Now this is a weird one. I spent my late teenage years offending friends and family alike with my love of Lucio Fulci, but I have to admit, shamefully, that I really only watched a small amount of the maniac’s filmography. This was down to a few things — lack of the availability mostly, but also I wasn’t convinced that his ‘non-horror’ efforts would be worth watching. He has a very definite style, probably best described as incoherent, which enhanced his horror work to wonderful degrees of dreamlike insanity — the likes of which have never been matched.
But as much as I loved his grisly horror output, surely this style could never work in a more conventional sense? Well, the last few years have continually proven me wrong, and although there have been some serious missteps (Manhattan Baby, The Black Cat, Aenigma), most of his films I’ve seen in recent years (giallos, mostly) have impressed me not only for their coherent storytelling, but also for showcasing Fulci’s unique visual style early on.
However, that was Italian giallo/splatter cinema — how would this style lend itself to the sword and sorcery genre, popularized by Conan the Barbarian? The answer can be found in the utterly ridiculous Conquest.
Italy, 1983, Lucio Fulci
Conquest obviously steals liberally from both, and surprisingly it works. I remember seeing the trailer for the movie months back and when Fulci’s name came up on screen I laughed my arse off. And whilst the film doesn’t entirely work, it has enough off-the-wall Fulci-madness to make it a worthy viewing.
The film begins with a strange sequence where our protagonist, Ilias (played by Fulci regular Andrea Occhipinti), is handed a magical bow and sent out to rid the world of evil and to bring back wisdom and heroic tales… or something like that. I was more interested in the Vaseline covered cinematography and the strange decision to edit the scene as a continuous cross fade.
It didn’t give me much hope, but then BAM! The credits kick in with a pulsating Claudio Simonetti synth score that blasted away any notion that this wouldn’t be a worthwhile experience. The music throughout is definitely a highlight and keeps things rolling at times when I would otherwise be yawning.
We are then introduced to our villain, the masked Ocron (Sabrina Siani), who spends the entire duration of the movie naked, bar for the aforementioned golden mask and a spiked thong. She rules the land with her army of… dog men? I don’t really know what to call these guys. They look kinda like dogs, but kinda like men in dog costumes. They’re weird.
As you can see from the above clip, any notion the producers had of cashing in on the mainstream sword and sorcery audience went flying out the window the second they hired Lucio Fulci, who immediately throws some incredibly nasty gore at the screen.
Bravo, Lucio, bravo.
Ocron then has a dream. In this dream she is having sex with a snake while her dog army looks on, barking. Suddenly, Ilias enters the room carrying his magical bow. For some reason, he has no face. He runs towards Ocron and aims his bow and a glowing blue arrow appears out of nowhere. Ocron, sitting up, desperately tries to defend herself by distracting him with her boobs. Ilias doesn’t have a face though, so this has no effect on him. He fires the arrow which explodes through her chest. Ocron wakes up in a panic and demands that her dog army hunt Ilias down so she can steal his magical bow, and then eat him.
You get all of that? Good, let’s rumble.
Fortunately for Ocron, capturing Ilias should be pretty easy because, as we quickly discover, Ilias is a total wimp who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. Seriously, he is the worst protagonist I’ve ever seen on film. He can’t help but walk into trouble and gets his ass kicked at least every ten minutes. Luckily for Ilias, he is saved from certain death by wandering barbarian bad-ass, Mace (great name) played by Jorge Rivero, who has an uncanny ability to scare the hell out of people with his weak looking mace swinging thing.
Mace proceeds to batter everyone in this scene through a variety of impressive/ridiculous acrobatic stunts. Those dog-men really know how to throw themselves around.
Once Mace saves Ilias from this attack, he tells Ilias that he only saved him so that he could learn how to use the magical bow. Ilias, being grateful, agrees to teach him. The results are hilarious.
It’s worth pointing out that Mace is sporting the mark of Eibon, from Fulci’s The Beyond, on his forehead. I don’t know why, and it never references anything else from that film but it’s a nice touch from the director nonetheless.
From this point on, the film plods along with no real direction. Just a succession of scenes involving Ilias wandering off and getting into trouble before Mace arrives in the nick of time to be the man in the relationship. But there is one point in the film where Ilias comes to the aid of Mace, who’s been captured by whatever the hell this is supposed to be.
There’s a few of these things, but Ilias uses his magic bow to kill them all in one shot.
In a later scene, we’re even treated to some classic zombie action when Mace is attacked by a gang of what I can only describe as pond zombies — because they’re zombies that appear out of a pond for no reason. Still, pond or no pond, Fulci zombies are the best zombies so it was nice to see them.
The companions continue their travels until the inevitable showdown with Ocron, which I won’t go into details about here, but to say it’s a bizarre showdown would be an understatement. I don’t entirely understand what happened at the end of this movie, you just have to see it for yourself, but it sets itself up perfectly for a sequel. I’m actually kind of sad that it never happened because I could watch weird stuff like this all day.
The storytelling in Conquest is muddled to say the least. The true hero of the film is clearly Mace, but the film only acknowledges this in the final reel. Confusingly, we spend most of the movie rooting for the unbelievably useless Ilias, which is a major flaw in the storytelling. However, the development of both characters is satisfying by the end, and it makes for a more unique viewing experience. I wasn’t surprised to discover that it took four people to write this.
Conquest, for all its flaws, is actually kind of a good film. It’s entertaining and certainly never boring. It doesn’t really achieve what it sets out to do, but I’ve seen far worse films of this genre. For Fulci fans I’d say that this movie is surprisingly essential if only to see the man’s unique style in an unexpected setting.
The hazy cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa is perfectly Fulci, which is all the more amazing in that it’s their only collaboration. The music from Simonetti is suitably cheap sounding, helping to create an atmosphere that’s both menacing and bizarre. These components, combined with Fulci’s direction create an incredibly dreamlike film quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Conquest is available on DVD from genre heroes Blue Underground. Vaseline smeared lens aside, it features decent vision and audio.