Also known as: Sam Hell (working title), The Hunter (Germany), Transmutations (France)
Release Date: January, 1988
Directed by: Donald G. Jackson, R. J. Kizer
Written by: Donald G. Jackson, Randall Frakes
Music by: David Shapiro
Cast: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Rory Calhoun
New World Pictures, 88 Minutes
“Hey, you try making love to a complete stranger in a hostile, mutant environment, see how you like it.” – Sam Hell
I always wanted to see this as a kid but not even the video stores in my area seemed to be able to get it. Or they just didn’t want to pay the high fees to bring it in. VHS tapes for mom and pop shops back then were usually around $99 based off of the industry catalogs I used to flip through at one of my stores.
Anyway, time marched on and I forgot about this film until seeing it late one night on cable in the late ’90s. When I stumbled upon it, I was high and drunk but I found it to be completely surreal and wasn’t sure how much of the effect it had on me was the film itself or the chemicals in my system.
I wouldn’t actually get that cleared up until now, in 2019, because I came across this on Amazon’s Prime Video and rented it for a few bucks. I thought that even if it was terrible, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was a god to me and even if he’s gone, I still don’t mind putting a little bit of cheddar in the collection plate.
This also stars Sandahl Bergman, who I mostly only know from Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja where she found herself starring alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.
As was pretty common with low budget ’80s movies, this one is a ripoff of the Mad Max concept, However, it is a post-apocalyptic comedy that features a pink vehicle and mutant frog people. It’s goofy and crude and sadly, most of the jokes miss their mark, even with Roddy Piper trying to steer the ship. But it’s not his fault, the film’s script is just bad and unfunny.
Piper has charm and it comes through and frankly, it’s the one bright spot of the movie. I also like Bergman but she lacks the charisma I felt she had in those other two barbarian movies she’s more famous for.
I thought the effects on the frog people were pretty good, considering the era when this was made and the budget but the effects aren’t really anything special and the frog characters just make this film so bizarre that it becomes a gimmicky distraction from the already poorly written and mostly dull plot.
But this isn’t a total turd. Piper is still amusing in it. I just wish that this had been one of those rare, hidden gems from a bygone era but it was mostly just buried scrap metal in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Pairs well with: They Live because it’s sci-fi starring Roddy Piper from the same era. Also, other Mad Max ripoffs.
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
“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.
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.
Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Clive Exton, George MacDonald Fraser
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Brigitte Nielsen, Sandahl Bergman, Paul L. Smith, Ronald Lacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes Jr., Pat Roach
Dino De Laurentiis Company, MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 89 Minutes
Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to this film as the worst of his career. He’s wrong. In fact, I can name many of his films that are worse than this picture and if you don’t think that Jingle All the Way isn’t a complete abomination, than you have no taste.
Is this as good as Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian? Well, no. It is, however, better than the lackluster Conan the Destroyer.
Red Sonja introduced the world to the talent of Brigitte Nielsen. Now that isn’t too exciting but she had a very short run of appearances in mid-80s action films. She went on to be featured in Rocky IV, Beverly Hills Cop II and the often panned Cobra. I like friggin’ love Cobra.
This film also featured little martial arts bad ass Ernie Reyes Jr. who is most famous for playing Keno in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, as well as starring in Surf Ninjas and having smaller roles in Rush Hour 2, The Rundown and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Ronald Lacey, who most famously played the evil Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, shows up to play the evil queen’s top henchman. The evil queen is played by Sandahl Bergman, who was Conan’s love interest in Conan the Barbarian.
The cast was good enough, the film was straightforward and most importantly, it was action-packed. This film follows the well-established sword and sorcery genre pretty solidly. It felt like an extension of the Conan world and its mythos, which was already well-known at the time this came out.
Red Sonja is often times trashed. I don’t see why though. People don’t watch these movies for acting prowess or to be pristine works of art. Films like these are made to be fun escapism and this one does a great job of that. It runs short at around 90 minutes and that is the perfect amount of time to jump in, like a few characters and enjoy the sweet battles and even sweeter decapitations. Yes, this film has some sweet decapitations.
The effects are decent for the mid-80s and the sets are pretty well-made. Also, they somehow got the legendary Ennio Morricone to score this picture. There really isn’t a lot to dislike about Red Sonja unless you go into it expecting The Return of the King.
Is this movie a great fantasy epic? Not really. What it is though, is a shit load of fun. And it has sweet decapitations. And Arnold.