Monday, December 23, 2013

Conquest (1983) review


Jorge Rivero (Mace), Sabrina Sellers/Siani (Ocron), Andrea Occhipinti (Ilias)

Directed by Lucio Fulci

The Short Version: The famed king of close-ups and eyeball violence turns his attention to a stone-age version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) in this hazily lensed, plotless nonsense. This swordless sorcery substitutes iron age weaponry for stone axes and a pair of bone-chucks. CONQUEST features scores of Chewbacca-like wolfmen, teleporting zombies, batmen, stone-fishmen whatzits, prehistoric drug use, gore, and a naked Sabrina Siani writhing about with big snakes. With so much trash value you'd expect this numskull effort to be a ton of fun, but it's not. Only periodically of interest, this tale of not-so-high adventure is still among the best of the early 80s Italian Conan clones that came, saw and briefly conquered video store shelves around the world.

Ilias leaves his pacifist tribe armed with a magical bow to challenge the evil Ocron who terrorizes the land. Ilias meets up with a nomadic warrior named Mace. The two become friends and must battle Ocron's minions along the way.

With the popularity of Jean Jacques Annaud's QUEST FOR FIRE (1981) and John Milius's CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982), Lucio Fulci ventured forth into prehistory with a quasi entertaining hybrid of his own. Melding caveman histrionics with sword and sorcery stylings (but minus the swords), Fulci's movie lacks a sense of adventure; which is an essential ingredient for this type of fantasy movie. Furthermore, this was the bane of virtually all the Italian Conan clones; yet some were able to take their lack of funds and make an unintentionally funny escapade out of it -- which doesn't apply in CONQUEST's case. It does have an unusual visual palette that doesn't always work in the films favor, either.

Whatever it is that's smeared on the camera lens, it does little but aggravate a virtually barren landscape that's already doused in perpetual fog. Some scenes are free of this gauze effect, but these are few and far between. When the action isn't drowning in mist and Vaseline, liberal doses of backlighting illuminate much of the movie. The film has always looked blurry, though; from its US VHS release through Media Home Entertainment to Blue Undergrounds DVD from 2004 (the DVD case lists a 93 minute running time while the film is actually just shy of 89 minutes, by the way).

Aside from the haze, the photography was handled by the accomplished cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa. His lens has captured the scenery from many fine European westerns, Paul Naschy horrors, giallos, and one of the best horror films of the 1970s, HORROR EXPRESS (1972). So whoever came up with the idea of obscuring Ulloa's efforts with that awful smearing effect made a massive error in judgment.

Hindering the controversial directors movie further is a plotline that's as sterile as the unattractive locations. Why it took four writers to formulate this non-cohesive barbarian blandness is anyone's guess. What little plot there is concerns a peaceful tribe terrorized by Ocron, a naked, snake-loving villainess with a golden mask on her head. She commands a race of wolfmen who go into caves and take naked women with flour covering their bodies so Ocron can suck out their brains. In a scene at six minutes in, a hapless girl has her legs spread as two of the Chewbacca creatures make a wish and split the girl in half lengthwise. Fulci presented this trick once again in his 1990 horror film, DEMONIA. 

The poor girls decapitated head is split open and the brains slurped out. How Ocron does this through her metal mask is never explained. In fact, very little is sufficiently explained in this movie. Had the rest of the film contained this level of savagery at a more even pace, we could have had a trash masterpiece to savor alongside Fulci's faves of this time period. 

Speaking of which, there are a few things here that recall the directors previous zombie movies. Once Mace reaches what is presumably the Valley of Evil (Ocron mentions it in passing, but it looks like any of the other locations seen in the movie), he's attacked by a slew of slow moving zombies that rise from a fog-encrusted swamp. Only these shuffling dead are simpler to kill; blows to the head are out and chest impalements are in. 

Apart from the mostly naked Ocron (played by popular barbarian babe, Sabrina Siani), and various stunt men in various full body monster suits, there's also a giant man in full metal regalia named Zora, who possesses evil powers. He resembles Redolphis, the metal-headed monster from the classic bad movie HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN (1964).

In a bit of wild speculation that puts CONQUEST as some sort of fantasy prequel to Fulci's THE BEYOND (1981), Mace (Rivero) has a reversed symbol of Eibon on his forehead! Furthering the correlation, the dollops of fog and peculiar smeared look of the movie hint at an otherworldy doorway painted by Sweick in Fulci's much celebrated horror film. There's likely nothing to this, but considering there's little in this movie to maintain interest, something taken from a much better Fulci movie does enliven things a bit.

Jorge Rivero, a huge star in Mexico, is in the lead here as Mace, a nomadic barbarian whose only friend is a pair of bone-chucks he uses to battle enemies in an un-Bruce Lee style. Mace does make friends with Ilias, a young kid who resembles Michael Beck. Ilias is supposed to be on a journey to free his tribe from Ocron; but his mission is sidelined shortly after it's begun allowing Mace to take center stage. Again, the fragmented nature of the movie makes very little sense, and with four hands on the script, it has done the film no favors.

The script even flirts with a bit of BEASTMASTER (1982) conceits by hinting at Mace's connection with animals. This too is eventually tossed by the wayside. At one point, he's crucified and ends up in the ocean. Two dolphins rescue him after he's been submerged for far longer than is humanly possible. But then logic is not one of CONQUEST's strong points.

The script attempts to forge a father-son relationship between Mace and Ilias, but this too is haphazardly handled with inconsequential dialog strung together substituting for exposition. From some of this dialog, a bow and arrow is some sort of forbidden weapon as Mace states his land "is not ready for it". Ilias's bow is a special bow, of course. It fires laser arrows that home in on their targets!

Rivero hit further acclaim after co-starring with John Wayne in John Ford's RIO LOBO (1970). The same year, Rivero played Indian chief Spotted Wolf in the gruesome, gore-drenched western SOLDIER BLUE (1970).

The synth score by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame is extremely irritating, but one or two cues are easy on the ears. Even so, it's an unmemorable soundtrack that's just loud and frequently abrasive.

With little to recommend it, the gore and slow motion trampoline leaping monsters are this pictures sole diversions. Being an Italian-Spanish-Mexican co-production, the budget appears to have been painfully low. A curio in his filmography, CONQUEST (1983) is little more than a footnote in Fulci's career -- which was already on shaky ground at this point. For this reviewer, Fulci was more miss than hit, but some of those misfires were entertaining fluff, and this swordless sorcery movie is among that ilk.

This review is representative of the Blue Underground DVD.

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