Conquest (1983)
By: Mr Intolerance on September 6, 2009  | 
DVD
Blue Underground (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martin, Violeta Cela, Jose Gras Palau, Maria Scola, Sabrina Sellers
Screenplay: Gino Capone, Jose A.De La Loma Sr, Carlos Vasallo
Country: Italy/Spain
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Conan The Barbarian has a lot to answer for. Now me, I like the sword and sorcery genre, but when the films are poorly done, either too wrapped up in a sense of their own self-importance, too humourless and unleavened by comic book action fun, or simply shoddily made and badly realised, well, they can be a chore to sit through. When Conan became a big hit, the cheapie knock-offs came flying thick and fast, with American fodder such as Coscarelli's The Beastmaster, Pyun's The Sword and the Sorceror, Olivera's Corman-produced Barbarian Queen, the UK's Hawk The Slayer, and Krull, and the Italian exploitation industry well and truly answered the call. Among other, lesser film-makers, big-name exploitation mainstays such as Umberto Lenzi gave us The Ironmaster, Joe D'Amato served up Ator: The Fighting Eagle, and its sequel Ator The Invincible (although after the Conan franchise dried up, so did the Ator franchise), and Lucio Fulci, fresh off the back of his highly impressive and quite successful run of gothic horror/splatter flicks (Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead and the rather disappointing House By the Cemetery), gave us the gore-soaked sword and sorcery epic Conquest.

To make a successful sword and sorcery film isn't too difficult... on paper. Basically, you bung a whole bunch of tried and true genre conventions into your witches' cauldron, stir well in your opening act, simmer for a bit in the middle, season to taste occasionally and then flash-fry the ending as apocalyptically as possible, preferably with some poetic justice. Your ingredients? A muscle-bound hero or two, usually looking like a condom full of walnuts and wearing furry undies and ugg boots. Add a buxom wench as the love interest, often in the employ – or thrall – of the obligatory evil tyrant. Violence and much waving about of swords is definitely necessary – cleaving is a good thing. A quest is essential, during which the hero might find out that they're the pawn of prophecy and fate (and possibly royal). Monsters are up to the individual director; after all, you can simply use human bad guys for a bit more realism – and they bleed just as well as the creatures of fantasy, after all. Treachery can be another optional extra; but vengeance is a satisfying ingredient that many like to throw in. Oh, and hinting towards a homo-erotic relationship between the oiled and sweaty heroes is kind of usual. On paper, that could be any one of a dozen sword and sorcery flicks you've seen. When it gets committed to film, however, well, that can be where you discover that maybe you used too much sauce, under-cooked the meat, left out a stage in the cooking process, or that maybe you'd be hard-pressed to make toast without setting fire to your kitchen.

Conquest starts promisingly enough with our hero Ilias being presented with a magic bow (it's pretty fucking magic, in that it flies into your hand on command) by the god Cronos and setting out on his path to achieve manhood and vanquish evil. But even in the early moments of the film the picture lacks a certain distinctness, and while that's a nice touch if you like your films looking a bit oneiric, it grates quickly, and when the ever-present fog really intrudes upon the mise-en-scene, it does tend to render the film difficult to like. After all, film is a visual medium, and it's kind of hard to dig the visual when half the film is obscured by smoke and/or darkness.

The countryside is ruled over by the witch Ocron, who's not too keen on clothes, wearing little more than a golden mask and a spiked g-string – and snakes. She likes to eat brains, and terrorises the local yokels with her army of werewolves (whose mouths sort of flap up and down indiscriminately regardless of what they're actually saying). While tripping out of her mind on sundry psilocybins, she has a vision of a faceless warrior with a magic bow who's going to kill her – obviously she launches a pre-emptive strike and sends her wolvish warriors out to look for our boy Ilias. By this point, the gore factor has already been well-established, with one fella having his head bloodily opened, a woman gets wishboned to the point where she splits in two and all of her inside bits become her outside bits. We're about 6 minutes into the story, just so you know. That's right, the famous Fulci subtlety is at work...

Ilias saves a girl (who reminded me far too much of one of the Yamamomos from Cannibal Holocaust) from a snake, is set upon by Ocron's soldiers and gymnastically inclined werewolves, but is in turn rescued himself by Mace, an older fella (who looks more than a little like a member of Manowar) who's a dab hand with a bolas/flail-type affair. And for the rest of their time together during the course of this film, they tend to check each other out in a rather disturbing kinda way... Of course, they team up as an awesome duo to fight evil, despite Mace's self-declared misanthropy. Mace does however have a pretty neat way with animals (I guess Fulci had seen The Beastmaster by this time...).

Fado, head of Ocron's werewolves, has been commissioned by his ruler to bring her back the head of Ilias, and his bow. He wastes no time in trying to do so, but our heroes are made of sterner stuff than that. This of course doesn't bode too well for Fado (I always think of him, given his dog-like appearnace and demeanour, as "Fido"), as we can tell pretty early on that Ocron isn't exactly going to be the most forgiving of mistresses. Matter of fact, she gets downright ornery about things like failure. Sucks to be Fado. Incidentally, just imagine being fried alive on a giant hotplate – yeesh! Roast werewolf anyone? That said, in his favour Ilias and Mace weren't exactly about to roll over and play dead, and when Fado and his crew invaded a peaceful mountain village and killed the chick Ilias was about to fuck, well, you can understand that our boy attempted to defend his turf with terminal intensity. Annoyed? I would be. Doesn't help him all that much, though, and so we get to another piece of the sword and sorcery pie – the degradation of the hero. Just as Dar's help is spurned by the rightful King in The Beastmaster, or Conan is hung on the Tree of Woe, or Amethea's rape in Barbarian Queen, or Talon's crucifixion in The Sword and the Sorceror, Ilias has to be humiliated by his enemies, so as to ensure maximum audience sympathy, usually in direct proportion to the amount of degradation they endure. Unfortunately for the poor fella, it happens a number of times – this being the first – and we haven't even got to the point where he gets the Job-like plague of boils... yet. But of course, Mace is till around to save the day, so Ilias's goose isn't cooked – unlike poor old Fado's...

Ocron, mightily pissed off by this time has to take some kind of comfort in the fact that she can hopefully count on the help of the Great Zora, a nasty piece of work (a kind of Middle Ages robot) who inhabits the body of a white wolf, but can take on a multiplicity of forms. Mind you, he doesn't work for free, and Ocron's body and soul hang in the balance for his taking Ilias down. Ocron has quite nice boobies, by the way. Zora must think so too, as he gets on board with the whole "Let's kill Ilias" vibe – now Ocron mentions that Zora has recourse to the help of some bad dudes, and that's the cue for Fulci's production designers to dream up some pretty surreal monsters – the cobweb dudes are especially worthy of note, and add to the nightmarish tone of the film. They wouldn't be a threat alone, but like zombies (of which we also get some), there's strength in numbers, and damn me to hell if they aren't creepy looking motherfuckers.

Ilias is of course blind to the supernatural ruckus he's causing. He seems to think that having crawled out of one frying pan, he's no closer to the fire, but he's wrong, wrong wrongitty wrong, wrong, wrong! Mace promises to take Ilias to Ocron, but won't fight her himself; his sense of self-preservation is a little too well-developed for that seemingly Herculean task. But of course, Ilias is all about proving himself and his masculinity – he wants the glory and the vengeance, even if it might cost him his guts... Or, more accurately in this case, a lot of blood and pus. Fulci was quite keen on bodily fluids in this era of his film-making, and he certainly doesn't stint on them here. Mace takes Ilias to a place where he can heal him from the poisonous wounds given him by Ocron's evil arrows which ambush the boys when they're least expecting it. Mind you, that means that poor old Mace has to deal with a whole passel of Fulci-esque zombies single-handedly. And then we have a doppelganger to deal with, so Fulci just keeps on upping the ante in terms of threats to our heroes.

Ilias decides to head for the hills, manhood be damned, and invites Mace to join him. Mace cannot do so, and even refuses Ilias' prospective gift of his magic bow, prefering to stay in the land of badness, more fool him. He hasn't factored in the fact that he's now guilty of hanging around with the Chosen One (kinda), and so the cobweb people I mentioned before come out to play, and a stone bolas just isn't going to cut the mustard in trems of subjugating them. Guess who gets captured, crucified and thence interrogated and hung out for bait for Ilias? This is kind of the point where the power of the magic bow makes itself known via some dodgy special effects. And you'd better believe that the homo-eroticism is working overtime.

This is also about the point where the synopsis has to end, as vengeance against Ocron is worked towards, because going any further would reveal some major plot-spoilers. Remember that like I said, Fulci delivers some real surprises in the final act of this film. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, both in terms of the violence and the rather shocking twists in the story. It's pretty neat.

While Conquest doesn't present as a total disaster, it's a film that I probably wouldn't have bought it if Lucio Fulci's name wasn't attached to it. I have never read a positive review of it (even Stephen Thrower's review of it in FAB's Fulci-paedia Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci hammers the film rather unnecessarily, I thought), word-of-mouth is also usually pretty condemnatory. I don't think it's all that bad – I mean, let's face it, I wouldn't be sitting through it for a second time if it didn't have something to offer; I honestly get no pleasure from mindlessly reviewing films simply to flame them – but there is certainly something lacking from it. And although Fulci and his scriptwriters do try to subvert a few conventions of what was rapidly becoming a tired and cliched genre and present a couple of genuine surprises, there's something definitely missing here, preventing the film from attaining the cult following that Fulci's horrors, gialli and westerns have managed to accrue.

Conquest was one of Fulci's attempts to break free from being labelled as a horror director, to add another string to his already impressive bow of variety in film-making. It's odd in that regard that he incorporated so many horror elements to the film. The carnage is just as visceral and bloody as any of his zombie films, the nightmarish fog-shrouded atmosphere of the film is like something from the pay-off of The Beyond, but maintained for 93 minutes. The monsters are pretty impressive and admirably grotesque, for the better part. And while he does put his own downbeat and dour stamp on the genre, he stays within its boundaries, pushing all the right buttons, but strangely without their intended effect. Like his essay into the sci-fi/post-apocalyptic film the same year, the immediately following 2072 AD: The New Gladiators, all the right parts are there, but somehow it just inexplicably misses the mark.
Video
With the whole film shrouded in an obfuscating fog and possessing a rather muted colour palette, the image is not the best, but that's what the director wanted – for some god-unknown reason – so deal with it! Apparently Blue Underground sourced this from what they refer to on the back cover of the disc as "pristine vault elements", so I'm assuming that this is as good as Conquest gets to look. That's a shame, to put it mildly. It's like watching a blob in a snowstorm at times, and at best it even looks as though the film has been shot through cheese-cloth.
Audio
Not bad, but not great. There are some moments when the spookiness is emphasised (as in the opening scene) by aural effects (digital delay in this instance), and rob the scenes of dramatic impact solely for the reason that you can't make out what the hell is being said (the werewolves suffer the same fate), but at least the audio isn't as murky as the visual. On the up-side, there's a pretty neat Claudio Simonetti score (yes, he of Goblin fame) which pumps along at a fair old clip.
Extra Features
A pretty lacklustre package, basically. We're given a text bio of Fulci with an incomplete filmography, poster and still galleries and the theatrical trailers for the film; international and American. Now, while I'm aware that this is probably about as good as it's going to get, as I don't think any surviving cast and crew members would probably want to discuss the film in any depth, it's still a pretty ordinary effort and no mistake.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
My final judgement is this: I'd recommend you watch Conquest with an open mind. As I've hopefully made clear above, there's a lot to like about this film despite its all-too obvious flaws (and the fact that it isn't the sum of its not inconsequential parts), and I think that a keen fan of the sword and sorcery genre, or a keen fan of Fulci's work for that matter, will find something to keep them entertained. Don't go in expecting his very best work, as you'll be sorely disappointed, but you'll definitely see flashes at least of a fine director's eye for action, innate feel for a threatening atmosphere, and love and relish of the gory set-piece. Unlike the director's failed attempt at ripping off The Exorcist, Manhattan Baby, this doesn't die the death of a thousand cuts after the opening ten minutes by presenting its audience with a dismally dull and oppressively turgid retread of its obvious inspiration, but tries hard to engage its audience for the duration. The problem is that it's so heavily mired in the gothic tradition Fulci had established in his preceding films that Conquest's potential as a film seems to have been swallowed whole by the director's rather long shadow.

And an over-worked dry-ice machine.

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