Saturday, April 16, 2016

Retro Review: CONQUEST (1983)

(Italy/Spain/Mexico - 1983; US release 1984)

Every few years, I feel compelled to revisit Lucio Fulci's bizarre contribution to the 1980s sword & sorcery craze, thinking "I'll figure it out this time," and I never do. There's no making sense out of CONQUEST, an acid-trippy ripoff of CONAN THE BARBARIAN by way of EL TOPO, shot in the most gauzy, foggy, smeary lens filter this side of Robert Altman's QUINTET. About as coherent as fragments of a barely-remembered dream, CONQUEST has young Ilias (Andrea Occhipinti of BOLERO) sent by his people on a quest to defeat the nefarious Ocron (Italian CONAN ripoff fixture Sabrina Siani, billed here as the more American sounding "Sabrina Sellers"), an iron-masked, topless overlord who spends most of her time writhing with snakes, eating the brains of her victims, and ordering around her army of talking wolf/dog creatures who walk upright. Ilias gets some help from mercenary warrior Mace (Jorge Rivero, during his "George Rivero" phase). who becomes his mentor in their quest to defeat Ocron, who's later joined by her own masked co-conspirator Zora (Conrado San Martin). Mace and Ilias then spend a lot of time walking around and encountering various creatures of undetermined origin before their final, fateful laser arrow showdown with the evil Ocron and her minions.

Coming soon after the end of his unstoppable 1979-1982 run of iconic gorehound classics like ZOMBIE, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BEYOND, and others, Fulci had grown into enough of a genuine auteur by this point--even if it hadn't yet been recognized--that you can see him attempting to imbue CONQUEST with his unique stamp. Claudio Simonetti's score is mostly then-trendy synth material, but there are some cues that are strikingly similar to Fabio Frizzi's work on CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, and it shares with it the same hazily nonsensical, anything-goes dream logic, plus Mace has a mark on his forehead that looks very similar to the "Eibon" symbol from THE BEYOND. From the laser arrows to the wolf/dog army to a drowned Mace being brought back to life by dolphins, there's no way to predict what will happen next in CONQUEST. Fulci also doesn't skimp on the trash and the gore: Siani is topless every moment she's onscreen, and there's plenty of gore, from cannibalism to scalping to one unfortunate female victim being ripped up the middle like a broken wishbone and disemboweled. His partnership with Fabrizio De Angelis over after the producer slashed the budget of 1982's MANHATTAN BABY by 75%, and his relationship with frequent screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti in tatters, Fulci is in hired gun mode on CONQUEST even with his attempts to personalize it, brought in by Italian producer Giovanni Di Clemente after the latter entered a co-production deal with Mexican producers/screenwriters Carlos Vasallo and J. Antonio de la Loma. 

Mexican actor Rivero likely came as part of the Vasallo/de la Loma package deal, as he starred in several of their past and future de la Loma-directed films, like the 1982 espionage thriller TARGET: EAGLE, the 1984 DEATH WISH-meets-CONVOY trucker revenge actioner KILLING MACHINE, the 1988 DELTA FORCE ripoff COUNTERFORCE, and the 1989 bare-knuckle brawler FIST FIGHTER. Rivero attempted to break into Hollywood when he co-starred with John Wayne in 1970's RIO LOBO and with Charlton Heston and James Coburn in 1976's THE LAST HARD MEN, but he never happened in the US. Instead, Rivero built a career in Mexico and overseas in Spain, with occasional appearances in a few straight-to-US-video titles in the 1990s, like the Traci Lords thriller ICE and the 1995 MST3K staple WEREWOLF. Released in the US by United Film Distribution Company in the spring of 1984, CONQUEST has its devoted defenders but is generally considered second, if not third-tier Fulci. It's not a good movie, but there's something to it that keeps drawing me back, whether it's the splatter and surrealism inherent to Fulci or some of the humor that seems intentional, like Ocron screaming "Stop him, Zora!" as Zora just emits an exasperated sigh and vanishes into thin air as if he can't even with this bitch anymore, or the closing credits caveat "Any reference to persons or events is purely coincidental." Thanks for clearing that up. (R, 89 mins)

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