Conan the Destroyer (1984), a recap (part 3 of 6)
Last time: Conan and company began their quest, picking up new members Zula (okay, I’m calling Grace Jones by her character name now) and Mako (still calling him Mako). But the team hit a snag when the sorcerer Thoth Amon kidnapped Jenna. Now the quest for the jewel/key has turned into a rescue operation.
Conan guides the boat beneath the castle to a flooded cavern…
…and I have to say I kind of like the set. If I was being less charitable—and yes, I know, I’ve been less than charitable so far in looking at this film—the set looks a bit fake. But it’s not supposed to look like a real place, is it? They’re under a matte painting magic castle, so I think it’s perfect. The gang disembarks along some stone steps and they quickly assume they lead up to a door… only, there is no door. After a quick examination, Conan determines there ain’t one there. Ha! If this has been my D&D group, we would have spent three hours at that place, convinced the Dungeon Master had lied to us and that there was in fact a door, and on the other side of that door, riches untold that he didn’t want us getting! At that point, it becomes a battle of wills between player and DM.
In this case, Conan gives up and asks Mako if there’s another way in. Mako does that moaning/grumbling thing of his, and determines there’s a way in underwater. Everyone strips down except Malak, and by this point Conan figures he doesn’t have time to bully his sidekick into compliance and says Malak can stay behind as everyone dives in. Even Mako the old wizard hits the water. People were as hard as iron in the Hyborean Age.
Malak hesitates. “They’ll need me!” No, Malak. No one needs you. Ever. But he takes the plunge. Dammit. Conan leads the gang through an underwater tunnel to a new cavern with a series of rough-hewn steps leading upward. One by one the gang bobs up, and even Malak makes it. Dammit. They begin the long climb. Cut to Jenna, and is she still sleeping on her BB&B comforter? Yup. Okay, back to our gang of intrepid adventurers, who have come to the mother of all spiral staircases.
God, this thing is huge. It looks like it’s twenty stories tall! Just how big is this castle, anyway? Is it like the TARDIS, bigger on the inside? Maybe it would have been better to have this whole sequences in a mountain? Or maybe they felt after Conan the Barbarian and Thulsa Doom’s mountain of power that they’d just be copying. Malak is taking up the rear when he slips and lets out a series of loud exclamations as he starts falling down the stairs. But Mako snags the man’s arm and arrests his fall. Dammit.
The group reaches a landing and standing before them is a stone door. Conan asks for Bombaata’s help, and between these two bulls they’re able to push it inward. It’s here that you can really see how everyone’s breath is fogging up, and I can’t imagine how freaking cold it must be for them, walking around in their soaking wet leathers, but even Mako doesn’t seem fazed. Everyone was tough like six month old beef jerky in those times apparently. Thoth Amon watches the heroes’ progress and he heads off into an alcove where a darkened glass partition closes him off, and then curtains lower to hide him.
Our heroes reach Thoth Amon’s living room of doom and Conan goes in first. You’d think with how difficult it was to get here—they had to detour through an underwater tunnel, then a mighty stone barrier only two huge men could move—Conan would be a little leery about going through an open door with no apparent obstacles. But nope, Conan goes right in.
And a barrier silently slides down behind him, cutting him off from his compatriots. Uh-oh, looks like Conan’s about to have himself a solo adventure! It would be at this point where the GM would tell the other players it’s time for a bathroom break and/or pizza run while poor Bill’s barbarian faces off against the wizard mano a mano. And here’s a point where it would have been nice to have given Malak a little, you know, character development. Imagine if you will if the little guy actually said, “Conan, remember the old thieves’ proverb ‘beware of open doors’?”, suggesting anyone with something valuable wouldn’t leave a door open unless it was a trap or otherwise guarded. Imagine if for a brief second Malak sounded like a competent burglar, wise and wary in the ways of thievery.
Conan is momentarily oblivious to the fact he’s now trapped in this room because his focus is all on Thoth Amon’s jewel-widget-thing. I’m sure his intense stare means he’s pondering Jenna’s word about how only she can touch the thing. That, or like the Tick, Conan’s just easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. But before the Cimmerian submits to the temptation to reach out and touch, the curtains around him begin to rise, revealing a host of red-robed beings.
Meanwhile, Malak tells Mako to “wizard” the door open… which is actually not a bad idea. I wonder who gave it to him. Bombaata’s fierce strength couldn’t move it, so maybe sorcery can. Mako grunts and groans and makes lifting motions with his hands but it’s all for naught; the door stays firm. Malak pretty much calls Mako worthless. Hey, jackass, at least he’s able to find hidden passageways like, you know, a thief should?
The red-robed beings step out of their alcoves and Conan… just watches them. Man, just attack ‘em already! You know it’s magic, and you know something Very Bad is about to happen. Get the jump on things and get to swinging! You could maybe claim Conan’s afraid of magic and yeah, I think he is. What rational person wouldn’t be? But he hacked Thulsa Doom’s head off, so he knows the best solution to evil sorcery is a liberal application of cold, hard steel. But no, Conan just stands there like a big doofus, letting Mr. Wizard work up to his big, bad spell. The robed beings begin to join together. Oh, I get it; Conan’s just waiting for them to form into one being because that means he’ll just have one head to lop off. The staggering wisdom of Conan’s tactics escaped me.
Wait a minute. A red cloak? Could this scene be inspired by the classic Robert E. Howard story “Rogues in the House”, where Conan takes on the super intelligent ape Thak? Oh man, that takes me back to my adolescence, when I found my dad’s old Conan paperbacks and I came across a book with this on the cover.
Look at Conan’s face; it shows the fear and rage of a man who knows he’s in the fight of his life. Frank Frazetta was the Man when it came to cover art, inspiring young readers’ imaginations and making them eager to open that book. But I digress. The beings have become one, and it’s time for the big reveal.
Um… yeah. I mean, I’ve seen worse. You ever seen Trog? The Joan Crawford movie? Yeah, the makeup in Trog was pretty bad. And Troll 2? Wow, those masks were wretched. Combat ensues as the ape-thing goes to town on Conan while his compatriots… watch. Yeah, honestly, that’s all they get to do here. They stand behind the glass and watch Conan getting his ass handed to him by this supernatural menace. The creature is hella strong, and is able to force Conan to drop his sword by knocking him around. Then he literally sweeps Conan off his feet and spins him right round baby, right round!
Am I supposed to laugh at this point? Because I do. Every. Time. It looks ridiculously fake. I think the rule should be if you can’t make it look convincing, then don’t even try. You can tell this is like 15 years before people in Hollywood discovered Chinese wire work. Conan manages to retrieve his sword, he swings… and the blade passes right through the creature. You see, that’s what happens when you don’t arm yourself with magic weapons. Even a simple +1 blade will often be enough to counteract the lame homebrew powers a GM applied to his pet creation.
Conan’s legit terrified now. His Plan A… well, his only plan, really, was to stabby-stab and slashy-slash and it’s not working. But hey, why not try it one more time? He goes for an overhead blow and he accidentally smashes a mirror. Normally, that would mean seven years bad luck, but considering Arnold’s followed this up with The Terminator, Commando, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat, Twins, Total Recall, and Kindergarten Cop (haters gonna hate, but I still love that film), I’d say that mirror superstition is a total myth. Now, if you want to talk about the seven years after that, well…
The mirror breaks and the monster sprouts a wound across his chest. Conan, seeing the creature can bleed, smashes another mirror. But the creature doesn’t just let our favorite barbarian do his thing. He head butts him and then…
…Is that a modified back breaker? Is the beast attempting a Gory Special? If I were him, I’d follow up with a figure four leg-lock, or maybe go for the mandible claw. Conan’s foot lashes out and catches another mirror, causing the beast to howl and drop him. The Cimmerian scoops up his sword and goes to town on the rest of the mirrors, causing the beast to jerk around as wound after wound appears on his body. Malak says that’s exactly what he would have done. Shut up, Malak.
Finally, there are only two sorcerous mirrors left, and Conan prepares to chuck his sword through the one his friends are standing behind. They comically yell and scream for him not to do it, but psych! He spins around and throws the blade through the other mirror, and Thoth Amon comes staggering out.
I bet right about now he’s wishing he got rid of that boat. He slowly makes his way over to the gem, and touches it…
…and instantly becomes the light show from a Genesis concert. It turns out touching the gem really is a big no-no.
All this craziness somehow resonates with Jenna, who wakes up and finds herself in a weird bedroom laying on another Bed Bath & Beyond comforter. Naturally, the princess freaks out, and cries out for Bombaata, who smashes through the last mirror with his wicked cool spiked mace… and why didn’t he do that sooner? Why didn’t Malak or Mako or Zula suggest he do it? We know the mirrors aren’t indestructible, because Conan smashed them all. I mean, I get why he didn’t do it; if the creature killed Conan, that’s one less problem for him. But considering how he needs Conan to get the gem and rescue Jenna, then he should have known that Conan must live. There really isn’t a good explanation for why Bombaata isn’t in this fight. Regardless, he and Conan and the others hear Jenna, and the two quickly find the bedchamber and Wilt the Stilt comforts the young lady. Meanwhile, the others cautiously approach the ape creature’s red cloak and Zula snags it with her spear and yanks it back, only to find…
I imagine if they had been able to keep an R rating, this reveal would have been a hundred times more epic. Jenna enters the chamber, spots the giant jewel, and makes her way over to it. The others watch in fascination as she’s able to touch it without going all laser light show. Bombaata opens up a leather bag for her to place the gem inside, and then suddenly the whole place starts a-shaking! Without the wizard to keep the place together, the magic castle starts to come apart. Fortunately for our heroes, they must’ve found a shortcut or something to the boat, because they’re able to get to it without having to take the underwater tunnel back. Soon the heroes are rowing away—
—and Mako notes that the castle was “all an illusion”. Thanks, Captain Obvious. Our heroes make it to shore, with the first leg of their quest completed.
Next time: The gang has the key, so now it’s time to get the horn! What perils await them? Tune in to find out.