The Marvel Movies: Conan the Destroyer (1984)
My dad took me to see “Conan the Destroyer” in the theater when I was 6 years old and, at the time, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I was really into “Masters of the Universe” at the time, so Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cartoon physique and gigantic sword made him virtually the live-action version of He-Man.
My enduring images of this film, though, was the camel spitting on Conan, Grace Jones, and Wilt Chamberlain, with a few fleeting memories of a young Olivia d’Abo and the chick who played Ursa (Sarah Douglas) in “Superman II.”
I knew it was campier and sillier than the original, which was a little too dark and violent for my younger sensibilities, but I was still hardly prepared for just how silly it was.
The violence is hardly tamed down here, though, being surprisingly violent for a PG-rated film, with blood and severed limbs flying freely. “Conan” came out in 1984, the same year as “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” which led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. This I think must be a testament to the clout of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, though today this film would certainly be borderline between PG-13 and R.
Spitting camels are just the start: We have one-eyed, gold-fingered wizards, we have Wilt Chamberlain as the clumsiest bodyguard you’ll ever see, “Batman’s” Bob the Goon (1989 version, natch) as Conan’s comic-relief sidekick and, most of all, we have (more than) a little horse-tailed Grace Jones, giving us all the snarling and growling and as many taint shots as we can bear to watch (which for me reached its limit at the first).
The plot revolves around recovering a magical crystal from a castle. Conan (Schwarzenegger) is promised his dead love will be brought back to life if he procures this crystal. So he sets off to find it, along bringing with him a princess (Olivia d’Abo), and her bodyguard (Chamberlain).
The action is high camp, entertaining for just how incredibly bad it is and capped off at the film’s midpoint when Conan battles a monster controlled by a wizard in a room surrounded by mirrors. Conan cannot harm the monster (which features a mask that looks terrible even for its time) when fighting it directly but can only hurt the beast by smashing the mirrors. Behind one of the mirrors are Conan’s friends, behind another is the wizard and the rest hide nothing. Conan’s friends — all warriors, thieves and scoundrels — can’t break the glass … until Conan has already won the fight (note that it’s not explained why they can’t break it before, only that that stand in front of it weakly pushing on the glass until the fight is over, then smashing it violently and easily when it’s over).
We also get Conan and a random villain engaging in a sword fight/pose-off as they exchange threatening stances in an attempt to look cooler than each other.
The film ends with a couple of key double-crosses (including one you can see coming because the character repeatedly tries to kill Conan throughout the film. When Conan survives each attack, the character gives some lame excuse as to why he attacked him), then the heroes fight a giant horned, vag-faced monster in a rubber suit.
“Conan the Destroyer” isn’t a horrible sword-and-sandals adventure, but it is a decided step down from the original. It’s a film that threatens to become a parody of itself and, ultimately, is little more than a nice ’80s cheese sandwich.
Next time: Arnold’s back, and this time he’s brought a girl with him!
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