I love a fun B-movie almost as much as I love an awful pun. Some of my favourite low-budget films are from the fantasy genre. When I was young there was very little to whet this particular appetite. A very rare appearance by Beastmaster or Krull on TV was nothing like the fantasy film smorgasbord we have available today. So I would like to take this opportunity to direct your attention to ten of my favourite low-budget fantasy films. Please bear in mind that they may not be amazing films by normal standards, but what they lack in the quality of their special effects or acting is usually counterbalanced by heart and enthusiasm.
1. Merlin and the Book of Beasts
The dream of Camelot is dead, Merlin is nowhere to be found and a mysterious sorcerer is beginning a reign of terror. Only a small band of knights have any hope of restoring peace to the ravaged land as the sorcerer begins to unleash the terrible power of the Book of Beasts.
This film is one of my favourites. James Callis plays an excellent grumpy Merlin as he and the knights go up against a fun selection of monsters in their quest to overcome the evil sorcerer. It’s a really enjoyable adventure, the FX are fun and the acting is fine.
2. Mythica: A Quest for Heroes
This is the first film in a series starring Marek, who has emerging magical powers and seeks to escape a life of servitude, and her band of companions which she meets along the way.
This is a film made with real heart and passion. The FX and acting are absolutely fine, the heroes are likeable and the heroes battle some excellent monsters. The script is a lot of fun and keeps things light-hearted without going into parody. Marek is a very engaging hero and her developing friendships with her companions are very believable. I look forward to seeing more from the series.
3. Dragon Hunter
This is a film by The Asylum, who, when they get it right, create some very fun films. The dragons in the land are getting out of control and causing chaos across the land. Only the prophecy of a mythical dragon hunter holds any hope for human survival.
A little of the acting is a bit below par in this film but it is shot really nicely with beautiful forest locations and some good characters. There is also a neat extra ability that the dragons have in this movie which adds more danger.
The story of someone realising and trying to fulfil their destiny is very satisfying and all in all it’s a really fun film.
4. Dragon Quest
This is another Asylum film and stars Marc ‘Beastmaster’ Singer as a crotchety old warrior who has to train the chosen one so that he can try to battle an evil monk who is trying to take over the world with the use of a terrible dragon. The young Arkadi must try to overcome many trials to win the stones of virtue in order to defeal the evil monk, Krill.
The acting is pretty okay, although Arkadi’s accent sometimes seems difficult to pin own, but it’s not too distracting. The tests that Arkadi has to overcome are nicely thought out and although the monsters aren’t amazing they don’t detract from a very fun adventure.
5. The Dragon Chronicles: Fire and Ice
A terrible fire dragon begins to destroy the kingdom of Carpia whilst leaving the neighbouring kingdom untouched. Could the wayward Princess Luisa possibly find a banished knight, if he is still alive, and get him to help?
This is another nice-looking film with some very interesting dragons that look a little like manta rays, which adds a unique touch. John Rhy-Davies is excellent as the young hero’s companion. I couldn’t accept him as a baddie in Dragon Storm, a film which fails to put across why you should care about any of the humans as they all seem pretty awful, but in this he plays a wise and ingenious old warrior and inventor. There are some weak points in the acting but it doesn’t detract too much from the story and overall it’s an exciting and fun adventure.
6. Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God
I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the first Dungeons and Dragons film was awful. It totally went against the teamwork principle of the game and Snails was the most irritating film character since Jar-Jar Binks. This second film, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish.
The evil Damodar has returned to wreak revenge upon the kingdom of Ismir and only Lord Berek and his companions have any hope of stopping him before he wakes the Night Dragon and lays the world to waste.
The acting is fine and some of the monsters are excellent. The story is really enjoyable and the whole adventure is a lot of fun with some ingenious ideas for tricks and traps which the heroes have to overcome. A proper tribute to the game the film is based on.
7. Dungeons and Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness
The third D&D film has a much darker tone and more adult feel. A young knight has to infiltrate a group of evil warriors in order to find out where his father is imprisoned and to take revenge on whoever wiped out his chivalrous order.
Some of the acting is a bit ropey but the monsters are excellent, one in particular being genuinely terrifying. Some of the characters are very good and the exploration of the young knight, Grayson’s, conflicted loyalties are pretty interesting.
This isn’t the joyous fantasy romp that the other films are but it is very intriguing to journey through a fantasy world from the point of view of a powerful group of warriors who use their power for their own selfish ends.
8. The Four Warriors
This film was written by its star, Christopher Dane, and has only two major problems. Most of the cast are fine and the story is that of a village under attack where some brave souls turn up to help the villagers fight back. Standard stuff but nicely done nonetheless. There is character development and believable friendships between the heroes.
The first problem is that the baddies and their leader look like an afterthought. Their masks just look cheap, uninspired and ridiculous. It’s hard to take a chief baddie seriously when he looks like a pre-school art project gone wrong, despite his cool flaming sword.
The other problem is the cameo role by Kristian Nairn whose acting is so much worse than the rest of the cast that it detracts horribly from the film. Clearly he is only in it because of his association with Game of Thrones. I don’t like being negative but his performance and the poor baddies almost ruin an otherwise fun film.
9. The Dark Knight
The DVD cover of this film gives the impression that it is set during the crusades but, thankfully, that is misleading, as it is a lot more interesting than that. It opens at the advent of a battle where a warlord’s warriors are preparing to destroy their enemies and steal a hoard of treasure. However, some of his soldiers have other ideas and make off with the booty into a forbidden land, supposedly haunted by terrifying monsters.
It is hard to like the protagonists at first but after a time the band’s leader’s true plan and motivation is revealed. It is a film which grows more likeable as it goes on.
The monsters aren’t great and the assasin’s masks look a little cheap and silly, but they don’t detract from the intriguing post-apocalyptic world and exciting story.
10. Dragon Crusaders
The final film I have chosen for this list is another by The Asylum. It is a film that has many flaws, not least the universally poor acting, but there is also a lot to like about it. The main highlights are the excellent fight sequences choreographed by Cecily Fay. She is an absolute hurricane as her mysterious warrior character dispatches the baddies left, right and centre. She also wrote and stars in a film called Warrioress which almost made this list but missed out due to even weaker acting than Dragon Crusaders, despite it also having great fight choreography and some very neat ideas.
Back to the film in hand, the evil wizard character is a lot of fun and the way the dragon’s curse works is pretty good. The only thread seemingly left hanging is who the mysterious guy with the bow is. He seems to be the wizard’s henchman but his character just seems a bit incongruous and the point of his presence in the film is somewhat vague.
I won’t claim that you will enjoy all or any of these films but some are definitely worth a look if you like a fun bit of low budget sword and sorcery.
Some fantasy films you might like to avoid are: Dragon Storm, Red Reaper and Age of the Dragons. The only crime a B-movie can really commit is to be boring and these three are guilty as charged.