For something you can get in the $10.00 range, this collection is certainly worth the money, but you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the time to watch them all.
Merlin: The Return (2000)
A scientist awakens King Arthur and his knights, and the forces of good and evil do battle once more.
A psychic medium working with a scientist (played by a bored looking Tia Carrere) in modern day England use their smarts and powers to summon the very essence of Mordred (Craig Sheffer), arch nemesis to King Arthur and Merlin from the days of old. Around the same time, Merlin (Rik Mayall) bumbles his way to the same era, using a portal from an underground cavern to time travel, and when he slips through time, he also awakens Arthur (Patrick Bergin) and his greatest knights, who’ve been slumbering in time. Arthur’s most trusted knight Lancelot (Adrian Paul) and his beloved Guinevere (Julie Hartley) also awakened, but there’s drama there, as the last Arthur can remember is Lancelot betraying him. Also in the centerfield is an American kid who just moved to England with his mom, and he’s the usual sourpuss until he meets Merlin and the knights, and he gets to embark on the adventure of a lifetime as Merlin takes him under his wing and teaches him magic. Mordred and Morgana (Grethe Fox) arrive, complete with their evil horde, and suddenly the modern landscape (and Stonehenge, which is a centerpiece) becomes the next battleground for Arthur and his enemies, with the ultimate prize being Excalibur.
Filmed in South Africa and far more ambitious that it probably should have been, Merlin: The Return is surprisingly interesting and nifty, particularly with its weird, creepy special effects. There’s a scene where some skeletal spirits are summoned that will stick with me, and other peripheral effects were impressive as well. The cast is strong, and everyone tries hard, though the Excalibur prop sword has to be one of the most garish swords in movie history. Writer / director Paul Matthews made the film as cool looking as possible, and while it’s gone mostly under the radar until now, it deserves a viewing.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2001)
When his new neighbour turns out to be the wizard Merlin, young Ben Clark is enlisted in an ancient battle to save the world.
A South African boy named Ben (Byron Taylor) and his family move to Ireland so that his father can work in a high profile position at a museum, and right away the kid throws around a bad attitude towards his new life in the quite beautiful countryside. He hates his new school where he’s bullied, he despises his absentee dad, and his outlook on life is sour in every direction. The one glimmer of interest he has is in his country bumpkin next-door neighbor Mr. Milner (a miscast Robert Davi), who shows him a few sleight of hand tricks, but then pushes the kid away, fearing he might’ve shown him too much magic … because he’s actually the immortal Merlin of the Arthurian days, and to reveal his true self would be to tip his hat to the evil Morgana (Kelly LeBrock) who has been hunting him through the ages. Morgana believes that Merlin has hidden his all-powerful sorcerer’s staff and talisman that could give her the power to rule the world, and when she realizes that he’s taken a shine to young Ben, she thinks that he’s tutoring the boy to become his successor. Turns out that the kid actually does have some dormant magical skills in his spirit that have been quiet for millennia because he’s actually a reincarnated knight and friend of Merlin’s who was tasked with keeping the staff and talisman safe for generations. When the kid is awakened to his power, Merlin comes to his aide to fight off Morgana in a brief showdown in the museum where the staff has been all along … embedded in an ancient rock.
An innocuous and meandering little sword and sorcery family film filmed in South Africa, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an adequate flick that might feel antiquated to kids and families these days, and it doesn’t offer much in the way of thrills or amazement, but it doesn’t really need to. It has a simplistic, quiet approach and if you’re willing to see and accept Robert Davi in a huge old man Merlin wig and beard, then you might enjoy the movie on a nominal level. Director David Lister made other low budget fantasy films in like Blood of Beasts and Beauty and the Beast (2010) -both which told the same story – and The Last Leprechaun, amongst others.
The Magic Door (2007)
A magic Troll aims to defeat the Black Witch and find the magic door that will lead him home with the help of the Elf Flip, and the children Sally and Liam.
Two little kids – Liam and Sally (Liam and Alix Matthews) – are going through a tough time after their mother passed away, and their father (Anthony Head) and his new squeeze (Patsy Kensit) are challenged with their off-putting behavior. Living in a rural part of England, the kids enjoy playing outside, and one night they are visited by a friendly midget troll named Raglin (Mick Walter), who has been trying to find a magic door back to his realm for many, many years. The kids don’t yet realize it, but a Black Witch (Jenny Agutter) has been hunting little Raglin for some time, and she uses the kids to get to him. A helpful and plucky fairy named Flip (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) helps out and the kids and the troll are able to defeat the evil witch. Meanwhile, their desperate father and his girlfriend have been combing the countryside with police and detectives, thinking that they’ve been kidnapped or killed by a neighborhood tramp.
Not much to see here unless you’re wrapping Christmas presents on Christmas Eve and have nothing else to watch. The Magic Door might appeal to a very small demographic, and it seems that movies like this are no longer produced. Once upon a time the Cannon Group might’ve distributed this as part of their fairy tale series. Written and directed by Paul Matthews.
The Fairy King of Ar (a.k.a. Beings) (1998)
Upon discovering that grandmother’s far fetched stories have a bizarre basis in reality and that by freeing the fairies from the mine they will discover a cure for their terminally ill father, two kids race against time to free the trapped fairies and save their father’s life.
When the old matriarch of the family passes away, the Prestons inherit her estate in England, and almost as soon as they get there, they come to realize that the bedtime stories of fairies, goblins, and giants grandma used to tell the children were actually pretty darn true. The crotchety caretaker (played by Malcolm McDowell) warns the family off, telling them the gates of hell lie beneath the estate, but the father of the family (played by Corbin Bernsen) ignores the warning when he finds a gold mine on the property. His two children become enamored by the tiny flying fairies on their property, but when dad mines too deep into the gold mine, he unleashes the Fairy King (a frightful looking creature more suited to a horror film than a family movie), who causes him to have a heart attack. With dad recuperating in the hospital, the family is vulnerable to a seemingly malevolent horde of fairy creatures … who ultimately prove to the Prestons – and the entire village – that they’re benevolent and only wish to befriend humankind.
An unusual oddity from filmmaker Paul Mathews (Merlin: The Return), The Fairy King of Lar might seem cheap and dismissible to most, but I found it strangely alluring and sincere, if uneven. It goes from sweet and cute to pretty darn scary, even though it’s intended audiences are families and children. I found this in a multipack DVD set from WalMart, where a whole bunch of other worthy fantasy films are to be found.
The Excalibur Kid (1999)
Zack doesn’t have your ordinary adolescent problems. Transported back in time to medieval England, he lands in the middle of a vicious battle between an evil witch and Merlin, the master sorcerer, for control of Arthur’s kingdom.
A hunky teen boy named Zack (Jason McSkimming) complains about his family and his life and laments that he wasn’t born in the days of knights and dragons, and a sorceress named Morgause (Francesca Scorsone) hears and sees him from beyond the reaches of time. She transports him to the days of Arthur and Merlin before Arthur ever drew the sword Excalibur from the stone and became a king, and the first thing Zack does (instead of exclaiming how he ever got there or wondering what on earth is going on) is draw Excalibur from the stone, thanks to some dark magic from Morgause, who plans on using the boy from the future as a puppet king. When Zack becomes the king of the realm, Morgause gives him plenty of allowances (like a busty wench at his beck and call), but he actually turns out to be a halfway decent king. When Zack finds out that Merlin and Arthur are real, he begins to realize that the future of England – and possibly the world – are in jeopardy thanks to the twist in fate that led him to cross through time and allow him to draw the destined sword, and so he defies Morgause and joins the bumbling Merlin to find Arthur (Mac Fyfe), who turns out to be a lowly squire who has no idea what Zack means when he tells him that he’s supposed to be the real king of England.
If you’re halfway awake and not really trying to pay attention, The Excalibur Kid might turn out to be a fun little watch for you, but if you’re watching it to study it for any reason, you’re bound to slap your head in exasperation. The story is okay, but it feels like a skeleton of a movie, with some bones, but no real meat to keep it standing upright. I have no idea who the audience for this movie is anymore. Will kids like it? Will adults? Who knows? From Moonbeam Entertainment, an offshoot of Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment, this was directed by James Head, and filmed on a backlot in Romania (which I’ve been to).
Dazzle (1999) Plot:
A bestselling fantasy author is shocked when a real fairy shows up at his doorstep … and true love is ignited.
A best selling children’s book author and widower named Tom (Maxwell Caulfield) is trying to navigate being a father to a little girl, while also dealing with depression. His kid’s teacher (played by Mia Sara in nebbish schoolmarm mode) is frustrated at his daughter for constantly being obsessed with fairies, and Tom’s publisher won’t publish his latest work because it’s so bleak and grim. When a fallen fairy named Crystal (played by Chantell Stander) shows up at his doorstep completely naked and clueless, Tom takes her in, oblivious on how to handle the awkward situation. It doesn’t take but a moment or two for Tom and Crystal to fall hopelessly in love with each other, but what Tom doesn’t realize is that a sinister fairy soul collector (played by a spooky Jeff Fahey with zoned out eyes) is already on the hunt for Crystal, and so he has to first believe that fairies do indeed exist, and then how to stop Crystal from being collected, so that they can live happily ever after. Meanwhile, two bumbling dwarf fairy messengers are on the loose to help Crystal find her way back to the world of fairies.
A cute little fantasy film filmed in South Africa (no one can disguise their accents), Dazzle is kinda like Splash, but with fairies. The budget is very modest, but everyone seems invested in what they’re doing, and while Fahey’s role is pretty dark and scary, the movie works for youngsters and families, despite a little hint of nudity. From director David Lister, who also made the fantasy films Blood of Beasts, Beauty and the Beast (2010), and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, among others.
The Last Leprechaun (1998) Plot:
A witch disguises herself so that she can marry a rich man, but two plucky kids and a leprechaun foil her plans.
Land developer Henry Barridge (Jack Scalia) moves to Ireland on a temporary basis with his two cute kids and new wife Laura (Veronica Hamel), who’s actually a witch with a henchman named Simpson (David Warner, seeming very tired and bored). The kids befriend the last leprechaun in the forest, a bouncy little guy named Finn Regan (Mick Walter in a fun, energetic performance), and Finn’s on a mission to stop the land developers from tearing down all the trees in his kingdom. But there’s a big problem: the kids’ father Henry has been bewitched by his wife to bulldoze every tree in the valley, no matter the cost to the environment. So the kids team up with the leprechaun to help him with his task, while he helps them with theirs: to expose their stepmother as a witch and send her back to the underworld.
Watchable and nominally engaging, The Last Leprechaun was filmed in South Africa under the direction of David Lister, who made a career out of making fantasy-lite movies like Blood of Beasts, Dazzle, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, amongst others. The best part of this one is Mick Walter as the sprightly leprechaun, and he even outdoes the kids with his bountiful energy, despite having heavy make-up on his face. Scalia and Warner both look bewildered.
The Little Unicorn (2001) Plot:
A girl’s beloved horse dies, but her wish that it would return is granted in the form of a magical unicorn, causing her small town to turn upside down with a scandal.
Young Polly (Brittney Bomann) doesn’t get along well with her rich mother, but she loves her grandfather (David Warner) very much, and when she comes to stay with him for awhile, she’s crushed when her beloved horse dies of old age. She makes a wish that the horse would return to her in some way, and she and her grandfather are stunned when the horse returns … as a magical unicorn! When the small village they live in catches on that they have a unicorn, the media invades their privacy, local lookiloos come calling, and even several crooks – including a circus ringmaster (played by Joe Penny from Jake and the Fatman) and his dwarf sidekick, and a two-bit poacher (played by a slumming George Hamilton) – lurk around, hoping to either get a look at the magical creature or steal it outright. Meanwhile, Polly’s mom sends her to boarding school, which means she can’t protect her animal from outside forces, and so with the help of a neighbor boy, she is able to escape the boarding school and come to her unicorn’s rescue.
Another small South African production from Paul Matthews, the director of Merlin: The Return and The Fairy King of Ar, The Little Unicorn is adequate family entertainment without an ounce of sophistication, which is likely a plus these days when everything is over sensationalized. It’s simple, effective, and cute, and it’s geared for little girls rather than boys, so take note. The fantasy elements are close to nonexistent other than the unicorn itself.
The Secret Kingdom (1997) Plot:
Three kids are transported to a miniature kingdom underneath their kitchen sink, but the land is rife with a totalitarian rule, and so they join the resistance to turn the tide against the dictator and his minions.
While their parents are away for a weekend, three kids are goofing around at home when the middle son is accidentally transported to a “secret kingdom” underneath the kitchen sink. The teenager finds himself in a scary dictatorial land run by a crazy despot whose army and minions are either blind or genetically modified to suit his whimsy. The boy is sure to be experimented on since he has no identification or explainable origin, and so it’s up to his younger brother and older sister back home to come after him. When the little boy and his sister eventually are transported to the secret kingdom, they join the rebels, who are at war with the despot, but things get intense when the girl also gets captured by the dictator’s minions. With some self esteem issues, she is easy prey for the dictator, who promises to surgically modify her looks to suit her whimsy, and so it ends up in the young boy’s court to rally the rebels to finally go to war with the insane despot.
Shot in Romania by Full Moon, The Secret Kingdom starts off well and quickly takes a turn for the bizarre when the kids find themselves in the secret kingdom. It feels like one of those wacky Nutcracker in 3D one-in-a-gazillion fantasy films for kids, but it’s too strange, too spooky, and too talky to appeal to children. It’s interesting for a Full Moon feature, as it doesn’t really have any real special effects to speak of, although there are plenty of characters in weird make-up and prosthetics. David Schmoeller directed it.
Note: a 10th feature titled Dragonworld: The Legend Continues is also included in this collection, but I did not review it, as I hadn’t seen the first Dragonworld movie. I’m a purist, even on the most minute level, and so I refrained from seeing the second film first.
This DVD collection comes with three discs and a digital code for all of the films. For something you can get in the $10.00 range, this collection is certainly worth the money, but you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the time to watch them all.