Originally intended as the third Conan film, and primarily based upon Robert E. Howard’s novel The Hour of the Dragon, Kull the Conqueror was eventually reworked for another of Howard’s characters after Arnold Schwarzenegger decided his swords and sorcery days were behind him, and replacement star Kevin Sorbo expressed his reluctance to reprise someone else’s role. Eighteen years later, the de Laurentiis production is finally taking its UK DVD bow, having missed out initially by appearing just before the new format was launched. With sand and sandalry undergoing something of a renaissance, the timing couldn’t be better.
This is the genre at its unreconstructed best. Unencumbered by the portentous heaviness of touch that plagued John Milius’ original Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror whips along at a great pace, rarely more than a couple of minutes passing by without weapons being drawn. Made heir to the throne of Valusia by a spiteful departing king, Kull must contend not only with the aspirations of a pair of cousins who consider the realm rightfully theirs, but also with revived sorceress Akivasha, who plans to restore the ancient evil kingdom of Acheron, upon the ruins of which Valusia was originally built. After being seduced into marriage by the reincarnated demon queen (who stops shy of killing him after realising what a great lover he is), Kull must travel north in an attempt to acquire the breath of the god Volka, the only thing which can counteract her witchcraft.
Sorbo makes a far more charismatic screen presence than his predecessor Schwarzenegger (best line: “She told me she was nineteen!”), playing Kull with a twinkle and a grin, while of his two brides Tia Carrere is an effectively venomous resurrected sorceress and Karina Lombard striking but glacial as the soothsaying Zareta. The rest of the cast are by turns stern and theatrical, but always enjoyable, while the plot is as absurd and as exaggerated as could be desired. Something of a failure on release, having arrived after the genre had long gone out of fashion and action movies had adopted a more affected attitude, this release arrives just as Kull the Conqueror is ripe for reappraisal. And in spite of some occasionally iffy effects, and the sword fighting perhaps feeling a little pedestrian to modern eyes – especially after The Matrix changed the rules for cinematic action – this is actually terrific if undemanding entertainment.
There’s no swearing and no nudity, just an old-fashioned game of throne-swapping with plenty of corny dialogue and arch characterisation, and more packed into its 95 minutes than many modern films will manage in nearly twice as long. If competing mullets and moderately convincing monsters are your bag, this is tremendous fun.
Special Features: Photo gallery
KULL THE CONQUEROR / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JOHN NICOLELLA / SCREENPLAY: CHARLES EDWARD POGUE / STARRING: KEVIN SORBO, TIA CARRERE, THOMAS IAN GRIFFITH, GARY “LITEFOOT” DAVIS, KARINA LOMBARD, EDWARD TUDOR-POLE, DOUGLAS HENSHALL / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 10TH