Adamantium Bullet – Reel World Rants, Rumors, And Reviews
17Aug/11

Cult Blender #17: CONAN THE DESTROYER

CULT BLENDER spotlights the good, the bad, and the ugly of the cult film world. Direct-to-video, b-movies, drive-in classics, Hollywood flops, and misunderstood gems are all here, awaiting rediscovery or to be seen for the first time.

CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984)

PLOT: Based on a character created by Robert E. Howard, this fast-paced, occasionally humorous sequel to Conan the Barbarian features the hero (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as he is commissioned by the evil queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) to safely escort a teen princess (Olivia D'Abo) and her powerful bodyguard (Wilt Chamberlain) to a far away castle to retrieve the magic Horn of Dagon. Unknown to Conan, the queen plans to sacrifice the princess when she returns and inherit her kingdom after the bodyguard kills Conan. The queen's plans fail to take into consideration Conan's strength and cunning and the abilities of his sidekicks: the eccentric wizard Akiro (Mako), the wild woman Zula (Grace Jones), and the inept Malak (Tracey Walter). Together the hero and his allies must defeat both mortal and supernatural foes in this voyage to sword-and-sorcery land.

THE RUNDOWN: CONAN THE DESTROYER is one strange little film. Taken as a sequel to CONAN THE BARBARIAN, it is nothing short of a massive disappointment. There’s no two ways about it. All of magnificent storytelling and artistry of John Milius’s hack-and-slash classic is missing, replaced in favor of cheap comedy and stunt casting. The violence has been toned back (not really down) in favor of a more family-friendly PG rating (What the hell we’re they thinking?) and everything feels like warmed up KRULL leftovers. Even returning composer Basil Poledouris (who’s score for the original is nothing short of magnificent) delivers a score that can be only be described, at best, as generic and derivative. In short, CONAN THE DESTROYER is not a worthy follow-up to CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Not even close.

However…big one here…if taken as a standalone fantasy flick that just-so-happens to have a few connections to a far better film then CONAN THE DESTROYER is not too bad. Not great, but not bad. Probably a good starter fantasy flick for young teens. I know I used to love the hell out of this back when I was younger, even more than BARBARIAN. Yeah, I said it. I’ll also say that I wasn’t the best judge of movies in my early teen years. I used to also think that the film world began and ended with the Dolph Lundgren cheese classic MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. I distinctly remember comparing that movie to all others for at least a year or two. Between the ages of ten and eleven, the question when presenting me with a movie was simple one: “Is it as good as MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE?

Anyhow, sidetracked a bit there, back on point. The biggest problem with DESTROYER is that BARBARIAN exists. If the original didn’t exist then I’d imagine that this flick would have a much better reputation. I’d almost go as far to say that it would be considered a minor classic of the genre… almost. The flick is flawed, don’t get me wrong, but it works in a cornball kinda way. After all, how many movies culminate with a battle between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wilt F**king Chamberlain? Only one, people, and that movie is CONAN THE DESTROYER.

Plus, I kinda dig the vibe here. The plot has a seedy paperback feel to it. Conan is duped into helping an evil queen (Sarah Douglas, who is basically reprising her SUPERMAN II performance in fantasy garb) resurrect a god (not sure how a god can die, but okay) with the promise that she’ll bring Valeria back from the dead. The set-up is presented almost immediately, the baddies are promptly established as baddies (there’s no doubting that the evil queen is evil and that Chamberlain’s character will eventually betray Conan), and the all of the conflicts are relatively straightforward. No plot twists or double-crosses here, just good old-fashioned fantasy fluff. Witches, wizards, demons, gods, barbarians, thieves, warriors: they're all accounted for.

And, like I mentioned earlier, the action is still pretty stout. Little tempered (thanks to the PG rating), but violent all the same. Heads are lopped off, nameless guards are gutted, folks are stabbed and a crazy-ass demon god is basically ripped apart by Conan. Good stuff.

As far as Conan’s new crew goes, I’m in the middle. I kinda love Grace Jones as Zula. There’s just something crazy about her that I really dig. Plus, she’s about the only woman who’d stand a chance with Conan. Mako is back as The Wizard and I appreciate the gesture of keeping him in the franchise. Not too happy that he’s mostly reduced to making silly faces while casting spells, but it’s good to see him again. Guess that counts for something. Malak (played by Tracey Walter) is okay for the first half of the film, a little grating in the second half and becomes downright unbearable in the finale. I don’t understand why they just didn’t bring back Subotai (Gerry Lopez) for the second film. Would’ve kept with the continuity and all, but oh well.

The stunt casting of Chamberlain as Bombaata is a double-edged sword. On one hand, he’s definitely a strong physical match for Arnie and more than holds his own against him in the finale. On the other, Chamberlain is no actor and delivers most of his lines with little to no feeling. Monotone would be a good way to describe his acting style, bad would be another way. Definitely not a great performance.

Olivia d’Abo as Princess Jehnna is definitely easy on the eyes and basically all but ushered me into puberty back in the day, but she delivers one massive film-crushing custerf**k of a performance. If she’s not under the spell of some evil wizard or sorceress, she’s screeching “Bombaata!” constantly. If she’s not trying to bed Conan (out of your league, baby), she’s constantly getting herself kidnapped. In short, she’s annoying and the very least that director Richard Fleischer could’ve done is given her a gratuitous nude scene. You’d be surprised the leverage an annoying character can earn with a perfectly placed nude scene.

Speaking of Fleischer, he’s definitely no John Milius. That’s really all I have to say about that. Fleischer’s reign of chaos in the world of Hyboria would continue in RED SONJA, but that is story is for another time.

BODY COUNT: 54 which is pretty shocking for a PG movie. Conan kills 6 Royal Guards, Torga, 4 cannibals, 1 Elite Guard, one wizard, 9 Keepers Of The Horn, 1 Shadizar Guard, Bombaata and ultimately rips Dagoth (the aforementioned demon god that Sarah Douglas is attempting to resurrect) apart with his bare hands. Malak stabs six assorted guards, Zula kills two and spears the Grand Vizer, Bombaata slaughters 9 or 10 Keepers Of The Horn (lost count) and Dagoth crushes a random guard’s head and impales Taramis with his horn. There’s a few extra dead bodies shown also, but I’m guessing that some of the violence had to be cut back in order to obtain the PG rating (Once again, what the hell were they thinking?).

NAKEDNESS: Not a single bit of actual nudity. What the f**k? Who’s wise idea was it to make a Conan movie with no nudity in it? I guess I should not that the ladies go get Arnold and Wilt shirtless. And there is some solid cleavage on-hand thanks to Sarah Douglas and Olivia d’Abo. Zula shows off a solid amount of skin too, but…not sure what I’m supposed to think of it. I think of her more as a warrior and not so much as a sex symbol if you catch my drift. If you don’t, Grace Jones kinda scares me and I don’t look at her in that way. Got a feeling she might sense it or something.

SIGNATURE MOMENT: The resurrection of Dagoth is definitely a creepy moment. Certainly more intense than you might be expecting from PG Conan movie. Too bad the sequence starts off great and quickly descends into rubber monster suit madness.

IDIOT MOMENT: Conan punches a camel in the face…again. What is with this guy and assaulting animals? What’s really dumb about this moment is that he actually starts it off by apologizing to the camel because he thinks it’s the same one he punched in the original film. The apology is not accepted, so Conan gets mad and punches another defenseless animal. What was a funny gag in the original is now rendered into an idiot moment by the sequel. Yay.

VERDICT: CONAN THE DESTROYER is a letdown and an okay movie. If you go in expecting a worthy follow-up to the original CONAN and you’ll leave disappointed, possibly angry, and definitely wondering “What the hell went wrong?” Go in expecting a fluffy mid-80s fantasy flick, one top-loaded with cheap comedy but not without some decent performances and action set pieces, and you'll probably have a good time. Being buzzed or baked will most likely help this one go down easier.

TRIVIA: Writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, who wrote the original story treatment for this movie, were deeply displeased by the final screenplay by Stanley Mann and the finished film, so they made their story into the graphic novel CONAN: THE HORN OF AZOTH, published in 1990, with art by Mike Docherty. The names of the characters were changed to untie the graphic novel from the movie: Dagoth became Azoth, Jehnna became Natari, Zula became Shumballa, Bombaata became Strabo, Toth-Amon became Rammon, and the characters of Queen Taramis and The Leader were combined into sorcerer Karanthes, father of Natari.

During his lifetime, Wilt Chamberlain claimed sexual encounters with over 20,000 women. Ironically, in this movie Queen Taramis charges Chamberlain's character Bombaata with protecting Princess Jehnna's virginity.

André the Giant cameos as the resurrected Dagoth.

Some scenes were filmed in the same location and at the same time as scenes from DUNE.

Posted by J. Bryant

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