The original Conan the Barbarian was a phenomenon, spawning a decade's worth of awful imitators in which muscled-up warriors went around killing people in something vaguely resembling the ancient past. And, as our video evidence shows, they were absolutely incredible.
I'll warn you right now: you are about to see more shirtless men, clumsy swordplay, cheesy "comedy", and poorly drawn non-characters than you ever thought possible. But there are also great treasures to be had here: triple-bladed swords, impromptu hang-gliders, decapitated wolf-men, death scenes that are truly breathtaking in their stupidity, and perhaps the single weirdest Raiders of the Lost Ark homage of all time.
Most of these Conan ripoffs were fairly nondescript affairs - and a lot of them were Italian, for some reason - in which some Conan stand-in would kill a bunch of not particularly intimidating bad guys out of a vague need for vengeance or something. But within that exacting formula, there was still room for creativity and inspiration. And Franco Proseri's 1982 effort, The Invincible Barbarian, proves that point in spades, as it gives us quite possibly the silliest death scene in movie history. It takes a genius to come up with something that stupid.
You know what? Have another taste of the invincible barbarian's fury. Never has senseless death felt so artistically relevant.
These sword and sorcery epics had to find some way, however minor, to distinguish themselves from Conan. Since The Invincible Barbarian had already sewn up the whole "ludicrous brutality" angle, that left American B-movie director Albert Pyun to find something else with his 1982 cult classic The Sword and the Sorcerer. His solution? A triple-bladed sword that can fire said blades as projectiles. Really, a title like "The Sword and the Sorcerer" is kind of burying the lede, don't you think? They should have called this thing Triple Sword: The Sword that Shoots Swords. Now that is a blockbuster title.
While The Invincible Barbarian and Sword and the Sorcerer had both, in their own way, tried to set themselves apart from Conan by being even more badass and awesome - which didn't really work, but hey, points for trying - 1983's Sword of the Barbarians took a different approach. Instead of portraying barbarians as proud, fearless warriors, the movie portrays its barbarians as a bunch of wimps who want to run in fear at the sight of some really unconvincing skeleton props and a single snake. Thankfully, they still have a reasonably brave leader in Sangrol, and it turns out these barbarians aren't just cowards - they're also easily swayed idiots. So, uh, it all works out in the end.
The Deathstalker series was Roger Corman's entry in the Conan ripoff sweepstakes, and it must be said that the series has its charms - its idiotic, sweaty charms. The four films blatantly recycled stock footage from previous entries, the main character was repeatedly recast, and what started as a very clear Conan knockoff shifted into an almost self-aware parody of the sword and sorcery genre in general, before devolving right back to being a Conan clone. Anyway, let's enjoy this bone-crunching moment from the original 1983 Deathstalker, which appears to be a tender moment of barbarian foreplay.
At least some of the Deathstalker entries were going for intentional comedy, and I'd say this scene from the 1987 sequel certainly qualifies. As far as the title character goes, the massively muscled original Deathstalker Rich Hill is gone, replaced by more generic eighties action hero John Terlesky. Also, instead of just snapping his friends' necks like a good barbarian, this Deathstalker just trades weird insults and misogynistic asides. The next Deathstalker would feature yet another actor as the title character, but 1988's Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell would gain greater fame as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. More on them in a moment.
I'm not honestly sure what to make of this - beyond the trailer, there's precious little of Conquest available online - but the trailer alone is worth seeing. Italian director Lucio Fulci, sometimes called "The Godfather of Gore", made Conquest in 1983. The film's major innovation was downplaying the whole "sword" aspect of the sword and sandals genre, instead substituting in a magical bow and arrows. The two heroes must face an evil witch who is just as shirtless as they are - hence the NSFW tag - and they must battle through an impressive array of cheesy 80s sound design.
Conan movies and their imitators are pretty much always on the verge of devolving into softcore exploitation films, and the Barbarian Queen movies don't even bother with pretending otherwise. The movies gather together a bunch of attractive women with supremely 80s hairstyles and have them fight each other, often while exposing their breasts. This clip, from 1989's Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back - you've got to admire the utter shamelessness of that title, really - is pretty par for the course, as a pair of warrior women mud wrestle over some vague argument. If you're wondering why the clip cuts off so suddenly, well...I did say these fights usually end with everybody topless.
For a slightly more positive depiction of female barbarians, look no further than 1983's Hundra. The movie follows Hundra, who apparently got her name when the writer vaguely remembered Attila the Hun was a barbarian and just sort of went from there. She comes from a tribe of Amazon-like warrior women, and she takes vengeance on all men when her family is slain. In this clip, she kills over a dozen trained warriors, despite the fact that she doesn't really seem to know how to hold a sword properly.
Twin brothers Peter and David Paul actually called themselves "The Barbarian Brothers", so really they had no choice but to appear in this fairly horrendous 1987 movie directed by Cannibal Holocaust's Ruggero Deodato. Superman IV producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan were also on board, so we're talking dangerously high levels of schlock in this movie. The movie features your standard Conan ripoff plot - other than the whole twins aspect, of course - as our lovable pseudo-Conans hunt down the evil tyrant who has kidnapped their queen. On the way, they team up with the requisite scantily clad warrior woman, and, as you can see in this clip, engage in some of the most gloriously demented team-building exercises ever committed to film.
And then, there was Ator. Italian director Joe D'Amato - whose filmography is mostly composed of hardcore porn - made four entries in the Ator series, which asked the age old question, "What if Conan the Barbarian wasn't just a great warrior, but also a brilliant scientist, engineer, scholar, and magician who can maybe make things appear out of thin air?" Oh, and, as was seen in the first film, 1982's Ator, the Flying Eagle, it also asked, "What if Ator wanted to bone his sister, and nobody had much of a problem with this?" Of course, it turns out that Ator is adopted - something he learns only after asking his father permission to marry his sister - so no harm, no foul I guess, but there are still complications involving a kidnapping and a giant spider. And now, let's watch an episode of Love, Barbarian Style.
Original Ator Miles O'Keeffe departed the series after 1987's Iron Warrior, which was made without Joe D'Amato's involvement and somehow managed to be even worse than a normal Ator movie. To restore some, uh, dignity to the series, D'Amato returned with Eric Allan Kramer taking over the main role. Once again, D'Amato stole from the best - while the original Ator had clearly taken its cues from the Luke and Leia romance in Star Wars, 1990's Quest for the Mighty Sword looked to another George Lucas work, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Specifically, the movie takes the iconic moment where Indiana Jones shoots the master swordsman and asks, "What if we made it two swordsmen, had them twirl around their weapons for a good thirty seconds, and then have Ator kill them with a wrist-mounted crossbow that appears out of nowhere, all while an evil goblin of some sort looks on and snickers?" The answer, of course, is that awesomeness ensues.
But the true gem of the Ator corpus is the second entry, variously known as Ator the Invincible 2, The Blademaster, and The Cave-Dwellers. It was under that last title that the series gained its most lasting fame, when it was featured on a third season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movie reaches the most dizzying heights of lunacy and crapitude with its action climax, in which Ator somehow builds a modern hang-glider and flies through a lot of poorly spliced together stock footage - which flips randomly between a desert and a castle in the Swiss Alps - to save his mentor from an evil guy and protect the Geometric Nucleus, which based on the last bit of stock footage is apparently an atomic bomb. Really, there's nothing I can say about this moment of cinematic history that wasn't said better by Joel and the Bots...