Red Sonja (1985)

redsonja_4Red Sonja (1985)
AKA Kalidor

Starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Paul L. Smith, Ernie Reyes Jr., Ronald Lacey, Pat Roach, Terry Richards, Janet Agren, Donna Osterbuhr

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Expectations: Lowest of the low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


Over the course of your journey through cinema, you’re bound to watch your share of thrilling adventures. There’s also a good amount of entertaining misadventures, but even the most careful of viewers will eventually run into a “disadventure.” Red Sonja is unfortunately one of the latter variety, and it is a rather bad one at that. It’s sad, too, because it starts out with such promise. Opening with some quick text about how Red Sonja is on a legendary quest of revenge, visions of the incredible revenge wrought by Arnold in Conan the Barbarian filled my mind. This is exactly the wrong thing to do if you actually want to enjoy Red Sonja, because absolutely nothing in this film is anywhere close to the original Conan film. Well, the production design is pretty good, but it’s still a couple of steps down.

Ugh, where to even start? There’s so much wrong here; I feel like I’ve been confused and blinded by the horrors I’ve just witnessed. Painful as it is, after thinking about all the bad elements I have to say the one that annoyed me the most was the character of Prince Tarn. It’s going to be hard to relate why I didn’t like him without the whole thing coming off as “Will hates kids,” or at least “Will hates kids in movies,” but honestly I wanted to strangle this little pompous kid. It’s frustrating too, because Ernie Reyes, Jr.’s martial arts are actually really great! He could have been a fun, interesting character, but instead he’s a whiny kid who’s always yelling and putting everyone down. Ugh. If nothing else, haters of this kid will get some entertainment out of him being tortured by a villain, and later Arnold picks him up one-handed and shakes him.

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Conan the Destroyer (1984)

conanthedestroyer_2Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Sarah Douglas, Olivia d’Abo, Pat Roach, Jeff Corey, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Bruce Fleischer, Ferdy Mayne

Directed by Richard Fleischer

Expectations: Super low.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Sequels are tricky business, perhaps harder to get right than the first film in a franchise. Conan the Destroyer is a film that had all the odds stacked against it right from the get-go, as it had the burden of attempting to follow one of the greatest fantasy motion pictures of all time. So instead of trying to bang out a rehash of the first film, the new creative team decided to go in a completely different direction. Conan the Destroyer represents a different side of Conan, much like many of Robert E. Howard’s original stories that represent an unexplored side of the character at different places in his life. Conan the Destroyer is definitely not anywhere near as awesome or as well-made as Milius’s original film, but it is a nearly non-stop parade of B-Movie fun.

Conan the Destroyer presents us with a story that Conan gets mixed up in, not one that is integral to the character. This immediately hampers the film from being the deeply resonant tale of woe and revenge that the first film was, but that’s OK — this one has crystal castles, wizards and crazy monsters! While praying at an altar, Queen Taramis of Shadizar sends in her guards to attack Conan. He easily bests them, slicing their nets and punching their horses. Upon his victory, the Queen tells him of a quest, one that if he succeeds will allow her to resurrect Valeria from the dead. Wanting nothing more than Valeria back in his life, Conan agrees and we’re off on a thrilling fantasy adventure.

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Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the Titans (1981)

Starring Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Burgess Meredith, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress, Pat Roach, Jack Gwillim, Neil McCarthy, Susan Fleetwood

Directed by Desmond Davis

Expectations: Moderate, but I LOVE Harryhausen stop-motion.


As I’ve said in reviews past, going back to watch old-school special FX extravaganzas is something of a double-edged sword. You really have to throw yourself into the mindset of the times and consider the film within its place in time. If you hold it up to current standards the whole thing will usually fall apart and you’ll be left picking up the broken pieces of the film you spent the last two hours picking apart. So as a 1981 FX-filled adventure, Clash of the Titans soars and delights, but like the current wave of 80s and 90s nostalgia, Clash of the Titans seems to rise directly out of a nostalgia for the 60s and the glory days of stop-motion monsters with films such as Jason and the Argonauts or The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

All of those classic films share one defining element behind the scenes, the work of stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen. Clash of the Titans is his swan song, and it contains some of his best work. The Pegasus moves with a realistic quality that makes you question its nature, the Medusa slithers and stalks her prey with glorious fluid motion, the deformed Calibos fights hand-to-hand with Perseus in perfect sync and integration with the live action footage. I could go on, but if you are a fan of stop-motion and you haven’t seen this one, it’s a must.

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