Conan the Barbarian (1982)

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Directed by John Milius
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Mako and James Earl Jones

BMM Keywords: Gratuitous sex, egregious violence/gore.

    Young Conan of Cimmeria is orphaned when a warband slaughters his parents' village, steal his blacksmith father's finest sword and sell him into slavery. He goes from manual labour to gladiatorial combat (in preparation for which he is - for no readily apparent reason - taught to read), as he grows up into Arnold Schwarzenegger, then wins his freedom by escaping from a pack of dogs, finding at the same time a Sword of Obvious Significance in an ancient tomb.
    Conan sets out to avenge his parents, and takes up with a wandering Mongol archer named Subotai (Gerry Lopez). Discovering that Thulsa Doom (Jones), the leader of the warband, has become a snake-cult leader, Conan and Subotai break into his temple for a spot of thievery, and run into Valeria (Bergman), the Queen of Thieves. They make the big score, kill a big snake, and make out like bandits. Conan and Valeria get it on in a fashion which can only bode ill for later developments. Shortly after, they are arrested by the Exorcist (Max von Sydow as an elderly king) who mumbles something about his daughter joining Thulsa Doom's cult. Subotai and Valeria feel that their best bet is to run away, but Conan goes for the revenge shtick and sets out to bring back the king's daughter, and to cause some egregious property damage and personal injury en route.
    Conan fails miserably at his attempt to go undercover, and is strapped, Christlike, to the Tree of Woe. Here Subotai finds him, and Conan is resurrected by a wizard (Mako), who warns of terrible costs. Conan, Valeria and Subotai then paint themselves black and white, break into Thulsa Doom's temple, wreck the joint and steal the princess. Understandably miffed, Doom shoots an arrow made from a snake after the heroes, killing Valeria, who - it turns out - made a pact with the spirits of death to take her in place of Conan (told you it boded ill). Doom's troops come after the heroes, who defeat them in a bloody combat, Valeria's ghost saving Conan at a critical moment, and his Sword of Obvious Significance shearing through his father's stolen sword.
    Finally, Conan goes back to Doom's compound, and hacks him to death, ignoring Doom's claim that he is as much his father as the man who was killed, because he made him what he is. Seriously folks, James Earl Jones does the 'I am your father' bit again.

What's wrong with it?

    Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest movies are hampered by his poor acting, but he's only gone up from his early days. There's also a lot of fairly random plot jumps, as the filmmakers try to wedge a lot of material into the film. Oh, and being an eighties film, there's the hair. Oh god, the hair.

What's right with it?

    Well, aside from the storming Basil Poledouris score, the film is a pretty functional Sword and Sorcery offering. It has some good fight scenes, and two pretty atmospheric sneak-raids.

How bad is it really?

    Not that bad at all. It's mostly in here for the sake of completeness, and to demonstrate that S&S doesn't have to blow completely.

Best bit (if such there is)?

    Our heroes get smashed and Conan gets into a fist-fight with a camel.

What's up with...?


Production values - Solid, if unexceptional. Good - and consistent - costumes, sets and SFX, decent direction and camerawork. 8.

Dialogue and performances - Hem. Well, dialogue is probably Conan's weak point. It's mostly either trite or mumbled or both. Mako's narration is particularly bizarre. 16.

Plot and Execution - Standard revenge-quest fare, with bonus props for having the guts to off the love interest, and not replace her. Nothing new, but decently executed. 12.

Randomness - All pretty clear, except for the random plot witch. 8.

Waste of potential - Not really at all. As Sword & Sorcery goes, this is the cat's pyjamas. 0.

Overall: 44%

Conan the Destroyer (1984)

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Directed by Richard Fleischer
Starring Arnold Schwarzenneger, Mako and Grace Jones, plus the big guy from Auf Wiedersein Pet as some kind of freakin' wizard.

BMM Keywords: So bad it hurts, Dull, Egregious violence/gore.

    Conan and new best friend Malak (Tracey Walter), a weasely thief, are randomly attacked by men in spiky black masks with big fishing nets, just after the credits. Then their leader, Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) tells Conan this was a test and offers him a job. She's a sexy brunette in a series of increasingly outlandish outfits - mostly black - who thinks that sacrificing half-a-dozen men in the name of a job interview is OK, so you know she's up to no good. She wants Conan to escort her wimpy niece (Olivia d'Abo) on a quest for a jewelled horn that will raise their god from slumber, after which she promises to raise Valeria from the dead. She also sends the captain of the Royal Guard, Bombattat (Wilt Chamberlain, a very big man) with orders to kill Conan once his part in this is done.
    A series of set pieces, including a fight in a chamber of mirrors, follow, until at last Conan and his allies - Malak, the wizard (Mako again) and a random Amazon (Grace Jones) - rescue the princess from the - as it turns out - big and hideous god, and set all to rights through the slaughter of all things bad.

What's wrong with it?

    The plot is over-complicated, and yet utterly unsubtle. The acting is rather more universally bollocks than in the first movie, and a decision was plainly taken to move the film more towards a lighter, more comedic tone, with disastrous consequences. There are rubber monsters, and even more rubber characters. The irritating sidekick presages the ultimate irritating sidekick, Jar-Jar Binks, and is only slightly less annoying.

What's right with it?

    Well, there's another kick-ass score, some decent fights, and it's quite neat that the 'sleeping god', turns out to be a big ol' monster rather than the advertised bronzed Adonis type. Other than that...

How bad is it really?

    If Conan the Barbarian is a case study in how to make a sword and sorcery movie, Conan the Destroyer is a dire warning of how not to. It is an excruciatingly bad film, and in parts becomes actively unwatchable (usually when the drippy princess is hitting on Conan in her sickeningly naïf - I think they were aiming for winsome - manner). Make no mistakes; Conan the Destroyer is a very bad film.

Best bit (if such there is)?

    There isn't.

What's up with...?


Production Values - Somewhat down on the first movie. The big monsters all look pretty plastic (as do most of the cast), and the costumes are even camper than in the original, and include the ridiculous spiky helmets sported by all the evil dudes. 14

Dialogue and Performances - Hoohoo-hoooo! Man they're bad, with the: "Conan and friends try to explain sex to the naive princess without using the word 'sex'" scene rating as an outstanding example of the art of cringemaking. The actors seem to be making slightly less effort than the horses in emotional terms. 16

Plot and Execution - There is no plot, only Zool. I mean, there's a McGuffin, but a McGuffin on its own does not a plot make. What there is, is all in the intro, and in the final confrontation. Everything else is just random encounters and dungeon crawling. 15

Randomness - Pretty much the whole film is unexplained, not to mention inexcusable. the plot is fairly linear, but most of the film is pretty much of a sketch show. 12

Waste of Potential - Given Conan the Barbarian to live up to, we could have expected a little more from Dino deLaurentis on this one. 17

Overall 74%

Red Sonja (1985)

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"A woman and a warrior that became a legend."

Directed by Richard Fleischer
Starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenneger and Sandahl Bergman

BMM Keywords: Dull.

    Red Sonja (Nielsen), the mightiest warrior woman in the world, must battle against the evil Queen Gedhren (Bergman) - sporting a half-mask to cover the scar inflicted on her by Sonja years before - after she swipes the sceptre of gratuitous destruction from a temple guarded by a pack of gratuitously scantily-clad warrior nuns (or something). Arnie is topped-billed as the sceptre's official custodian, seeking its return, while Sonja froths and pursues because her sister was one of the slain nuns.

    A series of battles follow, with Arnie sort of trailing after Sonja. There's a momentary romantic distraction when Sonja tells Arnie she won't sleep with him unless he beats her in a fight and they proceed to battle each other to a dead standstill (a very smart tactic in mid-pursuit). Then they raid Gedhren's fortress, aided by a bratty prince and his faithful retainer, Sonja defeats Gedhren and the mountain falls down. Oh, and Sonja and Arnie hit it off.

What's wrong with it?

    In a word - well, two - Brigitte Nielsen. Basically cast because she's a strapping six-footer with a cleavage (much like Arnold himself) and topped with an alarming red wig, Nielsen's acting abilities are perfectly paired with the Oak's. In conversation side-by-side, they are like a pair of fine panelled doors, and have about as much chemistry. The bratty prince is also very annoying, and there isn't even much in the way of really good action until the last fifteen minutes. Sonja basically wanders vaguely through the film, running into a series of non-consecutive, not terribly interesting action scenes, before ending up - almost as if by chance - at the dénouement.

What's right with it?

    In a word - well, two - Sandahl Bergman, plainly having the time of her life playing the rather ineptly villainous Gedhren with camp glee, complete with snivelling, treacherous sidekick.

How bad is it really?

    In a word - well, two - very bad. It may not suck on the sheer scale and magnitude of Conan the Destroyer, but it is pretty damned awful.

Best bit (if such there is)

    The sword fight between Sonja and Prince Whatsisface (Arnie) is fairly amusing for the increasing exhaustion of the combatants, which probably makes it one of the most realistic broadsword duels of all time.

What's up with...?


Production Values - Standard S&S fare, which is to say fairly duff. Rubber water monsters and dodgy outfits plus a couple of unfeasibly huge broadswords. 12

Dialogue and Performances - Even with the addition of the she-Arnie to the acting credits, this doesn't quite reach the level of Conan the Destroyer, if only because it doesn't have Grace Jones or that appalling d'Abo woman. 13

Plot and Execution - As is so often the case in S&S, the plot is paper thin and exists only to hang the set-pieces against. If the set pieces had been any good, then it might not have mattered so much. 16

Randomness - The film is a strong of random, with almost nothing being adequately explained. 15

Waste of Potential - The concept for this film must basically have been 'Conan, but with a chick', so we never expected that much. The film delivers just that. 10

Overall 66%

Kull the Conqueror (1997)

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"Kull reigns. Kull rules. Kull rocks."

Directed by John Nicoletta
Starring Kevin Sorbo and Tia Carrere

    Kull of Atlantis (Sorbo) is a mighty warrior, but being of common blood is snubbed by the Dragon Legion, who also mock his giant axe, causing him to throw it away and switch to the sword instead. But the joke is on the princely leader of the legion, when his dying father makes Kull king in his place. This reluctant monarch is appalled to find that the country's constitution - written on a huge stone slab that you could smash up nicely given a really big axe - forbids him freeing the country's slaves, thus preventing him copping off with Zareta, a lovely but resentful slave girl with a talent for fortune telling. As if the lack of action weren't bad enough, the old king's sons - having failed to hire any decent assassins - have turned to demonology in the search for revenge and their rightful throne, calling up the ancient and trampy demoness, Akivasha (Carrere) through the aid of her priest (Ed Tudor Pole, y'know, off the Crystal Maze).

    Akivasha seduces Kull, then puts him into an enchanted sleep o' death on their wedding night. Kull is saved from the pyre and takes up with the slave girl - actually an undercover priestess - and her brother, a kung fu monk with a vow against taking human life, setting out to find the Breath of Valios, the only thing that can defeat Akivasha. Taking ship with a group of Kull's old pirate buddies, the heroic trio are pursued by the evil prince, who catches them just as they find the Breath, which passes into the girl, making her go all cold and shivery. The monk is killed, and Kull left for dead, but he turns up just in time to save the day by taking the Breath from the girl and passing it to Akivasha - now in scary demon form - in a kiss.

    He then declares the slaves free, and smashes the constitution with a big axe.

What's wrong with it?

    Kull is a very silly film, basically designed as a movie platform for Kevin 'Hercules' Sorbo. As a result, he is required to spend almost every moment of the film flexing his not considerable acting muscles. The plot rambles along, with exposition coming at you in dribs and drabs from a variety of minor characters with entirely unconvincing names. It is also pretty obvious how things will end up. The scary demon isn't very scary, nor terribly convincing. On the other hand, Tia Carrere's bright orange fright wig is truly disturbing in all the wrong ways.

What's right with it?

    Kull the Conqueror is entirely undemanding mind - and between Sorbo's repeated shirtlessness, and the undercover priestess's flimsy outfits, also eye - candy, and can be really rather fun. Also, while the acting won't win any Oscars, it isn't as bad as - say - Red Sonja. Sorbo is an affable enough lead - and while no Olivier certainly far better than Schwarzenegger - especially playing the not terribly cerebral Kull.

How bad is it, really?

    Kull the Conqueror is cheese, but it's honest and watchable cheese. Between Kevin Sorbo and the slave chick, both kinds of eye candy are catered for, and the undemanding plot bounces along at a decent place, never leaving too much time between fight scenes for us to say: But hang on...

Best bit (if such there is)

    Ascalante: Your bride is over three thousand years old.
    Kull: She said she was nineteen.

What's up with...?


Production Values - Although overall, not too bad, the production values are let down by the Akivasha demon at the end, which is rather plastic. Props and costumes are pretty good, making everyone look like rejects from Conan the Barbarian, rather than Conan the Destroyer. 12

Dialogue and Performances - While the dialogue occasionally sparkles with stuff like the 'she said she was nineteen' line, for the most part it is an uninspired parade of necessary backstory and convoluted prophecies. The performances are nothing special, but there is nothing truly appalling. 10

Plot and Execution - This film really has more plot than it knows what to do with, with the result that it all gets terribly confused. For once, the film would probably have been made better by abandoning some backstory and making the whole thing simpler. However, the director does manage to keep the pace up, and not dwell on the details. 15

Randomness - Not too high. While the plot only really makes sense in the fantasy genre, it does kind of make sense, and while jumbled, the exposition is pretty much there. 8

Waste of Potential - This was never going to be art. 5

Overall 50%

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Directed by Terry Marcel
Starring Jack Palance, John Terry and Bernard Bresslaw

   OK. It's been a while since I've seen this one, but as I recall there's a nunnery under attack by an evil warlord (Palance), and the nuns hire a band of protectors  including a dude with a rapid-fire crossbow, an elf, a dwarf, and a giant (Bresslaw), led by the heroic Hawk (Terry), and guided by an enigmatic witch. It just happens that the evil warlord is also Hawk's brother, and once offed Hawk's fiancée for refusing to sleep with him. Oh, and Hawk has a magic sword that he can control with his mind.
    There's a showdown, and everyone but Hawk and the giant - oh, and the nuns - are killed, where after the witch encourages them to go and make a sequel. They set out, but mercifully never fulfil that quest.

What's wrong with it?

    Mostly its just tacky, but the acting is also poor. The special effects aren't very special, and the whole thing is just a cheap, fantasy knock-off of Seven Samurai, right down to the elf and his quick-draw scene.

What's right with it?

    If you're sufficiently tired not to care, it's decently diverting I guess, and the rapid-fire crossbow was kind of cool, even if it was plainly just done by looping the film.

How bad is it really?

    Pretty much of a stinker, but mostly through apathy. It's not actively appalling in the way that Conan the Destroyer or Sanctuary are; it's just dull.

Best bit


What's up with...?


Production Values - Cheap and...well, not even cheerful really. The whole thing was a little drab. 15

Dialogue and Performances - A group of actors whose ability ranged from the camp to the plain horrible truly received a script worth of their talents. 16

Plot and Execution - The plot - such as it was - was basically ripped off from Seven Samurai et al, and then mangled by poor direction and camera work. Very little effort seems to have gone into the making of this dross. 12

Randomness - Frankly, every time Hawk's in trouble, the witch springs him, to the point I ended up more interested in her than any of the other characters. Magic is used as the plot device to end all plot devices, and thus all attempts at decent continuity are abandoned. 17

Waste of Potential - Once more, this is not a film that was ever going to be a classic, but a few good ideas are maimed along the way. 10

Overall 70%