Richard Fleischer | 85 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & Netherlands / English | 15* / PG-13
From the sword and sorcery ‘boom’ of the ’80s, Red Sonja concerns a warrioress going after the evil queen who slaughtered her family and has now seized a magical MacGuffin that will destroy the world or somesuch.
The first remarkable thing about Red Sonja is that I don’t think anyone in it can act. Our heroine is played by model Brigitte Nielsen. Discovered on the cover of a fashion magazine by producer Dino De Laurentiis, that’s more or less the extent of her acting skills. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays her love interest / fellow warrior / big name to go on the poster. He’s hardly renowned for his thespian credentials either, and this won’t do anything to persuade you otherwise. No one else fares any better, though Sandahl Bergman has a degree of entertaining over-the-top campiness as the villainess.
However, the screenplay is surprisingly not bad, provided you accept it’s trying to be funny rather than assuming it’s unintentionally so. The bluntness of Arnie’s character early on is particularly laughable… though I think that one might be unintentional. There are some character and/or plot beats that are very effective — the fate the villainess affords survivors of a temple massacre is chilling, for example. When it tries to be too serious it’s often not much cop, but generally it’s operating in a slightly-wry action-adventure tone, so it earns a cautious pass.
Technical elements are largely up to snuff, including some great production design (the skeleton bridge, for example) and some well-choreographed action scenes, with the Sonja vs. Arnie fight being a particular highlight. Veteran helmer Richard Fleischer’s direction seems to have come in for criticism from some quarters, but I found it adequately unremarkable. Damning with faint praise, I know, but it doesn’t merit slagging off either.
Red Sonja is by no means a good film, but it’s kind of marvellous in spite of its innumerable flaws. I sort of loved it.
* Originally cut in the UK to get a PG. References to Sonja being raped and a throwing star were all that had to go, apparently (so not the two beheadings!) The first video release featured the cinema print; subsequent releases are all uncut and rated 15. ^