Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite movies, and definitely in my top 3 for fantasy films. John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger took Robert E. Howard’s dark hero and created a much-copied genre in film- the grubby, barbarian-style fantasy. And a mere 2 years later, Richard Fleischer and Arnold destroyed it, in the aptly named Conan the Destroyer. What happened? Milky and I watched it to see how fantasy moves were destroyed until Peter Jackson brought them back.
Hollywood hated the fact that Conan was for adults. Kenner even made Conan action figures in prep for the movie, and when they saw the bloody violence, sweaty sex and cannibal soup of the snake people, they quickly renamed him He-Man, and we got the Masters of the Universe (full review). Dildo DeLaurentiis then figured he could make even more money with a more child-friendly version, so he brought Richard Fleischer on board for Destroyer. The guys who wrote Ralph Bakshi’s ode to Frazetta, Fire and Ice wrote a script that got trashed by Stanley Mann, whose best movie was The Silent Flute (aka Circle of Iron) with David Carradine. Conan’s character is thrown out the window, and he’s written as a musclebound oaf.

Comedy Conan!

I mean, Conan wasn’t that smart in the first one, but he wasn’t a drunken, easily led dope like he is in this one. We meet him with his new buddy Malak (Tracey Walter, Repo Man), a fellow thief. They’re running from a bunch of heavily armored horsemen with nets, who want to capture them. After Conan hacks them to pieces, we see two others watching from horseback- Queen Taramis and her guard Bombataa (Wilt Chamberlain, never in a feature film before or after this mess). They want to hire Conan to steal a mystic horn, with the help of Princess Jehnna (hottie Olivia d’Abo, Bolero). She is a virgin marked with a sign, and is the only one who can safely touch the key that will release the horn.

How come your breasts are always bigger than the women’s, Arnold?

Milky remarked, “Good idea having Wilt Chamberlain guard a princess’s virginity.” And yes, I imagine Olivia d’Abo was probably #10,001 on Wilt’s list. Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, Ursa from Superman II) hypmotizes Conan (see this post for an explanation) with her mesmerizing eyes and makes him think she can ressurect Valeria, and give him his own kingdom for his troubles, so he joins right up. Conan is now a sucker. A few seconds later, Taramis tells Bombataa to kill Conan as soon as they are done needing him.

“Don’t worry, Wilt has pledged his life to defending your hymen.”

On their journey, they return to the city where Conan punched the camel in the first movie- and this time it spits on him! So he punches it out again. It’s there that they pick up Grace Jones, that iconic singer and horrible actress who’s also responsible for appearing in one of the worst Bond movies, A View to a Kill. But like Arnold, she’s got presence. She kind of sticks out here, but Zula fits the Conan universe from the books well. She’d be a Kushite she-warrior. She’s chained up in the center of town, being harrassed by the townsfolk who have branded her a brigand. Conan being wise and fair, cuts her chains and lets her have a fair fight. She swings a stick around like a pro, and wears one of the least goofy helmets in the movie. A worthy comrade.

Conan and Zula in a lighter moment.

It’s unfortunate that the only characters who return from the first movie are Arnold, Mako, and the camel. And Mako doesn’t even remember Conan. They rescue him from some cannibals, with Fleischer’s trademark swordfights- the zing! of a blade and a head flying up is mostly what you get- and “Akiro” pledges his sorcerous skills to the barbarian. By the mid-80s, movies began having plots like video games. Go from city to city, collecting your party. Find the spooky wizard’s secret island. Hack hack hack. heal heal heal.

Malek trying to put ointment on Zula’s axe wound.

It was a real bad idea watching this right after Conan the Barbarian, which has some of the best set design ever. The cities look real, even when they are models; the castles and markets look like they fit in, and the Towers of Set stick out like ancient Churches of Scientology. Ron Cobb did a fantastic job with the production design. The demons that Valeria must save Conan from don’t look that bad, but boy does the animated “bird of smoke” look silly in this one. It looks like it has cartoon stink lines radiating from it, as it carries sleeping Jehnna off to the wizard’s castle. Bad idea mixing animation and models in the same scene without knowing what you’re doing.

Stinky smoke bird

It’s even worse once they get inside. The inside of the castle consists of nothing but a huge pillar with a spiral staircase, and you can see the change in color of what’s a matte and what isn’t. But who cares? Conan is about the fights, right? WRONG! The sorcerer has Jehnna locked in his bedchamber, which is past a hall of mirrors. When they approach, he sees them in his crystal and whispers, “too late.” I assumed this meant he broke her mystic cherry, but no such luck. Evil Wizard reminder- if you capture a virgin who has to stay a virgin to complete her quest, why not? You’re an evil wizard, dammit. Are you gonna wait and ply her with champagne Polanski-style? (Olivia d’Abo was only 14 when this was filmed. Oh, I went there).

For a virgin, she dresses quite provocatively.

Conan gets trapped in the circular room of mirrors, and soon 12 red-robed figures appear, then meld into one Giant Lizardman with Man-Boobs. For some reason, he doesn’t have scales on his chest, and we’re subjected to flabby wizard tits. It is my conjecture that they are the true source of his power, not the mirrors. Conan and the Man-Boob Lizard have a lame pro-wrestling style fight, where Arnold gets to scream AGGHGHAAAAH!!! a lot, which is always my favorite one-liner of his. HastAGHGHGAAAAA la Vista, baby. I won’t tell you how he defeats the Wizard, but let’s just say Conan never appeared in a sequel due to 84 years of bad luck. There’s actually a nice effect when Toth-Amon (a real wizard name from the Conan books, woo) decides to touch the Key he’s been guarding, and light spills out of his eyes and wounds until he goes pop like the weasel. Pat Roach plays Toth-Amon- he was Brytag in Red Sonja, the big bald mechanic in Raiders, and many more memorable big galoots.

He is only vulnerable in the moobs, Conan!

Now they have the Key, on to the next level! Bombataa- probably named after Afrika, the guy who sang “World Destruction” with Johnny Rotten- isn’t very good at hiding Queen Taramis’s real plans for Conan. They get attacked by the Queen’s Elite guard, including Sven-ole Thorsen, who played Thorgrim, the guy with the big fuck-off hammer from the previous movie. They have a protracted and anticlimactic battle, which ends with Bombataa taking a few swipes at Conan, too. What the fuck, dude? His only response is, “I thought you were going to hurt the girl.” But why did the queen’s guards attack us? “Um, not on her orders!” Okay, it’s all good, brah!
While the previous movie gave us memorable lines like “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!” and Thulsa Doom’s endlessly quotable psychotic cult leader babble, here we have to settle for seeing Conan drunk and stupid, saying things like “give me the promise I was kingdomed!” He sounds a lot like pot-head Arnold from the Conan the Barbarian DVD commentary. It’s really embarassing to watch Conan graduate from the pit fighter born of the Wheel of Pain, who survived the Tree of Woe (sort of) and nearly single-handedly took down the Cult of Set, into frat boy Conan, who’s only good for comic relief. Most movies have a comic relief character, but here we have Malak, Grace Jones and Mako all mugging it up, plus our hero. It almost feels more like Olivia d’Abo’s movie, because she’s about the only character we can take seriously. Or maybe we’re just staring at her boobs (Dude, she’s 15! So what, she’s like 40 now).

“This spell requires mandrake root… and Metamucil!”

They steal the horn from its incompetent ancient guardians, and Mako gets to have a Wizard Battle. Wizard battles involve lots of groaning, and from behind closed doors might sound like Old Man Wizard needs more fiber. But as always, Mako can do anything and we’ll forgive him. Hell, they should have made a spin-off TV series with him. But all his groaning is all for naught, as Bombataa traps them with a rockslide and spirits Jehnna away for her virgin sacrifice. In the director’s cut I like to imagine that Jehnna wasn’t a virgin when he brought her back to Taramis. I just can’t see Wilt playing such a kiss-ass to the Queen. But that’s what he is.


He’s really only in the movie so we have someone huge to fight Conan, and the barbarian is finally pissed when he realizes he’s been swindled. So he heads to Taramis’s castle with his friends to fuck her shit up. He kicks Wilt’s ass so handily that you wonder why we thought he was so bad-ass with his spiked and beaked mace, but we finally get some bloody fighting, with Bombataa chomping Conan’s ear off, as they wrestle and stab each other. Zula and the rest are left to save the girl, and unfortunately, saving the girl in this case means Releasing the Rampaging God Dagoth, Who Is Pissed Off That There’s No Virgin in His Cheerios.

The folks at use this to say he’s on’y 5’11”

The end is really the best part of the movie- Dagoth is a huge slavering web-footed reptile with a rhino horn for a nose. It was Andre the Giant under the make-up, so Dagoth is a massive lumbering beast. Can Conan defeat a god? You’re damn right. Bare-handed, too. Now that’s the Conan we remember, the guy who succeeds because he doesn’t think he can fail. It’s too bad that after he tears Dagoth’s horn out, he didn’t stick it up the dead god’s ass and kick it out his brain. That would have been something.

Pro-wrestling with the gods

While Conan the Destroyer is an order of magnitude greater than Red Sonja, it was still an enormous disappointment. Conan went from being a vengeful warrior who was a little wet behind the ears, to a legendary swordsman who’s mostly a drunken idiot when he’s not killing people. Couple that with comic relief like Malak- who’s useless in a fight unless he can jump behind you on your horse and stab you in the kidneys- and not one but two non-acting celebrities, and even if the script wasn’t toilet paper you’d be in trouble. The original story was published as a graphic novel called The Horn of Azoth, and I remember reading it when it came out. Now, THAT story would have been awesome on-screen. But Dino DeLaurentiis didn’t like leeches, so it got scrapped. I’ll give him credit though, he’s produced a lot of stinkers, but many great adventure movies. And he’s still doing it at 100 years old.
The film looks decent- Fleischer directed epics like The Vikings and his DP was Jack Cardiff, who’s made beautiful films like and even Black Narcissus, The African Queen and even Rambo: First Blood Part II. The DVD doesn’t show it off real well, being nonanamorphic and dull. Was 1982 the last of the golden years of the ’70s? I think so. And will be posting about it soon. Seeing how Conan changed from awesome to awful in 2 years just proves my point.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Sadly, yes.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Fromunda from Crom’s loincloth
High Points: Great end battle.
Low Point: Fat, drunk & stupid is no way to go through life, Conan.
Gratuitous Boobies: Nope! Olivia d’Abo nearly pops out of her dresses a lot though.

80’s Trash of the Week – Honky Tonk Freeway

From the title alone you can tell this has flop written all over it. In 1981 this was the most expensive comedy ever made. They painted an entire town pink; they blew up a freeway overpass; they made an elephant water ski. But all was for naught. Hume Cronyn, Daniel Stern, and Beverly DeAngelo’s side boob could not save this huge ensemble road trip from being a thin shadow of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World with second-string actors.

She floats; the movie sinks.

John Schlesinger directed some of the best movies of the ’70s prior to slamming headfirst into guard rail of the ’80s with this colossal failure, which was originally 3 hours long. He directed Marathon Man, which made a diamond-hording Nazi dentist not only plausible but terrifying. The Day of the Locust, where we cheered Donald Sutherland (aptly named Homer Simpson) as he stomped a child to death. And Midnight Cowboy, where we learned that the Statue of Liberty was taking a leak in Central Park. But as Sam Peckinpah would go from classics such as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to indulge in a silly but fun trucker movie like Convoy, Schlesinger didn’t have a hit song to begin with.

I squinted at this side boob a lot on HBO when I was 11

Honky Tonk Freeway has a cavalcade of characters who all converge on the small Florida tourist trap of Ticlaw. The town is run by Mayor Kirby, played by the Kennedyesque character actor William DeVane. At a town meeting, he is sparring with a civil engineer who is telling the town that “extra piddly dunk town does not rate a freeway exit!” But later, he tells the Mayor that for ten grand, they can work someone out. But being a weaselly politician, he screws them over. So the town begins putting up illegal billboards to attract tourists 35 miles off course to see their town. The mayor runs a Safari Park with a drunken lion and an elephant named Bubbles that he keeps trying to get to water ski, but nothing is bringing the tourists in.

He reminded me of Randall Flagg…

While the town of Ticlaw is working on its conundrum, we meet a dozen other colorful characters on their way to Florida: Two NY garbage men turn bank robbers, calling the bank teller “turkey tits” and demanding that she cash a poor woman’s unemployment check before taking off in their blue VW Beetle with the loot; Teri Garr and Howard Hesseman are a suburban couple in their new RV, with two annoying kids- Ralphie from A Christmas Story, younger here, doesn’t want to pee in the motor home and demands frequent stops. And his whiny sister (who’d later be the daughter in National Lampoon’s European Vacation) torments him, running the faucet. Beverly DeAngelo is a waitress taking her deceased mother’s ashes to Florida. She picks them up from a drive-thru mortuary. Beau Bridges is a Dad who wants to write children’s books about Licky the Carnivorous Horse, whose wife kicks him out. Hume Cronyn is a retired ad man with an cute-Hollywood-alcoholic wife, trying to enjoy retirement. Daniel Stern plays a drug-peddling hitchhiker. And there’s also a wanna-be country singer transporting a rhino to Ticlaw, and singing the theme song as he goes.

I am horny therefore I shall honk at you and maybe we will have random sex.

Oh, I forgot about the Jeep full of gay guys with the “Honk if you’re Horny!” bumper sticker. Sexy gal Bev first honks at them, only to see a bearded guy’s face rise from the driver’s lap. Oh, well! I guess you’re not horny for me! They use the same joke again when George Dzundza, one of the bumbling bank robbers, honks at them to his dismay. The humor varies from low-brow like this and downright corny. The black sheriff says that the Mayor is getting so crazy with his Safari park, that next “you’ll want me to carry a spear and put a bone through my nose.” Blazing Saddles this is not. At a seafood restaurant, the waitress asks “Who gets the crabs?” and the gay fellas are there to say “We all do sometime, sister!”

Mine’s this big too.

It has a mild anti-establishment vibe running throughout, from the expectations of government corruption and mindless bureaucracy, to druggie Daniel Stern offering everyone cocaine. He ends up snorting Beverly DeAngelo’s mom. When the town is at wit’s end, they blow up the freeway overpass and force all the traffic through their pink-painted podunk town, and have a swinging party. Everyone breaks out their big lapels and bell bottoms. Oh yeah, I forgot about the Hollywood model and her pimp boyfriend, and the two nuns! At the swinger’s party, one of the nuns finally converts to Hedonism and runs off with Mr. Hollywood. Everyone collides in huge freeway crash when the rhino breaks out of the truck and goes wild. But at least the Mayor finally gets the elephant to water ski, and Ralphie gets to take a pee.

A Pissmas Story

Honky Tonk Freeway was an enormous flop and probably ended Schlesinger’s big movie career. It was a late ’70s movie made in the early ’80s, begging people to stop watching the boob tube and come out to the theaters, but by then we had Ataris and VHS and couldn’t care less about these Sunday afternoon family comedies. They were old and corny. They lingered on the ’70s malaise, and did not wow us with robot and sparkle-infested visions of The Future. Today they only serve as a nostalgic footnote in movie history best left unremembered.

Someone tell him you wait until they are worn first.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? I think it was College Road Trip
Quotability Rating: nil
Cheese Factor: Limburger
High Points: a few nostalgic corny laughs
Low Point: George Dzundza sniffing panties in a store
Gratuitous Boobies: Bev’s brely glimpsed side boob

Wait! there IS a boob!

80’s Trash of the Week: Casual Sex?

I wholeheartedly believe that we’d still be living in the 80’s if the 80’s hadn’t caught AIDS. The shock of a new STD that couldn’t be solved with a penicillin shot in the ass was too much for the decade to take, and somehow having to wear condoms made us more sensitive, thus giving us the Sensitive Guy and movies where bad things only happened to people who deserved it.

Mr. Sensitive 80’s Pussy.

Comedy rebelled against the Sensitive Guy with foul mouthed comedians like Sam Kinison and Dice Clay, and the skyrocketing success of shock jocks on the radio. I remember watching Sam and Dice on HBO. With my grandmother. Even she thought they were hilarious. She was one of a kind. Dice had runaway success after his HBO special “The Diceman Cometh,” but before ’88 he wasn’t as well-known, except for an appearance in a Rodney Dangerfield showcase and a recurring part on Crime Story.

Primitive Ape Man attempts to find mate.

He had his own movie 2 years later in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, but I actually like his role in Casual Sex? a lot better. He’s more under control and played for laughs instead of trying to be the guy insulting everybody. Even the Diceman can be tamed, though in this movie he’s called The Vin Man. “I’m the best from the East, I’m a wild ‘n crazy beast, I’m the Vin Man!”

“Larry told me all penises are the same size when erect.”

The movie centers around Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson as two girls trying to have sex in the 80’s without getting the AIDS. It’s based on a play and it shows, as the movie begins with them on a black stage talking about how easy sex used to be, and how hard it is to get a nice hard one now. Yep, it’s a romantic comedy, but it’s got Dice Clay and nudity to keep the guys entertained.

The Side Boob Defined

The gals decide to go to a Spa Resort to meet some Healthy Undiseased people, and hop the bus from L.A. out to the sticks. There they meet a variety of 80’s douchebags – the cold analyst, immature guys, and the topper, The Vin Man. His line is “I came all da way from New York ta meetchoo.” He’s got the pompadour, a chest like a bathroom rug, and of course the Dice attitude.

The spirit of the 80’s threw up on her.

Lea gets hooked up with him at the social dance that night, but he doesn’t get very far. The girls give up and head back to their room with SNL star Mary Gross, who plays her twitchy character. And she also shows them lewd gyrations and things men were not meant to see her do.

Dice meets Stacy at the funny hat social.

The girls get attached to two guys; Victoria Jackson likes a psychiatrist, and Lea likes a trainer who wants to be a musician. The psychiatrist is the kind of guy who puts the “anal” in analyst, and dumps Victoria right before she’s about to get the sex she craves. Instead, she ends up alone the next night, talking to the Vin Man on the beach.

Over-analytical 80’s yuppie dork

Various interludes include an escape to the nude beach, where we are treated to that late 80’s Puritanical invention, the side boob. Up until the mid-80’s, we got the gratuitous breast; then the side boob reigned, and now we have Apatow and the Gratuitous Wang. To save us from corruption by boobies, the gals daydream face-down on the beach.

Roll over, dammit!

Victoria dreams about her doctor finding that she has “herpes simplex I and II, trichomonas, gonorrhea, acute immune deficiency syndrome related complex, vulvar lesions, secondary syphilis, venereal warts, and a potentially unbearable case of crabs.” Her doc is the moustache guy from Not Necessarily the News, an HBO comedy show from the 80’s.

Even your crabs have crabs, honey.

Victoria does get lucky with the unemployed musician, but you can imagine how this is going to work out, if you know girls who’ve dated unemployed musicians. They hit it off and head back to her apartment, but she soon finds out all he owns are a few dirty towels and a guitar, and his idea of contributing to the household is buying waffles.

I’m cute like a puppy. I also pee on the rug like one.

While she’s stuck in this nightmare, Victoria hits it off with a shy personal trainer named Jamie, and the Vin Man asks around for relationship advice. Someone gives him The Pretend You’re Sensitive Handbook, and he studies it dutifully.
When Lea finally kicks out her deadbeat boyfriend, she comes back to get Victoria, only to find that now she’s the lonely one. And the Vin Man is spouting funny attempts at being sensitive, like “I respect your strength, Stacy, and I think you’ve got a lot of potential!” As only Dice Clay could do.

Dice trying to be Sensitive.
When Lea heads back home, defeated in her quest for sex with a guy who’s not a helpless manchild, Dice humbly asks for a ride back to the bus station and they talk about relationships. The story works because it takes a while to see where things are going. The girls head back home, Victoria with her new boyfriend and Lea alone; if you can imagine Lea Thompson not having her pick of the guys.

Stranded at the boat-in, branded a prick.

Some time later she gets a letter from the Vin Man, about how he’s changed as a person. It’s one of the funnier parts of the film. Us Jersey boys were amused when Dice walks into a library and there’s a newspaper box reading “New Jersey News.” Also that all the guys are guidos going “oooh! ahhh!” over a bimbo walking by.

New Jersey imagined by Los Angelenos.
They meet again on New Year’s Eve; he’s driven across the country to see her. Nowadays this would be called stalking, and a restraining order would be filed. But in rom-com land, all is forgiven. We see them six years later on Christmas, and the Vin man is now a family man, tied down by 2 kids and a Golden Lab.

Happy ending!, gg-gg-g-guh! Ohhh! Unbelievable!
Overall, it’s a good 80’s rom-com. It doesn’t have a great reputation because the girl humor is clever, but isn’t always funny for the guys. And Dice Clay wasn’t very popular with women. So the movie has a small fanbase. Namely, me.