From Conan The Barbarian (1982) to the Star Wars sequels, the early 1980s saw an endless array of science-fiction and fantasy films become popular at the box office.
Krull was one of the most interesting films to emerge from this trend because it was science fiction and fantasy at the same time. It gave viewers the best of both worlds and gained a devoted fan following in the process. It also featured Carry On stalwart Bernard Bresslaw as a one-eyed cyclops!
The story begins with the planet Krull struggling to recover from attacks by the Slayers, an army of fierce, helmeted warriors who work for a mythic creature known as the Beast.
Two nations join forces to stop the Beast and decide to seal their union by having handsome Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) marry the lovely Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony). Their wedding day becomes a tragedy when the Slayers attack.
The Slayers kill the kings of both nations, wound Colwyn, and kidnap Lyssa so she can become the Beast’s bride in his Black Fortress.
Just when all seems lost, Colwyn is visited by the brave Yynr (Freddie Jones). He pledges his loyalty to Colwyn and aids the prince by helping him recover the glaive, a mystical five-bladed weapon that is the symbol of his nation, from its hidden location in a mountain.
Once they have recovered the glaive, Colwyn and Yynr set out to find the Black Fortress and free Princess Lyssa. In the process, they gather a ragtag band of bandits (pictured below), including a heroic Cyclops (Bresslaw) and a young boy who can shape-shift into various animal forms at will.
These brave heroes must fight their way through constant attacks by the Slayers, obtain clues from people like the Seer (John Welsh) and Widow of the Web (Francesca Annis) on how to find the Black Fortress, and do battle with scary creatures like a giant crystal spider. Their mystical journey ends in a battle royale between Prince Colwyn and the Beast for the fate of the free universe.
Krull cost $27 million but never became the big hit that Columbia Pictures hoped it would be. It did, however, become an enduring cult favourite. It’s easy to see why: it was a film designed for the fantasy-loving kid in all of us, pure and simple.
Borrowing from sources as diverse as Star Wars (1977) and Excalibur (1981), the movie blended sci-fi and fantasy into a mysterious, intriguing world that has never been duplicated by another film.
Screenwriter Stanford Sherman, who would later write The Ice Pirates, brought a pleasing fairy-tale style to the story, and director Peter Yates used the flair for action he developed making films like Bullitt (1968) to draw maximum thrills from the battle scenes.
The film’s regal-sounding score, written by future Titanic (1997) composer James Horner and performed by The London Symphony Orchestra, further added to the grand, adventurous feel of the film.
Krull was also blessed with a magnificent and unique visual style. The film’s otherworldly settings were brought to life through a combination of well-chosen Italian locations and some beautifully-designed sets.
Of course, colourful special effects made up a big part of Krull’s eye-candy appeal.
The glaive – which is like a giant, mind-controlled ninja star (pictured below) – was especially impressive. Every kid who saw this film walked out wanting a glaive of his or her own.
There were also some cool monster movie-style effects, the best example being what happened to the Slayers when they died: their helmets would split open, unleashing a gaggle of squid-like things that would shoot out and burrow into the ground.
The film further benefited from sincere performances by a well-chosen cast. Ken Marshall, who rose to prominence by playing Marco Polo in a hit television miniseries, made a good, old-fashioned hero in the swashbuckler mode.
Lysette Anthony was lovely and eye-pleasing as the fair Princess, while respected English actors Freddie Jones and Francesca Annis added a bit of old-school class as Yynr and the Widow of the Web.
Krull was also notable for its supporting cast of future stars: Liam Neeson later gained worldwide attention with roles in films like Schindler’s List (1993) and Robbie Coltrane would become a recurring character in James Bond films like Goldeneye (1995).
Though it is over three decades years old, Krull continues to be a favourite on cable. This is mainly because it has developed a fervent and devoted following of fans over the years who adore the film for its endearingly odd combination of genres.
If you want to see a film with a totally unique sense of the fantastic, then Krull is a voyage well worth taking.
Widow of the Web
Rell the Cyclops