Also known as: King of Destroyer: Conan Part 2 (Japan)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Conan created by Robert E. Howard, who deserves better. Story by Roy Thomas (Some episodes of the cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian) and Gerry Conway (some episodes of Law and Order, G.I. Joe, and My Little Pony N’ Friends. Huh.), and execrable screenplay by Stanley Mann (Damien: Omen II). Direction by Richard Fleischer (Red Sonja. Enough said.) and soundtrack supposedly by Basil Poledouris, though it sounds more like producer Dino De Laurentiis let a stoned nephew go crazy remixing the excellent score from Conan the Barbarian into a warmed over symphony of half-hearted crap. Acting by Grace Jones, hackting by Arnie and Sarah Douglas, mugging by Tracy Walter and Mako, passable wooden golem impressions by Olivia d’Abo and Wilt (sigh) “the Stilt” Chamberlin, and André the Giant as the grumpy awakened Dreaming God who, alone of all the cast, was uncredited and thus allowed some shred of dignity.
Quote: “The horn is his life! Tear out the horn!”
Alternate quote: (If one desires the companionship of a gentleman) “Grab him! And take him!”
First viewing by Jesse: Not sure, but I was young enough to think it was watchable.
First viewing by Molly: Maybe a month ago?
Most recent viewing by both: Maybe a month ago? Frankly, we’ve been putting off reviewing it.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Low. I was more familiar with the first Conan movie and Red Sonja as a young’un, but I do have vague memories of the Dreaming God Dagoth and the Evil Queen (Sarah Douglas) being awesome in the way that rubbersuit monsters and vamped-out villainesses are intrinsically awesome to kids of a certain genetic code.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Nil. Thank goodness.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Goddamn it sums it up pretty well. I knew as soon as Molly got the big-eyed “oh hells yes” look on her face during Conan the Barbarian that we would end up watching Destroyer, and that Destroyer would be a piece of shit. It’s kind of like being a kid and being so excited when you’re parents take you to the mall to meet Santa Claus and it’s so frickin cool that you have to go again next year, but when December rolls around again this year’s Santa has a drinking problem and a thin beard and grease stains on his sleeve and as soon as you get off his lap the rent-a-cops handcuff him to await the real police because to finance his gambling debts to a local mob boss he’s been illegally dumping toxic waste in your favorite public park. And kicking puppies. That’s what going from Barbarian to Destroyer is like, and I knew it, and I agreed to re-watch is anyway, Crom forgive me.
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was excited, because I really, really enjoyed Conan the Barbarian, and I knew Arnold and Mako would be returning, and Mr. Poledouris did the score. My exact thought was how bad could it be? I was warned by Jesse, warned by my uncle Glenn, warned by the friggin’ video store dude, but I remained optimistic. I called bullshit on Jesse’s theory that the fact that it was PG made all the difference, since it was made the year the PG-13 rating was just being adopted and, and, and. . . I was wrong.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Total bullshit. We actually got a formal protest not to review this movie given just how wretched it is but intentionally hurting ourselves comes with the territory. Conan the Destroyer is so stupid it makes TheBeastmaster look like a nuanced and clever film (Molly Aside: I’m not so sure about that sentiment; they are awful in different ways. At least the protagonist of Destroyer looks like a goddamn barbarian instead of some surfer-dude in a leather skirt with some weasels. OK, back to Jesse.). I’m going to try to tone down my hating on director Fleischer this time around since Molly pointed out that he’s dead and I can’t think of a single ghost I’d like to be haunted by less, but for the love of all that is holy he made one stinky, stinky fucking movie. Well, two, counting Red Sonja, and three counting Amittyville 3-D, and—you know what? Never mind. This movie sucks for a host of reasons, only some of them we’ll have time to explore, and lest repeating Fleischer’s name affects some sort of Candyman resurrection the less we say about him the better. Maybe that last bit was a little harsh. . . but he made Conan the DestroyerandRed Sonja, so the Candyman warning stands.
While the first film certainly deviated from Howard’s source material all over the place it at least captured certain elements of the original stories and had a lot to love in of itself. Destroyer, by contrast, feels like a monotonous journey on Dungeons and Dragons Railways, with only the occasional stop to let off painful jokes and pick up plot contrivances, plodding ever closer toward the forgone conclusion we all predicted the moment dungeon master Fleischer let out a Mountain Dew belch and informed us we would be escorting the princess on a perilous journey. Worse still, instead of simply having an obvious plot we also have a chronically stupid plot, with such idiotic sequences as the adventuring party of Conan N’ Friends spending the night camping just outside the island-bound ice palace of the evil wizard they’re intending to jack in the morning without keeping watch, whereupon the evil wizard, not being completely fucking worthless, sees them and kidnaps the princess. When Conan and company find the princess missing they promptly board the boat that is inexplicably waiting for them and row across to—forget it, forget it, just repeating the stupidity that is this movie’s plot is making me want to break priceless vases with my face.
One of the most painful elements of Destroyer is the forced humor, courtesy mostly of Tracy Walter who I liked quite a bit in Repoman but is just awful in this—he basically does here what the annoying kid does in Red Sonja, which is make a bad thing worse through inane one liners. Hell, most of Conan’s new sidekicks are painful to watch—Wilt and the princess just can’t act to save their lives, but Mako, as with Arnie, is obviously trying to act, and in both cases the result is a decrease in quality from their performances in the first movie. Oh, and as for added skin-crawling horror on a Friday afternoon the Wikipedia page for the movies describe then-15-year-old Olivia d’Abo as “playing the petulant teenage princess with sexy innocence” when she is, in fact, a perfectly terrible actress and, as the same person noted a few words earlier in the sentence, a fifteen year old one. The only thing this has going for it that Barbarian doesn’t is Grace Jones, and the absence of Subotai (Gerry Lopez) is sorely felt every time one of Destoryer’s side characters fails at life—Subotai knew how to sidekick, for reals.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Fuck this movie. It sucks. It sucks in the same way Red Sonja sucks, which is to say, relentlessly. Literally the only thing I enjoyed about it was watching Grace Jones. She was having such a good time I couldn’t hate her—the way she mugs for the camera, the way she is totally OK with wearing a barbarian outfit with a tail on it, the way she’s just happy to be there and in a movie and holding a spear and being all fierce and stuff. Everything else is completely worthless. I mean—fuck. Poledouris didn’t even write a new score for this pile of turds. Why bother? He just sped up the tempo of the Conan the Barbarian movie soundtrack and cashed his fucking paycheck, which I hope was padded by royalties from the original Conan movie. Jesus. Jesse was all like “you will hate his sidekick so much” and I was like, really? But I knew the minute Tracey Walter (AKA Truly the Worst Sidekick of All time in Conan the Destroyer, AKA one of the hideously annoying Ferengi in the season oneST:TNG episode where that race first appear, AKA the dude who has appeared in some of the worst entertainment war crimes of the 20th and 21st centuries including, no joke, ALF, City Slickers, Melrose Place, the Beloved movie,Mighty Joe Young, and Masked and Anonymous,) spoke his first line I was in for deep hurting.
Here’s the thing: a while ago Jesse and I were working on a project together and I called him out on something that made no sense. Jesse responded, “it makes fantasy sense.” He was right, and I have a hearty respect for “fantasy sense” (you know, like how in Conan the Barbarian, when Conan is a pit fighter? And making his owner a ton of money? And then his owner lets him go—without a sword—because “he was like an animal that had been caged too long” or whatever. . . that makes fantasy sense). But nothing in Conan the Destroyer makes any sort of sense at all, not even fantasy sense. To wit: why do Conan’s pants keep disappearing and then reappearing at random? Why do they make camp outside the evil wizard’s palace in plain sight, unprotected, for an entire night? Why does the wizard touch a gem only the princess can touch that he’s had foreverz and clearly knows how to use? You get my point. This movie is a quintessential Idiot Plot film and I hate it.
I’d also like to say this about swords in movies: if you’re going to use big fucking broadswords, please have people use them properly. No one in his or her right mind will swing a broadsword around so it makes those oh-so-nifty “shwoop shwoop” sounds (a la any comedy movie featuring a scene wherein a Western Dude defeats an Asian Dude by shooting him in the face after the Asian Dude swings his swords around in a vaguely martial-artsy manner while saying “ahhhhhhhhhh so!” or whatever). It would probably sprain your wrist. Also it is stupid. It is far more effective to hack at a person with a big fucking sword if you are trying to hurt them. But you know, if you’re making a kid-friendly fantasy movie, I guess it’s a decent stand-in for actually hurting someone? Ugh.
I really, really wanted to like this movie. But I didn’t. I hated it. I didn’t hate it nearly as much as next week’s movie—I’m deliberately holding back the title for the Ultimate Reveal—but I hated it quite a bit. I think I hated it mostly for its utter blandness. They excised pretty much everything that made the first Conan movie awesome: big fucking swords used brutally by big fucking dudes, a sense of epic gravity to the proceedings, an interesting female character, a sidekick who is awesome and cries for Conan because Conan will not cry, battles that are actually cool, a plot that makes some sort of sense, a good soundtrack, a hero who’s man enough to wax philosophical about picking berries with his dad, a dead girlfriend coming back valkyrie instead of a weird blue ghost or something, and of course, a wizard who actually has chops (I’d like to see the wizard in Destroyer turn a snake into a goddamn arrow. . . the worst evil wrought by that doofus was, what? Turning into a cartoon bird and stealing a girl in plain sight? Having an ape-monster who can be killed by shattering a mirror? Come the fuck on). Instead we get. . . a stupid movie with nothing interesting and a final scene that is just a bargain-basement redux of the sort-of crappy ending of A New Hope, but instead of Chewie making everyone force a chuckle with a final “NNNNGGGGAAHHHHHHH” we just have Conan just walking away from some babe, without, I think, even bagging her doughnuts. . . wtf.
High Points: Grace Jones. The credits.
Low Points: That embedding was disabled for this stellar clip of Conan and the caped Goliath. That the rambling but still-engaging narrative of the first movie was traded for the most bone-headed “you all meet in a tavern, where a local king hires you to retrieve the three crimson orbs of the rumpshakers” style of plot imaginable. The attempts at humor, which are as frequent and forced as they are idiotic and often out of character. The myriad attempts to borrow elements from the first film in hopes of bettering this one, such as the camel punch, almost as if the filmmakers knew they were crafting an inferior picture and naïvely hoped that by lifting from Barbarian they could recapture the charm that is utterly absent from this goddamn pile of human waste. The tail they put on Grace Jones’s costume—the definition of an ORLY? decision on the designers’ part. The jingle bell sound effect they added to Grace Jones shaking said tail—Jesus fucking Christ. The fact that they somehow found a way to make Conan of Cimmeria swinging a sword, getting his mack on, butchering redshirts and monsters—doing his thing, basically—so utterly, irredeemably boring.
Final Verdict: A big ol’ fuck you, Conan the Destroyer.
Bonus: I found this image while searching for Conan the Destroyer images:
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.
This week we’re postponing our scheduled review of Conan the Destroyer to mourn the passing of Corey Haim. To that end, this week’s choice should be obvious. Unfortunately, both Dream A Little Dream 2 and Prayer of the Rollerboys were checked out from the video store, so we’re going to make do with TheLost Boys instead.
The Film: The Lost Boys (1987)
Also known as: The Main Thing Corey Haim Will Be Remembered For (2010)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Story by Janice Fischer and James Jeremias, who didn’t ever really do anything else, and direction by Joel Shumacher who, unfortunately for caped crusader fans, did—Batman ForeverandBatman& Robin. Helping Fischer and Jeremias with the screenplay was Jeffrey Boam, who worked on The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. and some other fun stuff. Soundtrack by Lou Gramm, INXS, Roger Daltry, Echo and the Bunnymen, Run DMC, and more—in large part covering other artist’s songs to painful results. Oh, and grating theme song (“Cry Little Sister”) repeated ad nauseam courtesy of Gerard McMahon. Thanks, guy. Acting (insert lame vampire “suck” joke here) by the Coreys, Kiefer Sutherland, the Keanu fill-in from Speed 2 (Jason Patric), the mom from Edward Scissorhands (Dianne Wiest), the dad from the Gilmore Girls (Edward Herrmann), and Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter).
Quote: “My own brother—a goddamn shit-sucking vampire!”
Alternate quote: “Death by stereo.”
Random Frog Quote: “If you try to stop us, or vamp out in any way, I’ll stake you without even thinking twice about it!”
Random Quote That Molly’s Husband John Blurted Out During Kiefer’s Death Scene: “I Just killed a beautiful monster, but I loved him like a brother.”
First viewing by Molly: 2005, I think, at longtime friends Randy and Maria’s house.
First viewing by Jesse: As a kid? I know, I know, descriptive.
Most recent viewing by both: Last night.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: None. Literally, and not in the sense of the word where it means figuratively. I was not aware this movie even existed until college, when (if memory serves) my dear friend Brad came into my dorm room before the annual Halloween party in torn jeans, an acid-washed denim jacket with the sleeves cut off, and some other horrifying clothing with his hair teased out and fake vampire teeth. I asked, “what the fuck are you supposed to be?” (or something like, knowing me). He responded, baffled, “a lost boy!” “From Peter Pan?” I asked, further confused by the vampire teeth. He looked at me, and with the patience of one explaining to the cat why he shouldn’t scratch the couch, said, “you know, from the movie? The Lost Boys?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. I dug the Frog Brothers, of course, and loved me some Kiefer and Haim, but I saw Near Dark before I ever saw this and so my 80s vampire heart belongs to Lance Henriksen and crew. Plus, Jenny Wright > Jami Gertz to adolescent Jesse like whoa.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: When I saw this at Randy and Maria’s house, I was pretty (very) drunk on wine and my contacts had dried out, so I didn’t remember much except blinking. I recall thinking it was OK but nowhere near as good as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, which I owned on VHS until very recently.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I hadn’t re-watched this since high school, thinking some films are better left as fond memories. This whole project is predicated on smashing that conceit and dragging the dated movies of our youth squealing into the caustic light of the present day, however, and if they burn up like a bleach blond bloodsucker, well, no one said it would be easy. I went into the re-watch confident that the Frog Brothers would still be awesome but not sure of anything else. After all, low expectations never hurt a movie-watching experience, though often that’s just not enough to save it (see: Red Sonja).
I also wondered if Haim’s recent passing would incline me toward a more charitable estimation of his performance. Would Haim be another casualty of my baffling youthful fondness for blond leads with suspect acting abilities, or would he prove to be an accomplished thespian on the level of an Emilio Estevez or a Kiefer Sutherland?
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Sometimes, if you don’t have childhood affection for a film, there’s only so much you can love about it as a grown up. I’m going to come right out and say that I fucking hated The Goonies, which I saw for the first time in college. Dick and fart jokes have never really been my thing (and thus my love of Robot Chicken is nigh inexplicable), and ugh, you know what? Lest I alienate everyone on the internet around my age by pooping on The Goonies, I’ll stick to the topic at hand: The Lost Boys.
One thing I will say: I unabashedly love the sort of bizarre nonchalance everyone feels toward vampires in this film. The Frog Brothers’ “whatevs” attitude, Corey Haim’s willingness to accept his brother’s transformation into some sort of supernatural being, the fact that the grandfather knew all along. . . what? No attempt is made to give a larger picture of the world this film occurs in—are there vampires in other cities? Werewolves? Banshees?—and thus characters’ reactions are often baffling.
Also: Diane Wiest. She is among my favorite actresses of all times, and watching her sweet sincerity made me really happy. She’s every bit as good in this as she is in Footloose, Edward Scissorhands, Law and Order, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and, um, Practical Magic. Edward Herrmann also classes up the film tremendously, as he generally does, and the both of them are just so young! I also enjoyed Corey Feldman’s acting tremendously, and the zany grandfather.
I really wanted this movie to rule big-time, but it fell a little short for me. It was awesome, but not quite as awesome as I would’ve liked it to be. I think it was the high concentration of down-time in the film: montages, scenes with nothing happening that are just “local color” shots while entire songs play in the background, that interminably long sex scene, etc. It just needed to be shorter or have more happening. The “be shorter” issue is frightening, as well, if you make the mistake of watching the deleted scenes, of which there are an alarming number. I just wish I’d seen it as a kid, when the ‘tude and the bath scene with Mr. Haim might’ve had a bigger impact.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Holy mother of shit, the ape drapes in this movie are out of control! I thought Red Sonja had the lock on unapologetically heinous cinematic mullets but Alex Winter’s alone is so far entrenched in trash culture that it’s a wonder he ever crawled out of the 80s. Oh wait. . .
While The Lost Boys hasn’t aged with anything resembling grace or taste it is, at least, not Red Sonja. This is enough for me to be grateful. It is also better than Conan the Destroyer, and by dint of preventing me from having to spend any amount of time thinking about that movie today I am further obliged to it. There’s an undeniable charm to the film, even if said charm only affects people already susceptible to the debatably dubious appeal of John Hughes films, Oingo Boingo, and/or swatches. If the future generations ever pose the question “what were the years between 1979 and 1990 like?” this film will be the perfect answer, containing as it does amusement park rides, boardwalks, the Coreys, a brat packer or two, partying, and montages, montages, montages.
Stacking this against other 80s vampire films it comes in just behind Fright Night and Near Darkbut way, wayyyyy ahead of Once Bitten and most of the other offerings. I can already hear the clamoring of indignation that I would put Fright Night ahead of the Lost Boys, but I’m going to come down on the side of Chris Sarandon and Roddy Mac every time. For one thing the homoerotic undertones are much more pronounced in Fright Night, which is crucial for an 80s vampire movie, and for another there’s the first 20 seconds of the following clip, which is one of the best things in the history of the universe:
High Points: The Frog Brothers 4-eva. The vampire deaths, which are messy and varied—both assets. The lame jokes. The pure vintage 1987 look of the film, from the hair to the costumes to the hair again, because that shit is intense. As I mentioned above, the Kentucky waterfalls splash down many a denim jacket-gilded shoulder in this picture and must be seen to be believed. Fortunately, a devoted fan of Alex Winter’s character Marko has put together a compilation for us that, while focusing on one bemulleted nosferatu in particular, it gives us a glimpse at the treasure trove of bad hair that is The Lost Boys:
Low Points: Shumacher’s Montage Fever. “Cry Little Sister”—why won’t it stoppppppp?!?! The endless family bonding. Jason Patric and Jami Gertz’s “sex” scene. Depending on one’s sense of humor, the hair and fashion and lame jokes could be applied here as well.
Anthologies are generally a mixed bag for the interested reader. Some stories will appeal, some dazzle, others will be read and forgotten, still others will be abandoned after the first few paragraphs. The stakes for both editor and reader become higher when “best” is a word being tossed around, as is the case with Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy, Volume III. Fortunately, RU:BAF III delivers.
While I can’t say if I agree all these stories represent the “best” of “American fantasy” (scare quotes only used for title-referencing purposes) I can say that one of the strengths of RU:BAF III is its diversity. Stories range from the subtle to the bizarre, the intimate to the grandiose, the rural to the urban, the mundane to the mythical. Each hits a different note, and though to be honest I found some discordant tones among them, as a whole they created a unified chord to my ear, Copland-esque. Which is, after all, fitting.
A list of highlights: Peter S. Beagle’s “Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke, and the Angel” which I fully expected to be brilliant. It did not disappoint. I’ve had an uneasy affection for Mr. Beagle ever since I read The Last Unicorn, which hurt my soul in an awesome way when I was a kid. Will Clarke’s “The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children” is down-home weirdness from the bayou, and made me miss the south. Lisa Goldstein’s “Reader’s Guide” is structurally elegant and humorous without being cloying (which is an achievement in and of itself), as well as being completely fascinating.
The pinnacle of all this was, for me, a story that, though American in origin, appeals to my anglophilic sensibilities. John Kessel’s “Pride and Prometheus” has already received many accolades (a Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Award nominations, the Shirley Jackson Award) and it completely deserves them. While the Austen pastiche is clunky at times Kessel makes up for it with the dialogues between Frankenstein and Mary Bennet, which are lively and inspired, and, in the end, liveliness and inspiration are part of what keep readers coming back and back again to Austen. I actually hesitate to mention my difficulty with the pastiche because overall I did not find that it distracted me or made me want to devour this gem of a story any less, which is more than I can say for most Austen pastiche (which tends to be awful beyond reason). Just because no one yet has really nailed Austen (other than Austen) that should not stop talented writers from attempting it, especially when such endeavors yield stories like “Pride and Prometheus.”
RU: BAF III may not signify “best” to everyone, but editor Kevin Brockmeier’s willingness to draw on such a broad spectrum of talented American writers should ensure most will come away finding something new, something comforting, something that makes them sit up and take notice. It is not, in my opinion, the sort of anthology that will inspire uniform admiration on everyone’s part. It is, however, the sort of anthology I would recommend if someone asked me for a book of the sort of genre fiction that goes beyond typical notions of fantasy.
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.
The Film: Red Sonja (1985)
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 RedSonja 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.
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.
. . . is a movie. That I watched. It’s an old Hammer Horror film from 1971, and it was awesome. Really. I mean it.
In this version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a passionate young man who wants to cure every disease (okay), but when some older friend/professor/doctor person reminds him that such a task would take far longer than a normal man’s lifespan, Dr. Jekyll becomes obsessed with cheating death. In his search for the Elixir of Life, he begins investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties. I believe in order to explain the “huh?” moment surely every single reasonable person must have when hearing the phrase “investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties,” Dr. Jekyll poses a question along the lines of “what is it that gives a woman’s face that extraordinary bloom, the softness of her hair?” which, you know, is probably a good theory, and explains his scientific reasoning thoroughly.
But the problem for the good doctor is, of course, how to get those pesky hormones. At first he cuts glands and stuff out of bodies from the morgue, which is pretty cool because the guy with giant sideburns and a top hat who works at the morgue (coroner? gravedigger? WHO KNOWS?) gets to make some classy necrophilia jokes.
Alas, there just aren’t enough dead ladies for Dr. Jekyll, so he’s forced into doing business with the body-procurers Burke and Hare, who apparently travelled from Edinburgh to London, and through time as well, to supply him with the goods. When they’re caught (Burke is hung, Hare is thrown in to a lime pit, which dissolves his eyeballs) Dr. Jekyll has only one recourse, which is to become Jack the Ripper and start murdering prostitutes to get their hormones, which is a medical process involving a big shiny knife, just so you know.
But that, ah, plot is not the only fine thing about this film, oh no. Instead of creating the Elixir of Life, it turns out that the Ecto Cooler-hued substance Dr. Jekyll has distilled from cut up ladyparts is actually a means of changing a man into a woman, with titties, and yes, you get to see them. It also extends the life of a fly (after turning it from a male into a female) but the movie never really goes back to that particular plot point, instead choosing to focus on Dr. Jekyll turning into a woman– an evil woman, natch— and committing the murders as her, since everyone who’s out looking for the Whitechapel murderer is looking for a man.
Meanwhile, the nice family living upstairs is starting to worry about the workaholic Dr. Jekyll. The family consists of a matronly widow and her two adult children, a comely young lady of quality and her coxcomb brother. The girl falls hard for Dr. Jekyll for no reason other than he seems to be the only man she sees around apart from her horrifying brother, and she gets all plucky and stuff, bringing Dr. Jekyll dinner and looking mad when he won’t pay attention to her. Then the horrifying brother mentioned above sees Mrs. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll’s sister, as Jekyll hastens to explain) and is captivated by her, possibly because the first time he sees her she’s doing the maneuver illustrated on the left, though her hand isn’t in front of the goods, and the second time he sees her, I swear to god, after realizing she lacks proper woman’s clothes, she wraps a scarlet curtain around her body like a Greek goddess and sort of slinks about evilly while making bedroom eyes at everyone she sees, including herself, in the mirror.
Gender-bending high jinks ensue, especially when Mrs. Hyde starts taking over Dr. Jekyll’s body even when he’s a man, including a hilarious scene (outside a corsetry shop, again, natch) where Dr. Jekyll reaches for the brother’s face and whispers his name passionately. YEAH! Then it all culminates in a supremely lackluster chase sequence and a simply awful final effect. But up until the last 10 minutes, it’s a really weird cool little movie. I recommend it heartily, if you can find it, and I’m sure it implies a lot about topics that I’m not going to talk about right now because after 7 months in Boulder, I finally bought some homeopathic medicine (Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy) for my stress issues, and it’s actually working. So basically I’m feeling too relaxed to really engage with the fact that of course the split personality is a lady and she is evil and she is sexual and it emasculates Dr. Jekyll to have a stronger woman be a part of him and this probably says something about gender attitudes. Usually I’m all over that stuff, but not now.
The other day I was feeling like watching a costume drama set during the era I’m currently writing about in the novel, so I rented the 2007 version of Fanny Hill. I knew a little bit about it but never got around to reading it during my Master’s (moft likely becaufe I was focufing on Moral Novels written earneftly by Moral Women, about fuch ferious topics as Slavery, and not common fmut).
The movie was good, though despite the absolutely gorgeous, lavish costumes (see the image left, one of the prettiest dresses I’ve seen in a costume drama, ever) and good acting it had a rather, ah, Skinemax feel to it. I enjoyed it. Even better, oh joy of joys, certain things about the film intrigued me in terms of my ongoing 18th century research, so I immediately purchased the Oxford World’s Classics unexpurgated edition and read it with extreme quickness on my trip down to Tampa. Rarely have plane trips been so enjoyable.
First, a few issues regarding the actual text itself. For a while now, OWC has been updating their look: matte covers rather than glossy, sometimes cropping cover images to look more modern, adding a white bar with the title at the bottom rather than the old school red banner at the top, etc. Unfortunately, they have not upgraded their absurdly-easy-to-smear print, which I feel would be a nice thing to do for customers who care more about the durability than the appearance of their books. This issue of quality, and the fact that I find OWC’s system of endnotes to be distracting while trying to enjoy a text, has made me more likely to purchase from Broadview if I want a critical edition of an older novel, but unfortunately, Broadview has yet to release a Fanny Hill. On an infinitely more superficial level, I am freaking tired of seeing Boucher’s “Resting Girl” every time I pick up pornography from days of yore. There are plenty of other risque images from the 18th century if one looks a little– and if OWC wasn’t going to use something from Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, which would seem a natural choice, I can’t imagine why they didn’t pick something from, oh, one of the countless illustrated editions of Fanny Hill which aren’t exactly difficult to find (a quick Google search immediately yielded one NSFW site full of dirty pictures, another half-second’s worth of looking on wikipedia gives up a lone image from a collection by Edouard-Henri Avril). Many of those could be cropped down to something acceptable for a book cover– maybe not that particular Avril image, but there are others. So, just sayin’. On to more substantial matters!
The book is a good read. More and less filthy than I expected, Fanny Hill is not exactly one-handed reading, it’s instead one of those cultural oddities like Lost Girls, e.g. erotica for people who like to think in general and who also enjoy thinking specifically about the nature of arousal, what is and is not considered erotic throughout time, who like to occasionally be confronted with the discomfort that can arise from fantasy stemming from things that would be unacceptable in reality. So, yeah, I just wrote that ridiculously highbrow explanation for consuming vintage smut.
Certainly there are passages that read as pure pornography, including Fanny’s lesbian experiences, her voyeuristic observation of a prostitute servicing her lover, her later affair with the well-endowed manservant of her gentleman keeper Mr. H–, the bacchanal where Fanny yet again sells her virginity, the interlude where Fanny and a lusty sailor fuck in an inn. But there are doses of reality that interfere with pure enjoyment, especially for a modern individual, but that would likely have given most readers some degree of pause when it was published in 1748-1749 and then surreptitiously re-published and circulated before the Lady Chatterly’s Lover obscenity trial that made it widely available in the 20th century. For example, Fanny’s defloration is pretty grisly (like all other deflorations in the book, the pain the women experience is not glossed over, nor does it disappear after their first time), and then Fanny is raped by a gentleman while she is very depressed over miscarrying due to the shock of her true love being sent to the South Seas. In Volume Two, a fellow whore in a “cluck” of prostitutes Fanny becomes a part of tells of losing her virginity to a rapist, and another whore seduces a mentally handicapped young man, to name just a few things that made me say “huh.”
I haven’t read a lot of the academic criticism of Fanny Hill, though there have been many treatments of the book, including one by my personal academic heroine, Janet Todd. For myself, on both a critical and an uncritical level, I enjoyed it. I was personally unsettled by the casual way rape is discussed, and how women who are raped generally come to admire, if not love, their assailants, but given that Fanny Hill makes several references to Pamela, that sort of nonsense was not entirely surprising. I was also unhappy about the section toward the end of Volume Two that heaps vitriol upon male homosexuals, but it seems that John Cleland’s stint in debtors’ prison, where he wrote Fanny Hill, was due to a debt to Thomas Canon, who wrote a book called Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified, so there might have been an ulterior motivation to discrediting practitioners of the art of buttfucking.
That said, lesbianism is at least given some page-time, as is female masturbation, and some sexual fetishes are also explored without excessive jokes at those men with “peculiar humours,” such as the gentleman with a love of hair-brushing. There is also a simply delightful encounter with a birching enthusiast named Mr. Barvile. Also, throughout it all Cleland loves nothing more than describing with notable enthusiasm the male “machine,” resulting in several descriptions such as the following:
. . . behold it now! crest-fall’n, reclining its half-capt vermillion head over one of his thighs, quiet, pliant, and to all appearance incapable of the mischiefs and cruelty it had committed. Then the beautiful growth of the hair, in short and soft curls around the root, its whiteness, branch’d veins, the supple softness of the shaft, as it lay forshorten’d, roll’d and shrunk up into a squob thickness, languid, and born up from between the thighs, by its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure-bag of nature’s sweets, which rivell’d round, and purs’d up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect; and all together form’d the most interesting moving picture in nature. . .
I saw with wonder and surprize, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a may-pole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant: its prodigious size made me shrink again: yet! I could not without pleasure behold, and even venture’d to feel, such a length! such a breadth of animated ivory, perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish, and velvet-softness, might vye with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which, the fair skin shew’d as, in a fine evening, you may have remark’d the clear light aether, through the branch-work of distant trees, over the topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and bluish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature; in short, it stood an object of terror and delight.
Jesus Christ. Yes, the whole book is like that.
Overall, I am pleased that I took the time to read Fanny Hill. I think it is remarkable that, though obviously written by a man (and wholly man of his era in a number of ways), this work is presented first-person from the point of view of a woman, and treats frankly her delight in sex and sexuality, as well as her ability to separate sexual enjoyment from feelings of love. This is problematic at times, especially given the uncomfortable moments with rape and sexual abuse, but overall Fanny Hill really does present a stirring and somewhat innocently bawdy picture of 18th century sexuality. The text also does much to contradict notions that sexual enthusiasm outside of reproduction is something people discovered in the 20th century, and that women’s sexual enjoyment was neglected previous to the sexual revolution. Though Fanny’s (and the other women’s) carnal appetites are presented for the titillation of a male audience, it is interesting to note that the notion of old-timey British sexuality being somewhat repressed (“close your eyes and think of England”) is really a misinterpretation of Victorian propaganda. 18th century notions of female sexuality recognized that women masturbate, that women can be active participants in the sexual act, and can (and should) orgasm during sexual encounters. Those same notions often presented problems for women– for example, though the female orgasm was considered important, it was considered such because doctors thought women must orgasm to conceive, which in turn was used to discount women’s complaints of rape if they conceived, since if they conceived, they must have orgasmed, etc.– but they also created a world in which female sexuality was at least talked about, if often inaccurately.
I agree mostly with Nick Mamatas’ review of Doctor Parnassus but I’d like to do some of my own raking-over-the-coals because I just wasted a buy one, get one free pass to see it. Actually, scratch that– I didn’t waste a buy one, get one free pass, because this way, Terry Gilliam, who I was already loath to fund out-of-pocket because he signed the Free Roman Polanski petition of ’09, got less of my money.
Well, whatevs. The whole thing is essentially a carnival redux of Lady in the Water, in that Lady in the Water was a pointless, onanistic allegory about how misunderstood– nay, how veritably Christ-like– M. Night Shyamalan is for making movies as brilliant as Signs and, uh, The Village. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is basically the same movie even down to its hilarious racist stereotypes, except that it was vastly more boring, and also it casts Christopher Plummer as Terry Gilliam instead of Gilliam playing himself, which I suppose is a level of allegory-hiding I should appreciate since such, ah, nuance wasn’t deemed acceptable by Shyamalan.
The movie as a whole was bloated beyond excusability, coming in at 122 minutes according to the IMDB, and saying the film had 90 minutes of adequate material would be a stretch. There was not a single scene that couldn’t stand trimming, most notably anything involving CGI, because damn, even such films as Dragon Wars: D-War and Van Helsing looked better, if memory serves. There is a scene featuring a CGI Tom Waits as a sort of naga-ish thing that looked barely passable enough to be a villain in Charmed, and there is a scene featuring a CGI Christopher Plummer that would’ve been better-looking if they had gotten the animators from Monty Python to just draw the damn thing and just stuck it in there without rendering it. Jesus.
Moving from general problems to more specific ones: well, since I already mentioned the fact that Gilliam signed the Roman Polanski petition, let’s just say I was reminded unhappily of last summer’s traumatizing news cycle when shortly into the film the young-looking heroine proclaims loudly that she’s “16: THE AGE OF CONSENT” (direct quote). Awesome! Actually, best part is that as far as I could tell she was actually turning 16: THE AGE OF CONSENT, which would make her only 15, slightly under THE AGE OF CONSENT for most of the film, but that doesn’t stop Heath Ledger and Andrew Garfield leering over her.
So, that. And also: midget jokes, jokes about “politically correct” terminology for midgets, racist stereotypes of Russians, a midget in blackface, sexist stereotypes of women (what do women want? SHOES; also, to be home-makers), midgets cracking wise, a white dude playing an “Eastern” (?) sage, midgets making midget jokes, the age-old hilarity that is a man in a woman’s dress (a fat woman, no less!) and some incredibly subtle political commentary when a bunch of police officers roll up in miniskirts, fishnets, and high heels singing and dancing about how the racist Russian stereotypes should “join the police, [they] love violence.” Good fucking times.
On top of that, there’s an even weirder moment when the just-deflowered-by-Colin-Farrell-on-her-16th-birthday heroine proclaims angstily that “it’s a child, not a choice!” when looking at some sort of orphan. WTF? Was that a joke, or is Terry Gilliam sincerely a member of the pro-life movement? Neither option is particularly appealing, frankly.
What this all boils down to is that the film falls epically flat for a number of reasons. One, Gilliam spectacularly failed to make me care about any of the characters, thus why would I be invested in the deal-with-the-devil, the sacrifice of the shrill daughter, the romantic outcome? Two, the entire allegory of “a lovely man with such wonderful visions is tragically ignored by the masses because they just don’t appreciate what he has to offer” made my teeth hurt because Gilliam deserves pretty much every single piece of negative criticism he’s received regarding this film and much of everything else he’s done (my intelligence is still kind of hurt after the insults Gilliam hurled at it during The Brothers Grimm). And, given his uneven track record, he also kind of deserves to have studio executives be wary of giving him millions of dollars to make movies like, oh, say, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS because he has shown himself to be completely willing to blow fat wads of cash doing things like hiring Robin Williams to ruin The Adventures of Baron Munchasusen which was otherwise a perfectly lovely little confection of a film as far as I recall.
I really think Gilliam needs to wake up to the fact that racist stereotypes aren’t as amusing as I imagine they were felt to be during the Monty Python years, along with but not exclusively: shrill portrayals of women, cross dressing, slapstick, Robin Williams, people with lisps, people with limps.
I also think Gilliam needs to wake up to the fact that he is completely brilliant when it comes to set design, to spectacular visuals, baroque costumes and sight gags and lavish whimsical concoctions of sparkling, ethereal beauty. Doctor Parnassus had these, but it also had no plot, wooden characters, and a host of other problems. It hurt, because I was rooting for him. I wanted to like it, and I want Gilliam to do better than this because I know he can.
I am currently in the throes of the annual trans-Florida cross-state family-visit whirlwind holiday extravaganza, and thus kind of didn’t do a Bloggiversary post as I had intended. Then again I didn’t do anything for my 100th post either, so whatever. Regardless! The contest is long closed, and the 8 official entries and one completely, utterly disqualified entry (from Jesse, who else?) are archived for reading when I get back to my home base in Boulder on the 31st. I should be announcing soon after that, such is the beauty of flash fiction.