I’m very glad they changed Arnold’s character from Conan to Kalidor for this turd. Brigette Nielsen is the red-haired swordswoman who was brutally raped and her family slaughtered when she refused to be scissor sisters with the Evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman). She’s supposed to be a master of the sword, but she gets in trouble a lot, and Arnold rides in out of nowhere to save her ass every time. Arnie’s wife Maria Shriver said of it, “If this doesn’t kill your career, nothing will,” and she was right. “It’s the worst film I have ever made.” He joked, “Now, when my kids get out of line, they’re sent to their room and forced to watch Red Sonja ten times. I never have too much trouble with them.” Red Sonja is definitely 80’s trash.
After a rapey montage, we see the guardians of the Talisman, a glowing green rock that gets its power from “light,” and was used to create the world. They’re all women in white robes with swords, and Gedren’s soldiers- who wear huge gaudy helmets- sneak in and slaughter them all. You’d think Guardians would have a lookout, but oh well. The Guardians are about to lock the Talisman away to save the world, but Gedren has them thrown into a pit and sealed up instead, taking the rock for herself.
I’m not sure how the Talisman works, but it seems to make storms that can destroy entire cities. Kalidor meets the lone survivor of the Guardians- Sonja’s sister- and is tasked with telling Sonja of her death. He meets Red after her Sword Mitzvah, where she’s told by the Master that there is nothing more he can teach her. Unfortunately he must suck, because she needs more bailouts than GM and AIG combined. Brigette looked really good back in ’86 with a red ‘do, but she acts like a female Arnold in Hercules in New York (full review).
Her first bailout is when she takes the Toll Road- what is this, New Jersey?- run by a tyrant named Brytag, who demands payment, “the tender kind that all women give to Brytag.” Red’s not having none of that, and has a duel to the death with him, after he promises that his men will let her pass if she wins. Of course, they lie, so Conan- cough- Kalidor- has to show up to fight them off. Then he conveniently locks the gate and says he’ll stay behind and fight so she can escape. Otherwise it would be a Kalidor movie with Arnold, and might be more watchable.
At this point I thought the movie was bad, but I’d slog through it to see redheads in chainmail bikinis. Then Prince Tarn and his companion the James Coco impersonator show up. Prince Tarn is played by Ernie Reyes Jr., best known as the annoying little kid named Tai from The Last Dragon (full review). Thanks to Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (full review), the little Asian sidekick was a staple of the mid-80s, like the side boob. At least Reyes can fight. He plays a young prince whose kingdom is levelled by Gedren with the Talisman. In the thankless role of comic relief is Paul Smith (Bluto from Popeye) as Falkon, his obedient and much-suffering servant. He’s the fat knife-throwing guy who fights with a brontosaurus hambone. It’s too bad there’s not still meat on it for him to gnaw on, but he does that later.
They aimlessly wander the countryside and come upon some ruins they explore for no good reason. When the little Prince spies a huge pearl, he forces Falkon to try to pry it out, and releases a metallic water dragon thing that splashes them around. Of course, Kalidor shows up to go for a swim with it. Red Sonja really isn’t very good for girls’ self-esteem. Don’t worry, even if you’re a Sword Master, you’ll still suck compared to the guys, but cuz yer hot, some warrior dude will show up and save your ass, so don’t worry about it! I was hoping there’d be a sequel where she was an unfulfilled housewife, attacking the dishwasher with her broadsword. When Arnold’s flirting goes too far, she challenges him to a battle, since “No man may have me, unless he’s beaten me in a fair fight.” They duel until they are both exhausted, but because it’s a draw, Kalidor goes to bed with blue balls that night.
The one person she doesn’t need Kalidor’s help to defeat is the other woman in the story, Queen Gedren. Sandahl Bergman has a lot of fun playing the villainess, risking the very world to increase her power. I began to wish she said typecasting be damned, and dyed her hair red to take the lead role, which she was offered. Their swordfight shows that she’s more athletic and capable for the fight choreography, and can act her way out of a paper bag, as long as it’s not closed too tightly. Red Sonja triumphs as expected, and we get to see Arnold in the rare role of romantic lead, when they kiss and make up at the very end. But like little Prince Tarn, we want to go “eugh,” and fast forward to the bloody battles we were promised.
With this and his abysmal, comic sequel Conan the Destroyer, Richard Fleischer seems to have single-handedly ended the ’80s sword & sorcery craze that John Milius and Arnold began with Conan the Barbarian. Who knows what the hell happened to Richard Fleischer. He had memorable films every decade, until the ’80s hit him smack in the face. 1950’s Armored Car Robbery is a gritty crime film that inspired many others; in the ’60s he had Barabbas, and a great run in the ’70s with Mr. Majestyk, Soylent Green, Tora! Tora! Tora! and the trashy cult classic Mandingo. Then in 1980 he remade The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, and it was downhill from there. My theory is that Neil trapped him in a room and played “Turn on Your Heart Light” until his brain melted. Watch Red Sonja and you’ll agree.
I hope the rumors of Robert Rodriguez remaking this movie with Rose McGowan (Grindhouse, The Doom Generation) in the title role are true. Red Sonja‘s tale deserves a good telling. She’s the iconic swordswoman character. Apparently Rodriguez is out now that he & McGowan have called it quits, but another director has been handed it. On the Movie Set Blog, there’s a brief synopsis, which doesn’t sound all that great. Pity.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 4
Could it be remade today? Sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Quotability Rating: zip
Cheese Factor: Hyborian stank cheese
High Points: … well? we’re waiting! um…
Low Point: Pretty much everything.
Gratuitous Boobies: Just sword girls in bikinis round these parts.