Friday, April 29, 2016

Low Fantasy: CONQUEST

The season premiere of Game of Thrones got me in the mood for a fantasy epic, so I went hunting through my meager selection of epic fantasy.  What I settled on may not be quite as epic as Game of Thrones.  It might not have the lavish production values or realistic effects.  It might lack the high caliber acting or well executed action scenes.  The costumes might not be… well, let’s just not talk about the costumes.  I’m not sure it even has any swords.  I know it doesn’t have any dragons.  Answer me this, though.  Does Game of Thrones feature a casually murderous hero fighting werewolves with bone nunchucks?  Well, Lucio Fulci’s CONQUEST certainly does.  What more do you need?

The Capsule:
Bland hero Ilias leaves his peaceful, cultured, oddly transparent country to find adventure and become a man in the mysterious lands beyond the sea.  Unfortunately, the first place he arrives is a smoky hellhole where everyone lives in caves.  Even worse, it’s ruled by an evil naked chick in a metal mask and her army of werewolves.  Actually, they are more like a combination of a werewolf and Chewbacca.  Werewookies.  The evil naked chick is named Ocron, and her main deal seems to be pretending to make the sun rise and having cavepeople torn in half.  As rulers go, she’s a bit of a jerk.  She has a vision of a faceless Ilias killing her with his magic bow, so she sends her army to search the land for anyone matching his description (but with a face).  He already stands out because he is relatively clean and no one has ever seen a bow before.  These guys haven’t gotten much farther than stone clubs, so a bow is unimaginable technology to them.  And that’s before they know it’s a magic bow that shoots laser arrows.  Ilias gets overwhelmed by the werewookies because he’s kind of a dweeb, but is rescued by Mace, an animal loving, muscle bound freak with bone nunchucks.  Together, they must fight off mole monsters, swamp zombies, and killer bushes in order to stop the villainous and extremely naked Ocron.

Let’s get this out of the way first, this movie is very hard to see.  I don’t mean it’s hard to find, I mean it’s hard to make out.  The entire thing is filmed with some kind of gauzy filter that makes the image super soft.  To make it worse, practically every scene is also filled with smoke.  Is it supposed to be from the point of view of someone with cataracts?  At least they didn’t stay with the weird double exposure effect used in Ilias’ homeland.  Soft, smoky, and transparent would have been a little too much to get through.  Even without the double exposure, it’s pretty horrible.  It took me a minute to realize that Ilias is supposed to be faceless in Ocron’s vision.  At a distance, he didn’t look that different from normal.  I suppose it helped cover up the hokey visual effects.  Still, I usually like to actually see the movies I watch.  

Even without the glaucoma-vision, the movie is a bit rocky at first.  Ilias is a bit like Harry Hamlin in CLASH OF THE TITANS, he's the least interesting part.  The best thing about Ilias is his bow.  It’s just a regular bow for the first three quarters of the movie, but it is fun seeing him pull arrows from his boot and watching all guards and werewookies being totally amazed by it.  You would think he had pulled out a Gatling gun by their reactions.  It really gets good once he starts shooting laser arrows.  They can split in mid-flight to take out a half dozen baddies in one shot.  The bow gives him unerring aim, too.  He shoots into a small hole in a giant rock and the arrow bounces out the other side, killing the guy hiding behind it.  It’s like he’s playing miniature golf.  

A cool weapon can only take you so far, so it’s a good thing Mace shows up early in.  Because Mace is pretty awesome.  He’s a free spirited barbarian/philosopher, except kind of dumb.  When Ilias asks Mace about the tattoo on his forehead, Mace says it means “I have no friends.”  He says it like he’s a baddass loner, except that you later see he has a bunch of Neanderthal buddies, and is a bit of a cave-lady’s man.  Plus, he and Ilias are pretty much BFFs right from the beginning.  Aside from that, total loner.  

He does have a very strange idea of hunting.  He never kills animals, who are also his friends.  Instead, he kills innocent hunters and eats the animals they’ve killed.  I’m not sure PETA would wholly endorse his behavior.   

Mace is basically a low rent BEASTMASTER, which is saying something because BEASTMASTER’s rent was pretty reasonable to begin with.  He can’t communicate with the animals like Steve Beastmaster could, but they do help him out from time to time.  After one of the many times Ilias is ambushed in a cave and hauled off by beasties, some eagles show Mace where to find them.  It’s not that impressive because the kidnappers are only about a hundred yards away in an open field moving really, really slowly.  Thanks, eagles. I suppose it’s the thought that counts.  More impressive is when he is saved from drowning by dolphins.  They actually chew through the ropes holding him down.  He was underwater for quite a while, so I was really hoping the dolphins would have to do blowhole to mouth resuscitation, but no such luck.

The plot is pretty odd when you think about it.  Ilias and Mace’s quest to defeat Ocron is really just because she’s mean.  There’s a little bit of a revenge angle because she slaughtered some of Mace’s friends (which he doesn’t have) and snuffed out Ilias’ budding romance with the cave-girl sporting a Rick James hairdo, but they honestly don’t seem that broken up about it.  Ocron (I thought they were calling her Okra the first half of the movie) is actually somewhat justified in hunting down Ilias because she had a vision he was coming to kill her.  Which is exactly what he is doing.  It’s sort of self-defense.  Ilias is the one pushing the conflict.  He’s in it for the regime change.  As always in these situations, it’s the innocent cavepeople who suffer.  

The uneven plot is compensated by a fuck-ton of action.  These guys are constantly being attacked by new and interesting monsters.  We have the aforementioned werewookies, who aren’t too shabby.  Well, they are fairly shabby, and mangy, but still fun.  The strangest thing about them is their drug habits.  They put some kind of fantasy cocaine into a blowgun tube and shoot it up each other’s snouts.  Even Ocron takes a hit of their nose candy, so it must be potent stuff.  They should really clean the pipe after each use, though.  It’s a bit gross.  
Since this is Lucio Fulci, there is obviously going to be zombies.  Mace has to fight a bunch of them in a swamp.  I’m assuming they were zombies, anyway.  The combination of darkness, heavy fog, and the softness of the shot makes it hard to tell.  Mace does the typical thing of bumbling around with them until he uncovers their secret weakness.  In this case it's stabbing them with a pointy stick.  I didn’t say they were particularly dangerous zombies.  

There are also some mole monsters, which are basically werewookies with different masks and gloves.  To make up for the lackluster design, the music for that scene sounds exactly like the opening for Peter Schilling’s Major Tom (Coming Home).  Value added.  Then there are the evil bushes, which are regular bushes that fire deadly reeds which look suspiciously like film scratches.  It's hard to make a bush look threatening.  They do a better job with the stone monsters, which do look fairly interesting.  They are sort of like skeletal monkeys with green eyes covered in cobwebs and paper mache.  I think they are supposed to blend in to the contours of the rocks.  Even with the gauzy filter, they aren’t fooling anybody.  Except for Mace, of course.  It makes for a bizarre and hilarious visual, though.  

Even though a lot of the movie is kind of goofy, it is definitely a hard R.  Lots of nudity and patented Fulci gore.  People don’t just get bonked in the head with clubs, chunks of their skulls are knocked out.  Even minor wounds pour streams of blood.  One poor cave-lady gets wishboned in half.  Ocron enjoys slurping up the brains of her victims through the top of their skulls (an impressive feat since her mask doesn’t have a mouth hole).  Ilias gets a nasty infection at one point and gets covered in horribly disgusting pus-filled sores, and later, live ants.  That actor was a trooper.

The ending has some genuine surprises in store, so skip this paragraph if you don’t want SPOILERS.  Ilias is grabbed by some mole monsters and Mace has to go looking for him.  No big deal, because this happens constantly.  Ilias gets in trouble more than Carl in the early seasons of THE WALKING DEAD.  After a mole monster throw down, he notices some blood dripping down on him.  When he looks up, Ilias is hanging from the ceiling--with no head.  Oh snap!  They killed the (co)hero off screen!  The baddies take Ilias’ head and bow back to Ocron while Mace burns his body in a funeral pyre.  Unlike most funeral pyre scenes, Fulci actually shows the body cooking down to the bones.  It’s pretty obvious why they usually skip that part.  It’s less dignified when the funeral looks like a barbeque.  Just as things look the bleakest, the spirit of Ilias tells Mace he can use the power of the magic bow if he rubs Ilias’ ashes all over him.  It would've been funny if Ilias’ ghost was just messing with him.  Okay, next you have to stand on your head and drink your own pee. Seems like Ilias was being straight with him, though.  When he confronts Ocron, the bow flies to his hand and he’s able to use the laser arrows.  Mace splits Ocron’s mask, revealing a horrible skull face underneath.  I’m not saying anyone should be ashamed of their appearance, but good call with the mask, Ocron.  Being naked is enough of a distraction for the werewookies.  Finally Mace delivers the killing blow, and Ocron turns into a wolf and just trots off.  Um…yay?  Mace seems to consider it a win, as he walks victoriously off into the sunset.    I guess it worked out for everyone.  Except Ilias.  And every other person in the movie.

I’m surprised it took me this long to get around to watching this.  I adore a lot of Lucio Fulci’s other films (ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) but I guess I thought of him mainly as a horror director.  His best work was behind him at this point, but he was still running strong.  The sudden spikes of gore and bizarity kept me surprised, and the pace was relentless.  I wasn’t bored, to be sure.  Confused and delighted, but not bored. Nice one, Fulci.

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