Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 (1984)

Release Date: June, 1984 (Mystfest – Italy)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom, Michael Berryman, Penny Johnson, Janus Blythe, John Laughlin, Willard E. Pugh, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston

Castle Hill Productions, Hills Two Corporation, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Sue, it ain’t natural to be in a place without a disco.” – Foster

I’m not a fan of Wes Craven, despite many in the horror community probably wanting to take off my head for such a statement. I’ve explained why in reviews of other Craven films, so I won’t rehash all of that again.

I also don’t really like The Hills Have Eyes.

So it probably goes without saying that I’m not a fan of this sequel.

While this is worse than the first one which was just kind of okay, this film actually is more interesting.

We check back in with two of the characters from the previous movie, one of them, a girl that left the inbred psychos of the desert, returns with some friends on some sort of dirt bike camping excursion. It seems silly that she would ever go back there for any reason but hey, it’s best not to think too hard about this movie.

This plays a bit more like a slasher than the previous film and while I like that formula, it goes to show that maybe Wes Craven completely dialed it in for this sequel, as he wasn’t necessarily creating anything new and was instead, trying to make his own Friday the 13th, even though his original A Nightmare On Elm Street movie was better than any Friday the 13th film.

The crazy inbred family returns and they aren’t too pleased to see that their little sister (or whatever she is) has come back and is looking pretty normal, living a normal life with normal friends that fuck and do drugs.

The action is okay but the film is pretty dull, overall. I like the premise of the film but it’s not executed in a way that it really matters and thus, this is pretty forgettable.

There isn’t much that’s memorable about this other than Michael Berryman getting a rematch with the dog from the first movie and a moderately interesting bit where the kids try to use a mine shaft to their advantage.

Also, the score to the film is really bad and it just sounds like Wes is deliberately ripping off Friday the 13th in the poorest and most generic way possible.

Willard E. Pugh, who I love in Robocop 2, was kind of funny in his scenes here but other than Pugh and Berryman, there really isn’t anyone of note in this picture.

A poor sequel to a film that really didn’t deserve one, done by a guy who already eclipsed the thing he was trying to ripoff. Maybe this was just done for a paycheck.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Wes Craven works, as well as other cannibal killer movies.

Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 (Sweden)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Gerry Lopez, Mako, William Smith, Max von Sydow

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to Hell with you!” – Conan

Conan the Barbarian is a hard movie to top in the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy. It really set the standard in 1982 and it also spawned innumerable ripoff films, mostly from Europe and mostly schlock. A few wannabe Conan pictures were good but there’s too many to address when I’m here to specifically review this film.

This is also the superior Conan film, as its sequel didn’t live up to this one and its remake, decades later, was lacking the lightning in a bottle that made this film special.

When I was a young boy, I looked up to this film. I looked up to Conan and his struggle and his fight to seek out justice for himself and eventually, the world he lived in. In 2018, this would be considered a film that exudes “toxic masculinity” while being dismissed as shit by third wave feminists and male apologists. Sorry, but Conan, even fueled by revenge, was a flawed hero that went on to be a king, against all odds, and continually vanquished the evil in his world. In fact, this film got me into reading Conan comics, as well as the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Conan the Barbarian is a balls out, unapologetic action film about one badass dude that’s not just going to take the bullshit of tyrants.

Now the film, like its title character, has its flaws. But compared to other big action movies of the time, those flaws aren’t as bad and not as apparent.

The acting is what you would expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the direction is much better than average and the special effects are actually great for a 1982 film that didn’t have a massive budget.

The thing that really makes this film more superb than it would have otherwise been is the score by Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian has one of the coolest and most powerful themes in film history. It isn’t just the title theme that’s great though, it’s the music throughout the entire picture. It just sets the mood and pacing right. It accentuates the action and subtly gives life to the slower bits.

My only real complaint about the film is it does feel drawn out too long. They could have fine tuned it, whittled it down by 15 minutes and it probably would have moved at a brisker, more energetic pace. There are a lot of action sequences and there are a few moments where you feel like you’ve reached the big finale, only for the film to stretch on more. But don’t get me wrong, all the action bits are damn solid.

The opening sequence of this film is powerful, beautiful and breathtaking. It is the best shot and best paced sequence in the entire movie but it really draws you in and makes you want to go on this long journey with the hero. James Earl Jones, no matter how many times I have seen this scene, is still absolutely chilling.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that couldn’t be made in quite the same way that it was in 1982 with Hollywood politics being what they are.

Although, I could be wrong about that, as the new Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel surprised me in how badass and brutal its recent first issue was. But maybe that’s only because it speaks to a particular audience that Marvel knows they’d lose if they messed with the formula.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)

Also known as: Ator l’invincibile (original title), Ator the Invincible (informal English title)
Release Date: October 7th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Joe D’Amato
Written by: Joe D’Amato, Michele Soavi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Miles O’Keefe, Sabrina Siani, Ritza Brown, Edmund Purdom

Filmarage, Metaxa Corporation, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I love you.” – Ator
“And I love you.” – Sunya
“Why can’t we marry?” – Ator
“Ator, we are brother and sister.” – Sunya
“I’ll talk with our father.” – Ator

I’ve only seen one other Ator movie, the second one, as it was featured on an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That was released in the States as Cave Dwellers.

This one is the first picture in the film series and it was also featured on MST3K. In fact, it’s the sixth and final episode of the most recent season.

This is a bit better than Cave Dwellers but it is still a steaming pile of shit. It almost plays as parody but I don’t know if that’s intentional. I’d assume that it’s not and that it’s just a really horrible Italian ripoff movie, as the Italians have mastered horrible ripoff movies and unofficial sequels of just about everything. They have weird copyright laws over there.

Anyway, there isn’t a single thing in this film that really redeems it on any level. We’ve got a full checklist of terrible shit from the acting, the sets, the costumes, the direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the score, you name it.

The story isn’t very coherent and the script is friggin’ bizarre. That could be due to things being lost in translation during the English dubbing process but it probably still falls on the quality of the script.

This was tough to get through, damn boring and it just made me want to watch Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ator movies and other Conan ripoffs.

Film Review: A Christmas Story (1983)

Release Date: November 18th, 1983
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, Bob Clark
Based on: In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd
Music by: Carl Zittrer, Paul Zaza
Cast: Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Zack Ward, Jean Shepherd (voice)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll shoot your eye out!” – everyone in the movie that isn’t Ralphie

This is one of those reviews where my opinion is in contrast to the majority.

I’m just not fond of this movie. It’s not a bad motion picture but I certainly don’t have the spot in my heart for it like the millions of people that feel the urge to sit down and watch this for 24 hours straight every Christmas. Full disclosure, my whole family does that and I’m usually off in the corner staring at my phone.

But that being said, I have seen this movie more than any other because it just plays and plays on my family’s television through our annual Christmas Eve party, Christmas morning and during gift giving time. I mean, it’s just a staple. We actually barely pay attention to it at this point except for the younger ones. But everyone in my family still deems its existence in our lives to be necessary.

Give me ScroogedDie HardDie Hard 2Gremlins, Krampus or hell, this director’s other Christmas classic, Black Christmas. Okay, maybe these film selections aren’t safe for child eyes but I’m not the one having kids. And if I did, they’d see Gremlins at the same age I did: five years-old.

Anyway, this is a cute film but nothing about it is exceptional or worthy of the strange acclaim that it has now. I only consider it a classic because it’s just labeled that and for some reason, it resonates with so many people. But I also think that’s just people succumbing to the power of nostalgia. Plus, I don’t get the nostalgia bug for it because even though it came out when I was a kid, it was a bomb in the theater and only gained traction later on television. The kids that found the film were younger than me and I was probably making out with girls by that time. Eventually, I just saw it on TV. And then it was on all the damn time.

It’s a fair picture. There’s nothing great or off putting about it. It just sort of exists to me. It has a few funny moments but the comedy isn’t superb, by any means. Honestly, the movie is kind of slow and a bit drab. It has a few scenes that have become iconic but overall, watching more than ten minutes at a time, bores me to tears.

But I get that I’m the oddball, here. I just feel like there are so many holiday films better than this one. This feels dated, incredibly overplayed and probably needs to be replaced as the big Christmas marathon movie.

I’d have no problem with Home Alone being on 24/7 on December 25th.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other mediocre Christmas “classics”.

Film Review: Christine (1983)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Christine (complete title)
Release Date: December 9th, 1983
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Phillips
Based on: Christine by Stephen King
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, William Ostrander

Delphi Premier Productions, Polar Film, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She’s real sensitive.” – Arnie Cunningham

I gew up in a time when John Carpenter was king. I was a big fan but somehow I always forget that this is in his oeuvre because I associate it more with the slew of Stephen King adaptations from the time.

That being said, it is still very Carpenter but it is also very much King. I guess it’s a pretty good marriage between two of the top horror icons of that era. And frankly, I still love this film even though I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile and forgot how much I enjoy it.

This still plays very well and is a great film in regards to how it builds up suspense.

I was also really impressed with the special effects, especially in regards to the scene where the car repairs itself in front of Keith Gordon’s Arnie. Man, that sequence is spectacular and considering that it was all done with practical effects in a time when CGI was still very primitive, makes me respect how perfectly they pulled it off behind the scenes.

Keith Gordon carries the film with his performance and he does a fantastic job transitioning from the weakling nerd that he is in the beginning to a kid driven by his obsession for his car and finally, as a character that is completely possessed by evil.

The performances by the other two leads, John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul, were also good. It’s the famous character actors that give this film a bit more seasoning though, as both Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky deliver some really good scenes in the film.

I really liked John Carpenter’s score but his music always had a certain presence that accented the frights in his films. This score is no different and his use of audible effects seemed more refined than what he did in Halloween. Not to take anything away from his audio trickery in Halloween but I think that he really found his groove with it here. And while it may go unnoticed by most people who watch this film, it’s these little flourishes that sets Carpenter apart from the pack and gives his films more of an edge.

This is a good coming of age story that doesn’t have a happy ending for everyone. It’s creepy but it’s effective. And I’ve always loved that there really isn’t an explanation in regards to the car being possessed by evil. It’s a machine that just has to kill.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King films of the ’70s and ’80s: Maximum OverdriveSalem’s LotCarrieSilver Bullet, etc.

Film Review: Trick or Treat (1986)

Also known as: Heavy Metal do Horror (Brazil), Muerte a 33 R.P.M. (Spain), Ragman (Germany)
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Joel Soisson, Michael S. Murphey, Rhet Topham, Glen Morgan (uncredited), James Wong (uncredited)
Music by: Fastway, Christopher Young
Cast: Marc Price, Doug Savant, Lisa Orgolini, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Demonic beasts. Whatever happened to the good old simple love song? “I love you.” Nowadays they have to write some sickness. It’s just absolutely sick and bizarre and I’m going to do my upmost best to try and stop it now.” – Rev. Aaron Gilstom

I used to own this on DVD but somehow in the last decade or two, it got lost. I’ve never seen it streaming anywhere and I didn’t like it enough to want to buy it again, unless I found it in a dollar bin somewhere. But, as of right now, it is streaming on YouTube. It’ll probably get pulled down but it’s there, at the moment.

Trick or Treat was a fun film to revisit all these years later and I’ve only seen it twice before this: once when I bought it around 2001 and then way before that in the late ’80s when I rented it from my local video store while friends and I had one of our many horror marathons.

The film stars Skippy from Family Ties as basically a heavy metal version of Skippy. His real name is Marc Price and he’s done some other movies too but he will always be Skippy to me. It also stars Doug Savant as the high school bully. He’s probably most known for being Matt, the gay dude on the original Melrose Place and for having a long stint on Desperate Housewives. He also played a serial killer in a fairly bad film called Paint It Black, where he murdered people, covered them in clay and turned them into art like Dick Miller in A Bucket of Blood.

The film also has two very notable cameos, so notable that the cameos were used to sell the movie to audiences. The cameos are by Gene Simmons of KISS, who plays a radio DJ, and Ozzy Osbourne, who plays a reverend wanting to destroy the evil that is rock and roll.

The plot follows Heavy Metal Skippy, a fairly normal kid apart from listening to devil worship music. He is bullied by the jocks like every other loser from an ’80s teen movie. When he comes across the last and only copy of a vinyl record recorded by his dead hero, he plays it backwards. It doesn’t open up a gate to Hell in his backyard but it does resurrect his rock and roll hero, who is basically a lightning powered rock star fueled by Satanic evil and pretty much down to kill everyone and everything. The way Skippy finally defeats him is absolutely ridiculous but at least the demon Satan rocker murdered the crap out of that douchey bully Doug Savant.

Trick or Treat isn’t a film that boasts good writing, good acting or even good special effects. It’s passable though, simply because it is so insane that it just works and is an entertaining watch.

It probably doesn’t deserve to be as good as it is, as its technical merit leaves a lot to be desired and it is littered with questionable editing choices but it is something I would probably watch more often than I have, if I still had my DVD copy of it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Rocktober Blood, Black Roses, Brainscan and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.