Dragons have a PR problem, and this movie doesn't help.

DVD Watch


Paramount Home Video, $19.99

In days of old when knights were nowhere near the landscape, dragons and wizards ruled. That's the premise of the 1981 live-action drama Dragonslayer, an engaging but unsatisfying joust with the past from Matthew Robbins, whose short-lived career included Corvette Summer and *batteries not included. Dragonslayer doesn't just lag, it lumbers along, wounded by a tedious script and slow pacing. There are no extras, no commentary, no outtakes, nothing to improve it. And that's a shame, because it is well cast, with Ralph Richardson chewing the scenery as the sorceror Ulrich and Peter MacNicol, recently seen as quirky attorney John Cage on Ally McBeal, as his apprentice, Galen. Galen sets out to destroy the dragon with the cross-dressing virgin (natch) Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), played to perfection in nontypical heroine form. Add the wickedly handsome John Hallam gloriously cast as the evil Tyrian, the king's henchman involved with some hanky panky in the choosing of virgins to slaughter, and so goes the story. But if you can dismiss the uneven scripting, the dragon is the real payoff. Though it is awkward in close-up, where the stop animation is obvious, the overall affect is astonishing. Writhing and glittering beasts, the creatures rear up and breathe hellfire with blazing, believable effect, and a scene of dragonlets munching on the brave sacrificed princess Elspeth (Chloe Salaman) still induces queasiness. Dragons are tough business, cinematically. They're sort of the opposite of unicorns on the good guy-bad guy scale, and they have a serious PR problem. Dragonslayer doesn't help, as these dragons are not just monstrous fire-breathing critters -- they also breed, get in bad moods, and carry grudges. In fact, they'd probably have a good legal case against Hollywood with this movie as a prime suspect. If they're smart, they'll contact the Dragon Union and ask John Cage to represent them.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Screens Reviews
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
Josh Frank brings the legendary unproduced movie to printed life

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 22, 2019

What If <i>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
What If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

Marc Savlov, March 22, 2019

More by Margaret Moser
Did I Know Bruce Springsteen Was Going to Play 2012?
Did I Know Bruce Springsteen Was Going to Play 2012?

March 3, 2017

Adult Audio Coloring Book Sampler
Adult Audio Coloring Book Sampler
A look back at illustrated album covers old and new

July 29, 2016


Dragonslayer, Matthew Robbins, Ralph Richardson, Peter MacNicol, John Hallam

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle