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: Wacko (1982)

Also known as: The Last Horror Show (working title), Wacko Weekend (Sweden), Crazy Doctor in Love (Philippines)
Release Date: May 28th, 1982 (Minneapolis premiere)
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Jim Kouf, Dana Olsen, Michael Spound
Music by: Arthur Kempel
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens, Elizabeth Daily, George Kennedy, Julia Duffy, Scott McGinnis, Andrew Dice Clay, Charles Napier

Jersey Farley Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Death to all teenagers who fuck.” – Lawnmower Killer

Like other Greydon Clark movies, this is fucking terrible. Well, unless you want to see a young Andrew Dice Clay dressed up as Superman. But even then, that’s over pretty quickly and this film is really hard to sit through.

It also doesn’t help that Julia Duffy has a scream that is like nails on the chalkboard. What makes it even worse is that she has to scream constantly and for long durations. I wanted to throw a fastball through my television set just to shut her up. It was like a banshee fucking a turkey that’s getting fucked by a horse. Sorry, I don’t know how else to describe it.

This film is also supposed to be a comedy but it’s not funny at all. It’s just a 90 minute festival of cringe and baffling bizarreness.

I guess this is supposed to be similar to the Police Academy style of humor but it doesn’t work and the screenwriters don’t have a funny bone in their bodies and none of the actors ever felt like they cared how they delivered their funny bits.

Joe Don Baker has done some terrible shit in his career but he’s still a pretty good actor on his best days. This is the worst thing he’s ever done though, at least out of the dozens of films I’m aware of.

George Kennedy is in this too and he plays a doctor that is always trying to peek at his underage daughters when they’re sleeping in their panties. Was this funny in 1982? Because I’m pretty sure it was just fucking creepy back then too.

I don’t know. There isn’t much to say about this other than it is horrible in every way and no one should ever watch it.

Rating: 1.25/10
Pairs well with: James Gunn tweets from 2008.

Film Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella, James Karen, Michael McManus

SLM Production Group, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] [talking to the television] Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can’t hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can’t hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.” – Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist was a massive hit back in 1982. I was too young to see it in the theater but once it hit TV, it was on all the time. It was also one of the few horror movies to actually scare the shit out of me. While those scenes aren’t as effective to my 39 year-old brain now, throughout the ’80s, I was terrified of clown dolls, creepy trees and the possibility of my face falling off just by washing it. Hell, I was afraid to turn the television off when there was snow on the screen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that haunted infernal machine.

There was just something about the styles of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper coming together that created a special kind of magic that complimented the two men’s styles even more. Granted, there was a lot of friction during the production of this film and bad blood formed between the two men but the end result is quite exceptional and still carries that magical quality today, thirty-six years later. In fact, the sequels didn’t come close to capturing lightning in a bottle like the original did and I really feel like that is due to Hooper not directing them.

The special effects in this are damn good for the time and the movie does feel like its a big budget affair when compared to other ’80s horror. This is much closer in special effects quality to Ghostbusters or Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters than say Friday the 13th or Halloween III.

Poltergeist also has a really solid cast with Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Beatrice Straight. I also love that James Karen is in this, even if he isn’t as over the top as he was in Return of the Living Dead.

On paper, if you ignore the two capable directors behind this, Poltergeist is really just a run of the mill haunted house story. This is a tale that’s been told a million times but something about this film is just different and better. I wish I could define it with words but for fans of ghost stories, you just sort of have to experience this. I’d hate to keep using the word “magic” but there really isn’t another word to fit what this is.

I love this movie. Even if it scared the everliving crap out of me as a kid, I still watched it… a lot. As an adult, I still throw it on every couple of years and never grow tired of it.

Plus, for those ’80s horror aficionados that love those rotating room scenes in A Nightmare On Elm Street, this movie did it first. And it did it nearly three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.

Film Review: Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Release Date: December 28th, 1982 (TV)
Directed by: Steven Hilliard Stern
Written by: Tom Lazarus
Based on: Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe
Music by: Hagood Hardy
Cast: Tom Hanks, Wendy Crewson, David Wallace, Chris Makepeace, Vera Miles, Murray Hamilton, Kevin Peter Hall

McDermott Productions, Proctor & Gamble Productions, CBS, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Jay Jay, that was really stupid, jumping into the pit without using your sonar first!” – Kate Finch

This film is categorized as drama and fantasy, officially. There really isn’t any fantasy in it and the fact that it considers itself a fantasy movie is misleading and disappointing for someone expecting to see the film come alive in that way. The only fantasy elements in the movie are the fact that the four main characters are playing a game similar to Dungeons & Dragons and that one player hallucinates and sees monsters and other wacky shit.

Once it hit VHS, this was sold as a Tom Hanks movie, even though he starred in it when he was a virtual nobody. Not to knock Hanks, he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, but this is definitely below his level of talent and being dragged into this muck even made his performance pretty terrible. Luckily he found Splash and Bachelor Party, two years later.

In all fairness, this was a “made for television” movie. It was also based on a novel that was trying to demonize the culture of the kids who played games like Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe the author was a religious nut or she had a son who was obsessed with killing make believe goblins. But the way the culture is represented in this story, is laughable. This is really a tale about mental illness and not being obsessed with D&D.

Come to think of it, maybe my mum watched this movie because she was pretty adamant that I couldn’t play Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins. My mum also believed all the religious propaganda about pop culture when I was a young lad, so I wasn’t even allowed to look at a picture of Ozzy Osbourne in a magazine because he bit heads off of bats and fornicated with demons every time he was on stage. Now my mum is all into Harry Potter, so go figure.

This film looks horrible and it hasn’t aged well but it was a bad movie to begin with, so how else would it age? The cinematography and camera work look like this is a bad soap opera. The music is equally atrocious and doesn’t, in any way, reflect what college kids in 1982 were jamming out to. It’s 1982 but this movie sounds like a television ad for tampons in 1972. They couldn’t throw some Devo in the party scene?

Mazes and Monsters has nothing going right for it. So as is customary with shitty movies, I must run this boring turd through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Nothing really. It’s an odd and pretty terrible film.

 

Film Review: Rocky III (1982)

Release Date: May 28th, 1982
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!” – Clubber Lang

Rocky III is the first sequel to kind of dip in quality. Regardless, it is still an enjoyable film that is actually a bit more entertaining than the previous two pictures. It’s shorter, it’s more fun overall and both Mr. T and Hulk Hogan make the fights in this film more exciting and definitely more colorful.

This film fast forwards a bit from the events of Rocky and Rocky II. Here, Rocky Balboa has been the world champion for a little while. We get a nice vignette of him conquering a myriad of challengers along the way. Plus, the beginning of this film is greatly enhanced by its theme song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survior.

The reason why I like Rocky III so much, even though it isn’t of the same quality of the first two pictures, is that it has so much energy. Hulk Hogan plays Thunderlips, a giant wrestler that Balboa fights for charity. He is a massive brute that is overly ostentatious. Then you have the real villain of the story, Mr. T’s intimidating and jacked Clubber Lang. The guy literally looks like a killing machine in boxing gloves.

This chapter also adds some serious emotional baggage that treads new territory for Rocky. He loses his trainer, loses his title and feels like he’s hit rock bottom. Then Apollo, his greatest rival, shows him how to pick himself up and find his edge. Apollo knows that Balboa is greater than Clubber Lang and his respect for Rocky pushes him into helping the fallen fighter right the ship.

I love Rocky III. It really evolved the series into a new decade, the ’80s. And like that decade, it feels more carefree, entertaining and opulent. We enter a world of excess, where Balboa is beyond poverty but with these changes, come new challenges and life isn’t a cakewalk for the warrior.

Rating: 8/10