Red Sonja
directed by Richard Fleischer
(Warner Brothers, 1985)

Are you in the mood for something really cheesy? Well, then, pull up a seat, make some popcorn (preferably with chocolate drizzled on it) and pop Red Sonja into the VCR.

Made in 1985 and starring Brigitte Nielsen in her screen debut, Red Sonja is your usual sword and sorcery quest movie. It opens with the a text scrawl, then moves directly into some very clumsy exposition, in which an angel (or something similarly white and floaty) explains to Red Sonja (just in case she might have forgotten) that her family has been slaughtered before her eyes and she has been raped by the soldiers of Queen Gedren, all for refusing to be the Queen's love slave. Seems a little extreme to me, but then, I'm not the ruler of all I survey (more's the pity). The angel then gifts Sonja with massive strength so that she can beat the pants off anyone she pleases.

Meanwhile, at an unnamed temple full of white-clad, sword-bearing priestesses, the Talisman with which the High God (!) created the world is slated to be destroyed by casting it into Eternal Darkness. Although the High Lord (a title never sufficiently explained) is supposed to be present for the destruction, he is late. The High Priestess (there are an awful lot of "high" folk in this movie) decides to go on with the ceremony without him. Just after the ceremony starts, the Bad Guys, led by Queen Gedren, her (cough) Handmaiden and Ikol (played by Ronald Lacey, a.k.a. Fishlips), attack the temple, slaughter the priestesses and steal the Talisman, a ball of green light encased in an iron cage.

One priestess escapes and goes for help, with the Bad Guys in hot pursuit (does anyone ever go in cold pursuit?). Wounded and dying, the priestess meets up with Kalidor, the High Lord, played by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, fresh from displaying his rippling musculature as Conan (the Destroyer). She begs him to find her sister -- (wait for it) Red Sonja. Sonja, in the meantime, has been training in how to use the sword. The ancient master of her school, who has apparently been to the Leia/Amidala School of Fashion and Hair Design, has just given her a sword and some pithy commentary on tolerating men, when Kalidor rides in looking for her. Amazingly enough, she is already packed and her horse is saddled and ready to go. Off they gallop to the distant spot where Kalidor left the dying Varna.

Varna, of course, charges Sonja with finding and destroying the Talisman and the quest begins. Sonja repeatedly spurns Kalidor's help, but he follows after her anyway -- at a discreet distance. Along the way, she picks up a young prince and his guardian. As is usually the way, she teaches the prince several valuable lessons about life, the universe and everything.

Ultimately, of course, Sonja meets with and fights Gedren in a well-choreographed sword battle in a room full of lit candles during an earthquake. Sonja triumphs, the Talisman is destroyed and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, except for the Bad Guys, of course.

The movie is based on the Red Sonja stories by Robert E. Howard. One hopes that his original stories were better than the screenplay for the movie.

For some reason, Arnold got top billing, even though his character appears for only about half an hour total. He completely disappears for the middle part of the movie, only to reappear near the end already knowing all about the quest and the names of Sonja's companions. Apparently, he read the script. His best scene is undoubtedly where he and Sonja spend some time chasing one another about the woods with swords. The longer the scene goes, the wilder their swings get, as they tire out. At last, they sink down in exhaustion on opposite sides of a tree.

Ernie Reyes, Jr., who got a lot of work in the 1980s as a martial arts prodigy, is quite good as the arrogant young Prince Tarn. His guardian, Falkon, is played by Paul Smith. That pair, along with Arnold, are the only good actors in the movie.

Queen Gedren is played by Sandahl Bergman, who appeared with Arnold in Conan the Barbarian. She wasn't particularly good in that, and her acting skills didn't improve for this movie. Although she's reasonably good at being menacing, when she is required to show any other emotion, her performance is so flat and wooden that you could build a table out of her.

This is a very silly movie. Like almost everything else in the sword and sorcery genre, the movie takes itself entirely too seriously and becomes laughable as a result. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, if you're in that sort of mood. But watch carefully -- with the amount of cheese in this movie, you could gain ten pounds just by putting it in the VCR.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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