Hercules: The Legendary Journeys arguably was one of the greatest 1990s TV shows, I know it was for me. The double feature with Xena: Warrior Princess gave me two hours of campy and action-packed fun each Sunday afternoon. In 1997, Hercules star Kevin Sorbo briefly switched to the big screen for Kull The Conqueror. The film was conceived as a third entry to the Conan saga, but Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the role.
This was an unfortunate decision for us action fans, of course, and so Robert E. Howard’s story of Conan the Conqueror was rewritten to fit Kull, a character also invented by Howard. Despite this apparent downgrade, the movie turned out to be a lot better than you might expect, so let’s have a look!
By this axe, I rule!
When Barbarian Kull (Sorbo) kills the mad king of Velusia, he takes the throne from him. His coronation is not greeted with much joy by the designated heirs to the throne, among them the cunning General Taligaro (Thomas Ian Griffith). To make matters worse the resurrected fire demon Akivasha (Tia Carrere) seduces Kull to marry her in human form. Her scheming forces Kull to flee from the palace, and he journeys to the ice caves of the god Valka whose magic is the only force that can destroy Akivasha.
A classic pulp fantasy experience must throw a never-ending stream of excitement at the reader or viewer: exotic locations and costumes, frantic fights, romance, magic, and Kull The Conqueror has it all! The film definitely does not impress with a refined plot, and is also kept relatively brief for an epic adventure with only around 90 minutes of runtime. But it really nails the pulp fantasy look and atmosphere, and perfectly re-creates that 1980s Sword & Sorcery vibe. Production values are smooth, and the mostly practical special effects (with some additional unobtrusive CGI) fit the purpose.
“Your bride is over 3000 years old.” “She said she was 19.”
Unlike with the Conan films, in Kull the humor is not unintentional. It is dosed well with the occasional cheesy one-liner, and helps to maintain a fairly light-hearted vibe throughout the film. The soundtrack stands out, blending classic orchestration with coarse heavy metal riffs. I’m sure some people will hate but it is a good background sound for this archaic world, and the classical parts evoke the spirit of the legendary Conan The Barbarian score by Basil Poledouris.
Sorbo is a fine choice for Kull, with ripped abs and a wild mane. If you’ve watched the Hercules show you may notice that he sticks to the same acting style (slightly subdued but overall charming), even though he swaps Hercules’ goofiness with a heavy macho attitude.
Thomas Ian Griffith gets no opportunity to showcase his martial arts skills but gives a fun take on a thoroughly corrupted military commander. Tia Carrere totally nails her role as evil witch queen with some fantastic overacting. And in 1997 the eternal contest for the greatest mullet ever continued with both Sorbo’s and Griffith’s most impressive submissions.
When I get my hands on the bitch demon, I will rip out her evil heart!
The action sequences are staged routinely, with the modest budget not allowing for epic battles, and thanks to a PG-13 rating we don’t see a single drop of blood being spilled. But there’s always something happening, and the pacing is great with our heroes fighting in castle dungeons, on pirate ships and in ice caves. There’s lots of fun brawls, plenty of sword fights, explosive wizardry and a fiery finale. The camel from the first Conan film also makes a return and with not Conan not being around this time, it takes its revenge on an unsuspecting Kull.
Kull The Conqueror may be not as bombastic as the first Conan film, or as intense as Solomon Kane, but it is a charming piece of fantasy pulp that achieves everything it’s going for. If you have even the slightest inclination towards Sword & Sorcery flicks, I think there’s a good chance you will enjoy it.