I’ve never seen the Sorbo Kull movie, but having watched the trailer, it seems a lot more like a Conan movie than any Conan movie, which is ironic because Kull basically morphed into Conan in Howard’s stuff. Poor, overlooked Kull.

Well…yeah, there’s a reason for that: it’s an adaptation of Hour of the Dragon, the only full length King Conan novel. It was going to be a Conan movie but was rewritten to be about Kull for some absolutely begobbled legal reason.

You’re absolutely right. Conan and Kull are very much alike: they’re both barbarians who become king of an impossibly ancient country who’s history steeped in black magic is something they don’t entirely understand when they get the job, and because they of their lack of lineage, all the rich, chinless, overbred, blue-blooded jerks in the kingdom despise him and want to kick him off the throne. This is always why Conan was always more interesting to me as a King than as an adventurer: we all understand what it’s like to be on the outside looking in, or friendlessly surrounded by snakes who smile at us.

In Hour of the Dragon, these rich blue-bloods hatch an intrigue to get rid of this nobody barbarian they despise by bring a mummy back from the dead, Xaltotun. In a development nobody could predicted, a scheme centered around reawakening a mummy backfires. The conspirators expected to control the mummy to do their bidding, but Xaltotun was smarter than the lot, and with his great cunning, set the conspirators

against each other, which works as they’re already a backbiting paranoid lot who loathe each other. Very soon, the situation reversed itself: it’s the mummy who is calling the shots. Meanwhile, King Conan is kidnapped and gets a state funeral, believed dead to everyone, and though it looks like he lost his crown and doesn’t have a friend in the world, he is saved from death and smuggled out from the city by a widely despised religious minority, who never forgot that King Conan showed them kindness and tolerance when the nobles didn’t.

At the end, Conan kills the evil mummy, gets his crown back, and, ever the bull in a china shop, decides to ignore all the wealthy noblewomen and instead married a slave girl of low birth who was his companion when others abandoned him. Also, there’s fun things in that story like Conan wrestling a gorilla. 

You know, people get hung up, deservedly in some cases, on Howard’s many less than enlightened depictions of “slave girls” and people of other races, but if you were to force Soviet film-maker/propagandist Sergei Eisenstein to read Hour of the Dragon, he would have loved it and understood it immediately. It’s amazing to me how Conan has been analyzed every which way except the most obvious: class conflict. It’s what the series is about; you don’t need to squint to see it.

Oh, you were talking about the Kevin Sorbo movie, right? Sorry, I forgot…the movie is fun in places, kind of like a Harryhausen movie, and very watchable, but the book it’s based on is like 10,000 times more interesting. I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial when I say that the Kull adaptation failed because it got the tone all wrong. There shouldn’t be any wisecracking in a Kull movie. Kevin Sorbo is a lot of fun, but he was wildly miscast as Kull, who should be grim and with a thoughtful streak. The heavy metal music soundtrack was so out of place that it was borderline surreal. 

Fun fact: Hour of the Dragon has the distinction of having its’ oddly specific plot borrowed by a Doc Savage story not once but twice, both of which involve a conspiracy to bring a mummy to life as a puppet and tool of a conspiracy, only to have the much smarter mummy turn the tables, set the backbiters against each other, and take over. The first was Resurrection Day, and the second was an issue of the 80s comic where the mummy brought to life was Doc’s archenemy, the evil John Sunlight.