A Muscle Beach bodybuilder & his hapa surfer buddy battle a cult that exploits rich hippies

Monday, June 24th, 2019

Gwern reviews Conan the Barbarian:

(Got around to watching after reading an amusing tweet summary: “An underappreciated thing about the Conan the Barbarian movie is how low-key informed it is by 1970s California beach culture. It’s basically about a Muscle Beach bodybuilder & his hapa surfer buddy doing drugs, having casual sex & battling a cult that exploits rich hippies.” Having already watched Pumping Iron, which shows Arnold Schwarzenegger not long before while still trying to transition from bodybuilding to film and his milieu, I was intrigued by the comparison. And Stentz’s summary is… dead on. It’s so easy to see them as Californian bodybuilders bumbling around, having a good time, distracted by a hippie Californian Asian/human-potential cult — complete with longhaired acolytes twirling flowers and meditating, and hilariously homoerotic dialogue, which as “The Power and the Gory”, takes pains to remind us, was a big part of the bodybuilding scene as even straight bodybuilders would whore themselves out to gay men for money or access to controlled steroids/drugs. I was further surprised by how slow-moving and mild it is — it repeatedly pulls punches and takes more peaceful ways out than its bloody reputation would suggest (even the Seven Samurai-homage set-piece features possibly less bloodshed than the original), right up to the climax. Of course Thulsa Doom is going to transform into his giant serpent form and fight Conan, right? Nope! And then all the cultists just quietly disperse.)

I happen to be listening to Schwarzenegger’s memoir, Total Recall, and this all rings true.


  1. Kirk says:

    Sounds like that review of the Wizard of Oz, wherein it describes the story as Dorothy being “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again…”.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Apparently Rick Polito wrote that description in 1998 for the Wizard of Oz listing on TCM.

Leave a Reply