Monday, November 29, 2010

Conquest (1983)

As much as I love Lucio Fulci's classic movies of the late '70s and early '80s, I have a strange obsession with his later, post-New York Ripper output. Despite the fact that these later flicks were mostly awful, there is a kind of charm and weirdness there that makes them fairly unique - movies like Aenigma, Manhattan Baby, A Cat In The Brain and Conquest are as bizarre as they are nihilistic, which makes for good viewing in my world.

Conquest was Lucio Fulci's first movie since ending his working relationship with long-time script collaborator Dardano Sacchetti, with whom he worked on virtually all of his most famous horror movies. From what I can gather, this is the movie that many fans cite as the beginning of the end for Fulci - which is strange because it's basically fucking awesome.

It's hard to know where to even start with Conquest. A product of the Conan The Barbarian rip-off factory that blazed into overdrive in mid 1980's Italy, it's easily one of the most surreal films you're ever likely to see - at times inspired, often totally inept, but always hilarious and entertaining. There isn't much of a plot, or even dialog for that matter, but there IS an abundance of gore, monsters and terrible special effects.

If you do want a brief plot outline, it goes something like this: Ilias is a young warrior nominated by his people to overthrow the evil Ocron, a topless snake-woman in a gold Darth Vader mask whose army of giant dog-men are terrorising and eating the brains of the common folk. His only companion on this quest is Mace, a gruff but animal-loving barbarian who eventually turns out to be the hero of the day. Oh, and they use a bow that shoots blue lightning bolts to smite their enemies. Yep.

If, like me, you think this sounds like the stuff of an instant classic, you'd be right. A lot of the Conan rip-offs of the 80's were almost unwatchable, but Conquest delivers the goods. It's difficult to express just how crazy this movie is, as there isn't really a narrative as such, just a string of increasingly weird set pieces with mind-bendingly awful effects. There are a number of unforgettable scenes in this movie - such as when Mace is saved from drowning by a group of friendly dolphins, or when a woman is split right down the middle like a wishbone by two over-zealous dogmen. No matter how straight everything is played, you still have to wonder if the makers of Conquest were actually serious, which obviously only adds to it's charm.

Conquest is a surreal watch from start to finish, but it's actually fairly well-made for what it is. The whole movie is shot in a strange soft-focus, giving everything a trippy, whacked-out feel. I have to admit that I actually think the movie looks amazing at points, and is full of Fulci's trademark moves (quick zooms, close ups on eyes, etc). Also, Claudio Simonetti's score is flat out amazing, full of squelchy synths and cheap sounding brass presets.

Movies like Conquest are an acquired taste, but it's easily my favourite of the Conan rip-off subgenre, and actually one of my favourite Fulci movies period - though I might be in the minority there...

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