Conan the Destroyer

Coming of age is hard, no matter which day and age you live in. Being a princess destined to go on a magical quest to awaken a sleeping god for your aunt can't possibly make it any easier. Princess Jehnna (Olivia D'Abo) finds herself in such a difficult situation in Richard Fleischer's Conan the Destroyer, the fun (but not as awesome) sequel to Conan the Barbarian. Joined by legendary swashbuckler, Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his buddies: wizard Akiro (Mako) and thief Malak(Tracey Walter), Jehnna and her mighty manservant  Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain) embark on a quest to find a magic crystal that only the virginal princess can touch.

On their way, they encounter brigands, cultists, a shape-changing wizard, and warrior-woman Zula (Grace Jones). Zula joins the band as a female mentor figure for Jehnna, giving the budding young woman advice about how to catch her man. The princess has cast her eye on the stoic and mighty Conan. Little does she know that Conan is only on the trip because her aunt had promised to give the barbarian the one thing he wants most in the world: his beloved Valeria back from the dead (because necrophilia and cremation do not mix). Talk about a major bummer and set-back for love-struck Jehnna! It also totally doesn't help that Bombaata is mostly on-board to keep Jehnna from getting jiggy with anyone, especially Conan. He's her own personal, walking chastity belt and a total killjoy (possibly because he might have a thing for her himself, it's kind of unclear).

Getting to self-actualization is a two-step process for Jehnna. First, she has to get kidnapped by some skeezy old wizard in a castle across a lake in order to acquire a magic jewel. The ensuing Conan vs. Wizard battle in a room of mirrors is kind of neat, but also a bit reminiscent of this battle from the original "Star Trek" (at least to me). They have to use the jewel to get the horn from the mouth of a dead lizard thing (totally not any sort of sexual imagery there).

They get the jewel (and the totally-not-a-penis) horn for the dreaming god, Dagoth. Jehnna gets to confront her own growing desires and comes into her own (after nearly being sacrificed by her god-hungry aunt). Everyone gets what they want most. Except for Conan. That, however, is a tale for another time. Or so the narrator tells us. Again. Sigh.

The thing about Conan the Destroyer is that, while fun, it doesn't nearly reach the epic levels that its predecessor scaled. There are moments of charm and giggles, but it just feels like its missing some vital element. Still, it's way better than some recent fantasy films that shall not be named.

Conan The Barbarian

Once upon a time, one of the most hardcore metal bands ever was touring the ancient world: Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and the Snake Cult. Their devoted fans clung to their message like gospel, willing to throw their lives and material goods away to worship at the altar of the two opposing snakes over a black sun. Like any good metal band, they were terribly misunderstood by the families of their fans and small villages across the world. One such village was home to the titular hero of John Milius' epic tale of magic and mayhem, Conan the Barbarian.

The film begins as Conan's father gives him a quick lesson about religion and the "riddle of steel," a question Conan is charged to answer by the time he dies and is on his way to meet Crom, their god. Little did they know that their village was a stop for the greatest metal band of their time. Doom, the band, and their groupies rampage through the village in a riot of epic, bloody proportions, causing the deaths of everyone, including Conan's sword-making dad and smoking-hot mom. Then, the band departs as quickly as it arrived, leaving the kids to be sold to slavers.

Understandably, Conan grows to hate Doom and his band. Now grown and trained in the martial arts, bigger, beefier Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) embarks on a trip to bring down the band that ruined his life. He is joined by a wizard (Mako), a thief (Gerry Lopez), and a hot chick (Sandahl Bergman). They're bankrolled by King Osric (Max Von Sydow) who wants them to bring his daughter back from Doom's cult of personality before she's tempted to do something wacky like kill him. This is not a fear completely out of left field as playing Doom's songs backwards does seem to incite violence, patricide, and orgies (they're a metal band, what do you expect?). It's a fact.  In any event, Conan and his team rise to the task and their journey becomes a legend that the narrator promises to finish. Later.

For the rest of the movie, the audience gets to sit through some bloody and wonderful action sequences put to the timeless music of Basil Poledouris. (Trivia note: the score for this film, oddly enough, is one of the favorites among industry insiders. Just fyi.) By the time you get to Thulsa Doom's answer to Woodstock, you've been through some death, resurrection, more death, and some big effin' snakes. Still, you'd happily keep watching for hours and hours more just to continue enjoying what is best in life (something involving death and lamentation, see the musical).

Conan the Barbarian was and remains one of the best fantasy action films ever, teaching us valuable lessons about the power of cults and steel.

Red Sonja

Some fantasy films are just entertaining yarns, but some try to teach the viewer something. Most of them are about self-reliance and finding the hero within ourselves. Richard Fleischer's Red Sonja, however, is about defeating the gay agenda. Yes. It's about the rainbow menace that stalks our dreams and inhabits our nightmares.

The prologue finds our titular heroine (Brigitte Nielson) sprawled on the ground. A disembodied voice fills the audience in. Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) came upon Sonja at her parents' homestead and decided that the redhead was quite the catch and made a pass at her. Like any good heterosexual heroine, Sonja refuses her advances. Pissed about being rejected, Gedren orders the slaughter of Sonja's parents and tells her men to have a little fun with the uppity girl. The disembodied voice tells our heroine to dust herself off and gain her revenge. Fueled by righteous rage, she becomes a mighty swordfighter and cunning warrior.

Meanwhile, a group of scantily-clad priestesses are trying to seal away a magical glowy orb for the good of humanity. Their efforts are foiled by Gedren and her army who swoop in to steal the orb. One priestess escapes: a redhead who is rescued by totally-not-Conan Prince Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger). They find her sister, Sonja, and the priestess tells her the news before promptly dying. Now, there are potentially world-ending consequences should Gedren continue with her fashion-forward gay reign of terror.

Sonja, a man-hater, decides to go alone on her quest, but is soon accompanied by Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes Jr.) of Hablok, his manservant, Falkon (Paul Smith), and, finally, Kalidor. The journey puts Sonja in touch with her softer side, showing that she's totally feminine and straight despite her warrior ways. By the end of the silly (yet fun) film, Sonja finds that revenge is sweet.

And a good swordfight makes excellent foreplay.