Will you join the quest to find The Beastmaster? That’s the gauntlet being thrown down by Don Coscarelli, the director and cowriter of the much-beloved 1982 sword-and-sorcery movie about a warrior who can telepathically communicate with animals. Coscarelli recently discovered that the original negative for Beastmaster has been lost and is asking the public to try and help him find it.
“The rights holder sent [someone] to pick up the negative and the guy put it in his vault in the San Fernando valley,” says Coscarelli, whose other directorial credits include the 1979 horror classic Phantasm. “Then he sold the house and now he [doesn’t] know where it is.” This week, Coscarelli set up a website (whereisthebeastermaster.com), enlisting the aid of fans to help locate the film. “As they used to say in the labs, when we were making Phantasm, nothing’s ever lost, it’s just misplaced,” says the director. “We have this fervent hope that maybe we can reinvigorate this fan base of ours to go out and help find it."
The independently-financed Beastmaster starred Marc Singer (the original TV sci-fi show V), Tanya Roberts (the original Charlie's Angels), and the late Rip Torn (Men in Black, The Larry Sanders Show), who played a villainous priest. Beastmaster was not a huge hit on its initial theatrical release, but gathered a large following after it was repeatedly screened on TBS, TNT, and HBO in the ‘80s and '90s. As EW's David Browne wrote in 1993, "Whenever TNT needs to air a movie that guarantees the network huge ratings, its programmers pull out a few surefire audience favorites: (1) Objective: Burma, starring Errol Flynn, (2) John Ford’s classic Western She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and (3) The Beastmaster."
Despite its PG-rating, the film featured scenes with female nudity, which doubtless fueled some of the enthusiasm shown toward it by viewers in a pre-internet age. The movie showed up so frequently on HBO that people joked the channel's acronym stood for “Hey, Beastmaster’s on!” Eventually, the film inspired two film sequels and a syndicated TV show.
Beastmaster was cowritten by Coscarelli’s friend Paul Pepperman. In the years since the film’s release, Pepperman has switched careers and now works as a financial advisor. But he is well aware of the film’s large following. “I don’t walk around saying [I wrote Beastmaster],” he says, with a chuckle. “But it does come up. I’ll sometimes get a new manager for the district, and they’ll come by and visit, and someone says, ‘Hey, you know, Paul did the Beastmaster.’ Usually they’ll say, 'Are you kidding me? Oh my god, I love that film, that’s the first movie I saw naked breasts in!’ So there’s still lot of notoriety involved.”
Coscarelli is desperate to find the original negative so that a planned restoration of the film can feature the best image possible. “The finest quality material is the original camera negative which was out there, on the set, going through the camera,” says the director. “That’s the beauty of film. Even though it’s a medium from a hundred years ago, 35 mm film carries a lot of information and, if it’s carefully taken care of, those original negatives, you can really get a beautiful image out of them. There’s a back-up plan, but it’s just not as good as the original.”
The filmmaker is also keen to properly showcase the work of the movie’s cinematographer, Oscar-winner John Alcott. “He was Stanley Kubrick’s guy,” says Coscarelli. “He did Clockwork Orange, he shot The Shining. He won an Academy Award for Barry Lyndon.”
So, for what exactly should people be looking?
“It’s basically six film cans and then outside it would have The Beastmaster and it’s called ‘Original camera negative,’ ‘OCN,'" says Coscarelli. "We have all of this on the website and there’s a trail of where the negative went and where it went missing. There’s a chance I just went into a dumpster, never to be seen again. But there are a lot of rabid film collectors out there. A lot of times they gather up this stuff and it’s of uncertain lineage. A lot of them hang onto it because they don’t want to tell people they hav it, or whatever. This would be an open license [to] be a hero to a generation of Beastmaster fans.”
MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection
There is good news for those fans, regardless of whether the director succeeds in his quest. The rights to the original film’s screenplay have reverted to Coscarelli and Pepperman and the pair hope to make a new version of the tale.
“People have asked over and over and over [about a remake]” says Pepperman. “Every time some other movie gets remade — Conan, whatever — people start saying, ‘Hey, how come there’s not a new Beastmaster? How can that be?’ It’s like, ‘Uh, we don’t have the rights.’ Now, thank goodness, it’s coming to fruition.”
“We’re going to start taking it out and talking to companies and studios about doing a remake or a reboot of the original movie,” says Coscarelli. “A lot of latchkey kids watched that movie over and over again. Now they’re adults, and, with luck, some of them are running studios. So, we’ll see what happens.”
Hey, Beastmaster's on. Again!