“Red Sonja” (1985) : The Flame-Haired Warrior

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In the Hyborian Kingdom, none were more revered or feared, than Red Sonja. With fiery, red hair and a fierce warrior prowess, she became a force not to be reckoned with. After an unfortunate event that involves the death of her family and her body being desecrated, she prays for a means to exact her revenge upon those who have wronged her. To her luck, her prayers are answered by a benevolent spirit of the woods, appearing only as a red humanoid-shaped mist, who gives her enhanced abilities and skills useful in the ways of combat. In exchange, she must follow a vow to never lie with a man until he has beaten her in a fair duel.

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Nearby, in a temple ruled by white-clad priestesses, a ceremony begins. They make claim that the talisman, a glowing green orb responsible for the creation of all life, is growing massively unstable and must be hidden in complete darkness. It’s the only way to save the world and all who live on it. Unfortunately, things don’t go as they planned when Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) with her black-clad army invades the temple and steals the talisman for herself.

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Among the priestesses is Varna, Sonja’s sister (Janet Agren), who discovers that the talisman can only be touched by women. Men evaporate instantly when they come into contact with it. She barely escapes with her life but when an arrow pierces her back, her vitality starts to gradually plummet.

Her escape sends her flying right into the arms of a mighty warrior named Kalidor, played by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The few perpetrators who followed were shown no mercy from him. He sliced through them clean – what a hero. Varna requested the presence of her sister before her oncoming passing, to which Kalidor obeyed and left to retrieve the mighty Red Sonja in much haste.

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Training in an outdoor arena of sorts, complete with a rather odd-looking statue in a squatting position, is Red Sonja (starring Brigitte Nielsen). No longer dressed in torn rags, but an alluring golden-scaled dress and a matching headpiece. Compared to the comic book version, I’d say her dress is pretty modest in the movie – though still revealing. Her master, a wise old man, decides to reward Red Sonja for becoming the “Master of the Master”, as he put it. A room full of dazzling swords of all kinds are shown to her. One sword in particular calls her name in a soft voice – the same voice she knew to be the kindred spirit from the woods. She was clearly on the path she desired: the path of vengeance.

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Kalidor, dressed in red and gold, arrives in style, upon horseback, and retrieves thee Red Sonja without delay. Before Varna passes away, she informs Sonja of the talisman and the destruction it would bring in 13 days time. Simply put: it’ll be the end of the world, if the talisman is not hidden in eternal darkness. Not if Sonja can do something about it…

The hulky, yet courteous ally offers his help to the distraught beauty, but she refuses claiming, “I don’t need any man’s help.” To which she rides off alone towards the massive storm in the city of Hablok. Proof of the talisman at work, and her only clue to the whereabouts of Queen Gedren.  Although Kalidor may have been left behind, he’s seen lingering in the mere distance keeping an ever close-eye on her in secret.

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When she arrives in the once-grand city of Hablok, she finds the kingdom in complete ruins. Only two bickering citizens remain. Specifically one actually, ranting uncontrollably to the other about how pathetic and insignificant he is. Of course, he just so happens to be the heir to the throne, Prince Tarn, starring Ernie Reyes Jr. Only a young boy in this film, but you can still recognize him from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, or The Rundown from his later years. Even then, he had the martial artist finesse of a champion.

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The other individual is Falkon (Paul Laurence Smith), Prince Tarn’s servant and guardian. Thanks to Sonja’s fast acting, she was able to help them both out of a jam. Prince Tarn offers her a rank in his army as a cook, as thanks for her good deeds, but she refuses.  Her only interest is the directions to Berkubane, the land of Perpetual Night, where Gedren resides, which she receives. However, before leaving, she advises Falkon to “beat some manners into him” – by means of spanking of course. He’s against doing such measures, and seems to be content with the Prince the way he is, oddly enough.

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On Red Sonja continues her journey. First she has to pass through Lord Brydon’s domain, played by Pat Roach. In a short encounter, she leaves with the grand key necessary to open the gates, that she pulls from his dead body. Just as she refused Queen Gedren’s advances, she refused Brydon’s. The only difference is Queen Gedren lives with only a slash to the face while Brydon is pierced through the chest. The Queen actually wears a gold chain mask to cover the scar. I must say it gives her character a unique flair.

As Brydon’s soldiers move in on Red Sonja, Kalidor busts in to save the day! The two manage to escape to the gate, except Kalidor stays behind to deal with them himself. She smirks at his decision, then rides off.

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She finds herself next in some woods, when she overhears odd commotion going on. Why, it’s Prince Tarn! Being tortured?! A ruffian  has his hands and feet tied to a horse ready to pull him apart. Not on Sonja’s watch. She charges in, cuts the restraints, and fends off the bandits, but not without the help of Prince Tarn.

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Falkon returns after all the action is done, claiming he went out hunting for food. Now one has become three, for Prince Tarn is eager to make the Queen pay for her crimes against his kingdom. So our group travels together, all the while scolding each other. There’s an epic skeleton bridge that they cross, and it’s pretty glorious. Could’ve used some metal music in the scenic shot, would’ve given it edge.

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Sonja feels the need to “mother” the Prince a few times. She even boldly tells him, “You’ll never learn anything else til you learn gratitude and self-sacrifice – like Falkon; he’s a REAL man.” But later, a heart-to-heart talk smooths out their rough edges. She teaches him to be gentle when wielding a weapon. You learn that Prince Tarn is actually quite charming, and well on his way to becoming a wise, civilized king. Who knew? Supposedly, Falkon did.

Meanwhile, at Queen Gedren’s palace, the talisman is moved into a large room filled with multiple lit candles. It is said the talisman gains it’s power from sources of light, where as darkness destroys it. Through magic, the Queen’s wizard (dressed in green and orange decor) displays the trio proceeding towards them. At the Queen’s side is a beautiful young maiden, obviously her partner, and an unnaturally large pet spider – that purrs?

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The sight of Red Sonja grasps her attention in a heartbeat. Without delay she orders that no harm better come to Red Sonja – not even a scratch on her body. This queen knows what she wants. She also knows how to “dress to impress”. Black may be her color, but the gold she adorns herself in, as well as her followers, surpass by far as her color of choice. In a way, seeing Red Sonja, reborn in golden apparel, appears as a treasure to Gedren; a prize worthy for her to behold.

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On Queen Gedren’s orders, the talisman is used to conjure up a “little” storm in order to sway the party towards the “Icthyan Killing Machine” she has released. Inside a cave filled with water, the metallic beast is eventually blinded, leaving it screaming in agony. Kalidor appears again, clad this time in black and gold, to help Sonja settle the score.

 

Around a campfire later, it is revealed who Kalidor truly is. Turns out he’s a Lord of Hyrkania, vowed to ensure the talisman is properly taken care of. Sonja sighs, hoping he was lurking for a much different reason – he did. He pulls her in to kiss her, which she allows, but then backs away remembering her vow. He finds her vow ironic, but he’s up for the challenge. The two go at it hard, until they are both completely exhausted. The Prince even notices the amount of energy put into the match. “She doesn’t want to win,” he says.

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The next day, they reach their final destination: Queen Gedren’s palace. Through their teamwork, the Prince was able to retrieve his kingdom’s stolen gold, and Sonja was able to rid the world of the talisman and Queen Gedren. Due to the Prince’s courage, he almost had trapped himself inside the palace to help the others escape.

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Afterwards, Prince Tarn strongly encourages Red Sonja to visit his kingdom someday in the future when it’s rebuilt for he wants her at his court, maybe even make her his bride. But Sonja suggests that he’ll find a bride. Kalidor makes a comment to choose wisely, for he has made a rule “never to take a woman unless she can beat me in a fair fight.” A challenge Sonja is up to take. The royal pair rides off to their homeland, while the two warriors fight amongst themselves. The movie ends with them being lip-locked.

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All in all, Red Sonja is pretty similar to the Conan movie series, but with a strong female lead instead. I, myself, am a huge fan of the original Conan movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, so I found this movie a delight. Even if you’re not a fan of Conan or Red Sonja, this movie will please audiences who enjoy action and adventure. The acting isn’t the best perhaps, but it’s quite comical and entertaining to watch. Out of five stars, I would give this film two and a half stars.

 

 

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Author: Larryn LeFaye

Am a profound lover of magick, wonder, and imagination... Anything that piques my curiosity is something I strive to explore each day, one thing a day, everyday. Makes life fascinating, for there's so much to learn - and learn I shall...

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