Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. We’ll be posting one every Friday. . . at least, that’s the goal.
Also known as: Why, Why, Why Did We Think Re-Watching This Was A Good Idea? (2010)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Not Robert E. Howard—he had an unrelated character named Red Sonya but Red Sonja was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith for a Conan comic book. Direction by Richard Fleischer’s punk-ass (Conan the Destroyer, which explains a lot), script by Clive Exton (a bunch of tv stuff, such as the Jeeves & Wooster series) and George MacDonald Fraser (the surprisingly fun Royal Flash), soundtrack by Ennio Morricone on a bad day (or perhaps a robotic soundtrack-machine told to imitate Ennio Morricone), truly dreadful acting by Arnie, Brigitte Nielsen, Sandhal Bergman, Paul Smith, and Ernie Reyes Jr., who would go on to distinguish himself in Surf Ninjas and Teenage Mutant Ninjas II: The Secret of the Ooze.
Quote: “Hatred of men in a lovely young woman. . . such could be your downfall.”
Alternate quote: “No man may have me, unless he’s beaten me in a fair fight.”
Arnie Quote: “I can’t kill it—it’s a machine!”
First viewing by Jesse: As a very, very young child in farmcountry, there was a neighboring family that was reminiscent of Faulkner’s Compsons, and in their high house on the hill a party was held, and at that party a film was shown for the children, and lo, that film was Red Sonja.
First viewing by Molly: A few years ago I was pretty intoxicated and watched most of it, but remembered little (more on that later) other than thinking it sucked.
Most recent viewing by both: Two weeks ago. Much too recently for either of our liking.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. And Crom have mercy on my soul, I remember it being funny.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: I knew about this film but never watched it. I always assumed it was about an Eowyn-like kick-ass barbarian queen. I was wrong.
Clip: This clip is. . . well, I’m not sure really what it is. I thought it would be a something akin to the book-a-minute site, but instead, I really feel like this is a loving tribute for people who need to get their Red Sonja fix during their morning cigarette break. Baffling. Anyways, it’s kind of all the parts that don’t suck as badly as the rest of the film. Check it!
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I assumed it couldn’t be as bad as its reputation because, well, its reputation is pure shit. According to the oh-so-reliable IMDB, Arnie apparently punished his children by making them watch this movie. At the premiere Maria Shriver reportedly told him “If this doesn’t ruin your career, nothing will”—and she was right. The normally bemused video store clerk looked genuinely alarmed when we rented it. But still, I figured it couldn’t possibly be as bad as a lot of the fantasy flicks I watched growing up. Right?
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I’m going to be honest—I was not as scared as I should have been.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Wrong! Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Arghhhhh. Fuck! Stupid stupid stupid stupid. Bah!
Right, deep breaths. It could have been worse. Maybe. Ronald Lacey (old dirty Himmler from Raiders of the Lost Ark) seemed to be having fun doing a Wallace Shawn impression, at least, but his expression here sums up the experience of actually watching this goddamn movie:
As is the UN’s standard operating procedure when arranging a tribunal, accountability first needs to be determined. Number one on the shitlist: Richard “Goddamn” Fleischer, director and architect of the Howard Renaissance’s destruction. Right right, Red Sonja isn’t technically a Howard creation—shut up and listen. Without Howard there would be no Conan comic book, and without said comic book no Sonja, so this movie counts—and without Fleischer directing both Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja we might have enjoyed a dozen badass, Conan the Barbarian-caliber Howard adaptations between the eighties and now. Instead we got Kevin Sorbo in Kull the Conqueror and a couple of tv shows, which speaks volumes as to Fleischer’s legacy. Cliff notes version of Fleischer’s legacy: Kull, the Conan cartoon, and the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys-wannabe live action Conan series.
Sure, Fleischer didn’t write the script for Red Sonja—but he didn’t write the script for Conan the Destroyer, either, and yet both suck in exactly the same fashion—lackluster direction, infuriating “comic” relief, subpar representations of women, zero consistency in the character’s personalities from one scene to the next, and an overall ambience of unmitigated stupidity. I really hoped to find more to like about this, after all, bad fantasy movies are still my bag (of holding—insert high hat riff here), but this was no Krull. Hell, it might not even be a Kull. Not that I’m going to watch that fucking Sorbo vehicle again to find out, but still—bad times.
Low Points: We’re way below sea level, trapped on a plain of awfulness, but I’ll see if I can’t find a hole or two to stick our heads in. Lets see. . . that fucking kid shouting “ruffian” ad nauseam. A high priestess presiding over the most important ceremony in the history of her order, which takes place in a temple on an open field, not thinking to post a single goddamn sentry to look out for the bad guys. Arnie’s not Conan (but obviously still Conan) character—Conan Lite— wrestling the world’s least effective golem. The golem itself—they have the technology to build a robot monster, but make an aquatic one and stick it in a goddamn swimming pool? What? The lack of other monsters. Paul Smith giving the kid a smaller version of his bone club (if they had cast Dom Deluise instead I might’ve cut’em some slack here). The kid commenting on Sonja’s love-battled with Conan Lite. Sonja’s hair, perhaps the freakiest non-ironic mullet ever rocked in public. The fact that this movie is potentially more embarrassing for Brigitte Nielsen than her relationship with Flava Flav:
More Low Points: Everything, EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, this goddamn movie, arghhhhhhh fuck.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I really wasn’t as scared as I should have been. I have a lot of things to say—nothing will get me angrier than a bad movie whose badness is largely due to the boneheaded mishandling of a main female character—but first I want to show you something. It’s this picture:
Why? Well, I believe I can use this image, plucked at random from my Google image search, to deconstruct most everything wrong with Red Sonja. True, it doesn’t have that horrible child or his caretaker (who I think in a mildly-more-intelligent movie might have been supposed to be interpreted as a eunuch, but as it stands, he is just supposed to be interpreted as fat. HILARIOUS.), but it exemplifies pretty much all the general crappiness of the film.
First: the location. Hyboria, this is not. I think it is my backyard where I grew up in Georgia.
Second: the costumes. Arnold, though he got top billing, can wait. Red Sonja’s. . . “clothing”. . . is just. . . omfg. What the fuck. Can I just say that I know I do have very high standards for warrior ladies, given that my first notion that ladies could kick ass was when Eowyn became my template for such things in LOTR and then, well, maybe pictures do say a thousand words, so let’s just take a break, OK? A few images that spoke to a young Molly:
Whew. OK. Anyways, bedazzled-and-sliced miniskirts a la the Beastmaster suck. Her top is horrifying. Her mullet is unacceptable. And Nonan the Notbarian? While it’s not as upsetting as the incredible disappearing-reappearing pants Arnold sports in Conan the Destroyer (next week!), that jerkin. . . well, I’ll forgo the obvious pun and just say that gold lamé is not OK in fantasy movies unless it adorns the quivering flesh of a harem-girl. Also, their swords are stupid-looking. Also, just ugh. The bargain-basement look of everything is so very unfortunte.
Beyond the set and the costumes, however, there is even more to this microcosm of stinkiness. These characters have zero chemistry. I’m reasonably certain this scene occurs when Nonan is trying to tag Sonja’s fine ass, but he seems to be pretty meh about it. She also seems very sort of whatevs about it, as well, though she monotones repeatedly that she doesn’t like dudes (makes sense, as she was gang-raped by soldiers). And, honestly, this utter lack of tension is not just the still shot. To wit, this image from another movie wherein a man tries to get a lady to have sex with him through questionable means:
I know, RIGHT? To finish this exercise, let’s use one further image to demonstrate how women should look when they’ve actually been fighting in a fantasy movie:
So, yeah. Lackluster, doofy-looking, boring, mullet-sporting, awful aesthetics, questionable human psychology. Red Sonja in a nutshell!
I had a lot more to say about Sonja but this is getting long and most of my complaints can wait for Conan the Destroyer since they’re problems in both films. Instead, I’m going to wrap up by addressing a conceit of the film I casually tossed out above—the gang-rape. Literally, the only thing I remembered from the first time I saw Sonja was the beginning, where I remember being surprised the movie made the decision to not only mention—but to show—Sonja getting raped by soldiers. This bears consideration. For better or for worse, Red Sonja is fits into the genre of rape-revenge films. Sadly, it’s far worse than most of that genre (which, as a general rule, I despise). The reason it’s worse is that her assault is pointless—it doesn’t really seem to bother her all that much and it’s never mentioned again, except via her “no MAN shall best me” attitude. That’s not OK. At best, it’s lazy (“How do we get a woman to hate men? I know—make her be a rape victim!”). At worst, it’s intended to be titillating and therefore is downright demeaning in its insincerity. It also works (hopefully unintentionally) to make homosexual desire seem like a worse crime than rape, since the attempt that Queen Gedren makes to take Sonja away to have hot fantasy lezbo sex (or at least, that’s what I assume?) seems to bother Sonja waaaay more than her actual gang-rape, and informs the “plot” more. I mean, to be honest, Gedren is the one who sends the soldiers to rape Sonja after burning her villiage, but whereas those goons disappear and Sonja seems pretty OK with Nonan and all the other men in the film Gedren reminds the viewer constantly that she tried to put the moves on Sonja by wearing her face mask that hides the scar Sonja gave her when she propositioned her. . . well, anyways. I feel like I’m getting in a little too deep with this film. We’re done here.
Final Verdict: Staring at the poster for the promised remake for two hours would be more entertaining.
Next Week: Conan the Destroyer