Sword & Sorcery movies have been around for quite some time, but 1982’s Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger caused a boom in the genre and then we were then bombarded with tons of low-budget exploitation films like Deathstalker and Beastmaster. But by the late 90s, the boom had pretty much busted, yet Universal Studios attempted to go back to it even after the failures of Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonya and once again Arnold Schwarzenegger was called upon to reprise his role as the world’s most badass Cimmerian. He said no.
The movie is based on the Robert E. Howard Conan’s novel “Hour of the Dragon” and as the studio still wanted a Conan film they looked around for a good replacement for Schwarzenegger and found Kevin Sorbo who was quite popular from the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but Sorbo was a bit leery of taking on a character so well done by Arnie, thus the switch from Conan to Kull was made.
After an endless info dump about how this demon once ruled mankind until Akivasha, Sorceress Queen of Acheron was overthrown by the good god Valka and how he placed a single flame of Acheron in the kingdom of Valusia as a reminder of those dark times we then cut to a battlefield where axe wielding Kull (Kevin Sorbo) is kicking some serious butt. Suddenly the fighting is stopped and we find out that this wasn’t an actual battle but some kind of audition for the king of Valusia’s elite Dragon Legion. It seems to me with that kind of brutal auditioning you are going to end up with more openings to fill than you had when you started.
Note: With the heavy electric guitar on this film’s score and Sorbo’s long sweaty hair flailing about it looked more like he was auditioning for a hair metal band than an elite guard unit.
His fighting prowess is unquestionable, but when General Taligaro (Thomas Ian Griffith) finds out that Kull is from Atlantis and not of noble birth he is disqualified. Before Kull has time to sit down and have a good pout a messenger from the palace arrives and informs the General that King Borna (Sven-Ole Thorsen) has gone mad and is murdering all his heirs, “My elders challenged me for the throne. So I’ve spared all my children any future disappointment!” When the king tries to kill General Taligaro, Kull steps in and thus incurs the wrath of the mad king and Kull is forced to kill the crazy bastard in self-defense. But before dying, the king bestows the throne on Kull as a last spiteful gesture to his heirs. Ancient political rulings were certainly wacky back in the day.
Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with the heirs and Taligaro and the king’s cousin put aside their differences to plot to remove Kull from the throne. While palace intrigue abounds around an oblivious Kull our ex-pirate king and now simply King wanders around his new kingdom trying to abolish slavery and create religious tolerance. This does not go over all that well with the nobility or the priests.
Taligaro and company’s brilliant plan to overthrow Kull is to bring back the sorceress Akivasha (Tia Carrere) and have her bewitch and kill Kull, thus clearing the field for one of them to assume the throne. Leaving aside how stupid it is to resurrect an all-powerful demon sorceress as a tool to your regaining the throne, which is insanely stupid, but clearly the weaker cousin must realize that once Kull is out of the way Taligaro isn’t just going to hand the thrown to him. Neither of these guys is very farsighted.
The plan does seem to go off without a hitch as a disciple of Akivasha helps raise the sorceress, Kull is mesmerized by her, they are quickly married and on the wedding night Akivasha drugs Kull with a kiss. That looks to be a solid win for the bad guys or would have been if Akivasha hadn’t found Kull to be so hunky and dreamy that she only drugged him unconscious and not fatally. Then while chained to a dungeon wall Kull spurns her advances and she still doesn’t kill him.
Kull of course escapes the dungeons and gets out of the city with the aid of Ascalante, a young priest (Litefoot) and his sister Zareta (Karina Lombard) a beautiful slave girl who caught Kull’s eye before being bewitched and somehow got Kull to take a cold shower instead of ravishing her. Zareta is also a fortune-teller that can predict the future by reading cards, though these are the standard cryptic predictions that only become clear after the events they foretold have already happened.
Our trio must retrieve the “Breath of Valka” and with it extinguish the flame of Acheron and thus vanquish the evil witch. So off to the Isle of Ice, they go but to get there they need a boat and Kull just happens to know a sea-going slaver who may lend them a boat. Kull’s backstory is about how before becoming an awesome pirate he was a slave aboard a galley, and the very anti-slave stance he exhibited upon becoming king, and this makes one wonder just why is he friends with a slaver. What makes even less sense is that after asking Juba (Harvey Fierstein) for a ship he then demands that the slaver accompany them on their quest… WTF? How can you go from asking for a favour, and handing over a ship with a full crew is a pretty goddamn big favour, to demanding that you come along? Of course, the reason he comes along is so that he can betray Kull and then try and sell him and his friends into slavery but “It’s in the script” is no defence.
Eventually, our heroes will reach the frozen caverns that contain the “Breath of Valka”, they will have to figure out how to pass the icy winds that have frozen every other person to enter this place, also they must contend with Taligaro who has followed them here and who also kidnaps Zareta after she is infused with the “Breath of Valka” which he also wants to use against the evil Akivasha as Taligaro has finally seen the writing on the wall.
Will our intrepid heroes take down the demon sorceress? Can Kull and the spunky slave girl make it work? Will Kull bring democracy to the people? But most importantly, would anybody really care if the kingdom of Valusia was destroyed?
Kevin Sorbo is an immensely likable bloke, and very charismatic, but to play this kind of pulp barbarian character you need to have a bit of an edge, a sense of ruthless danger that Sorbo doesn’t seem capable of pulling off. Another fault the film has is in going for the PG13 rating as this genre really calls for a hard “R” if you are going to create a world of Robert E. Howard there better be rivers of blood and plenty of naked women filling the screen or I call foul. In this film, the only person who shows any amount of skin is Kevin Sorbo who seems incapable of keeping a shirt on.
The film was produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis and directed by John Nicolella and pretty much sealed the coffin of the Sword and Sorcery genre for a while. With the success of fantasy films over the last few years it’s shocking that no one has been able to make a successful movie based on the characters created by Robert E. Howard since Arnie tackled it back in 1982, but as studios seem even more afraid of going with a hard “R” movie these days maybe that’s for the best. Overall this film is a tepid entry in the genre and despite the title it lacked any actual conquering as killing a king and being handed the throne really doesn’t make you a conqueror.
Kull the Conqueror
5 - 5/10
This movie comes across more as spin-off of Hercules the Legendary Journeys than it does a Robert E. Howard story. Kevin Sorbo is passable as the hero but a bit too likable to pull off the edgier elements that this kind of movie requires.