August 12th, 2009

CONQUEST (1984) **

Conquest is a nutty sword and sorcery movie from the maestro of gore, Lucio Fulci.  It’s all about this wimpy guy named Ilias (Andrea Occhipinti) who is given a magic bow and arrow by his father and is told to go out and see the world.  Daddy also imparts to him that when he runs out of arrows, the sun will help him out.  Or something like that.  Anyway, Ilias goes around and is attacked by these walking dogs that look like a cross between Chewbacca and Lassie.  Luckily, some beefy nunchuck-wielding dude named Mace (George Rivero from Werewolf) saves his bacon and decides to join him in his quest of wandering around. 


Ocron (Sabrina Sellers) is this chick who wears a golden mask and a g-string and nothing else.  She thinks that Ilias is going to kill her so she sends out her Dog Men to rough him up.  When Ilias runs out of arrows, we finally learn what the prophecy at the beginning was all about when the sun shoots down arrows of light into Ilias’ hands.  He makes short work of the Dog Men using his glowing light-arrows but one of the Bad Dogs eventually sneaks up on him and cuts his head off.  The grieving Mace takes Ilias’ headless body and burns it on a pyre; Jedi style then rubs his ashes all over his face to absorb his spirit in order to take down Ocron once and for all.


This movie features everything but the kitchen sink.  That doesn’t mean it’s very good.  It’s actually pretty sucky, yet I can’t completely bring myself to hate any movie that features evil doppelgangers, Dog Men, a bow and arrow that incorporates lightsaber technology, zombies (what would a Fulci movie be without zombies), Sabrina Sellers performing her role 100% topless, Sabrina Sellers masturbating with a snake, creatures made from cobwebs, and a barbarian who talks to animals like Beastmaster.  (At one point he gets rescued by dolphins.  I’m not kidding.  Seriously.)  And try not to laugh when those Dog Men start talking.  (You heard me, TALKING.)  What’s even funnier is that the movie ends with a title that reads, “Any reference to persons or events is purely coincidental”.  Hilarious.


Conquest doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but since it’s a Fulci movie, you know the gore is going to be high quality.  There are severed heads, scalping, brain eating, and in the film’s highlight, a girl gets ripped in half LENGTHWISE.  Fulci DID go overboard with the fog machine and put way too much Vaseline on the camera so you couldn’t tell what the Hell was going on half the time, so I gotta take points off for that.


As these sword and sorcery things go, Conquest is not up to the high standards of Sword and the Sorcerer but it is just about as good as Hawk the Slayer.


The Army is testing their new nuclear powered radar in a small town because they want to spy on Russia.  Some of the townsfolk start mysteriously turning up with their brains sucked out and it’s up to a gruff Major (Marshall Thompson) to get to the bottom of things.  Turns out an old scientist who had been performing telekinetic experiments used the radar’s generous amounts of radiation to create a litter of brain-sized monsters that are now running rampant in the town and draining the locals of their medulla oblongatas. 


Now here’s a movie that gave me nightmares as a kid.  I still remember the first time I saw the squirming brain monsters.  Those things were fucking freaky to an 8 year old.  I just saw the flick again for the first time in decades and it still held up fairly well; despite a somewhat protracted build-up to the first reveal of the monsters. 


I could put up with that elongated wait to see those little suckers do their thing because the last 20 minutes where the heroes make a stand against the brain monsters is pretty awesome stuff.  Those little beasties crawl around using their spinal cords, and leap onto people’s necks and attach themselves to their victim’s heads so they can suck out their brains.  Good times all around.  The creatures themselves are an excellent mix of stop motion and practical effects.  They are suitably nasty and have lots of personality, despite of course not having a face.


I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this before but FWAF is probably the first gore movie on record.  Although it’s the brain monsters that die in gruesomely gory ways and not the human victims, the scenes of the monsters oozing thick rivulets of blood and mucous out of their throbbing craniums after they’ve been pierced with bullets and axes is delightfully gross.  The way the monsters melt after they are vanquished is disgusting and the sound the gurgling creatures make while sneaking up on their prey is quite unsettling.


Even though most people wouldn’t exactly categorize the flick as a gore movie, it certainly paved the way for more explicitness in horror films.  For example, this is the first horror movie I can think of in which there is a legitimate autopsy and the coroner actually uses the word “autopsy”.  (He also says “their brains were sucked out like eggs”, too.)  There’s also a shower scene in the movie as well and while they don’t show any boobies or anything, its shows a definite progression towards the horror film standards of today.  I mean what’s a horror movie without a shower scene?  And the exciting climax where the heroes board up the windows happened a full decade before Ben and Co. did it in Night of the Living Dead.


Setting the bar for future horror movies is nice and all but what makes Fiend Without a Face rock is that it’s simply a Hell of a lot of fun.  Although some will not share my sentiment (again, the long-winded first half won’t be for everyone), there is no denying that the last two reels of the film contains some of the best monster bashing of the 50’s.  Of all the killer brain movies ever made; this one is the best.


Fiend Without a Face has enough scenes of pus-spewing brain monsters to land it on the Video Vacuum Top Ten for the Year 1958 at the Number 4 spot, which puts it just below The Blob and right above Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.


Two karate kicking kids go on vacation with their ancient looking grandfather to a lame campground where they have to sing “My Darling Clementine” and do the Hokey Pokey.  They also find time to befriend a cute girl whose rich dad is a real asshole.  Two idiot backwoods hillbillies get wind of just how rich he is and kidnap the chick and hold her for ransom.  The cops and the Feds are clueless so that means the duo of high flying prepubescents have to step in to rescue the gal and save the day.


Karate Kids USA is an innocuous slice of kiddie crap.  It’s watchable I guess; thanks mostly because of Joe (Maniac) Spinell.  He plays one of the slow-witted hillbilly kidnappers.  Spinell has always been one of my all time favorite character actors and his out-there performance easily stands head and shoulders above every other bland ass actor in the movie. 


I think my dislike for Karate Kids USA stemmed from the fact that only .05% of it actually revolved around karate.  Sure, the kids spend the whole damn movie in their white pajamas but they don’t bust out their Kung Fu moves until the flick is just about over.  I mean we got Kids, we’re pretty sure they’re in the USA, so where’s the goddamn Karate?


Karate Kids USA is short on laughs, contains some nonexistent Kung Fu, and seems more like an extended episode of CBS Story Break than a real movie.  I think the reason why I’m being generous and giving it Two Stars (in addition to the stellar supporting turn by Spinell) is the because of the behind the scenes talent.  First off, it was directed by none other than Curtis Hanson.  Do you think this movie ever entered his mind while he was directing Kevin Spacey in LA Confidential?  Probably not.  Secondly, the flick was co-written by Alan Ormsby, so I’m willing to give it a pass.  If you’ve never heard of Ormsby, he’s the man who wrote such classics as Deathdream, Deranged, and The Substitute.  Just the combination of those two talents right there is strange enough for me not to hate this movie altogether.  Say whatever you want about it, it’s a lot better than 3 Ninjas.


The dim bulb sheriff gets the best line of the movie when he says, “Never eat chili out of a dented can… that’s my advice!”


AKA:  Dragons.  AKA:  The Little Dragons.