KULL THE CONQUEROR is the story of Kull (Kevin Sorbo) but in my opinion it is kind of unfair to call him a conqueror. Honestly it’s more of a right-place-at-the-right-time kind of deal, like the end of CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK or like winning on Cash Cab. Let me explain how it all goes down.
At the beginning Kull is in a big battle with a bunch of knights. But it turns out to be a test. He’s trying to earn his way into the king’s elite army. He almost passes the test of a blindfolded flaming-sword duel with Thomas Ian Griffith (EXCESSIVE FORCE, Valek in JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES) but then Griffith finds out Kull’s from Atlantis and says forget it, we don’t work with barbarians. Destroyers maybe, barbarians – no fucking way. And this was the Hyborian age, so it was before they had laws about employment discrimination.
To our modern eyes these people all look like a bunch of primitive oafs, but to them there are big cultural differences between barbarians and, you know, knight dudes or whatever they call their people. And to be honest Kull really fits some of the barbarian stereotypes, for example he doesn’t know how to use a sword because he only uses a huge fuckin battle ax, and also he tends to go shirtless. He’s the only guy in this battle not wearing a shirt, so he stands out. (unless they were doing a shirts and skins type thing for the scrimmage, that is possible)
It just so happens that right after being blatantly racially discriminated against Kull witnesses the army getting called in to deal with the King (Sven-Ole Thorsen). Just a little incident where His Royal Majesty has gone mad and is murdering his own children. You know how it is. Being a barbarian and not having manners Kull just follows them into the castle, sees what a shitty job they’re doing dealing with it and intervenes himself. He ends up dueling the king and winning. The king knows him by name for some reason, that was kind of weird. But the king thinks his heirs are a bunch of dicks so as he’s dying he gives his crown to Kull. An excellent royal fuck you.
For a little bit this is one of those movies like DAVE or KING RALPH where an ordinary guy becomes the leader so they do common sense stuff to help out the regular joes and make the Man do a spit take and then faint. He tries to free the royal slaves, but his advisors say it’s against some ancient law that’s carved on a rock, so he back peddles. Actually he’s kind of like Obama, he wants to fix some shit but he also wants everybody to get along so he tries to placate all the fuckin babies that are really trying to take the throne from him anyway so he doesn’t get as much done as he should.
But he does get some small things done here and there, like he sees the soldiers whipping a priest named Ascalante. He asks why they’re whipping him and it’s because of his religion, so he makes them free him and says that men can worship whoever the fuck they want so fuck you you fucking assholes (paraphrase). He doesn’t get all nitpicky about separation of church and state like trying to get “By Crom” taken off the coins or anything like that. But he’s definitely pro freedom of religion.
Ascalante is played by Litefoot – remember him? I guess he wasn’t in too many movies but he was “THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD” and I guess this and MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION must be what I know him from. He’s a Native American actor and they say he was a rapper but I sure never heard of anybody that ever heard his music. But maybe it’s good, I got no evidence otherwise.
Kull has a thing for a fortune teller named Zareta (Karian Lombard) and as the king he could order her to have sex with him, but she kind of gives him some shit about it so he feels bad and he frees her from his royal harem. But she chooses to stay willingly, just like Uncle Remus stayed with that white family in SONG OF THE SOUTH. But probly because she has a Kull-crush. Once you’ve gone barbarian there’s just no comparian. Remember that.
While Kull is distracted by love and progressivism the king’s heirs and others are conspiring against him. Some dude with a melted face digs up a coffin with a shriveled dead witch named Akivasha in it and magically revives her into red-headed Tia Carrere. She shows up at the palace when they’re showing him around to pick a bride and before he can choose Zareta, this Akivasha seems to do some kind of enchantment on him, some kind of ancient magic equivalent to today’s Ax body spray. So he marries the bitch.
Of course this is all a plot, so after consummating their marriage Akivasha poisons Kull and frames Zareta as a king-killer. This is a real good evil scheme except it’s thwarted by that great rhyming bumper sticker slogan I made up two paragraphs ago and asked you to commit to memory. She actually says it straight up, that she had planned to kill him but “after last night” decided to replace his body with a fake and keep the real Kull in her sex dungeon for further use.
Of course Kull the Conquered escapes, teams up with Zareta and Ascalante, and goes on a journey to find a magical thing that men have searched for for centuries that he thinks doesn’t exist that is the only way to extinguish the eternal flame of such-and-such. The worst part of this journey is not that he gets pissed on by a camel and people later smell it on him. After all, Truck Turner smelled like cat piss. No, the worst part is that he has to hang out with Harvey Fierstein. He’s an old connection from Kull’s pirate days I guess, Kull gets a ship from him and then insists that he come along. And watching at home you really, really hope that Harvey will have a scheduling conflict, but unfortunately he goes along. Actually it turns out that he tries to screw Kull over and Kull expected it all along, I’m not really sure why he brought him. Maybe he should’ve just brought his head. Sometimes these barbarians are not barbarian enough for my tastes.
Then there is adventures, etc.
During the final showdown Akivasha morphs into what must be her true form, a spindly animatronic demon with bat wings, claws and big, crooked, slimy monster teeth. She says, “Husband, kiss me,” which is real fuckin lucky because it just so happens that he needs to kiss her in order to freeze her with the magic breath. Talk about dumb fuckin luck – I mean, how would he have sold that if she didn’t coincidentally make a pass at him? “Hey lady, you are an evil ancient witch that brainwashed me, poisoned me, stole my kingdom and just now turned into a hideous monster. You wanna make out?”
I kinda don’t think it was intentional but I really dig the idea that this is an emotionally vulnerable moment for her, that in her monstrous true form she’s really self conscious and needs to be validated by having him kiss her. And that’s why he’s able to do it. If she was in her right mind of course she would know he was up to something if he kissed her, but she’s so emotionally fragile that she just needs it to be true and believes in it because why risk throwing it away if there’s some small chance that it’s real? What if he really sees beauty in her? Could it be? Actually now I’m kinda feeling sorry for her, this was kind of a Carrie-White-prom-queen moment from her perspective.
Not to spoil the ending, but let me tell you exactly what happens in the ending. Kull becomes king again and the first thing he does is abolish slavery. Well, I guess technically the first thing he did must’ve been to get the throne room re-decorated, unless I just hadn’t noticed the giant tiger mural in honor of his old pirating nickname. I mean that’s some straight up Saddam Hussein and/or Scarface type of lifestyle there, but other than that he is a good king in my opinion, so he takes his battle ax and smashes all the old rocks with the fucked up laws carved onto them. It’s a great symbolic fuck you because not only is he getting rid of the outmoded laws but he’s doing it with the weapon that symbolizes the Atlantean-barbarian heritage those assholes all give him shit about. Fuck ’em. Long live Kull.
The reason I watched this again was because I saw that new CONAN THE BARBARIAN and it wasn’t very good but I figured at least it was probly better than KULL THE CONQUEROR. But I couldn’t remember for sure so I watched it again. But it turns out KULL is way more fun than I remembered.
Yeah, it’s cheesy, I can’t dispute that. Director John Nicolella had been around for 10 years but almost entirely doing TV, starting with Miami Vice. (He also did that weird Don Johnson rock musical HEARTBEAT.) Sorbo is kinda likable but kind of bland and not very badass. In order to thrive in syndicated TV he had to have just that right balance: seems like a nice guy, but no threatening awesomeness. Like anybody I’m not against him but not a big fan.
The handful of scenes that suddenly bust out the rockin’ guitars while Kull fights seem like a note from some clueless studio executive, a really misguided and condescending way to appeal to the young people (see poster and trailer). Well, they seem clueless, but of course whoever came up with that “Kull Rocks” idea sensed what the rest of us never could’ve, that those guitars would single-handedly catapult KULL into the hearts of millions of the youths, not only turning KULL into a massive box office hit and defining artistic work of its era, but also giving Sorbo the platform he needed to become the highly revered author and religious leader we all know him as today.
You know what on second thought I guess I’m remembering that wrong, I just looked it up and it only made about $6 million in the U.S. and then was mostly forgotten. It debuted #9 at the box office. EXCESS BAGGAGE came out the same week and that was at #7. That might’ve been the one I was thinking of that the young people loved and it changed the world and everything.
It’s kind of sad, actually – RED SONJA, KULL and the CONAN remake were all miserable box office failures. Not that those movies don’t deserve it, but how is anybody ever gonna make the good version of this type of movie when there’s no incentive to make one at all?
Anyway the CONAN remake is more gritty and badass than KULL, but KULL is an overall more entertaining experience and story in my opinion. Like a practice run for THE SCORPION KING.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE? Here is a really detailed rundown of different drafts of the script, and an interview with screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue about how it started as CONAN III, why he thinks they ruined his script and what a dick he thinks Rob Cohen is.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.