From the Archive – Anaconda (1997)

Anaconda

 

“You can’t scream if you can’t breathe.”

Directed by Luis Llosa
Starring Jennifer Lopez, John Voight and Ice Cube

An anthropologist (Eric Stolz) and a film crew (including J-Lo and Ice Cube), travelling into the South American rainforest to film an undisturbed tribe are implausibly hijacked, for no very good reason, by an insane Paraguayan snake hunter (Voight) who wants to capture a giant anaconda.

Instead – predictably – the snake hunts them, eating most of the crew before finally getting to the snake hunter, then being blowed up by Ice Cube.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, for starters, check out that casting and tell me the producer was in a legal state of mind. John Voight as the novice priest-turned-psychotic snake hunter is a revelation in failure, while a fairly talented supporting cast (Ice Cube, Stolz, even Owen Wilson) are basically relegated to the ‘getting eaten and beaten’ watch (Stolz wisely spends most of the movie in a coma).

There are no surprises in the death toll, save that the sissy-chick is killed by the snake hunter, not the snake; in fact, you can pretty much count the seconds until each loser gets chomped. The sleazy boat pilot is never going to last, and the moment the whiny Brit drama queen (Jonathan Hyde) starts being useful and likeable, you know he’s toast.

Our ostensible heroine, Jennifer Lopez’s documentary director, is by turns pissy and ineffectual. There isn’t a single character you really give a shit about. And then there’s the snake itself.

The opening text tells us that the anaconda is so vicious and evil that it yaks up its prey so it can go off and eat someone else, presumably because someone pointed out that unless you have one snake per victim, it’ll just chow down, then go off and sleep for a couple of weeks while it digests. This anaconda also kills by crushing, instead of suffocating its victims, as real snakes do. Oh, and at one point it fairly clearly kills a leopard. Not a jaguar, but an honest-to-god, ye olde worlde leopard.

Factual errors aside, the snake is terrible. The model is bad enough, looking as it does for all the world like a fuck-off great plastic snake on a stick, but the CGI is worse. Most notably, the damn thing just doesn’t move like a snake. Plus the ‘oesophagus-cam’ shot fails to convince on any level, as does the ‘Owen Wilson’s screaming face showing through the gut-wall of the snake’ bit.

The plot also makes no sense. The snake hunters have this whole insane plot to hijack the film crew’s boat, but the boat seems to belong to one of the hunters – the sleazy pilot – and since they don’t use any of them as bait, there is simply nothing that the hunters need, that the film crew could possibly provide.

What’s right with it?

Are you paying attention? Nothing! It isn’t even funny. Even the decent performers labour with tripe for dialogue, and the few swish cuts and dissolves just show up the film’s inferiority compared to the classics.

How bad is it really?

This film is a genuine piece of crap. Watch it at thy peril.

Best…Oh, I can’t even pretend.

What’s up with…?

  • Sorry to be the broken record, but John Voight as a South American snake hunter? He snarls limply, and fails to convince as evil, just ending up kind of seedy and unpleasant. We all wish he’d been eaten earlier; say before the film started.
  • All this bollocks about anacondas being evil? They have this legend of the giant devil-snake; why not have it actually be the giant devil snake? Since it doesn’t move like an anaconda, hunt like an anaconda or kill like an anaconda, why get so attached to the idea of it being an actual anaconda?
  • This damn film? I mean really.

Ratings

Production Values – It pretty much stinks. The jungle looks OK sometimes, but the snake is dreadful. 16

Dialogue and Performances – When the acting is good, the script stinks, and the script is never good. It’s not even memorably bad, just utterly banal. Ordinarily, J-Lo’s insipid sultriness would win the turkey, but John Voight tops even her. 19

Plot and Execution – ‘I will plot intricately to take over your boat, because I need to prove that I am evil’. And that – plus the eating – is about your plot. 17

Randomness – Why the plot to take over the boat? Hell, why the whole damn movie? Nothing much makes any sense. 15

Waste of Potential – It’s a horror movie about snakes. People are scared of snakes, right? This could have been great. All it would have needed was a cast that makes sense for even a moment, a decent director, and some infernal influence to explain the snake’s non-snakeyness. 13

Overall 82%

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Warlock III: The End of Innocence (1999)

WarlockIII

Directed by Eric Freiser
Starring Bruce Payne and Ashley Laurence

Nice art student Kris (Laurence) discovers that she has inherited a big old house that is due to be demolished. Ignoring the warnings of a strange old woman, she and her college friends go up to the house, where they are stalked by creepy warlock Philip Covington (Payne), possibly because one of them lets the evil out of the frozen pipes.

See, it turns out that Kris was actually born in 1643 and sent through time by her mother – a good witch – to escape from the Warlock’s attempt to sacrifice her. Now Covington needs her friends to surrender her to him, so he afflicts them with a series of nasty spells designed to make them bow to his will. Eventually, all of them give her up, and Kris is tied to the altar to be offered up, then reborn as the Bride of Lucifer to come back and rule the Earth from beyond the grave.

Not jamming on the whole deal, Kris breaks free, and kills Covington with a sacred knife her mother hid in a doll. And why not.

What’s wrong with it?

What isn’t.

The acting is crappy, the special effects not so special; the sound is poor so you can’t hear much of the mumbled exposition. Whole sections of the film make no sense, the rules of the sacrifice seem to change a whole lot, and even the Warlock seems a little unclear on exactly what it’s supposed to do. The characters are all pretty unlovable, and the fates to which they are subjected not the most imaginative in horror movie history.

The first half of the film is also pretty damn dull, with Bruce Payne sowing discord among a group of high school students: Not exactly a true challenge of his Machiavellian skills.

What’s right with it?

Bog all. I suppose that at least it’s only and hour and a half long.

How bad it is really?

They apparently couldn’t get Julian Sands. That’s how bad this film is. It isn’t much worse than either of the other two in terms of a cool, clinical analysis, but it takes itself so damn seriously and that just robs it of the brioche the others had.

Best bit

En route to the house for the first time, Kris is forced to stop by an old lady standing in the road. The old lady tells her she won’t find anything good, and she should go home. Then Kris drives on, and the old lady goes back to standing in the middle of the road. The inescapable conclusion is that the old lady just does this every time someone drives past, just for the hell of it.

What’s up with…?

  • The big sacrifice deal? Even the Warlock can’t seem to make up his mind who gets laid once the deal is done; him or Lucifer.
  • The random plumber death? There’s really no rhyme or reason for the plumber who gets killed near the beginning. He shows up to fix the pipes at an empty house, climbs a ladder and is thrown to his death by an exploding window. Then no-one mentions him again, and somehow his van gets moved and his tools end up inside.
  • Pipes of darkness? When the fairly decent stoner musician tries to fix the pipes, evil escapes. What was evil doing in the pipes? Did the witch try to flush him or something?
  • The cine-film in the nook? At once point, Kris runs into the garden but is trapped. Drawn to a light in a stone nook, she sees a cine reel of herself running across the garden, over and over again; for no reason whatsoever.

Ratings

Production values: Low. The lighting is okay and the print fairly glossy, but the direction weird and choppy, and the sound is terrible. Also, the soundtrack is this appalling eighties Goth tripe. 17

Dialogue and performance: Shoddy. The script is a mess, explaining everything poorly. This is compounded by the dire performances form the cast of wooden young things. I mean, Bruce Payne is the acting highlight, here once more in full hissy pantomime villain mode. 15

Plot and execution: Pretty damn half-arsed. A warlock chasing a bunch of dumb kids around a house, and we don’t even get any decent deaths. Plus the sacrifice makes little sense, and the whole time-travel thing is thrown in on the fly to complicate matters. 16

Randomness: Oh wait! I was sent through time when I was eleven, but I don’t remember. Weak, at best. 15

Waste of potential: Well, be honest now: This was Warlock III. We didn’t expect much. 7

Overall 70%

Warlock II: The Armageddon (1993)

WarlockII

“When he comes… all Hell breaks loose.”

Director Anthony Hicox
Starring Julian Sands, Chris Young, Paula Marshall

Centuries ago, an order of druids prevent the birth of the Antichrist, but are then slaughtered and their magic stones stolen by Satan’s minions.

In the present day, the Antichrist is born with almost no preamble and it is left to the last few druids to train two young druid warriors to destroy the Warlock, while he seeks to recover the magic stones, each of which must be given up willingly.

What’s wrong with it?

Warlock: The Armageddon is a silly kind of film. Honestly, the druid thing is a bit bizarre, and Anthony Hickox indulges once more in his love of splatter.

What’s right with it?

It is, in its way, a lot of fun. Hickox may be a schlock director, but I can’t fault his sense of fun. It has a nice finale too, with the heroes using a modern approach to get around the limitations of magic.

How bad is it really?

It’s bad, but it’s not bad. Sure, Sands isn’t the greatest actor ever, but he’s kind of got that going for him as the almost alien Warlock/Antichrist. Hell, in this instance we even have a reason why the stones aren’t drowned in the ocean deep, since they are swiped by the Satanists at the beginning.

Best bit (if such there is)?

One of the old druids foolishly tries to take on the Warlock himself. He catches up to him in an elevator, raises the magic dagger to strike, and then we cut directly to the doors opening and the Warlock stepping out of an elevator plastered in gore.

Alternatively the music for the first showdown, which consisted of a choir singing what sounded like ‘Evil, evil, evil, evil.’

What’s up with…? 

  • The ancient Druids of North America?

Ratings

Production values – Not bad for their day, if a little dated. The film doesn’t overplay the effects card and benefits because of it. 8

Dialogue and performances – Sands is oddly at home in the Warlock’s weirdo shoes, and the rest of the cast is serviceable if not actually good. The dialogue is not especially memorable, however, not even for any notable howlers. 12

Plot and execution – Again, the film is at worst workmanlike, competently shot and put together. The plot is simple, but a classic. 7

Randomness – Druids? The evil song? 11

Waste of potential – This is a solid entry in the Warlock series; not as good as the first, but streets ahead of the next. 8

Overall 45%

From the Archive – Warlock (1989)

Warlock

 

Directed by Steve Miner
Starring Julian Sands, Richard E. Grant and Lori Singer

After a long chase, witch hunter Giles Redfern (Grant) runs to ground the Warlock (Sands) who destroyed his wife. However, calling on his devil-given powers the warlock flees through time to the twentieth century, where the Devil charges him with tracking down the sections of Satan’s Bible: The Grand Grimoire – an indestructible book of evil magic which can bring about the end of the world.

Redfern and his unwilling sidekick, Kassandra (Singer) – a twentieth century girl cursed by the Warlock to age twenty years every day – chase the Warlock across the country. They track him by watching for the traditional witch-signs – flames burning blue, milk souring and so forth – and by using Redfern’s ‘witch compass’, and striking at him through tried and tested means such as driving iron nails into his footprints and burning him with salt (to which all witches are vulnerable, dontcha know).

Eventually, they confront the Warlock in a deconsecrated cemetery which turns out to hold Redfern’s grave (in which the last pages of the Grimoire are buried). The Warlock is vanquished, and Redfern returns to the past, leaving Kassandra to bury the Grimoire in the heart of the Utah Salt Flats.

What’s wrong with it?

Julian Sands; acting as wooden as ever, bless him. Lori Singer’s outfits, and in fact the whole late eighties look of the thing (although  in their defence, it was the late eighties).

What’s right with it?

The whole thing with the witch-signs, and Redfern’s witch-hunting gear, is very nicely done. Redfern himself is played with great aplomb and gusto by Grant, reveling in the role of the anachronistic Puritan zealot. The effects are minimalist, but reasonably decent, and the whole thing does have something pretty closely resembling a plot, plus a Jerry Goldsmith score.

How bad is it really?

Actually, it’s not half bad. It has a good conceit in the witch-hunting methods, Grant is always watchable, and the film trots along at a nice pace.

Best bit?

Probably Richard E. Grant lobbing a weather vane at the Warlock; or possibly the Witch Compass exchange:

“What’s that? Some kind of compass?”
“Witch compass.”
“That compass right there.”

What’s up with…?

  • Burning the Warlock over a basket of live cats after they hang him? Is that kosher New England witch-hunting? Damn these people were strange.

Ratings

Production values – Not bad at all for their day; although somewhat dated now. The SFX is mostly restricted to some wire-work, a few flames and Kassandra’s premature aging make-up. As I recall, the Warlock’s death scene might leave a little to be desired. 10

Dialogue and performances – For the most part, the acting is fairly solid. The dialogue is fairly dry, but delivered with enough panache and timing to make it work. Tragically, Julian Sands lets the side down, slipping gently from sinister and dispassionate into just plain wooden.12

Plot and execution – While the plot of Warlock is fairly straightforward, it is played out with decent pacing, and is more interesting than much modern fare (for example, Warlocks II and III, which are basically just about the gore and the skin shots). 8

Randomness – Well, Redfern continually comes up with new signs of a witch’s presence, and new ways to hurt them, but as most of these methods are pretty much accurate – or at least no more ridiculous than the real thing – it doesn’t entirely count as randomness. 10

Waste of Potential – As movies about time-hopping witches go, Warlock is pretty much the bomb. 5

Overall 45%

From the Archive – Split Second (1992)

second

 

Directed by Tony Maylam and Ian Sharp
Starring Rutger Hauer, Neil Duncan and Kim Catrall

Maverick US cop Holly Stone (Hauer), assigned to the Metropolitan Police Force in a flooded London, plagued by huge sewer rats, is haunted by the death of his partner and the serial killer he never caught. When he believes the killer has returned, he is partnered with clean cut, tight-buttoned, Oxford psych graduate Detective Dick Durkin (Duncan) to catch the man. Thing is, as hearts with giant tooth-prints in them start being delivered to the Police Station full of British character actors, it looks increasingly as though the killer is not a man at all. 

With time running out, and the late partner’s widow, Michelle (Catrall) – also Stone’s ex-lover – complicating things, the two mismatched plods must conquer their mutual antagonism, load up on caffeine, sugar, and really big fucking guns, and go down into the flooded Underground to kill the beast that would be Satan.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe-winner Rutger Hauer for a start, acting as wooden as ever he does in English, bless him. Also Kim Catrall; much the same, but without the stellar career in the Dutch legitimate film industry. The plot is a little spotty, and the big monster isn’t really explained at any point (unless it is Satan).

What’s right with it?

The transformation of the buttoned-down Durkin into a highly-caffeinated bundle of neuroses like Stone is a joy to behold. The film is sharp and funny, and the support playing – by the usual pack of British character actors, including an about to be famous Pete Postelthwaite – is actually really good.

There are also big f*@king guns.

How bad is it really?

If you don’t own this film, you should buy it. Seriously. It’s trash, but it’s just so good.

Best bit?

Where to start? There’s the hysterical Superintendent (Alun Armstrong) asking if they want an APB put out on Lucifer, or Dick Durkin trying to shoot the rat with an assault shotgun (“You shot my kitchen, that’s what!”).

Or there’s this exchange:
“I’m surprised you don’t have a grenade launcher.”
“Couldn’t get a permit.”

But ultimately, the prize must belong to the “we need bigger f*@king guns” scene, as our heroes get hyper on coffee and chocolate and tool up for a showdown with evil.
“Now, we get bigger guns.”
“Hallelujah.”

What’s up with…?

  • The DNA-stealing, seven-foot tall, bullet proof, psychic, heart-eating, soul-stealing, metal-shredding thing? I mean, really?
  • Knights in White Satin? Not just why is it in this film; why is it? What’s up with it? It’s a weird song.

Ratings

Production Values – Actually pretty shiny, if not too excessive. The monster just looks like a guy in a big rubber suit, but isn’t on display too much. 8

Dialogue and Performances – The dialogue is actually pretty snappy. Hauer and Catrall both have the delivery of a cricket bat, but for what it’s worth, Catrall give a career best, and Hauer only tops this performance (in English) with Blade Runner. Neil Duncan really steals the show as Detective Dick “That wasn’t a him, that was a f*@king it!” Durkin, closely followed by Alun Armstrong’s harried commissioner. 7

Plot and Execution – Better than most by a considerable margin, although the direction does tend a little towards the dark and invisible. 11

Randomness – Enough that the film stops making sense about half-way through, but also the right kind that you stop caring at pretty much the same point. 10

Waste of Potential – Hell no. This is – without question – the single best film ever made about angry, hyperactive cops chasing a giant, Satanic rat-mutant that has been terrorising a flooded London in the aftermath of global warming. 0

Overall 35%

From the Archive – DNA (1997)

DNA

 

“Don’t mess with Mother Nature”

Directed by William Mesa
Starring Mark Dacascos, Jürgen Prochnow and Robin McKee

Dr Carl Wessinger (Prochnow) comes to a remote clinic in Borneo, to find Dr Ash Mattley (Dacascos). Mattley – who was, of course, raised by a local tribe and taught their kung fu – once almost developed an enzyme that would cure all diseases, but could not replicate it. Wessinger claims he can, but that he needs one of the beetles Ash extracted the enzyme from in the first place to do it. Ash takes him to the site where the beetles live in an ancient temple to a towering demon-god named Balacau, where Wessinger double-crosses him (Jürgen Prochnow! The bad guy! Never!) and leaves him for dead.

Flash forward three years, and Ash is still a remote jungle doctor (because despite being evil, Wessinger was not thorough), only now with long and unhygienic hair, and local people keep getting their spines ripped out by a mysterious assailant (although that probably can’t be put down to Ash’s hair). Enter a snooty CIA field operative Claire Sommers (McKee, playing the least convincing field operative in history), who tells him that Wessinger was working for them, but has gone rogue and intends to sell his genetic research to the highest bidder. Cut to some very Jurassic Park-y bits of Wessinger’s team trying to recapture their creation, and Ash and Claire set off to find him.

To cut a long story short, they do, and are then all stalked by a big monster that looks like the Alien, except it’s apparently stolen the Predator’s cloaking device. Oh; it also looks just like the Balacau statue, and is an alien, which Wessinger resurrected using the beetle enzyme.

The bad guys all get killed – as does the token cute small child – and Ash has to go mano a talon with the beast, getting kitted out with warpaint and fightin’ axe, then shooting it in the face with a grenade launcher.

What’s wrong with it?

Any good idea this film has is ripped off from somewhere else: Alien, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and especially Predator, from which almost the entire last fifteen minutes is lifted whole cloth. The stuff they do seem to have come up with themselves – namely the magic beetle juice – just makes no damned sense. Prochnow phones it in as his stock Euro-baddie character, and the other actors universally suck. Intercutting with stock footage means that frequently helicopters change model two or three times while landing.

What’s right with it?

Absolutely nothing that springs to mind.

How bad is it really?

It is not as bad as Sanctuary, but that’s about the best that can be said for it.

Best Bit

Once Wessinger has his beetles, he turns and shoots Dr Ash. We dared to hope.

What’s up with…?

  • The mild-mannered doctor, raised by a tribe in Borneo, being a bad-ass martial artist?
  • The tough, experienced CIA field operative being a sissy girlie-girl? Oh, that’s right. She has to get rescued.
  • The beetle-juice of a thousand uses? it regenerates aliens from fossil bones; it incapacitates the alien; it heals all illness! But wait; there’s more!
  • CIA cissy’s big gun that shoots either grenades or these big taser things? Never explained in any way.

Ratings

Production Values – The invisible alien is about the same level of special effect as Predator; which is worrying given that that film is about ten years older than this one. The lack of care given to the use of stock footage is also notable. 14

Dialogue and Performances – With Prochnow phoning this one in, there isn’t a decent performance in the film. the dialogue is dire, and really deserves no better than it gets. 16

Plot and Execution – My God, what a pig’s ear. The plot is all over the place, frankly looking for all the world as if they’ve just taped together pages from an assortment of other scripts. The direction is also second rate, and everything is either underlit or overlit. 17

Randomness – The whole damn plot is randomness. My goody-God but it makes no sense. With the beetles, and the mystery alien and all. What the hell? 16

Waste of Potential – The material in this film could – and lets face it, did – make several good movies. 15

Overall 78%

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, after which the witch encourages them to go and make a sequel. They set out, but mercifully never fulfill 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

Hummm….

What’s up with…?

  • The film? Seriously, it’s a while since I saw it, so anything that doesn’t make sense could just be my memory playing tricks.

Ratings

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%

From the Archive – Kull the Conqueror (1997)

Kull

“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. with the aid of a dodgy priest (Ed Tudor Pole, y’know, off the Crystal Maze), they call up the ancient and trampy demoness, Akivasha (Carrere) to bring Kull down and then, you know, calmly step aside and let them take power.

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 he is certainly a far better actor 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 undercover priestess, 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…?

  • Tia Carrere’s wig? It’s this immense, orange thing. Truly terrifying.
  • the overall message of the film, that benevolent dictatorship is preferable to a constitutional government?

Ratings

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%

From the Archive – Red Sonja (1985)

Red_sonja_film_poster

“A woman and a warrior that became a legend.”

Directed by Richard ‘Conan the Destroyer’ Fleischer
Starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenneger and Sandahl Bergman

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 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 Austrian Oak c.1985. In conversation side-by-side, they are like a pair of fine paneled 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…?

  • The warrior nuns and their easy-to-assault temple? Why are they keeping this thing in the first place? And if it needs to be kept in the dark, why haven’t they been keeping it in the dark? Did this only just occur to them?

Ratings

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 string of random encounters, 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%

From the Archive – Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Destroyer

 

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.

Conan and new best friend Malak (Tracey Walter), a weasely thief, are randomly attacked by men in spiky black masks with big fishing nets, who rode all through the credits to reach them. 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.

Taramis wants Conan to escort her wimpy niece (Olivia d’Abo) on a quest for a jewelled horn that will raise their sexy magic god from slumber, after which she promises to raise Valeria from the dead. She also sends the captain of the Royal Guard, Bombatta (Wilt Chamberlain, a very big man) with orders to kill Conan once his part in this is done. Unusually, this is not because she is evil – although she is – but because she’s hiring a thief to steal a priceless treasure for her and quite reasonably suspects he might work out that the whole treasure is a bigger take than a commission.

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…

Oh, I quite like that they considered the practicality of Arnold wielding a mighty broadsword indoors, and every time they enter an enclosed area he takes the sword off his shoulder and straps it around his waist instead.

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)?

The Wizard goes all magic duel with another magician, struggling over a door which the Wizard is holding closed. After a supreme effort, the magician collapses with smoke coming out of his nose.

What’s up with…?

  • This business of hiring Conan to protect the princess, then sending the royal guard to kill him? If the royal guard were good enough to take him, why hire Conan? As it is, this cunning stratagem merely results in the loss of a large number of perfectly good henchlings.
  • Grace Jones? Just in general.

Ratings

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%

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WIL WHEATON dot NET

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