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Kull the Conqueror (1997)

kulltheconqueror_1Starring Kevin Sorbo, Tia Carrere, Thomas Ian Griffith, Litefoot, Roy Brocksmith, Harvey Fierstein, Karina Lombard, Edward Tudor-Pole, Douglas Henshall, Joe Shaw, Sven-Ole Thorsen

Directed by John Nicolella

Expectations: Pretty low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

I may be one of the few to ever say this, but I loved Kull the Conqueror. Perhaps thanks in part to my incredibly muted expectations, I found Kull the Conqueror to be relentlessly fun. Around every corner was something to excite and entertain, both in ways expected and unexpected. I can’t go so far as to call it a good movie, though, it’s definitely in the B-Movie camp and those inclined to scoff at these kinds of films will definitely scoff throughout Kull the Conqueror. But the movie is clearly designed to be a load of fun instead of being something hyper realistic, so when taken as such it gets the job done exceptionally well.

Our story begins in a dimly lit camp where Kull (Kevin Sorbo) is battling some dudes. We’re led to believe he’s fighting for his life, but this quickly proves to be untrue. In fact, Kull is getting jumped into the King’s elite guard, but after facing the King’s general in one-on-one sword combat, Kull is refused entry because he is not of noble birth. Meanwhile, the king is going crazy and slaughtering his children, so everyone heads over there and through some unexpected turns of fate, Kull ends up with the king’s crown and title. Say what?

This quick rise to power feels about as earned as it does in my previous paragraph, but while this might usually signal a poorly scripted film, in this one it merely serves to be the catalyst that drives the rest of the story. The story needs this event to happen, and while it definitely could have gone down in a less hurried manner, the quick nature aids the story in getting to the meat much quicker. And as Kull the Conqueror rolls along it quickly becomes apparent that unlike a lot of B-Movies, this one’s got a whole bunch of story events to dole out. Sure, you could boil the whole movie down to a couple of quick sentences, but it’s about the journey and Kull the Conqueror is a rousing fantasy adventure.

But don’t mistake this film for Milius’s Conan the Barbarian or Lord of the Rings. This is adolescent, barbarian fun to the max, and recognizing this early is a key point in getting your money’s worth out of the film. The biggest indicator of this is the film’s score, and specifically the opening moments that directly follow the introductory narration. At the moment the narration finishes, the screen fills with fire and searing hot licks of pure metal guitar issue forth from the speakers. Now, I know a lot of people take their metal and their movies very seriously, but you can’t tell me that the filmmakers here didn’t know what they were doing. Blasting metal just a minute into the movie over a kick-ass barbarian fight? They aren’t clueless, they’re inspired. They were simply following one of life’s basic formulas: Anything + Rock = More Fun. Would you rather wash your car in the silence, or with some killer rock ‘n’ roll? So while a sword fight is most definitely an awesome scene for a movie, we’ve seen that a million times! But a sword fight with rock ‘n’ roll? Now, that’s the ticket! I will admit that the execution of some of the metal over the fights could be better, as more often than not the metal is drowned out by the orchestral music it is supposed to be augmenting, but nonetheless it definitely makes the scenes more fun.

The other major indication that Kull the Conqueror is designed to be a fun, rollicking adventure is the focus on gnarly creature FX. Being a low-budget film of the late ’90s when CG was in its infancy, the more fantastic aspects of Kull the Conqueror are realized mostly through physical means. So, for me, that translates to an added dose of fun. There’s not a ton of FX, but what’s here is all realized rather well, from demonic creatures to hideous burns. There’s an especially great creature towards the end, but to say anymore would ruin a moment that truly must be seen to be believed. It’s both fantastic and shocking that it survived all the way to the finished film, even if it does tie the film together so well. Even from within the Hollywood system, I guess it’s true that low-budget films have more freedom to forge their own path.

Kull the Conqueror began its life as the script for the third Conan film for Arnold, but that was never made because Arnold didn’t renew his contract with Dino De Laurentiis. This is why I set out to watch Kull the Conqueror, as having recently watched all the Conan films again, I was curious to see what might have been. Not knowing what changed over the years, I still feel confident in saying that this would’ve been a great sequel for the Conan series and might have even locked Arnold into playing the barbarian for years to come. Kevin Sorbo, hot off of the success of Hercules, is a fine stand-in as Kull, although I couldn’t help but wish for Arnold at times.

I know this one has a pretty poor reputation, but I had an absolute blast watching Kull the Conqueror. It’s quickly paced and it packs a ton of fun into a slim 95 minutes. If you enjoy fantasy films and you’re not too uptight about taking them seriously, you really should give this unsung, B-Movie gem a chance.

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