Krull is an unusual movie, a big-budget British sci-fi/fantasy hybrid released in the early 1980s that cost an absolute fortune to make and was a critical and commercial failure on release. I remember seeing it on TV a number of times as a child in the early 90s, when frankly it scared me to bits. Although in some ways it’s pitched as a family film, Krull is actually quite dark, which probably contributed to its lack of commercial success. However, it means that the film stands out now and it has something of the status of a cult classic.

Krull begins with an alien spaceship landing on an Earth-like planet, and we soon learn that the ship contains an alien race known as the ‘Slayers’ who intend to subjugate and enslave the planet’s humanoid population. The Slayers are a frightening bunch: they appear to consist of a sort of large, fleshy insect which resides in the helmet of a suit of armour which functions as a sort of exoskeleton. They are seemingly devoid of individuality and the only sound you ever hear from them is a piercing death screech if you somehow manage to kill one. The Slayers are technologically advanced and much more martially capable than the kind of cannon fodder you encounter in something like Star Wars. Indeed, this is one of the things that used to scare me most about Krull: an early scene sees a royal wedding attacked by Slayers, and their brutal efficiency is quite different from the kind of comic ineptitude you’d expect from Stormtroopers and their ilk.

The Slayers are led by a big bad who is known only as ‘The Beast’. The Beast is a hideous, giant monster who captures a beautiful young princess (the stunning Lysette Anthony) and tries to force her to marry him. Meanwhile, her betrothed (Ken Marshall) sets out to rescue her, recruiting a ragtag band to assist him along the way. The plot is quite standard, but what’s unusual is the setting. Krull’s world features an unusual fusion of medieval fantasy tropes with futuristic sci-fi flourishes and architecture, and the result is something quite unique. The film has also received a lot of plaudits for its score, but personally I actually find this to be one of the weaknesses of the film: it just strikes me as a second-rate imitation of a John Williams score, which is not a style I’m fond of at the best of times. Still, the set design and cinematography make up for it.

However, possibly Krull’s greatest strength is its knack of setting up surprisingly moving and poignant set pieces and conversations. Having seen the film as a young child, I’ve never forgotten the story of the cyclopses: a powerful ancient race, they were tricked by the Beast into trading their second eye for the ability to see into the future–the problem being, the only thing they could see was their own death. Or there’s the scene featuring the Widow of the Web, a memorable and pathetic sequence featuring some characters with a deeply tragic back story. Scenes like this give the film a lot more resonance than one might expect given the genre. Krull also has a surprisingly high body count, and death (particularly of the ‘good’ guys) punctuates the movie from beginning to end.

Krull is surprisingly scary, and has some moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film. It’s not quite the same experience now as when I watched it as an 8 year old, but it’s still decidedly creepy at times. Another odd aspect of the film is the number of British TV and movie actors present here in early roles: everyone from Liam Neeson to Robbie Coltrane, Todd Carty and the aforementioned Lysette Anthony. It won’t mean anything to youngsters now, but anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s might do the odd double take.

For me, Krull is one of the most enjoyable fantasy romps of the 80s, up there with movies like Willow and Labyrinth, and its arguably aged better than the likes of Legend, Neverending Story, and Dark Crystal. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth tracking down.