Oh, I know this creature of yours... Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit... crippled... pitiful. Spiteful!
―Ulrich as he examines Vermithrax's shed scales

Vermithrax Pejorative is the main antagonist of the Disney/Paramount film Dragonslayer.

Vermithrax Pejorative is a 400 year old androgynous dragon that has threatened the post-Roman kingdom of Urland for years. Translated from Latin, her name means "The Wyrm of Thrace that makes things Worse".

She is the mother of three dragonets, all of whom were killed by the sorcerer's apprentice Galen Bradwarden, and was herself destroyed by Bradwarden and his master Ulrich.



We knew the dragon had a lot more importance to this film than some of the incidental things that appeared in only a few shots in Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back. The dragon had to be presented in a way that the audience would be absolutely stunned.
―Dennis Muren, SFX cameraman[1]
Vermithrax concept art (1980)

Concept art by David Bunnet, with the wings and tail cropped

Twenty-five percent of the film's budget went into the special effects to bring the dragon to life. Graphic artist David Bunnet was assigned to design the look of the dragon, and was fed ideas on the mechanics on how the dragon would move, and then rendered the concepts on paper. It was decided early on in production that as the film's most important sequence would have been the final battle, it was deemed necessary to design a dragon with an emphasis on its flying abilities.[1] According to Bunnet, "Designing a dragon isn't just a matter of sticking wings on a dinosaur... Vermithrax is 40 feet long, with a wingspan of 90 feet. But she had to look light enough to fly. So most of her weight is at the head, neck, and shoulders. The rest of her is pretty streamlined."[2] Although conceived as a creature of magical origin, screenwriter Hal Barwood envisioned Vermithrax with various rules of evolution kept in mind; for instance, making her a four limbed animal, in concordance with vertebrate biology. Barwood himself was inspired by the body plan of the Jurassic pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus.[3] As well as following Barwood's directions, Bunnet also designed the dragon to have a degree of personality, deliberately trying to avoid creating something like the titular creature from Alien, which he believed was "too hideous to look at".[1] Specifically, he incorporated a bony ridge over the eyes, which swept over the temples and merged into the horns, giving the creature a notable frown. He also modeled the articulation of its jaw on that of rattlesnakes, as a single pivot jaw made it look too duck-like. In keeping with the necessity of the dragon being aerodynamic, its feet were modeled on those of birds, specifically chickens.[3]

After Bunnet handed his storyboard panels to the film crew, it was decided that the dragon would have to be realized with a wide variety of techniques: the resulting dragon on film is a composite of several different models. Phil Tippett of Industrial Light & Magic finalized the dragon's design,[1] making several cosmetic changes, such as making the wings more bat-like rather than pterosaur-like.[3] He then sculpted a reference model which Danny Lee of Disney Studios closely followed in constructing the larger dragon props for closeup shots. Two months later, Lee's team finished building a sixteen-foot head and neck assembly, a twenty-foot tail, thighs and legs, claws capable of grabbing a man, and a 30 ft wing section. The parts were flown to Pinewood Studios outside London in the cargo hold of a Boeing 747. Brian Johnson was hired to supervise the special effects, and began planning both on and off-set effects with various special effects specialists.[1]

After the completion of principal shooting, a special effects team of eighty people at ILM studios in northern California worked eight months in producing 160 composite shots of the dragon. Chris Walas sculpted and operated the dragon head used for close-up shots. The model was animated by a combination of radio controls, cable controls, air bladders, levers and by hand, thus giving the illusion of a fully coordinated face with a wide range of expression.[1]

Phil Tippett built a model for the scenes in which the dragon would be required to walk. Tippett did not want to use standard stop motion animation techniques, and had his team build a dragon model which would move during each exposure rather than in between as was once the standard. This process, named "go motion" by Tippett, recorded the creature's movements in motion as a real animal would move, and removed the jerkiness common in prior stop motion films.[1]

Ken Ralston was assigned to the flying scenes. He built a model with an articulated aluminium skeleton in order to give it a wide range of motion. Ralston shot films of birds flying in order to incorporate their movements into the model. As with the walking dragon, the flying model was filmed using go-motion techniques. The camera was programmed to tilt and move at various angles in order to convey the sensation of flight.[1]



Born 400 years prior to the events in Dragonslayer (which takes place at around the sixth century), Vermithrax left her homeland of Thrace after humans there wiped out the deer herds she fed on and nearly exterminated her kind.[4] She migrated to the Kingdom of Urland, where King Gaiseric Ulfilas attempted to kill her. He was never seen alive again and, in retaliation, Vermithrax attacked Urland until she was placated by Gaiseric's younger brother Casiodorus, who offered her virgin sacrifices through a lottery twice a year in exchange for peace. During this time, she was impregnated by a wandering dragon, resulting in the birth of three dragonets.[4] Rumors soon began to spread that rich and powerful noble families were keeping their daughters out of the lottery, and a delegation sought the assistance of Ulrich, the last living wizard. After Ulrich was seemingly killed by Tyrian, his apprentice, Galen Bradwarden took on his master's mantle and burden. 

Upon arriving in Urland, Galen cast an enchantment on the cliffs towering over Vermithrax's cave, causing an avalanche to block the lair's exit. Still living, Vermithrax caused an earthquake which unblocked her lair and freed her. She proceeded to embark on a punitive attack on Urland, her first victim being Brother Jacopus, who died whilst denouncing her as the Devil.


Vermithrax spitting fire at Galen

In order to appease the dragon, an extraordinary lottery was announced, though this time Casiodorus' daughter Elspeth, now knowing her father was keeping her from being sacrificed, purposely rigged it so that she would be chosen. On the insistence of Casiodorus, Galen set out to save Elspeth by arming himself with the enchanted spear sicarius draconum and a fire-proof shield fashioned from Vermithrax's scales.

Due to interference from Tyrian, Galen was unable to save Elspeth, who was killed and partially eaten by the dragonets. After killing the young dragons, Galen attacked Vermithrax, stabbing his magical blade into her neck. The dragon's thrashing however caused the handle snap, leaving Galen defenseless. Hiding behind his shield as she spewed flame, Galen somehow escaped, leaving Vermithrax to embark on another rampage.

Vermithrax would subsequently be confronted by a resurrected Ulrich, who engaged the dragon in combat, summoning lightning to injure her wings and attempting to freeze her with icy winds. Vermithrax counterattacked by slashing at the wizard with her claws and almost incinerating him. The battle culminated with Vermithrax snatching Ulrich in her talons and carrying him off into the sky. This proved to be her downfall, for Galen smashed a magical amulet to which Ulrich was linked, causing the wizard to explode and kill the dragon. Vermithrax's burning body subsequently plummetted into a nearby lake, which evaporated from the heat.

Despite Ulrich's sacrifice, it was Casiodorus who claimed the credit for the dragon's slaying, plunging his sword into the dragon's corpse so that he could claim the glory in the name of the newly emerging Christian religion embraced by his subjects.



  • Vermithrax is Guillermo del Toro's favorite movie dragon alongside Dragon Maleficent.[5]
  • Vermithrax is also George R.R. Martin's favorite movie dragon.[6] Indeed, the fourth episode of Game of Thrones, based on Martin's books, mentions Vermithrax.[7]
  • Neil Marshall praised Vermithrax as "easily one of the best dragons in films ever. [...] The greatest screen dragon of all time," citing the creature's realism and sympathy.[8]
  • According to sculptor Bill Basso, who worked on the 2002 post-apocalyptic fantasy movie Reign of Fire, the dragons featured in the film were designed as updated versions of Vermithrax, being rendered more robust and dinosaur-like.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Fingeroth, Danny (1981), "Enter: The Dragon", Dragonslayer- The Official Marvel Comics Adaptation of the Spectacular Paramount/Disney Motion Picture!, Marvel Super Special Vol.1, No. 20, Marvel Comics Group, 1981
  2. Ronan, Margaret (1981), "The Vermithrax Pejorative Story: Behind the Scenes at the Making of Dragonslayer", Weird Worlds
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Vermithrax Pejorative, Monster Legacy (April 14, 2013)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Drew, Wayland (1981), DRAGONSLAYER, New York: Ballantine Books
  5. Guillermo del Toro Gives Hobbit Update, Coming Soon (November 12, 2008)
  6. "George R.R. Martin's Top 10 Fantasy Films". (April 11, 2011) Retrieved on June 24, 2011.
  7. Garcia, Elio (May 27, 2011). "Easter Eggs for the Fans". Retrieved on June 24, 2011.
  8. Trailers From Hell, Neil Marshall on DRAGONSLAYER, Youtube, June 8, 2014
  9. Crouching Dragon-04,, May 8, 2008.
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