Conan the Destroyer (1984), a recap (part 5 of 6)

Last time: Bombaata’s boys blew it when they tried to kidnap the princess, Conan got his drink on, the gang found a dungeon to plunder, and against all odds Tracey Walter made me like Malak. Let’s see if my hatred for the comic relief swells once more this time out.

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The gang heads down into the bowels of the dungeon and right away Zula lets out a scream. It’s a rat! Oh, because women being afraid of rats is funny, see? See? And… okay, I will reluctantly admit 16 year old me laughed back in ’84. Admitting that now would probably get me canceled on Twitter… if anyone was bothering to follow me. The gang gives Zula a collective “really?” look and her answering expression is priceless.

After a little more walking, the gang disappointingly does not run into any of the monsters normally associated with a dungeon: no rust monsters, no gelatinous cubes, no mind flayers. Hell, that rat they ran into earlier wasn’t even of unusual size! Ultimately, the gang reaches a chamber with some conveniently placed unlit torches. Malak suggests maybe someone should stand guard or something. Ah, there’s the Malak I know and hate. Conan lights all the torches and hands his to Zula, and as the gang spreads out, our strongest of barbarians addresses the door before them. For the third time in the film, the gang runs into a barrier that requires brute strength to move. Here, they could have made Malak useful and shown everyone why Conan keeps him around. They could have had the little weasel prove to be an expert lock pick and/or puzzle solver. Remember that scene in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf had to unlock the riddle of the door that led into Moria? Imagine Malak and the wizard having to work out the puzzle of the door to open it. But nope, Conan and Bombaata together lift the door, and I guess Jehnna stares in what you’d call a school girl crush kind of way.

Malak tries to “help” by pretending to push up on a protrusion, but Conan tells him to slip under the door and see if he can find a lock. Malak is understandably reluctant to go in because if the guys drop the door, he’ll be trapped inside. In the dark chamber where who knows what awaits him. I’d hope for the aforementioned mind flayer with its brain sucking face tentacles, but Malak hasn’t got much in the way of gray matter and it would probably starve. Malak finds a switch…

…and he’s understandably reluctant to throw it. Oh sure, it looks like it could be the lock, but what if it’s something else? Many’s the night I saw a GM hiding behind his screen, with only his eyes visible as he said something like, “Are you sure you want to go first?” “Are you sure you want to drink the potion?” “Are you sure you want to tell the bar wench she’s hot?” Odds are 50/50 that switch will drop the floor under Malak’s feet, because the gods of Hyborea are pretty much bastards who are easily amused by slapstick.

Malak at last throws the lever and (this time) the door stays in place. The chamber is lit by braziers mounted in the walls, and Conan eyes them a bit suspiciously. That or his squinting is just Arnold trying to do a Clint impersonation. Hey, if you’re gonna borrow, do it from the best tough guy in the business. While Malak finds a jewel encrusted ceiling and pops a nice gem out to swallow it, Mako wanders over to a wall full of ancient writing.

Last time, I dissed the exterior a bit, but I have to say I like the interior sets. Maybe it’s the dark lighting hiding the flaws, but there’s a moody atmosphere here. I also like how different this dungeon looks from Thoth Amon’s dream castle, and how in the latter the themes seemed to be air and water, while here it’s earth and fire. Whereas Amon’s conjured condo looked surreal, this place looks very solid and old. Mako begins to read aloud the story inscribed on the wall, and so far what he’s found fits with what Taramis told Conan. However, he’s got a lot more wall to read. Jehnna looks like she’s entered a trance, and she breaks out the gem and drops the bag and begins to stride toward the center of the chamber. The wizard then gets to the juicy bit about what happens when the Horn of Dagoth gets put into the forehead of the dreaming god: “death to the world”, and “the woman child will be sacrificed”. Ruh-roh! Jehnna places the gem onto the slot on top of a small pyramid, and Mako tries to get Conan to call the whole thing off. But Crom’s favorite son hushes him quiet. Everything grows dark as the gem begins to glow, almost as if it’s sucking up all the light in the room. Soon, it grows blood red and then… the giant face in the corner opens up!

I really love this set, and the way the mouth rolls back. I know it’s not made of bronze, but it looks like bronze and the sound people do a great job of making it sound metallic and heavy, and for once Basil Poledouris’s music lends weight to the scene (pun intended) instead of distracting me from it. Jehnna strides through the flames into the mouth and Conan is suitably impressed. Inside the mouth is another chamber where the horn awaits.

Jehnna retrieves it and the flames surrounding the small altar die down. Jehnna looks around the room and sees what look like sarcophagi with windows in the top, so you can see the skulls of the dudes resting in them, and they’re either really creepy stone sculptures, or the dead were placed in them so they could, I dunno, bear witness to the glory of the horn? Or, more disturbingly, dudes were placed in those things alive.

You don’t know, and you don’t have to know, because it’s not integral to the plot and it’s better that way, because it gives people with fertile imaginations stuff to ponder. What it does do is create a stark contrast between the beauty of the marble dreaming god on display in Taramis’ temple—

—and hints at the true nature of what’s really going on. Jehnna steps out of the chamber with the gold encrusted horn in hand and heads over to Bombaata to place it in the same leather sack that once held the gem. The wizard desperately tries to warn Conan about the Big Picture, but Conan’s got a one track mind.

Wizard: Death to the world!
Conan: Life for Valeria!

The wizard persists, pointing out that Jehnna’s supposed to be sacrificed, but Conan only murmurs, “We shall see.” And it’s an interesting point here. How far is Conan willing to go to get Valeria back? Even barbarian thieves have a personal code of honor. Conan orders everyone out of the room quickly, probably because now that the McGuffin’s been removed, he’s half expecting poison darts to shoot out of the wall, or a giant boulder to roll down on them or something. They head back the way they came, but as they reach the alcove where the exit is…

Damn, these guys must be proto-ninjas or something. And while Conan and company are gawking, another bunch surrounds them from behind! The leader steps forward and speaks…

…and for a moment I thought I was hearing Thoth Amon. In the credits this is “the leader”, played by Ferdinand “Ferdy” Maine, and Thoth Amon was played by Pat Roach, who had been both a pro wrestler and actor. And all this time I thought two people played Thoth Amon; turns out it was just Pat heavily made up in two different ways, with robes covering up his physique when he was the wizard. “The leader” says they’re the keepers of the horn and it belongs to them, and Conan replies, “No longer!” because when you’re holding a weak hand, the best you can do is bluff. The leader asks he of the epic pecs who he is, and Conan introduces himself. The leader murmurs that he’s heard of him. I like how you can’t really tell if he’s impressed or not.

The wizard steps forward and the two exchange respectful bows, and Mako brings up the legend written on the wall in the horn room and the leader says that yeah, he knows all about it and that he and his gang will rule the world at Dagoth’s side. Mako says everyone will die, and the leader’s like “No problem, we’ll control him, we got this”. Finally, a guard steps forward and insists they give up the girl or they all die, and oh, this is interesting! I was thinking this group was on Taramis’ side, but this appears to be a rival faction. I now wonder if they’ve got their own dreaming god statue stashed someplace. I was thrown off by their outfits; I guess they and Team Taramis’ all shop at the Hyborean equivalent of Hot Topic. And now I know why Bombaata didn’t kill Conan and the others earlier; without his guard, he didn’t have the backup necessary to deal with this lot.

Conan says, “Enough talk!” and I like how hey, at least he gave the wizard a shot at trying to reason their way out of this. Conan ain’t dumb; if he can avoid a fight against long odds, he’ll take it. He whips out a wicked looking dirk—

—and introduces it to the idiot who spoke up, catching him in the belly. For curiosity’s sake, I had to go back to make sure Conan had been carrying that thing throughout the whole movie and yeah, it’s his backup weapon. The fight is on, and while Malak heads to a corner to wait for a backstabbing opportunity, Zula, Bombaata, and Conan kick all kinds of ass. The wizard grabs the torch Zula set down, and the gang head back to the horn room. While most of the gang slip back in under the door, Conan and Bombaata raise hell. Conan tells the other man to head on in, and once inside, Bombaata sees an opportunity to deal with the “Conan problem”…

…by closing the door! Fortunately for Conan, he sees the door descending in the corner of his eye and breaks off, slipping under it just in time. Jehnna notes there’s a tunnel in the inner chamber. Conan tells her to take the jewel and they head inside, with Conan having to force Malak to give up trying to pry a jewel out of the wall. Just leave him, Conan. Please.

As the dragon’s mouth begins to close, the leader is wizarding the door open, and making the same sorts of noises Mako does. I wonder if they went to the same school of wizardry, like a sort of proto-Hogwarts. The dragon’s mouth closes just as the guards flood the outer chamber, and the leader opts to use his magic to open it again. Conan says he’s already used his dagger and tells Malak to get the guy. Malak defers (of course), but Mako steps up and uses his own magic on the guy, ultimately causing him to scream and clutch at his eyes.

Man, I really do wish this movie was rated R; I could imagine the dude’s eyeballs exploding out of their sockets. Conan tells Mako, “Well done!” and they follow after Bombaata and Jehnna, who got a head start. The bodyguard sees a weak section of ceiling and now realizes he’s got a second chance to deal with Conan. He uses his badass war mace to smash the cave ceiling, and Conan tries to get to him but it’s no use; tons of rock are loosened and come down between them. Bombaata and Jehnna reach a section of wall with a little hole of sunlight peeking through, and he smashes it open and they emerge right next to the horses. Um… convenient.

Bombaata lies to Jehnna and says the others are coming, then smacks her horse on the ass and mounts up himself, then drives the other horses off just in case. Well no, he doesn’t do that, even though it would make sense. I’m guessing he’d be afraid of Jehnna spotting them and insisting on going back? Eh, if it’s a plot hole, it’s a tiny one. Conan is able to dig the gang out enough to follow in pursuit, but it’s too late. Jehnna and Bombaata are gone.

Conan sums up what’s now clear: he was played from the beginning and the promise of Valeria’s return was all a lie. He mounts up and Malak asks him where they’re going. Conan replies, “To Shadizar!” Malak asks, “What for?”, and I love how Tracey Walker asks in this really quiet voice, because Malak already knows the answer but he’s dreading hearing it. Conan tells him they’re going to stop Jehnna’s sacrifice, and I also like how he doesn’t give some answer regarding saving the world or something. Conan has seen magic at work, but that doesn’t mean he believes in high concept stuff like summoning gods to Earth and wiping out all Mankind. No, he’s focused on saving a girl’s life from what he sees are some nutbar cultists. And yeah, he’s partly motivated by a desire to screw over Taramis, who lied to and manipulated him. He had a job to do, which was protect Jehnna, and that job is still not finished.

Malak points out that if it’s her destiny, then it can’t be stopped. There’s a weak argument, but it gives Conan pause. Even so, he tells the others they don’t have to come, but Zula’s on board, as is the wizard. Malak refuses, and as the others ride out, he points out they’re thieves. It’s reprehensible behavior, but it’s also consistently in character. Then Malak hears the voices of the cultists and realizes he’s out in the desert. All alone. Without Conan to protect him. He mounts up and races after the others.

Next time: The conclusion!

Multi-Part Article: Conan the Destroyer (1984), a recap

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