‘I fought 167 men and only one survives. And he has no legs!’ is a representative sample of the ear-burning dialogue featured in Richard Fleisher’s slice of 1985 sword and sorcery buffoonery. A proud entry in the so-bad-it’s good film selection, Red Sonja somehow took Arnold Schwarzenegger, red hot on the back of The Terminator, and cast him in a violent action role that absolutely no-one wanted to see.
Perhaps that’s because Arnie plays second fiddle to Brigitte Neilsen as Red Sonja, a wild barbarian warrior who looks like she’d kick ass except for constantly needing to be rescued by the muscle-bound Kalidor (Arnie). ‘He’s a real man,’ Red Sonja simpers, totally letting the air out of the balloon in terms of her being tough. Kalidor and Red Sonja have more than a few obstacles to overcome, notably the ever-villainous Ronald Lacey.
But Red Sonja is elevated to the status of high art by the performance of Sandhal Bergman as Queen Gedren of Berkubane, who arrives complete with her sidekick Ikol. Complete with a giant pet spider and a goofy-looking sorcerer on call, Hyberian Queen Gedren talks like a Vegas showgirl, seems to have a DJ in a booth as part of her royal court, and is one of the cattiest characters ever to appear on film; her every appearance provokes mirth.
Red Sonja was co-written by the great historical novelist George Macdonald Fraser, and there’s some memorable flashes of imagination in the visuals, including skeletons of beast gone by, although the central foe in the form of fish/machine/monster is a complete hoot. Watching Arnie enthusiastically wrestle this rubbery creation in a large foot-bath, it’s hard to begrudge the star a successful future in politics; he seems like the working definition of a good sport.