Hidden 80s Gems: Krull

Rob sings the praises of an under-regarded 80s fantasy classic with a dark edge...


Sitting at home channel surfing this Sunday evening my wandering fingers put down the well-thumbed remote as Channel 5 happened to be showing Krull, one of the best fantasy films of the 1980s.

With Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and Neverending Story, Krull sits at the top of the video shop ‘must haves’ from my childhood and a movie that myself and the rest of my family could all agree on when choosing an evening’s entertainment.

Not as child-like as Labyrinth or as complex in themes as Dune, Krull is an out-and-out fantasy film, and in this day and age is the type of film that would just not be made, as firstly it contained a non-star cast (with the most famous people in it being Bernard Bresslaw, Robbie Coltraine and Freddie Jones) and it’s set in a very deep fantasy world with no point of reference unlike some other films of the time such as Conan. However, much as the world of Krull could be seen as a generic fantasy film, director Peter Yates adds a really dark element to the whole proceedings; this isn’t a campy or silly fantasy flick like Deathstalker or Sword And The Sorcerer (another under-rated classic) but a rather darker type of fantasy set in a world where nobody is really safe.

The reason for this unease is the main protagonist, an alien creature called The Beast, a superbly creepy baddie that doesn’t show its true form until the last reel (and then only through a fish eye lens), whose Black Fortress – a moveable alien ship that is a cross between a mountain range and a Roger Dean painting- is a teleporting citadel full of traps and sinister Slayers, nasty slithering bug creatures encased in impressive HR Giger-inspired shaped armour that are far more powerful than the sword and sandal technology of the population of Krull. However the Slayers are not the creepiest villains in the whole movie; even worse is the ‘Changeling’, an agent of the other-worldly Beast with the ability to take on any shape and who calmly assassinates a large part of the cast. It’s this sense that the odds are well and truly stacked against our heroes that makes Krull such a great film, from the initial slaughter of Prince Colwyn’s family to the abduction of Lysette Anthony’s Princess Lyssa, the film is action-packed but always with a dark edge.

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It’s this unpredictability and the tone of the film that makes Krull stand out, from the company that Prince Colwyn keeps which includes Torquil and his band of prisoners to the melancholy Rell the Cyclops, the movie is full of death, decay and sombre set pieces, from the sinister ‘Widow of the Web’ scene to the fantastic swamp battle with the Slayers, the film’s action is shot in a mix of colours that really suit the mood and tone: from the depressing beige and ochre filters of the swamps to the unnatural purples, pinks and yellows of the pearl-like interior of the Black Fortress, the cinematography displays a great eye for detail and mood, all brought into relief over by James Horner’s superb and sweeping score.

That’s not to say the movie is just an hour and a half of gothic fantasy; there are some superb bits of light relief, mostly coming from the sorcerer Ergo who, along with his companion Titch. bring a little light relief to the proceedings, whether it’s chatting about puppies or sharing sweets, these two jolly the whole quest along with an optimistic outlook even when things are at their lowest.

At the time, Krull was seen as a commercial flop, which is unfortunate as it’s such a hidden gem filled with great ideas, concepts and even for the bit part actors (played by Liam Neeson and Todd Carty from Eastenders) there is enough characterisation and well scripted lines to make even the most fleeting of on-screen characters quite memorable. From the epic ride to the Black Fortress on flying Fire-Stallions, to the sacrifice made by the majority of the characters to the final battle in which Colwyn wields one of the best fantasy weapons ever seen on screen in the shape of the bladed Frisbee known as the Glaive, the film should get a lot more respect in the echelons of fantasy-movie collections than it does and is well worth a Sunday afternoon sitting in front of the TV to re-watch.

12 January 2009