After Popeye, this was the second joint production with Paramount of films that were more mature than the expected Disney offerings. That meant that Drahonslayer’s violence, themes and even brief nudity ended up being controversial, despite only being rated PG.
Set the film after the Roman departure from Britain, prior to the arrival of Christianity, the film shows a world of sorcery unlike many others in the genre. Co-writers Hal Barwood (who also wrote The Sugarland Express, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, MacArthur and Corvette Summer, as well as writing and directing Warning Sign and creating video games like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis) and Matthew Robins (who wrote Crimson Peak and wrote and directed Batteries Not Included and I would be remiss not to mention that he also directed The Legend of Billie Jean) were inspired to make something new. Barwood said, “our film has no knights in shining armor, no pennants streaming in the breeze, no delicate ladies with diaphanous veils waving from turreted castles, no courtly love, no holy grail. Instead, we set out to create a very strange world with a lot of weird values and customs, steeped in superstition, where the clothes and manners of the people were rough, their homes and villages primitive and their countryside almost primeval, so that the idea of magic would be a natural part of their existence.”
Vermithrax is also one of the best dragons ever made, even forty years after the film’s release. More than 25% of the movie’s budget went to realizing the dragon. This was the first movie to use go-motion, which had parts of the mechanical dragon be programmed and filmed by computer. The forty-foot tall beast was brought to life by sixteen puppeteers. Its full name — Vermithrax Pejorative — means The Worm of Thrace Which Makes Things Worse.
As for the story, it’s all about Galen Bradwarden (Peter MacNicol, who is embarrassed by this movie, perhaps because you can fully see his ween in it) saving Valerian (Caitlin Clarke) from being a virgin sacrifice to the dragon. She’s no damsel in distress, however, as she’d hid her gender identity to help create the sword that can destroy the beast.
But yeah. It’s worth watching for just the dragon.