Thor the Conqueror and the Art of Italian Misunderstanding

The early 80s saw the release of a number of high profile fantasy films. Excalibur (1981) and Clash of the Titans (1981) are still respected titles, with the latter recently being remade by someone for some reason. More important for our purposes was the release of John Milius’ film adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction hero Conan the Barbarian (1982). The film, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, really brought the concept of large muscular men killing slightly smaller, less muscular men with swords home to the public.

In those days, when a movie was successful, an Italian director had to rip it off. It was actually international law. The greatest among these rip-offs was a cineastic genius called Bruno Mattei, whose hit films Robowar (shamelessly copying Predator) and Terminator 2 (shamelessly copying – no, not that – shamelessly copying Aliens) are gems for the ages. There were others, however, and with Thor the Conqueror (1983) director Tonino Ricci secured his placed among these gods of the post-Roman pantheon of cinema.

Garnering a fine 3,2 rating at IMDb, where one reviewer says one of the film’s bad points is that it refused to end when he and his friends shouted for it to do so, Thor the Conqueror is a great ride through Italian cinematic failure, though enough happens in the movie to leave the viewer somewhat entertained. There are monsters to fight, hoodlums to slay and women to rape.

Yes, you read that right. Fantastic fiction aimed at either gender is often filled with romantic escapades with elements of force, danger or the “ravaging” of the female by burly male protagonists or side characters. The boys have their James Bond and aforementioned Conan the Barbarian, the girls have their Jackie Collins novels and 50  Shades of Grey. The reasons for, and consequences of, this fact are something that gender studies majors and sociobiologists can tear each other’s throats out over for decades. They could probably at least pause and join the rest of us in condemning, or at least gaping in amazement at, the gender relations of Thor the Conqueror. The director may have attempted to tap into the aforementioned public taste for non-PC love affairs, but as with so much else he clearly misunderstood the general idea.

One example will be enough: the slightly retarded looking protagonist saves a woman from rape and murder, and immediately proceeds to rape (though not murder) her himself in his cave. During this his mentor, a bizarre wizard in some kind of bird costume eggs him on, informing Thor and the world that “the woman is useless” and that “she must bear the fruit of your loins”.

After that scene, mercifully short and not very graphic or convincing, the bird wizard even makes a sound political judgement: “Now you have known a woman and killed a man. Your reign is almost about to start.” Something for the strategists of the Democratic National Committee to ponder, as the search for a viable candidate begins during the coming term?

Technically the movie is not half bad. At least not if you are of an optimistic disposition – then it’s not half good. The Vaseline lens, the awkward yet sometimes majestic nature shots, that special B-movie story arch which means you can watch a movie several times (I’ve seen Thor four, since there is something wrong with me) without actually recalling the plot…

If you have read this far, I suppose you are the sort of person who should watch this movie. It would seem no-one is interested in protecting the rights to it, since it is constantly available on Youtube, but decent folks should purchase it from Full Moon’s Grindhouse Collection.

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