Thursday, 2 February 2012

Conquest (1983)


It is not unfair to say that Fabrizio De Angelis and Ugo Tucci’s decision to hire Lucio Fulci as director for their horror production Zombi 2 (1979) saved his career. The pair embarked on a wave of excessively gory and increasingly incoherent horror pictures, inflicting such delights as The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The New York Ripper (1982), and Manhattan Baby (1982) on an unsuspecting public. These were all critical titles in Fulci’s cult resurgence in the 1990’s and beyond, and for many, Fulci’s work under the auspices of De Angelis represents his most impressive. Unfortunately some time between the release of Manhattan Baby and pre-production on Fulci’s next picture Conquest the two parted company. Little did Fulci know that whoring himself out to the highest bidder - in this case Giovanni Di Clemente - would have such a devastating effect on the quality of his films. I’m not arguing that the De Angelis produced films were masterpieces, only a complete asshole could make a case for Manhattan Baby. But Conquest is so nonsensical and drab, and so utterly bereft of intelligence and charm, that one cannot help but conclude that Fulci’s current standing amongst horror aficionados is as much down to De Angelis as it is Fulci.

With Conquest Fulci added sword and sorcery to an overflowing generic resumé that included comedy, spy capers, westerns, gialli, historical dramas, crime thrillers, and horror movies. The screenplay by Gino Capone, José Antonio de la Loma and Carlos Vasallo takes its cue (as did all the other cheap Italian imitations in this short lived cycle) from Conan the Barbarian (1982) and The Beastmaster (1982) [itself a cheap rip off of the latter] and is embodied in the character of Mace played by Jorge Rivero. Mace is a mysterious warrior wandering the landscape of a savage land. He has a special relationship with the natural world; loyal hawks act as guides through the hazardous terrain, and even dolphins come to his aid later in the film when he finds himself tied to a cross and then plunged into the ocean below. While he treats the lives of animals as sacred, the same cannot be said for human beings. In one utterly senseless moment he murders a man in cold blood in order to steal a slaughtered pig, he feels justified in eating the flesh of the animal, because he didn’t kill it! This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the sage way that Mace delivers this ‘moral’ lesson to the bland Ilias (Andrea Occhipinti), who nods along with knowing approval. This is symptomatic of the arrant idiocy of this misguided and imprudent production.

Ilias himself hails from a more civilised land, and armed with a magic bow and arrow that fires out bolts of blue lightning, he travels to this new land and sets forth on a vague quest to rid the realm of the evil that blights it. The problem with Ilias’ quest is that he doesn’t know what he’s searching for. He spends much of the film wandering aimlessly around the marshes and swamps hoping for something to happen. And when something finally does he his totally ill equipped to deal with it. Ilias is totally reliant on the ‘wisdom’ and strength of his barbarian buddy, who makes the absurd claim that he has no friends, and then spends the entire film risking his neck to save a man he’d only met hours before. But any sense of linear time is completely absent from Conquest, and the ensuing confusion stems from the fact that there is little or no continuity to the narrative. With its non linear approach, disordered spatial arrangements, occasional moments of surreal imagery, and the odd moment of Fulci’s trademark gore it’s clear to me that Conquest isn’t much different from the horror films Fulci had recently been making. But the fantasy element allows the filmmakers even more leeway to indulge in plotless absurdity, and the result is an incomprehensible mess.

The villain of the piece is a sadistic sorceress called Ocron (Sabrina Siani) who spends most of the film writhing around naked with a snake coiled about her body. I had no major objection to this I have to admit. She rules the land through fear, and controls a modest army of dog faced brutes by claiming she can control the sun. The screenplay naturally provides her with no back story, and to add to the confusion her motivations and behaviour are dictated by dreams and premonitions. The whole thing has the feel of a dream, and while this might be used as a defence for some of Fulci’s horror films, here it is irritating in the extreme. The visual style of the film which employs hazy, under lit, and soft focus cinematography is bizarre to say the least. It was clearly a strategy on the part of the filmmakers, because the murky and misty style is maintained throughout…but why? The only possible answer I can offer is that it gives the film a dreamlike and otherworldly sensibility, but once again the result is exasperating. I’m sure I’m not alone in initially thinking it was due to poor print condition. So can we fall back on the musical talents of Claudio Simonetti to provide much needed relief? Whilst Simonetti’s synthesiser music works fine in isolation, it is edited into the film in an intrusive fashion…it soon becomes repetitive, grating and (is there a theme developing here) extremely irritating! Conquest is an unmitigated disaster, it is dull, devoid of purpose, illogical, and has a plot that functions entirely at random. An amazingly incompetent achievement considering that Lucio Fulci had made The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery just two years before.

© Shaun Anderson 2012


  1. I always try to like this one and always end up feeling exhausted every time I try. About the only thing I end up liking is what I think to be a poetically symbolic ending, but it’s not worth waiting the entire movie for. The scene you mention with the heroes, if they can be called that, killing a random hunter to steal his food, starts things off with a bad taste and is one of the most bizarre introductions I’ve ever seen. It sort of makes it unusual to try and admire them the way one would usually admire the heroes of a story.

  2. I think you've tried to like this one a lot harder than I have Giovanni. I've had a copy of this film for about three years, but only actually got around to watching it for the first time last week. I think it goes without saying I won't be watching it again. But this is not a new thing for me and the works of Lucio Fulci. I find many of his films to be equally problematic. My favourite, purely for its linearity, and economic storytelling, is ZOMBI 2. But when I have my intellectual hat on, it's abundantly clear his deepest and most intriguing films are A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, and DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING. CONQUEST is one that Blue Underground should have left rotting in the vault, it's added nothing to our appreciation of Lucio Fulci.

  3. I haven't watched this one in years. I have the BU disc, but haven't watched it yet. I do like parts of it for its exploitational value and little else. I wonder about the gauze-like approach to the cinematography, though. I became aware of this movie around 1988 from a still of it in a magazine that is far more visible than what transpires on screen. I can't recall if there's mention of this in the Fulci Beyond Terror book or not. Guess I will go look. I remember being ecstatic upon purchasing a used copy of the uncut version of the Media tape. The photo was quite striking showing a hairy beast situating Jorge Rivero on the cross. Fulci's barbarian epic was, in its defense, one of the most easy to sit through. IRON WARRIOR is one of the absolute worst. It's terribly hilarious, though, especially the scene that mercilessly rips off the opening of the first SUPERMAN movie of all things.

  4. I was laughing like crazy during this one. It just had too many funny unintetionaly funny moments, like the scenes with the dolphins for example...but ultimately it is an incoherent mess and a boring one at times...if it wasnt for the cheesiness, this one would be completely unwatchable.

    I think that look the film has was trying to immitate the look of Clash of the Titans, another film that I think influenced this one a lot. Titans (the original one) had that dream like look in some scenes.

    Agree about Manhattan Baby...what a MESS! I hated it.

  5. @ Brian - I never got around to ordering a copy of Stephen Thrower's book on Lucio Fulci, and now of course, it goes for stupid money on Ebay and the Amazon Marketplace. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Lucio. I find that most of his horror movies are barely tolerable, with the exception of ZOMBI 2, which I do like, and would defend. I prefer him when he's working outside the horror genre, but CONQUEST was once instance where I did not. In addition to not being a big fan of Lucio, I'm even less a fan of Sword & Sorcery movies....thanks for the comment mate :-)

    @ Franco - Y'know what, I couldn't even be bothered to laugh at the stupidity of the film. Excellent point about CLASH OF THE TITANS...I think you're quite right. There will probably come a time when horror fans will revise their attitude to MANHATTAN BABY. It's very common practice amongst enthusiasts of a director to reclaim his/her most despised works. I shall remain consistent though...MANHATTAN BABY is a film made by retards, for retards.


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