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Film / Kull the Conqueror

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Kull the Conqueror is a 1997 Heroic Fantasy film featuring Kevin Sorbo as the eponymous hero and Tia Carrere as Big Bad Akivasha.

After the mad king Borna kills his successors, the throne unexpectedly falls to outsider Kull, a barbarian from Atlantis. The king's cousin and the captain of the guard both lust to become king and remove Kull, reviving an ancient red witch to help them.

It was intended as a sequel to the Conan the Barbarian movies, but the character was changed to Robert E. Howard's older character Kull after Arnold Schwarzenegger's refusal to reprise the role.

Not to be confused with the similarly-named Sci Fi film Krull.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: For the kingdom. In the original stories, Valusia was a Decadent Court, where no one could apparently conceive of acting any different, and Kull faces danger at every turn. Here, while Borna was a mad king, and several locals are treacherous towards Kull, everyone else is largely benevolent and loyal.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: The Kull of the original stories was described as "not interested in women." Here, Kull clearly falls for Zareta very quickly.
  • Ascended Extra: Akivasha was a very minor villain in the Conan mythos who made a single appearance in the books. Here she is promoted as Big Bad.
  • Bad Boss: Queen Akivasha is often tormenting the priest who resurrected her by burning off parts of his face.
    Akivasha: Slaves should know their place.
  • Bad Moon Rising: The moon turning red with a demonic face marks the imminent resurrection of the fiendish lords of Acheron.
  • Barbarian Longhair: Kull has this, although the hair isn't overly long.
  • Big Bad: Akivasha. General Taligaro and his cronies are the ones to release her, but they find out Evil Is Not a Toy and they become her minions at the end.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Taligaro and Ducalon share the spot, being outclassed by a demon witch. Taligaro can at least fight The Hero; Ducalon is a hapless royal.
  • Breaking the Bonds: The bad guys taunt Kull and claim that his bonds are unbreakable, so he simply pulls so hard that the railing that he is tied to breaks.
  • The Caligula: King Borna was not a good king and at the start of the movie, he is in the process of butchering his successors. His final act was to make Kull his successor because he knows this will get him killed by others envious for the throne.
  • Composite Character: The main villain of the movie is a combination of two villains from The Hour of the Dragon, the book that serves as inspiration for this story: Akivasha, a female vampire and a minor obstacle from the book, and Xatoltun of Acheron, an evil sorcerer from a long destroyed empire that was resurrected by conspiring nobles to remove the main protagonist from the throne. She shares the former's name and the latter's role.
  • Cosmic Deadline: Akivasha's plan is dependent on the Bad Moon Rising.
  • Covers Always Lie: The movie has been given the subtitle "Son of Conan" in some parts of the world, which makes no sense from an in-universe perspective.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Like in the original stories, Kull was a slave and a pirate.
  • Defiled Forever: Defied. Kull's Love Interest Zareta was previously forced into Borna's Royal Harem and become his concubine. This doesn't bother Kull at all, he even feels jealous towards her relationship with Ascalante.
  • Demoted to Dragon: Taligaro finds he's this to Akivasha and struggles to fight against it.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Many ships are said to have tried to find the Breath of Valka but never returned. Before entering the cave on the Isle of Ice, Kull's group sees a number of frozen ships.
  • Didn't Think This Through: While gloating over the trick he pulled off, Juba says the ropes are too strong even for Kull to break. The wood the ropes are tied to, however...
  • Dirty Coward: Juba when the tables turn.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Borna's eldest heir challenged him for the throne. Borna not only reacted by killing him, but then acted to kill everyone who'd have a claim on the throne. He also tries to kill first Taligaro for simply objecting to this and then Kull for stopping him from killing Taligaro.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Subverted by the royal eunuch, who seems set up to fill an Evil Chancellor role in alliance with the two main bad guys in the Decadent Court, but he apparently remains ignorant of their (and later Akivasha's) schemes. His most morally ambiguous act is to insist to Kull that his kingdom retains the ancient laws permitting slavery.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: General Taligaro and the dead king's cousin decide to revive an ancient demon witch queen to remove Kull from the throne of Valusia. This of course ends up backfiring when she demotes them both to mere minions and takes over herself.
  • Evil Redhead: Akivasha is a redheaded demon witch.
  • Expy: Most characters are based on the cast of The Hour of the Dragon as follow:
    • Akivasha is a composite character of Xatoltun and the vampiress of same name from the book (See details above).
    • Zareta is based on Zenobia, a beautiful slave girl from his predecessor's harem whom Kull/Conan inherited after killing him.
    • Ascalante to Hadratus as a friendly priest of a foreign deity.
    • Taligaro is Amalric, the general of the kingdom's army that conspires to overthrow The Hero.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: Kull and Akivasha's heads are seen in the sky on the poster.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early on, Taligaro dismisses an axe as a mere chopping tool. He meets his end at the business end of Kull's axe.
    • During a one-on-one sword session to prove his worth, Kull squats down and swings upward, but Taligaro deflects this attack. Later, Kull tries this same move when facing Borna, but it actually works here.
    • Zareta accurately predicts that a kiss will decide Valusia's fate.
  • Forgot I Could Change the Rules: While Kull is informed early in the movie that he CAN'T outlaw slavery (although we later see that there's no mechanism to enforce this rule), he later acts as if the law prevents him from freeing his own slaves.
  • Fortune Teller: Zareta is a diviner who used tarot-like cards to predict Kull's future.
  • Frame-Up: Zareta is the fall gal for the supposed assassination of Kull.
  • Glamour Failure: Queen Akivasha looks like a smoking hot witch for most of the film, but when the time to replenish her strength in the hellfire nears, her hand already turns into a demonic claw when she gets angry at General Taligaro.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: After Kull unexpectedly becomes king he marries a redheaded noblewoman who is actually an ancient demon witch-queen resurrected by Kull's enemies in the court. They learn that Evil Is Not a Toy as Queen Akivasha wants to restore the kingdom to its former glory and has no intention of sharing her power with them.
  • The Good King: Kull, upon becoming king, immediately releases several slaves in the palace and tries to abolish slavery completely but is told he can't because the kingdom's ancient law allows it. Further, he refuses to have sex with Zareta before he's sure she's willing, as she had been the former king's sex slave and accustomed to serving that way. He also frees a priest persecuted for heresy and establishes religious tolerance, saying people can worship whatever gods they want (although this is case of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero as the priest worships Akivasha and the law prevented him from resurrecting her). All this is before Kull faces down the main villain. After he defeats her, Kull abolishes slavery anyway, ancient law be damned.
  • Hell on Earth: When Kull tells Akivasha the Red Witch to go to hell after she tells him they can rule together, she retorts that he shouldn't be in a hurry—she's already planning to bring hell to her kingdom instead.
  • I Choose to Stay: After the first assassination attempt, Kull offers Zareta her freedom, but she decides to stay.
  • I Owe You My Life: Ascalante twice over. When he first see him, he's facing public execution for his religious beliefs, but Kull intervenes and pardons him. We later learn that Borna almost had Ascalante executed years ago for heresy, but Zareta agreed to become his slave in exchange for her brother's life.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Kull is insistent on bringing along Juba, a guy he pointedly doesn't trust. He gets betrayed almost immediately.
    • Enaros just keeps mouthing off to the vicious demon who regularly inflicts physical harm on him.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: During the climax, Kull plunges Taligaro's own sword into him. However, he suddenly springs up alive for one final confrontation. Kull then uses his axe to finish him once and for all.
  • Ironic Echo: At the start of the movie, Taligaro looks down on Kull for using an axe as wepaon as this isn't how a proper soldier fights. At the end, Kull uses an axe to finish off Taligaro proclaiming this is how "a barbarian fights".
  • Irony:
    • After rejecting Kull for not having any royal blood, Taligaro talks about the importance of having it just before a messenger reports that Borna is executing all of his heirs. Kull gladly snarks about this turn of events.
    Kull: Noble blood...all over the palace fIoor.!
    • Taligaro having to bow before the man he rejected for his army and even mocked. Had he not turned Kull away at the time, he could've very well ended up as king when Borna is confronted. And you can tell that thought crossed his mind after Kull is named king.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: When Kull breaks free and has Juba at his mercy, Juba nervously tries to save himself by claiming that he was just joking with him. Kull doesn't buy it for a millisecond and throws him off his own ship.
  • Kiss of Death: The Red Witch gives such a kiss to Kull, though taking a liking to him, she does not give him the fatal version. (Apparently she could have if she wished). At the end of the movie, she beckons to him with a promise of a kiss (she's transformed into a fugly demon by that point btw) and Kull gives her his own kiss of death, forcing the Breath of Valka into her body.
  • Lighter and Softer: When compared to the earlier (and later) Conan the Barbarian films, which this is a Divorced Installment of. In the Conan movies there are some pretty violent deaths, epically evil bad guys, and nudity. Because Kull was made with a PG-13 rating in mind, all of these are absent.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Zareta has a skunk stripe as a result of her experience with the Breath of Valka.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Queen Akivasha reacts with boredom when one of her co-conspirators stabs her in the chest with a dagger after he realizes who's really in charge. He gets fired for his troubles.
  • Man on Fire: Akivasha gives Ducalon this fate. After she presses his forehead, he screams before falling out a window and bursts into flames.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Inverted. Ascalante is quite happy to see his sister Zareta and Kull together.
  • Not Quite Dead: Akivasha promised to kill Kull, but instead, she only made it look like he was poisoned and then had him detained at her temple. Taligaro is pissed when he finds out what Akivasha did.
  • Oh, Crap!: Kull when he sees Akivasha go One-Winged Angel.
  • One-Winged Angel: Akivasha spends most of the movie in human form. As the red moon begins, she begins to transform into a demonic form. During the climax, we see a winged and horned demon.
  • Opening Narration: Done by our titular hero. It summarizes the fall of Akivasha's kingdom and the rise of Valusia.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Akivasha spends most of the film doing nothing but staring at the great fire in her temple while General Taligaro actually does the dirty work of pursuing Kull.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The plot is kicked off because paranoid King Borna kills the rest of the royal family for fearing they're conspiring against him and then dies himself after attacking the barbarian Kull. The rest of the film is the result of the Succession Crisis caused by Borna giving the throne to Kull out of spite.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The villainess, leading to this exchange:
    Monk: She's 3,000 years old.
    Kull: She said she was 19!
  • Relative Error: Kull assumes Ascalante to be Zareta's lover since he's so keen on rescuing her. When he asks Zareta directly about their relation to each other, she reveals that Ascalante is her brother. She later becomes Kull's lover, which Ascalante is totally fine with.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Ducalon and then Taligaro get what they deserve.
  • Rogues' Gallery Transplant: Akivasha was a Conan foe rather than Kull's. It's rather ironic when you consider that Thulsa Doom (a Kull villain) was the Big Bad in Conan the Barbarian (1982).
  • Sadistic Choice: After mortally wounding Borna, Kull holds the crown. Both Taligaro and Ducalon demand it, and Kull clearly doesn't know who to give it to. Resolved by Borna deciding to screw over all three of them by naming Kull his successor.
  • The Scapegoat:
    • When the first assassination attempt fails, Taligaro and Ducalon attempt to blame it on a neighboring kingdom, though Kull casts them a suspicious glance.
    • Zareta is quickly blamed by Akivasha for Kull's apparent death.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: The previous king forced Zareta to become part of his harem or he'd have her brother executed for heresy by preaching foreign gods.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: The icy Breath of Valkur had to be retrieved from the far north, to counter the fiery evil Big Bad.
  • Shout-Out: Akivasha tells Taligaro she is altering their deal and that he better pray she doesn't alter it any further.
  • Slave Liberation: After Kull becomes king, he decides to abolish slavery altogether but is dissuaded from this by the noblemen of the kingdom because it is written in ancient laws. He still releases several of his palace slaves. Then at the end of the movie he shatters the ancient tablet that permits slavery anyway.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: When Kull becomes king, he gets into a dispute with the traditional nobles of Valusia over the ancient laws that permit slavery, which supersede any king. Kull has personal experience with being forced to work on a Slave Galley, so he allows the slaves in his royal court to either go back to their homeland or receive a fair wage if they've lived in Valusia all their lives. At the end of the film he smashes the ancient tablet and outlaws slavery completely over the royal eunuch's protests.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Queen Akivasha is an ancient witch queen who once ruled over Valusia and is resurrected by the bad guys to remove Kull the Barbarian from the throne. Though her plan is apparently to bring Hell on Earth, the way she came to power by marrying Kull and then arranging his death (he escaped) means she can't really be upfront that she's evil to her subjects and has to be a Villain with Good Publicity.
  • Succession Crisis: An example without a war happens at the beginning. The paranoid King Borna of Valusia slaughters most of the royal family out of fear that someone will try to kill him. Kull, a barbarian from Atlantis, ends up mortally wounding Borna. Kull picks up the crown, not knowing what to do with it. Immediately, General Taligaro and Borna's cousin each demand that Kull hand him the crown. As a final "fuck you", Borna manages to proclaim Kull his successor, pointing out that Kull will now have to live in constant fear of assassination. The high priest confirms that Borna has that right, resulting in Taligaro and Borna's cousin plotting to get rid of Kull by resurrecting an ancient sorceress. Naturally, it doesn't go according to plan.
  • Taken for Granite: On the frozen isle there is a temple room filled with previous explorers who were all frozen solid when they entered and a riddle on the wall on how to pass safely. It turns out only a woman may pass safely and receive the god's gift.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Subverted. Kull and his friends board the ship of Juba, one of Kull's old associates from his days as a pirate, to travel to an island that contains the one weapon that can destroy the villainess. Juba serves them food and wine, which Kull suspects to be poisoned and only partakes after Juba drinks and eats from it himself. It turns out that the food wasn't poisoned, but it was drugged. Juba's men tie up Kull and his team while their boss is unconscious.
  • This Cannot Be!: Kull was left behind on the Isle of Ice to die, so Taligaro has this reaction when he sees him sailing up to the shores of Valusia.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Juba has this look on his face before Kull knocks him overboard.
  • Undying Loyalty: Enaros to Akivasha, no matter how many times she injures him.
  • Unexpected Successor: The movie starts with the eponymous barbarian (played by Kevin Sorbo) being denied in joining Borna's army, as all of them are noble-born. Then Borna goes berserk and murders most of his successors before being mortally wounded by Kull. While the captain of the guard and a nobleman bicker over who should claim the crown, Borna decides that all three should be punished and gives the crown to Kull before dying. The priesthood approves, and, suddenly, the captain of the guard must bow down before a barbarian he has just rejected from the army.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Taligaro, since Kull saves him from being killed by Borna and he re-tributes by trying to usurp him.
  • Unwanted Harem: Kull inherits a literal unwanted harem from Borna. At the end of the movie, Kull officially disbands the harem, proclaiming that "the king commands no one's affection".
  • Vain Sorceress: Implied Trope with Akivasha. Her true form is apparently a very ugly demon with horns, but she spends most of the film looking like a Hot Witch.
  • Villainesses Want Heroes: Akivasha the Red Witch spends the vast majority of the film attempting to convince Kull to accept her offer of immortality and become her lover and co-ruler over all the world, beginning even before he is a real threat to her and without standing to gain anything from his acceptance of the offer. She constantly pulls her punches (and even betrays her own minions) in order to avoid killing Kull in the hopes that he will eventually come around and be her consort for all eternity. After such dogged persistence, you almost feel bad for her when she finally gets the kiss she wanted... but it's laced with the Breath of Valka, which kills her. Heavy emphasis on almost though.
  • Virgin Power: Subverted. The hero's non-virgin love interest needs a god to grant her the power to destroy the Big Bad. She knows gods usually don't hand that kind of power to non-virgins, so she asks the god to give it to her anyway, since her intentions are pure at least. The god generously obliges. It perhaps helped she lost her virginity as a price (yep, the old king was one dirty ol' bastard) for letting her brother free (he was to be executed for heresy), and not by just screwing around.
  • We Can Rule Together: After arranging Kull's fake death on their wedding night to usurp the throne from him, Akivasha wakes up Kull in the dungeons. Since he was so good in the bedroom she offers him to rule by her side. He instantly refuses.
  • Widow's Weeds: Queen Akivasha wears a black veiled dress after arranging King Kull's "death".
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The movie borrows heavily from the Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon, only replacing Conan with Kull as the barbarian who becomes king by dethroning the previous tyrant, gets removed from power by the machinations of conspirators who release an undead sorcerer and has to fight to get it back. Makes sense considering this movie was supposed to be an Conan sequel which would have adapted that novel, plus turnaround is fair play as the 1982 Conan movie it's supposed to be a sequel to actually borrowed more from Kull than it did the Conan novels!
  • Xanatos Gambit: With the assassination attempt clearly failing, Taligaro kills one of the would-be assassins to make himself look like a loyal soldier.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Taligaro pursues Kull to the Isle of Ice simply to kill his rival, with finding a way to deal with Akivasha a later concern. When he sees the Breath of Valka is legit and that Zareta has it, he adjusts his priorities.