Bad Movies We Love: Red Sonja

redsonja_kiss630.jpg"Sperminator!!!" There's your trenchant Arnold Schwarzenegger dig of the day. Arnold knocked up a lady, see, and it wasn't Maria Shriver, who is famously his wife. That's the big-time joke of our now. Great. What a happenin' occasion to remember Arnold's single worst film (emphasized because I can't believe there's a clear standout -- and Arnold even acknowledged it himself), the 1985 box office fiasco Red Sonja.

Sonja stars Flavor of Love guest mess Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold's fellow Conan veteran Sandahl Bergman, and takes place in a mystical, pan-ethnic dreamworld constructed from what appears to be papier-mâché. Glorious.


You may be wondering why the words Red Sonja ring a bell if you're not a fan of either Marvel Comics or the filmographies of shock-blonde Stallone paramours. Robert Rodriguez has been in talks to remake the movie with Rose McGowan for a couple of years, and -- who knows -- it may happen. Allegedly, the prospect of a new Red Sonja depends on the success of this summer's Conan reboot (the Marvel comic is where Sonja made her debut), which is likely doomed because it's horrifying. You'll just have to love the original, and it's not an affection you'll develop on your own. Trust me. Let me teach you the Scandinavian secrets.

1. Please ignore the story

Here's what you need to know: Brigitte stars as a slurry tall person with a sword. She has hair the color of drab '70s kitchen tiles that can, in a broad manner, be described as red. She crusades against the evil Queen Gedren of Berkubane (Sandahl Bergman) and her troops, who once raped Sonja and murdered her family. Nice! "Ka-pow!" as we say in comic-reading circles. Now Sonja wants to destroy Gedren and her creepy crystal statue, which only women can touch without disintegrating on the spot. Must be made from Josh Groban albums.


2. Please don't ignore the acting

Speed ahead to 0:01 for phenomenal acting. For more direct Nielsen magic, try 3:17. Schwarzenegger, who plays her brave ally Kalidor (not Conan, mysteriously), warns, "I know you a brave girl -- but danger is my trade." Brigitte, whose flavor of love at the time was bored angst, retorts, "Don't make me angry, Kalidor. I don't need any man's help." She could use some man's Adderall stash, though, because she's sauntering through battle under the weight of Danish stoicism and all that Scorpina gear. Wake up, Red Sonja! You're in a movie for some reason! You wonder how director Robert Fleischer, who -- my God -- directed real movies like Doctor Dolittle once upon a time, survived this production. I imagine he was haunted by dreams of Rex Harrison criticizing Brigitte's garbled, sub-Eliza Doolittle patois.

3. Note the sprawling, decadent, otherworldly sets and how you could have built them yourself

The strangest thing about Red Sonja is how, despite the cheapness of the acting, story, and elocution, it has a real budget. IMDb claims the movie cost $17.9 million, which is about what Back to the Future cost the same year. You won't notice any Zemeckis-ian splendor here, though -- only foam-core fortresses tricked out with church-basement paint jobs. It's like if you gave your preteen son $17 million to make an action movie. What would he do? Nope, not hire professional artists to construct the set, props, and lighting scheme. He'd go to the thrift store near Steak 'N Shake, valiantly purchase all the "cool" couches, candlesticks and party swords, and turn those into a "sweet-looking" set. The final battle will take place in your den, which has been repainted in "Hot Topic gel pen" crimson.


4. Give yourself a few minutes to wonder why this movie has an Asian street-fighting child prince

Not that Red Sonja claims to exist in an earthbound locale, but I just don't know where you can go (in vaguely old times, in any galaxy) where Danes, Austrians, and hop-along child princes with karate prowess named Tarn convene for world-saving. I imagine a certain actioner from 1984 is to blame for the wee warrior's appearance on Sonja's journey, but that's no excuse: He's too baffling for this movie. Click to 6:10 and keep pressing the "7" key to hear him growl in guffaw-worthy agony.

5. Watch the concluding kiss on repeat until you've chewed off your fingers and legs

Spoiler: This movie ruins kissing forever. I wonder what a Brigitte Nielsen/Arnold Schwarzenegger lip-lock sounds like in real life. "Nommieeeee, [slurp] bahmm, ooohm [gurgle], hooooommm, yah, thahms up," I suspect. It's certainly how it sounds when I put my pucker up to the screen and join in. Hypothetically.



  • This post only seals my conviction that we were made to be together, Louis. Take me!
    Seriously, I used to watch this (and Hercules movies; Gee, such a surprise I'm gay, huh?) all. the. time! I used to act out the beginning part where the warrior women fight Gedren's henchmen in that temple. I, of course, had strategically placed pieces of fabric draped about my shoulders (what, you thought I'd play the male soliders?!?) for extra authenticity. Then, I'd run around the house pretending I was Sonja's sister trying to escape, until the inevitable arrow in the back got me. No, I didn't have a lot of friends.
    Also, for trivia's sake, Arnold was originally supposed to play Conan, since they take place in the same world, but there was some sort of rights issue or something, so they just called him Kalidor and got on with making more papier-mache for the sets.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    The Kalidor casting has "rights issue" written all over it. If you ever dressed up as Madeline Kahn in Clue, then I'll start Fed-Exing wedding themes to you.

  • Al Harron says:

    "Not that Red Sonja claims to exist in an earthbound locale"
    Technically, Red Sonja exists on our earth in the Hyborian Age (the same as Conan), which is a fictional period of earth's history before the Ice Age and the rise of modern civilization, from which all the myth, legend and folklore of later times springs. Hence the Hyborian Age features mythical places like Cimmeria, Asgard, Vanaheim, Turan, Ophir and the like as actual places, whose people would go on to found the tribes which would become the Indo-Europeans, Turkics and so on. Sure, there's magic and monsters, but is it any more preposterous in concept than the idea of people fighting dragons in historical England and Germany?
    Not that I'm defending the film at all, in fact that just makes its stupidity all the more an indictment.