Red Sonja (1985)

Richard Fleischer directs Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman in this fantasy adventure where a flame-haired warrior woman hunts the witch who destroyed two of her homes.

Red Sonja is a homeless film. Abandoned, no one wants it. The box office flop that killed the Conan franchise… even though Arnie’s mercenary thief is travelling under the name Kalidor here. The Schwarzenegger often labels this his worst movie – though this might have more to do with financial resentment that Dino De Laurentiis sharply stretched his contracted cameo role into a full supporting part rather than any qualitative judgement. The film clearly is the first cinematic live action feature release based on a Marvel Comics property but you’ll struggle to find any list or article that doesn’t bestow that crown to the equally begotten Howard the Duck from 1986. I’m a regular reader of the comics and while this lacks the curvy, hard drinking, bisexual in a skimpy chainmail bikini the juvenile in me adores… it feels like a solid adaptation for the She-Devil With a Sword. Sure, there’s none of the feminist revisionism, time travelling fish-out-of-water shenanigans and epic empire facing down of recent arcs but you get bog standard Sword and Sorcery. Questing, cliffhangers, mechanical beasts. The production design is strong… the battlewear of even minor characters is visually impressive and the artificial sets add wondrous scale to the convincing Italian countryside shoot. Nielsen is a bit bland as our titular lead, statuesque but maybe lacking the sex appeal and over-confidence of her comic counterpart. Florence Pugh would be a good modern fit if they got the hair dye out. Lack of charisma aside, the sidekicks make up for things – Arnie’s bullish rescuer, a deposed child prince who knows kung-fu and his head smashing faithful man servant. The film hits the fantasy genre target if not the bullseye deserving neither scorn nor particular praise. Perfectly adequate Friday night thrills.


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