When Conan the Barbarian came out in 1982, it schooled us on what was best in life and introduced the world to one of the biggest icons of the ‘80s (and beyond). It also kickstarted the golden age of the barbarian movie genre. Unfortunately, none of the barbarian films that followed came close to matching the masterpiece that is Conan the Barbarian (including its own sequel), but a lot of them are awesome because of just how campy or fucking weird they are.
Take Conquest for instance. It’s definitely the most fucked-up of all the barbarian films I’ve seen, and that’s a genre with no shortage of fucked-upness. Conquest is sort of an odd mix between Conan the Barbarian, Quest for Fire (an awesome 1981 epic about Neanderthals and early humans which featured Ron Perlman in the role he was born to play), and one of John Boorman’s more surreal films, like Zardoz. Oh, and Conquest is directed by Lucio Fulci.
For those who don’t know, Fulci is an Italian horror director whose movies are mostly known for featuring over-the-top gore, zombies, maggots, creepy synth scores, and surreal plots that tell logic to fuck off in favor of atmospheric creepiness. Fulci’s most well known movie is probably Zombi 2 from ‘79, which was originally made as a stand-alone zombie movie, but after the success of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was titled Zombi in many countries outside the US), the studio had Fulci make some slight alterations so they could market it in Europe as a sequel. Zombi 2, in turn, spawned a bunch of pseudo-sequels of its own, further confusing the already convoluted family tree of the franchise started by Night of the Living Dead.
But really, the most important thing you need to know about Zombi 2 is that it has a scene where a zombie has an underwater battle with a shark.
Anyway, when it comes to Italian horror, I'm more in the Argento camp, but Fulci has some fascinating and surreal movies. So I was really curious to see what his take on the barbarian genre would be like.
Conquest ended up being even more surreal and dreamlike than the other Fulci films Jessica and I have seen. The movie was shot in soft focus, with filters that give everything an ethereal blur. On top of that, the actors are frequently backlit by the sun and other lighting, making them into hard to distinguish silhouettes. Oh, and there’s fog. Fog everywhere. But most importantly there’s the nonsensical plot.
Warning: I’m going to spoil the shit out this movie.
Things get weird right off the bat. We open on a shot of a vacant beach where suddenly, a group of translucent people in ancient Greek type garb fade into being. These beach ghosts appear to be performing some kind of ceremony focused on our main character, Ilias, who looks too pretty and scrawny to be starring in a barbarian movie.
A couple ghost babes sloooowly put some leather armor on him (all these ghost people seem to move excruciatingly slow), then an old dude gives Ilias a bow and tells him some legend about a dude named Cronos who once used that bow to shoot arrows made of the sun. Ilias says, “It was magic, wasn’t it?” The old ghost dude responds, “No. It was a sign that Cronos had become a man.”
Then Ilias gets in a little boat and sets off on his own for a land of darkness on an ambiguous quest to prove himself or something. The “ghosts” all fade away leaving the beach once again vacant and the title card appears.
For such a weird and creative movie, they sure did phone it in with the generic name and title card. But that’s as mundane as this thing gets. It’s nothing but insanity from here on out.
We’re then treated to an overly long scene of a bunch of dirty cave people groveling in a field. Standing before them, chanting atop a mountain, is a naked chick in a golden mask that encompasses her head, like Destro from G.I. Joe. She’s surrounded by her minions, which consist of werewolf-looking beastmen and dudes in evil masks.
At this point the viewer has absolutely no idea what the fuck is going on, but we later learn that Fem-Destro performs a ceremony every morning in which she claims to make the sun rise. Thus she rules over this bleak land as the cave people’s cruel goddess who threatens to cast them into eternal darkness if they don’t give in to her demands.
And just what are her demands? Well, we find out in the next scene, in which a troop of her werewolves terrorize some cave people, demanding flesh for their goddess. Young flesh, in particular. The werewolves then proceed to grab the legs of one of the naked ash-covered cave women and rip her in two right up the center, wishbone style. It’s pretty fucking gross. I’ll spare you the screencap in case you’re eating or something.
The werewolves return to base and present Fem-Destro with a decapitated head, which she cracks open like a walnut and starts devouring the brain. Through her mask. Somehow. After eating her fill of cave babe brain, she and the werewolves snort some kind of drug, and she takes a foggy nap.
She dreams of a faceless warrior, who looks an awful lot like Ilias, coming and killing her with a magic bow. Er, a manliness-powered bow.
Next, we see Ilias, who’s no longer a translucent ghost, save an ash-covered cave babe from a snake. He tries to hit on her, but she giggles and runs off. Then he’s attacked by Fem-Destro’s minions.
Things look really bleak for our bow-wielding hero, but then—holy-fucking-shit. One of the most radical things in cinema history occurs. A buff barbarian dude in a shitty long-haired wig comes to his rescue—wielding nunchucks made of bone! Bone nunchucks!
Conan Lee uses his chucks to fuck up the minions, and tosses werewolves around like a total badass.
But it turns out he totally wasn’t saving Ilias just to be nice. Nope, he just wanted to check out Ilias’s bow, since he had never seen such a girly weapon before.
He then explains to Ilias that the mark on his forehead means he doesn’t like men. Instead, he’s totally an animal kind of dude. He then demonstrates this favoritism by healing a wounded hawk, and then taking Ilias’s bow for a trial run by using it to murder an unsuspecting caveman who had been merely minding his own business. Instead of being appalled at the cold-blooded murder, Ilias actually smiles! Seriously, the pictures below show the murder and then then their reaction shots:
Ilias and Conan Lee visit some cave people for a feast and a slumber party. Turns out the cave babe that Ilias saved from the snake earlier is there.
But just when Ilias is about to bone her, she gets brained by Fem-Destro's minions. Conan Lee gets knocked out, Ilias gets captured, and everyone else gets slaughtered.
Conan Lee tracks down the minions, who have stopped to nap for the night. He then does something amazing: he ties a couple of leaves around a rock with some twine, then tosses it and that thing somehow explodes like a fucking grenade. That's right. He's so badass that he can turn rocks into grenades. Then he goes to work with his trusty bone-chucks and takes out the rest of the minions, saving Ilias, who I suppose is now his first human friend.
Then we see Fem-Destro turn a dog into a green cactus-armor guy who she promises to bone if he can kill Ilias.
Ilias and Conan Lee, meanwhile, get attacked by a bush that shoots like a hundred shitily animated barbs at ‘em. They run form the thing for what appears to be an hour or so, but then somehow Ilias gets a barb in the leg that fucks him up with some nasty poison. It gives him big pus-filled sores and causes ants to crawl all over him and stuff. Conan Lee goes on a side quest to get the antidote, fighting bog zombies along the way.
Then Conan Lee returns to the nearly dead Ilias, and is about to crush his head with a large rock. Psyche! Turns out that wasn’t the real Conan Lee, because the real one shows up just in time to stop his doppelganger from brain-bashing Ilias, then the two of them engage in a chuck-off.
The real Conan Lee gets the upper hand, and the doppleganger reveals himself to be none other than Cactus-Armor Guy, who fades away in shame.
Conan Lee then puts the magic curative vegetation on Ilias, who swiftly makes a full recovery. Ilias decides that this land kind of blows, so he says goodbye to Conan Lee and sets sail for home.
Conan Lee then gets ambushed by these, uh, yeti-things.
They strap him to an X-cross, because that’s apparently the hip thing to do with captured barbarians.
Ilias decides to stop being such a pussy and returns just in time to see the yeti-things push Conan Lee over the edge of a cliff and into the ocean. Ilias, now apparently a true man, uses his manpower to shoot laser arrows, slaying the yeti-things.
Meanwhile, Conan Lee is totally about to drown, but nope! Mother fucking dolphins come to save the day by chewing him free of his binds. Because why not?
Our heroic duo reunite and decide it’s time to go take out Fem-Destro. However, as they’re camping for the night, Ilias gets dragged into an underground cave. Conan Lee goes down after him into a land of darkness and blue light. He wrestles some beasts, fights a swarm of bats with his bonechucks, and finally discovers Ilias’s headless body.
Cactus-Armor Guy delivers Ilias’s head to Fem-Destro, who is about to giddily devour his brains, when suddenly his eyes shoot open. Apparently, this means that his soul still lives.
Conan Lee immolates Ilias’s body, and then reaches into his charred corpse, grabs handfuls of gut-ashes, and rubs them all over his body. Apparently, that’s how you transfer manliness from one dude to another.
Now that he’s ash-covered and extra manly, he crashes Fem-Destro’s morning sunrise ritual. The bow flies hundreds of feet through the air into his manly grasp, and he fucks everything up with those rad laser arrows.
Fem-Destro tries to teleport away into the mountain, but he shoots a laser arrow right through the rock and knocks off her mask, revealing her hideous one-eyed ghoul-face.
Conan Lee then somehow teleports into the room and kills her with a final arrow.
Then, of course, her body turns into a wolf, which runs off to go play with Cactus-Armor Guy, who’s back in his dog form.
Satan Factor: We got an evil naked chick who eats brains and writhes around with snakes. I’d say that’s pretty satanic.
Ninja Factor: Bone. Nunchucks. Also, the werewolves are always flying through the air. That’s sort of ninja-like.
Boob Factor: Fem-Destro spends the entire movie showing off her tiny tits. There are also several topless ash-covered cave babes, but they usually die in brutal ways before we get much chance to appreciate the eye candy.
Werewolves Snorting Drugs Factor: High marks for this one.
Overall Rating: This movie defies ratings.