unconcernedly watching them kill all of the villagers except Dar in an Ozian tornado of violence reminded us that Marshall was on the Landis Vietnam War village set and in command of the film artist and his crew that fateful and fatal night, but also chose to unconcernedly watch them set off explosions in the village so big and powerful that they took down the helicopter that killed two village children played by Chen and Le as well as Morrow, playing a character trapped in the Twilight Zone named Bill Connor. This switched the implicit link of mad Maax from Landis to mad Marshall, implicitly linking John Landis to the Jun leader, instead. Thus, when Dar woke up from the unconsciousness that Maax and the Juns had mistaken for death and set off to avenge his adoptive father, Gar, and his fellow villagers by finding and killing Maax, his twilit trio of witches and the Jun leader, his quest perfectly symbolized the desire of many young male audience members at the time to hunt down and kill Kennedy, Landis and Marshall.
The eerily prescient links to the TZ disaster continued after Dar set out on his revenge quest. For after gathering his four Ozian companions-Kodo, Podo, Ubu and the eagle-around him and meeting Kiri, Dar came across a head floating in a large cooking pot that evoked the decapitated head of Morrow. The eerily prescient and twilit links continued when Dar strode back into the city of his father, King Zed, now a blinded captive of mad Maax. For young audience members were shocked to see Dar arrive just in time to watch the Evil high priest sacrifice a Le evoking boy-played by Al Smithee-by throwing him into a fire atop his pyramidal Temple of Doom, an infuriating sight that only affirmed the implicit link of mad Maax to Marshall. To the relief of young audience members, Dar made up for being too late to save the boy by using his psychic link to his eagle companion to urge the eagle to save and fly away with his next sacrificial victim, a girl who evoked Chen-played by Kim Tabet.
Needles to say, with the implicit link of mad Maax to Marshall now firmly established, young audience members were grimly relieved and pleased to see the Evil high priest, his Kennedy evoking witches, his evil priests and temple guards soon killed by Dar, Kiri and their allies in the city. The huge explosion and subsequent fireball that soon preceded the final battle that led to the deaths of the Jun leader and his brutal warriors also affirmed their implicit link to Jun Landis and his twilit film crew, as they evoked the huge explosion and fireball that brought down the helicopter in the TZ disaster. In fact, the explosion was so huge, Coscarelli was lucky that he was not blamed for and linked forever to the first and even more fatal film set disaster of ’82! Then, with the jubilant junking of the Landis linked Juns, the film fittingly ended fully out of the Twilight Zone in triumphant and harmonious daylight with Dar and Kiri high atop a small hill in a stunning desertscape surrounded by their elemental Ozian animal and bird companions.
Thus, with the film eerily and presciently in tune with the twilit and disastrous times and allegorically accomplishing what many young and male audience members wanted to do to Kennedy, Landis, and Marshall-and Lord Stinkious!-despite being in the last stages of post-production at the time of the TZ disaster, THE BEASTMASTER was, naturally, a huge hit. Indeed, it was one of the most popular films of the Eighties, and still one of the most popular fantasy films of all time. The film also inspired youthful viewers to launch a letter writing campaign complaining about the title of STAR WARS EPISODE VI: REVENGE OF THE JEDI. This letter campaign would eventually triumph like Dar, for Lord Stinkious bowed to the pressure and changed the title of the film to STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI in the Spring of ’83, mere months before the release of the film on May 25, 1983. Not surprisingly, the Zonebusting film soon inspired a television series and two sequels, neither directed by Coscarelli, in time. As for Coscarelli, he was also caught up in the dread allegorical Zone Wars like most film artists, and knowingly implied that he wanted to end them when he teamed up again with Hammer for another gruelling location shoot for his twilit and allegorical film, SURVIVAL QUEST (1989).
‘The only thing holding you back is fear.’
Indeed, in the triumph of a group of ordinary people on a holistic and peaceful wildnerness survival trek over a rival group of violent, unstable and war obsessed wilderness survival trekkers-the Blue Legion-implicitly linked to the bigger film artists in the dread Zone Wars, Coscarelli implied his hope that audiences-and, no doubt, indie film artists like himself-would ultimately triumph over the TZ disaster obsessed film artists who were battling away in the dread Zone Wars and lead film art back to a daylit and Zone War free era as at the end of THE BEASTMASTER. The implicit allegorical intent of SURVIVAL QUEST was affirmed by the fact that the gung ho Blue Legion was led by Jake Cannon-played by Mark Rolston-who not only had a name that evoked James Cameron, and also looked, talked and acted like Cameron, but was openly linked to Cameron as he had just played Private Drake in the allegorical, righteously furious and implicitly Joe Dante roasting Cameron film, ALIENS (1986).
Hank Chambers, the leader of the peaceful trekkers-an adoptive child like Dar, and played by Lance Henriksen-ironically reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in addressing Cameron and the other film artists of the dread Zone Wars, as he played Police Chief Steve Kimbrough in the allegorical and implicitly Sir Ridley Scott addressing Cameron film, PIRANNHA II: THE SPAWNING (1982), Detective Hal Vukovich in the allegorical, outraged and implicitly Lucas roasting Cameron film, THE TERMINATOR (1984), and Bishop the android in ALIENS. The grimly amusing sight of the implicitly Lord Stinkious linked Blue Legionnaire, Checker-played by Ken Daly-being shot dead by the implicitly Spielberg linked Raider-played by Steve Antin-also reaffirmed the implicit Zone War addressing intent of SURVIVAL QUEST.
Alas, for Coscarelli and everyone else, SURVIVAL QUEST and THE BEASTMASTER did not end the Zone Wars. In fact, they raged on to this day, no doubt due to the fact that Kennedy, Landis, Lord Stinkious Marshall and Spielberg were all still alive. Leading Zach Snyder and company to eventually unleash their own allegorical Zone War salvo and recreate THE BEASTMASTER in the film’s twenty-fourth anniversary year in their equally masterful but bigger, mega violent and computer generated imagery (CGI) enhanced film, 300 (2006), inspired by the allegorical Frank Miller narrative artwork, 300 (1998).
‘The world will never know you existed at all.’
Indeed, the sight of a young and implicitly Lord Stinkious linked King Leondias of Sparta-played by Eli Snyder-killing a pursuing and blockbuster CGI wolf in a flashback early in the film evoked the sight of the young Dar facing down and mastering a blockbuster bear with his psychic powers at the beginning of THE BEASTMASTER, affirming the implicit link between the two characters and films. The sight of the older King Leonidas-played by Gerard Butler-leading his fellow Spartans in an epic battle against the tall, commanding and implicitly Cameron linked Persian Godking, Xerxes-a fusion of Maax and Jun leader and played by Rodrigo Santoro-and his vast army at the end of 300 implicitly reaffirmed that the film was remaking THE BEASTMASTER. For the battle against the Godking and his massive army evoked the battle with the high priest Maax and his priests of Ar at his twisted Temple of Doom, and then the battle against the Jun leader and his Jun warriors, at the end of THE BEASTMASTER. As Leonidas and his Immortals stopped Xerxes and his huge army but died in the process, Zachary and co. implicitly summed up the general audience consensus that Lord Stinkious and his insidiously loyal followers at ILM, Lucasfilm, Skywalker Sound and THX had destroyed themselves trying to topple King o’ the World Cameron with the STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy, leaving still trapped in the Zone the world of film art and in need dire of the true liberating Zonemaster.
Miller, Frank. 300. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1999.