Posted March 6, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Comic Book Movies: Red Sonja

Originating from the Conan comic book, Red Sonja is a flame-haired heroine who came to embody the comic book sword-wielding female barbarian clad in bikini style armour. This 1985 adaptation stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman of Conan-fame alongside new euro-starlet Brigitte Nielson. Bergman was originally offered the role of Sonja but instead opted to take the part of evil queen Gedren. Arnie plays Lord Kalidor who was, for the most part, Conan after a trip to a better hairdresser and tailor. Then of course there’s the now legendary Nielsen as Sonja. Following this part she’d have a few more Hollywood roles (and be Mrs Sylvester Stallone), before her total lack of acting ability led to a run of sex-infused eurotrash.

The film opens with Sonja rejecting the sexual advances of the evil queen Gedren. After slashing Gedren’s face, her henchmen kill Sonja’s family and rape her. Later that night she’s visited by a spirit who grants her the strength and skill to gain revenge. Meanwhile Gedren has gained control of the all powerful Talisman used by the Creator to forge the world. Gedren slaughters the entire group of women sworn to protect it except for Sonja’s sister who manages to escape. Mortally wounded, she finds Kalidor and tells him about her sister and Gedren’s actions.

Having been training with Samurai masters, Sonja is now ready to fulfil her destiny of avenging the death of her family. She’s joined on her quest by Kalidor as well as the simply awesome Prince Tarn of Hablock (Ernie Reyes Jr) and his lowly squire Falcon (Paul L Smith). As they move through a fantasy landscape they encounter mechanical monsters and evil hordes hellbent on their destruction. Eventually they arrive at Gedron’s palace and the final encounter ensues.

Following the less-than-stellar Conon the Destroyer, producer Dino De Laurentiis moved quickly to cash in on the franchise with this spin-off vehicle. Sadly the quality is even further on the decline here with the astoundingly awful pairing of Arnold and Brigitte a great deal to blame. Schwarzenegger has never been the most engaging actor but when placed next to Nielsen (who fails to convince even when playing the role of a Danish model) the project’s sunk before it’s even started.

The one aspect of the film that has actually aged well is the set designs. They’re both beautiful and epic. The Spanish landscape once again provides a stunning backdrop and the Ennio Moriconne score is a rare slice of quality in this project.

Safe to say that any fan of the original Conan movie will have a soft spot for this slice of camp nonsense from the same era. As you watch Nielsen provide a masterclass in bad acting you sit back and wonder how she managed to have any career at all. Arnie is the same no matter what’s going on and Bergman simply adds to the camp factor as an evil lesbian queen. The kitsch value of this film may have played better for those seeing it at the time of its original release. Those arriving at Red Sonja today would be more than justified in dismissing this as utter pap.

Aled Jones