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The Road To Kull Was Paved With Good Intentions

By James Van Hise


KULL THE CONQUEROR began its twisting road to the big screen as CONAN III by Charles Edward Pogue. Although initially rumored to have been an adaptation of THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, it actually only takes small elements from that story (the resurrection of a long dead wizard of Acheron, and Conan reuniting with his old pirate cronies) and instead is completely original and doesn't directly adapt any individual Howard story. But when Arnold Schwarzenegger turned it down (ostensibly because he doesn't care for doing sequels), Universal decided to do a Kull movie instead.

The KULL THE CONQUEROR script draft dated Aug. 25, 1993 opens with King Borna gripped by madness, slaying all of his children in the belief that his royal wizard Enaros will soon make the king immortal. But Borna has acted too soon and overplayed his hand.

Meanwhile, Enaros is in his citadel tower performing a ceremony which reanimates the ancient Acheron sorceress Akivasha, once known as the Red Witch, using the mystic Flame of Korsala which exists in the wizard's tower.

Kull, the commander of King Borna's navy, learns of his monarch's descent into madness and is among those who confront him. In the battle Kull strikes Borna down. During the fight a device of the wizard's explodes, maiming Enaros in the fire. During this fight Akivasha has remained hidden but she admires what she sees in Kull.

While everyone else stands around arguing about who will be king, the dying Borna decrees that Kull will succeed him, and Borna dies laughing. With the succession official, Tu decrees that no one may dispute Kull's right to the crown.

The character of Zareta, one of the king's concubines whose tarot cards can foretell the future (she foretold Kull's rise to be king), is established as a woman who respects Kull and remains with him even after he frees the women in the seraglio and gives them money so that they can go and have lives of their own.

Initially Kull wins favor with the people by abolishing all slavery in Valusia. But he also believes that people should be allowed to worship whatever gods they choose. When Kull rescues the priest Ascalante from being whipped by his rival, Mandara, another enemy is made as Mandara does not like the competition.

A group of conspirators meet and they are joined by the wizard Enaros, who helps to bring Kull down by having him meet Akivasha. She became partners with Enaros when his citadel burned down and he was maimed, but the Red Witch magically repaired his wounds.

Akivasha is presented to Kull as the cousin of one of the conspirators. During the grand celebration, Kull is immediately smitten by Akivasha and they soon marry. But on their wedding night Kull mysteriously dies and suspicion falls on Rolando, the minstrel, who had attacked Kull during the wedding feast and slashed him with a knife. In fact the assassin was Akivasha, but then we all know that Kull isn't really dead as a double lies in state for him while Kull awakens a captive inside the citadel of Enaros.

And that all happens in the first 40 pages.

When Enaros moves to slay Kull, Akivasha intervenes, causing the wizard's arm to wither to what it had been before she healed him. She states that his arm will remain that way to remind him that she is in command. Alone with Kull, Akivasha reveals that she is pregnant with Kull's child and she offers to make him immortal and teach him the secrets of the gods. When she kisses him he bites her on the lip, but flame, not blood, spurts from the wound. She leaves, warning that she will not be spurned.

Kull remains chained in a cell in the citadel until he is found by Zareta, who had figured out that the body lying in state was a fraud. They escape the dungeon and encounter the priest, Ascalante, who has figured out that Akivasha is the three thousand year old queen of Acheron revived, and that Kull cannot defeat her alone.

Rolando is to be executed for Kull's murder but Kull wants to save him somehow as the minstrel is actually the brother of Zareta. Kull sneaks back into the city by hiding beneath the saddle cloth of a camel. When it appears a guard is about to discover that Kull is there, the camel chooses that moment to relieve himself, discouraging the guard from peaking under its saddle cloth.

Kull had complained to Ascalante that the camel had fleas. On page 48 the following scene takes place as they catch up with Kull in the city.



Ascalante and Zareta find Kull gasping for breath, drenched in camel piss. They try vainly to suppress their amusement.


Well, it probably drowned the fleas.

With a disgusted snarl, Kull shakes the pungent wetness from him like a dog shakes water out of his fur.

At the funeral pyre prepared for Kull, the scene of Rolando's intended execution, the minstrel sings an ascerbic song: "All fled - all done, so lift me on the pyre; The feast is over and the lamps expire."

Some quick work replaces the phony corpse of Kull with the genuine article, who causes consternation when he rises up before the pyre can be lit and lops off the head of the traitorous Mandara. He frees Rolando and they escape into Ascalante's temple and then into a secret tunnel.

Far from the city Kull learns that in order to destroy the witch queen he must find something called The Breath of Valka, the only thing that can "blow out" the Flame of Korsala, which is the source of Akivasha's power.

In the seaport town of Tatheli, Kull pays a visit to a man named Juba, a merchant he fenced goods to in his pirate days. He wants Juba to supply him with a ship. A similar scene is in HOUR OF THE DRAGON.

Back in Valusia the Red Witch takes her wizard slave Enaros into secret pits beneath the citadel and to a cavern lit by the Flame of Korsala. This secret cavern is filled with tier upon tier of mummified corpses, some of humans, some of demons. These are the dead dynasties of ancient Acheron. In order to reanimate them she needs her blood, but since the flame flows in her veins instead of blood she believes that the child she conceived with Kull will posses the mystic blood she needs to reanimate the ancient dead of Acheron.

Akivasha pulls back her cape, exposing the milky white flesh of her smooth, flat stomach. She places her hand on it. AND HER STOMACH BEGINS TO GLOW WITH FIERY TRANSLUCENT LIGHT. . . exposing inside her, a FETUS! Even at this tiny stage it is obvious that the child is far from human!

On the ship, Kull and the others are served a meal which is drugged, and Kull awakens chained to a galley oar. When Zareta resists Juba's dubious charms, he has her stripped and thrown overboard to be dragged by a rope tied to her hands. In fury Kull pulls his chain out of the wood it's fastened to and he wraps the chain around Juba's throat and then throws the fat merchant overboard. As Kull fights the men on deck, Juba is attacked by sharks. In the nick of time Kull pulls Zareta to safety just as another shark races towards her.

The Captain and other crew members engage Kull in battle, but he manages to free the galley slaves (some of whom served under Kull when he was the pirate known as The Tiger). The slaves slaughter the crew and Kull is once again the leader of the pirates known as the Black Corsairs.

Back in Akivasha's citadel, the inhuman child within her is growing. She uses the flame to discover that Kull is seeking the Breath of Valka. She weeps that Kull would spurn her love and when Enaros demands to know how she could shed tears for him, Akivasha turns on the wizard and uses her flaming power to wither his flesh still further.

Akivasha enters the Flame of Korsala and moves to create defenses for herself.

Aboard the ship Zareta does a wild dance in front of Kull and then they retire to his cabin. While they are making love Akivasha uses her powers to spy on Kull and becomes furious at what she sees. Not to be outdone, Akivasha manages to temporarily merge with the duo to become a weird menage-a-trois as Akivasha appears first as Zareta and then as Kull and then as part of herself growing out of one of them until Zareta and Kull achieve climax, oblivious to what has happened.

Their ship nears the Isle of Ever-Night, where they will seek the Breath of Valka. They encounter a field of dead ships trapped in the ice. On the island they find the bodies of men frozen in ice. The cave is filled with bitter winds. When Kull tests it with his sword he pulls the sword out to find it covered with frost.

At the entrance to the cave is carved an inscription which Zareta believes she understands even though its meaning seems cryptic. She tests it by removing all of her clothing and stepping naked into the cave-where she is surprisingly unharmed. She pleads to a face carved of ice and the wind seems to enter her body, whereupon she faints.

When she comes to in Kull's arms there is frost on her lips and she tells Kull not to kiss her because The Breath of Valka is inside of her. But the witch queen has been observing this through her mystic flame and realizes that Kull now possesses the instrument of her destruction.

On board the ship, even as it approaches the warmer climates, Zareta remains cold and reveals that in order to use The Breath of Valka she must enter the Flame of Korsala itself, even if it means her death. Kull is overcome with the immensity of what must happen, and the sacrifice that Zareta is willing to make for him in order to destroy Akivasha.

In the citadel, Akivasha has arranged some of the mummies of the dead of Acheron before the Flame of Korsala.

Ducalon, one of the conspirators, recognizes at last the threat she poses and he attacks her, stabbing Akivasha in the heart, but to no effect. The Red Witch kills Ducalon with just a touch to his forehead. Then she prepares to give birth to her inhuman child.

As Kull's ship nears the shore, the army under command of Taligaro prepares to attack Kull as soon as he lands, and they begin firing arrows at the ship to kill whomever they can even before the ship drops anchor. But When Kull climbs the rigging and shouts to his former army, revealing that he is alive, this causes the ranks to break as those loyal to Kull turn on Taligaro and his Dragon Legion.

As the ship docks Taligaro on horseback leaps aboard Kull's ship. Kull knocks him from his saddle and the two men engage with swords. Kull's blade is shattered, but when Taligaro moves in for the kill, Kull moves in even more quickly and stabs Taligaro in the throat with the broken blade.

Meanwhile, Ascalante the priest has entered the citadel and found Akivasha preparing to give birth, floating a dozen feet above the floor in the Flame of Korsala.

Kull enters carrying Zareta and he leaps down the stairs just in time to avoid a silent explosive thrown by Enaros. But the explosion hurls back Rolando and Ascalante. Enaros hurls a knife at Kull which Rolando leaps in front of and takes in his chest. Kull then hurls a stone at Enaros, knocking him into the pit from which the Flame of Korsala emanates.

Zareta enters the flame but nothing happens to her or to the flame. Kull manages to pull her back out and when she seems to be dying he kisses her and the Breath of Valka flows into him, causing Zareta to revive. But Akivasha doesn't realize this. In the throes of childbirth she reaches out to Kull, realizing in the last possible second that his skin is cold, too cold. But Kull pulls her to him and kisses her, passing the Breath of Valka into her.

Akivasha screams. Her body withers and once again turns into a mummified corpse before being consumed in the flame.

Kull, Zareta and Ascalante escape, leaping into the sea as the earth shakes and the citadel collapses. The threat of the Red Witch is ended.

Later, Kull is recrowned king by Ascalante and Kull takes Zareta to be his queen, shouting down Tu's protest that she is not of noble birth. Kull points out that he is not of noble birth either and from that day forward he will uphold only the just laws and strike down the unjust. Kull is king again.

In Chuck Pogue's last draft of KULL THE CONQUEROR, dated Feb. 1st, 1996 (he discusses the circumstances of this rewrite in the following interview), the script opens on the resurrection of Akivasha more quickly, and then introduces Kull in the same blindfolded swordfighting contest seen in the previous script. The storyline continues unchanged until a scene is added when an assassin attacks Kull in the palace and Taligaro kills the man with his own knife, which Kull notes angrily prevents him from discovering who sent the assassin. It's clear to us that the man was sent by Taligaro, who killed the man because he failed.

The story proceeds apace, the same, until page 76 when Taligaro and his Dragon Legion are given a ship which sails in mystic pursuit of Kull, it's aim to head him off and thwart his quest of The Breath of Valka. Akivasha is using her power to speed the ship across the sea.

Kull's ship reaches the Isle of Ever-Night as before where Zareta takes The Breath of Valka inter her, but before they can leave the island they are attacked by Taligaro and his Dragon Legion. At one point Taligaro tries to sneak up on Kull and kill him from behind, but Rolando throws himself between Taligaro and Kull so that Rolando is stabbed instead. Taligaro and his men leave the island, believing Kull and the others trapped when the ceiling in the ice cavern collapsed.

Inside the cave Rolando, who is badly wounded in the side, is trapped along with Kull and Zareta. Soon Rolando dies in his sister's arms, but Kull discovers that the ice cave has a thin wall holding back the sea and he crashes through it with his mace and they swim to safety, emerging on the surface of the icy waters and then swim to an ice floe upon which an ancient ship is trapped.

Taligaro had put Kull's ship to flame as he left and Kull takes timber from the burning ship and builds bonfires around the ship on the ice floe in order to free it from its icy prison. The story then proceeds as before and they return to Valusia to confront Akivasha and destroy her.

This time when Taligaro leaps aboard Kull's ship on horseback, Kull stabs Taligaro in the chest and throws his body overboard. Later, after Akivasha is destroyed, Taligaro, somewhat worse for the wear, reappears from the sea to attack Kull again. During the fight Taligaro grabs Zareta, but Kull frees her and stabs Taligaro in the chest so that he falls back into a cleft in the wall which is quickly filled with debris from the collapsing citadel.

They escape from the collapsing citadel and the story concludes as before.

The Feb. '96 rewrite is interesting in that it inflates the role of Taligaro by adding the sequence in which he pursues Kull to the Isle of Ever-Night and then returns to battle Kull one final time after Akivasha has been destroyed but before Kull and Zareta can escape from the citadel which is shaking itself to pieces. Is it improved? Well, it adds two more very good action sequences to the script, which was probably the intent.

Due to a disagreement that Chuck Pogue had with producer Raphaella DeLaurentiis (daughter of the notorious Dino DeLaurentiis) during the making of DRAGONHEART, Pogue was removed from KULL in 1996 and subsequent rewrites were done by Don Mancini. The latest script I have, which seems to be the shooting script (it has scene numbers) lists no less than nine different versions done starting with June 7th, then June 18, July 16, July 18, July 25, July 29, August 2, August 8 and finally August 15th, 1996. The credits on this script (which could be different when the final screen credits are assigned) reads Screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue, Based on the Characters Created by Robert E. Howard, Participating Writer Don Mancini.

Let's see just what Mancini's participation led to.

Initially Kull did not appear in the opening scenes, but in the new version a new battle scene opens the story with Kull, ax in hand, battling a black-uniformed opponent on a river bank. Kull is fighting members of Taligaro's Dragon Legion, but it is just an exercise. This is an obvious reworking of Pogue's scene in which Kull and Taligaro test each other by having a mock fight while blindfolded. In fact this leads to that same conflict as this time Kull is vying to join the Dragon Legion.

A silly bit of business is introduced here in which we're told that Kull only fights with an ax and is unfamiliar with the use of a sword. This is ridiculous as a true warrior is expert with many weapons, even if he chooses to specialize in one.

When Kull reveals that he's a barbarian, Taligaro turns him down for admission as only nobility can join the Dragon Legion. Just then Dalgar rides up and announces that the king is murdering his heirs.

When Taligaro confronts King Borna, he claims that his oldest son challenged him and so he decided to kill all of his children.

Thus far we have seen nothing of Enaros or his resurrection of the Red Witch of Acheron.

Kull confronts Borna who is about to kill Taligaro. In the fight Kull strikes Borna down. The argument over the crown follows and it is ended the same way, when the dying Borna bestows it on Kull.

Then follows the same scenes Chuck Pogue wrote in which Kull talks to Zareta and she reads his fate with her tarot cards. Then the next morning Kull announces that all slaves in Valusia are to be set free, which is also Chuck Pogue's scenes. But then this is abruptly cut off when Tu points to a carven stone tablet in the wall which proclaims that Valusians may own slaves, and that the law is greater than any king. Kull backs down from his proclamation, which makes him look like a wimp king.

Thus far the changes have been pointless, making Kull a member of the king's army rather than commander of his navy. Superficial changes which don't affect the story in any substantial way - yet.

Another new scene involves an assassination attempt at Kull's public coronation, but Kull kills the assassins. It's just a pointless action scene.

The same scene follows in which the wizard Enaros gathers the conspirators together for his own plan to unseat Kull. But this version of Enaros is hideously burned and scarred (without explanation). This is followed by having all of the conspirators witness the resurrection of the Red Witch, Akivasha.

This is followed by the same scenes in which Kull is introduced to the most beautiful women in his kingdom as he is meant to choose a queen. When introduced to Ducalon's niece (actually Akivasha), Kull is instantly smitten with her and the wedding soon follows. When Kull is found "dead," suspicion falls on Zareta because she accidentally scratched his arm after the wedding. The character of Rolondo is nowhere to be seen.

When Akivasha offers Kull immortality if he stays with her, he refuses and she orders that he be put to death. As she leaves she orders the eunuch Zuleki to kill Kull, but Kull manages to kill Zuleki and escape. When he learns that Zareta is to be burned on his funeral pyre he goes to rescue her (in the previous drafts he was going to rescue Rolondo). A lot of Chuck Pogue's material is used all through here.

The absence of Rolondo is explained when we discover that Ascalante, the priest whose life Kull saved earlier, is actually Zareta's brother. The elimination of Rolondo's character is odd as all it does is reduce the number of players by one and combine things Rolondo would have done with what Ascalante was doing.

In a scene when Taligaro is arguing with Akivasha, he complains that this wasn't their pact and she replies: "I've altered our pact. Pray I don't alter it further," which is a line Darth Vader used in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. One thing I've noticed about Mancini's rewrites is that his new dialogue is flat and uninteresting, and here he tries to prop it up by stealing a line from another movie!

Kull, Ascalante and Zareta then ride to the port of Tatheli and more Pogue scenes follow involving Juba and obtaining a ship. Many scenes of these scenes are the same, including the drugging of Kull, his escape, his slaying of Juba by throwing him overboard, only instead of sharks a sea monster gets him - a minor change.

When Akivasha realizes that Kull is sailing north she sends Taligaro after him, only now she has offered Taligaro the chance to share the throne with her that Kull spurned. He is to become her consort.

The lovemaking scene when Akivasha quietly intrudes remains but has been toned down, as have all of the sex scenes in the script.

On the Isle of Ever-Night, it is Ascalante who is stabbed trying to help Kull, since the character of Rolondo has been eliminated.

In this script Taligaro captures Zareta and flees the ice cave as it collapses and traps Kull and Ascalante inside. After Ascalante dies from his wounds, Kull escapes the cavern as before and finds his ship burned and his men dead, as before. But now Taligaro has Zareta whom he plans to use to slay Akivasha to eliminate her and take over the throne.

In previous drafts there is reference to a ship with a flying fish carved on its prow. Kull retrieves this ship from the ice, but in this final draft we're not shown how. Also, for some reason Mancini has found it necessary to stretch credulity by having it be the ship of Kull's father.

The pregnancy of Akivasha which she was to use to revive the dead of Acheron has been replaced with an eclipse of the sun, which is beginning as Kull's new ship enters the harbor. The scene where Taligaro attacks Kull by leaping aboard his ship on horseback has been eliminated (too bad, it was very Howardian).

Taligaro pushes Zareta into the Flame of Korsala but nothing happens. She is retrieved by Kull, who sees Akivasha turning into a demon. Zareta kisses him, as before, and as before Kull then kisses Akivasha.

Amid the citadel as it is being destroyed, Kull is attacked by Taligaro and kills him with an ax to the chest.

The dialogue from the ending is a mix of Pogue and some new, including Kull's declaration that "By this axe I rule!" But he still doesn't free the slaves, the wimp.

Interview With KULL Screenwriter Chuck Pogue

The following interview with Chuck Pogue was conducted at his home on February 25, 1997. In it he outlines the history of the Kull project and how he was replaced in a conspicuously political maneuver, which he describes in some detail. Chuck and his wife had been close friends with Raffaella DeLaurentiis (the daughter of Dino deLaurentiis) for several years, and when she coldly turned against him and chose to link her fortunes to up-and-coming director Rob Cohen (DRAGONHEART and DAYLIGHT), the producer apparently believed that this was a good course to follow. History seems to be proving otherwise as Cohen's ham-handed rewriting of the scripts for both of those films diminished their box-office performance considerably, leaving Cohen's future as a director in Hollywood in a greatly diminished position as well. Some people have unfairly blamed Chuck Pogue for what DRAGONHEART ultimately was, but anyone who has read Chuck's novel understands what his true vision for that project was before director Rob Cohen compromised it, and Chuck expounds in this interview on just how it is that a director can cripple a script and cast the writer aside. But primarily this interview concerns the history of the motion picture known as KULL.


POGUE: Actually it was my suggestion that they do CONAN III. I had just finished [writing] DRAGONHEART for Raffaella and then suddenly the sun rose and shone on my butt. I could do no wrong there at the studio and Raffaella thought I was a genius. I said that what I've always wanted to do is Conan, because, begging your pardon, but I don't think that anybody's quite got it right yet. So she ran up to Tom Pollock and said that Pogue wants to do a Conan movie and within two weeks the deal was done. It was the fastest deal that had ever been done because they really wanted me to write it.


Yes, they still owned the character because Raffaella had told them that they should buy it when Dino's option was set to expire. But the plan very early on had been that if they couldn't get Arnold to do Conan, we would change it to Kull, because they kept saying that they had the rights to Kull, which they sort of did but sort of didn't. Actually some other guys had the rights to it [Kull] and they had to acquire it from them.


It's a good question and it was my question at one time. What is more valuable, the cachet of Conan or switching to Kull? I think their fear was that Arnold was so identified with Conan, even though it had been close to ten years by the time we knew it would come out, that they just didn't want to risk it.


They did and they didn't. For awhile we thought that he'd look at it from a box office point of view. "Arnold back as Conan!" would have been a wonderful box office draw, just to see that character. And the other thing was that we had a script now that was a much more mature script and had taken into account Arnold's growth and maturity as an actor. My edict was always, I want to do a thinking man's swashbuckler. I want something along the lines of THE VIKINGS or SPARTACUS - something with a brain that really requires acting, and something that was the definitive Robert Howard.

I typed this up and it was the first note I sent out on my whole philosophy of how to approach this project, and it's taken from Robert Weinberg's ANNOTATED GUIDE OF ROBERT E. HOWARD'S SWORD & SORCERY:

"Grimness is the word. The best of the Conan stories have an undercurrent of moody despair that makes them more than mere sword and sorcery adventure. Howard believed in this philosophy; this dark and despondent outlook on life, and anyone not using this background as a basis for Conan stories can never achieve the results that made Howard's work great."

I said let's go for a really mature, multileveled, thinking man's swashbuckler like they used to make in the old days. Also I think if you watch the first Conan movie and then watch the second one, the mistake that they made going from 'R' to 'PG' is that we had a much more interesting first movie (although I still think that one is flawed) and a kiddie movie in the second one.


Exactly, but Milius has a closer feel for Howard than what happened in the second one.


Bad kind of movie that you've seen eight hundred times.

So there was a hope, but Arnold actually mulled this over for it must have been a year or more before he ever gave us an answer, which is another reason it's taken so long because I wrote the script in '91. I knew going into it that I had this Conan/Kull possibility and so my goal was, okay, we'll start with Conan as king, that way if I have to switch over I can go with Kull as king. I'm going to look at the Conan stories that were rewritten Kull stories and I'm going to deal with that material. But I read everything. I read all the Kull stories, all the Conan stories, except for the pastiches - just the stuff that was actually Robert Howard's Conan. And I evolved a story where I knew I could switch it over to Kull because if you look at some of those early stories that he rewrote as Conan stories, Kull is basically the same character as Conan, he's only a bit more cerebral. And "Phoenix on the Sword" and "Scarlet Citadel" were two strong ones that I certainly looked at, and THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON. And then I concocted a whole new story around it all, stealing bits and pieces from them.


No, not at all, because the Heart of Ahriman had been used in CONAN THE DESTROYER, so I couldn't use that. Also if you read HOUR OF THE DRAGON, the problem with it is that it's very episodic. It looks like what it was - a serial which was serialized in WEIRD TALES. But there was a theme there that I rather liked which was this man confronting his past, going back to his past and his origins to find out who he was, what had made him king, and why he's not king any more, and that's what we tried to adhere to. That theme, while finding a new story that was a bit more cohesive as opposed to episodic, which is what THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON is.


I never heard a word about it. That's literally the first I've ever heard of it.


That was another thing I liked bringing in, was the pirates and part of that is in THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, too.

I immersed myself in all of this stuff and for about six months; just read everything and it evolved this storyline, with the help of Raffaella. She and I discussed the story, particularly the mythology with Korsala and the Breath of Valka. We really liked the idea of having a device which wasn't a rock or a jewel when we were looking for that magic device that we could use. So it was a much more interesting device, this Breath of Valka, where you have to take the breath in.


I had to rework it slightly, but the first Kull draft was actually very much like the Conan draft.


The first Conan I turned in was in February '92. We had to change some of it eventually. What happened was that in the Spring of '93, Rob Cohen came on to direct for awhile, and that's when we did a lot of restructuring on the script, which was fine because it actually made it more Kull than Conan after that. We found a new way into it. In the original Conan script, Conan was already king and what happened with the wizard was already backstory. So we actually changed it to where you saw Kull become king and how he became king, which we didn't see in the Conan version. It kept the story in a forward progression as opposed to dealing with some back story and just made it more of a different character.

Rob was on it for just a few months and the script got a little unwieldy because he kept wanting to put stuff in, and then at the time we thought we were going to shoot it in Malta, but Rob didn't want to go to Malta and so he backed out of it, which was a blessing given my experiences with him on DRAGONHEART.

At that point Universal came back on and said, "We think this script is too unwieldy. Would you go back to more of the original form?" So we went back and cut some of the stuff out, and kept some of the stuff we liked. It had gotten too big and too expensive and so we winnowed it back down to what is I think the first script you read, the '93 script. That script stayed intact until January '95.

In the meantime another director came on, and that was Kevin Hooks. This guy was great. He was a terrific director. He really understood the piece. He told me that when he first read it, he saw it on his night stand and he kept avoiding it because he thought it was just another one of these sword and sorcery things. But when he read it he said, "Oh, this is really about much more. This is deep and it's got real characters you can sink your teeth into." He really took to the script and liked the blend of action and the depth of character married to the action, which is something you don't see in these things very often.

So he came on as director and we started testing actors. We saw a lot of good actors. It was a wonderful experience for me because a lot of people didn't know how this was going to work because the language and everything in the piece. And when these actors came in they were falling all over themselves anxious to get in there and read because they loved the script so much and you heard the dialogue rolling off their tongue and it really worked. Everybody got very excited because they realized the script worked really well. Even bad actors were giving good readings!

We saw some wonderful actors. Lou Diamond Phillips came in and read once and if it had been up to me I would have cast him on the spot. He gave a brilliant reading. You would not believe how brilliant a reading it was. It hit every nuance of the script.

But the best thing was Kevin. He really understood the piece and understood how it played. We both are actors and both have theater in our background (I've always considered myself an actor's writer) which improved the script. Kevin and I spoke the same language and were geared toward performance; we understood performance and how things played. And to watch this guy with actors was just an amazing thing because he could work with actors twenty minutes and get colors out of them and just every nuance, every subtlety of the script was suddenly there. He really understood the playing of the piece. It was a nice thing because at the same time I was in note sessions with Rob [Cohen] on DRAGONHEART. To be working with a guy who was secure and smart and had no ego and wanted you there as a collaborator was quite different from working with Rob who was the exact opposite. Kevin kept me in the mix all the time, asking my opinion, allowed me in all the auditions, wanted me there when they did screenings. It was truly a collaboration.

It was such a difference between going from Kevin, who was the soul of serenity and professionalism, to Rob Cohen who was this neurotic, emotionally frightened man who if he couldn't usurp your talent, or take credit for it, would try to destroy it; and just the anxiety that you had in meetings with him and his spewing and his venom and his nastiness. I was really glad to see him go [from KULL]. I remember once we were doing a note session on KULL and he came in with his reader's notes. He may have read the script once or twice, but he hadn't really read it carefully or studied it, and he was basing all his notes on his reader's notes and we got to a whole section in the script which is on the Breath of Valka. There was a scene in the middle of the script where it talks about the Breath of Valka and it gives the whole origin and mythology, and he wanted to cut the scene! It was obvious that he hadn't read it and Raffaella and I are sitting there telling him, "Rob, you can't cut that scene. The whole second half of the movie depends on that scene! If you don't set that stuff up, no one's going to understand what you're talking about." He just really couldn't get it and ultimately he got very vehement and nasty with Raffaella's development person because he said, "Do you understand this?" And she said, well yes, of course. And he blew up and said, "Well if she understands it. . !" and he started to denigrate this girl who had more knowledge of literature and drama than he could ever hope to have, and he stormed out of the room, and it was basically because he had gotten caught. He hadn't done his homework and he had gotten caught. He looked like a fool in front of all of us and so he broke up the meeting.

So dealing with that with Rob, and then dealing with Kevin who knew the script inside out and knew the characters inside out. He got the movie. He really got the movie. It was gonna' be a fun movie and eventually we found an actor who we decided we wanted to test named Thomas Ian Griffith. Kevin directed a test with him and it was superb. He did a brilliant job on this test. When I saw this test I wanted to go out and write KULL II because I was so stoked on this test. Raffaella and Kevin and I were ready to go. We said this is the guy. This is it. Let's go shoot the movie, but we couldn't get him past the brass. They didn't know what they wanted but it wasn't him for some reason. I think they wanted somebody who they thought would be a franchise actor. We thought this guy could be a franchise actor. He was just a really nice guy.


That was my thinking, and that's why I kept telling them that the movie is the star here. In this kind of genre you publicize this like a Conan movie and that's your star. And the other thing is that you want an unknown so that you can get him for a string of movies. You're not going to get a name player to sign up for a string of these movies.

So we were really disheartened and the studio [Universal] said look, give us two weeks to find a name personality and then you can go back to this guy. Well that never happened. Two weeks became three, four and then five months, and everything just dwindled away, and by that time we were off shooting DRAGONHEART. And they kept Kevin hanging there, which is a shame because he had worked so hard and really deserved it, and he was looking at new actors, and there was a whole list. They were looking at Adrian Paul from HIGHLANDER. Kevin Sorbo's name had come up at this time, and then was dropped and came up again. We had people sending in tapes from all over Europe, the United States and Australia. They were just coming in from everywhere, and we kept saying, "We've got the guy! Let us go do the movie! This is the guy."

In the meantime, when we were in Slovakia, Raffaella said, "I can piggyback these two movies. We can go right from DRAGONHEART into KULL because we've got all the swords now, all the weaponry. We've got great locations here; the sets. We can do this movie here." The game plan was to go from DRAGONHEART right into KULL. But Universal just kept dragging their heels on getting an actor.

Then in the interim Raffaella and I had a falling out on DRAGONHEART.


You tell me and we'll both know!

I think that people sometimes. . . she had a modestly successful movie with Rob, this DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY. Its success was never properly analyzed. The reason it was a success, number one, is that it was made for 15 million dollars. So when it made 40 million domestically, it couldn't help but go into profit. Secondly, you had a very charismatic actor, Jason Scott Lee, who is quite brilliant in the role. And thirdly you had the mythos of Bruce Lee behind it, and that's why that movie was a hit. It had nothing to do with Rob's talent, for better or worse. And she was telling me all through DRAGONHEART, every night we'd have dinner together and she'd sit there and tell me things. One time she said, "You know the reason Rob pisses all over the script is because he's afraid of your talent and he's jealous of you." At one point she told me that she had told him he'd butchered the script. (Rob even told me this story) But somehow little of that butchering came out - it stayed in. And she kept letting him do it. But most of it happened in post [production]. That is where it really fell apart.

But she had this success with THE BRUCE LEE STORY, and then Rob brought her in on this TV series, RISING SON, which came and went fairly fast, but she made some money on it, and I think she felt that she owed him. And again, that's speculation. She knew she had a great script [in DRAGONHEART] and she knew she had a mediocre director, and whenever you protect a mediocre mechanic over a great script, it's gonna' hurt the script. But as Raffaella always used to tell me, 'It's the process. It's the process.' But if the process defies common sense, then it's wrong.

Some people, sometimes, are afraid to do what they have to do to strive for greatness. It's easier not to confront people on their shit. It's easier. . . how can I put this diplomatically. . . Let's just say collaboration got confused with capitulation, and I was the guy that ended up having to do all the capitulating. And I think she really felt right until DRAGONHEART came out that it was going to be a hit. I really think that she thought that she had a hit movie, and then when the critics came out and echoed everything that I had been telling her, for so many years, it was kind of a shock to her. It wasn't until then that she realized. . . I don't know what she realized. I can't crawl in her head and tell you. All I know is that she always used to tell me, "You're a great writer, Chuck. You can write anything." And I'd say, "No, no, no. I'm a great writer because I don't write anything." You cannot keep taking bad notes and bad ideas and trying to shoehorn them into something that had a structure. And it was a script that we'd worked very hard on. We had honed this to perfection. She told my agent, and she told other people, that she had done the "best work ever" with me. But when you allow a mediocre talent to tamper with the best work you've ever done, it's not going to stay the best work.

Anyway, we had our big falling out. . . Ultimately I don't know why. I can only speculate and I probably shouldn't do that on tape here.


I left DRAGONHEART in October 1994 and at the time I still had two scripts to do with her. We had KULL to do and we had THE UNINVITED to do. I have not spoken to her, personally, since October of '94. I have communicated with her by Fax (though she never answered), and through second hand minions, but there has been no personal communication, and at this point there's not going to be. It's pretty much a dead issue.

I don't understand why you take something where you're calling somebody a genius, you're saying that they've written you a masterpiece, and I don't think I'm a genius, and I don't think that I've written a masterpiece, but I think I'm a very good writer who wrote a very good script, and I don't think you tamper with very good work to appease mediocre talent and delicate egos.

At the time I told my executive at Universal, and I made it very clear to Raffaella by Faxes and memos that whatever differences we have on DRAGONHEART we still have a movie to do and let's not sacrifice this very good movie because of personal petty reasons. Let's try to maintain some sort of professionalism on it. And I thought that it would go on. It gave every indication. I know that in the Summer of '95 she, through minions, asked me to find out what was going on with the negotiations with Kevin Sorbo at ICM because we both had the same agent, and I found out; troubleshot for her there, and got back with her on answers. Then in December of '95 they finally made the deal with him.

In the meantime, because they'd wasted so much time trying to make their deal with Kevin Sorbo, she went off and did this DAYLIGHT, this other flop with Rob Cohen. We should have gone into KULL right after DRAGONHEART.


I don't know. I wasn't privy to any of that. All I could tell is it just smelled from the get-go. [Laughing] That's a bad idea.


I don't think originally it was that weak. I think it got weaker in the hands of Rob Cohen, from all reports I've heard and from my friends who worked on it. A lot of the same DRAGONHEART people worked on it. On DRAGONHEART Rob was easily the most despised man among cast and crew. I never worked with a director who was so despised.

I remember at one point one of the lead technicians on DRAGONHEART, a very talented man, came up to me and said, "Rob has assembled a really great crew here. Rob is ruining it for her."

But we lost Kevin [Hooks] because of all this frittering away, and I don't know what happened with Kevin; why we lost him. They treated him badly and were trying to keep him hanging on for no money. They wouldn't make him pay-or-play, and I think the biggest loss KULL sustained was losing Kevin Hooks, because Kevin would have been a superb director. I can't emphasize this enough. He would have been a brilliant director for it. He would have given them a great movie with anybody in the lead role. If I had the power to pick any director I could work with, he is one of two directors I would pick. The two guys who didn't direct my movies are the guys who should have directed them. Patrick Read Johnson is the guy who should have directed DRAGONHEART, and Kevin Hooks who should have directed KULL. I'd work with these guys any time because they're talented men, and Kevin really got into the world of Howard and understood that world and understood the depth and how to make this a multifaceted movie and still give you plenty of action and plenty of blood and thunder, with lots of character depth. I lamented and mourned that loss more than anything else on the movie, with the exception of me getting thrown off the film, which is the next horror story.

So in January '96, when they finally made this deal, we now had no director. I got a call from my executive there who said, "Hal Lieberman wants to know if you still want to be on the movie?" I said "Of course, I've been telling them that for the last year and a half! Just because I've had a falling out with Raffaella on DRAGONHEART does not mean that I don't want to do everything I can for KULL because I think that this is a great movie." And so I said, yes, of course I want to do it.

At this point they told me that they'd had a meeting with Kevin Sorbo, that I had not been invited to, where he had some notes, which kind of ticked me off. They're in a story meeting without the writer. That's sort of a silly thing, but I bit my tongue and let that go by.

Then I was given a draft that I was told was a "budget edited draft," where Raffaella had gone through it and actually done some cutting. It had been done a year ago and I had not known about it, but I read that and editing is the best thing that Raffaella does. She's a person who can cut ten pages out of a script and you'd never miss it. I looked through it and said, okay, there's a few minor things that I have to fix but other than that it is not disastrous. And I said, yeah, I'm ready to go write, and they told me the notes and I said, "I don't have any problem with these notes intrinsically. I think I can do them." But I told Hal, "Raffaella's got to talk to me. We have to communicate to do the work that we do. You know how we work on script." We would sit down for two or three weeks with each draft and we'd hone and polish and discuss it and go through page by page, line by line, sometimes word by word, and it was really a brilliant collaboration. Everybody recognized it and knew it was a good collaboration and that was how we got these really great scripts, which unfortunately were never sustained once they got into production.

But I said she's got to talk to me, and I wrote her a very conciliatory Fax. "We have differences of opinion but you've said you've done your best work ever with me. Blah, blah, blah." That sort of thing. She once told me that her favorite thing to do was to sit with me and work script. So I said, let's do script.

She never answered my letter. She never answered my Faxes. I had lots of questions about things that needed answers. She would send sort of cursory answers through the executive, sometimes, but not all the time. And the executive was tearing her hair out because she didn't know what to do, and I kept Faxing Raffaella and faxing everybody at Universal so that they knew where I was going with it. Sometimes my Faxes were cajoling, they were pleading, they were just pragmatic things.

So I wrote this whole draft with no answers or feedback at all from my producer, or from my star. I was not given access to these people. There was no director on it. But I turned this draft in and I thought I had done a pretty good job, and my executive thought I had done a pretty good job.

Two weeks later it came through the executive that it had been rejected. I had some fears before that maybe this whole rewrite had been designed to throw me off. It was like give me impossible notes and then not give me help with it. So upon my dismissal from the project against my will, I wrote a letter Hal Lieberman which basically said:

"It didn't take a seer to predict this eventuality. The plot to engineer me off of KULL wasn't subtle, and the plot was aided and abetted by the fact that I received absolutely no help or input from my producer. A year ago the studio green-lit this script. Both you and my producer called it brilliant and multi-leveled and deep. You know as well as I this has nothing to do with artistry or talent or merit or what is deserved."

And it didn't. Sadly enough you had someone who was willing to cut their own throat to get revenge on me and diminish their script.

People get very angry at themselves for their mistakes and then because they can't confront their anger at themselves they find a scapegoat and it's usually the person that was trying to help them at the time, or warning them at the time.


Universal knows - it was Rob Cohen. I've had several discussions with Hal since. Eventually it'll make money, but they can't blame me because they knew they had a great script and everybody from Tom Pollack on down praised it. For six years before the movie came out it was all over town and everybody knew it was a great script. They knew it was one of the best scripts in town. Tom Pollack, the very first meeting we had, crashed the meeting and the first words out of his mouth were, "Who's Chuck Pogue?" he was so impressed with it. That's why I made a deal for Conan so fast. They know who ruined the movie.

What culpability Raffaella has in that, I don't know. I don't know whether they look at it and say Raffaella shouldn't have let him [Rob] do this. But I think Universal has culpability, too, because they let him do it. The scariest story I will tell you. . . when I came back from Bratislava the second time, I was having a meeting with one of the executives overseeing the movie, and he asked, "What do you think is happening to DRAGONHEART?"

And I said, "It's losing its power, its panache, its poetry, its passion, and its wit."

And he said, "I think so, too, but if you tell anybody I think so, I'll swear you're a liar."

Now that's kind of an amazing confession for an executive responsible for a movie to say. "I'm responsible for this movie and I know it's going awry but I'm not going to do anything about it."

I think they all thought it didn't matter, that they had such a great gimmick. But you're dealing with a studio mentality, and again I'm speculating here. I don't know because I wasn't in the loop any more. I don't know what people were thinking. But I think there are a lot of people now who will sit back, and they're looking at things. If people contemplate their sins or their mistakes, I think there's a lot of that going on now over there. I don't think a lot of studio people who contemplate their sins or wring their hands over it, I think they just try to find someone else to blame. What Raffaella thinks, I don't know. All I know is that she now knows that it is not a hit, and she knows that every respectable critic out there echoed remarks and critiques that I had made two years before that. I wrote an eleven page letter when I saw the first cut and every comment I had about the movie was echoed by all the respectable critics.

As for KULL, they brought in another writer. You read the script. I think we went from a multifaceted, multidimensional script to a one-dimensional, simplified version of what had been a very mature piece of work.


And one of the edicts was [that] they wanted to build his character up. They thought originally that he was caught between the two women, and I said, but that's the dilemma. The fact that you have two strong women here makes him a stronger man.

Yes, I think the character was weakened. I agree with you there. I think there's a lot of things that are no longer logical and make sense. There's a whole thing where they weakened the villains around him as well. The sorcerer, Enaros - originally Kull was the reason the citadel blew up [maiming Enaros] and Enaros had a vendetta. Now Enaros just appears and he has no agenda against Kull. He's just thrown into the mix and you don't know why he's thrown into the mix.

It's the same with Akivasha. She witnessed this guy killing Borna in the beginning and was amazed. She watched him in action, but now she just comes in as a plot device and in effect has never met him. But she wants to meet him - she wants to mix with this guy. She wants to find out what he's about and see if she can control him.

It just becomes straight on line and one-dimensional. Also I think the two things that really diminished it, and I think this was probably at Kevin Sorbo's behest, but I don't know, was they cut out the sex and the violence. Kevin Sorbo wanted this movie to be PG-13 because they want his 9 year old to 13 year old demographic. Well, you can't do Howard without violence and sex, and I'm not talking about violence and sex in any kind of gratuitous way. I'm just talking about mature themes.

Raffaella told me she knew CONAN was a hit the first time she went to a sneak preview and the line was around the corner and it was full of bikers and hippies and comic book guys. And she's forgotten that audience. That's her core audience.

Now, can you get Kevin Sorbo's audience and bring them into the Kull audience? I don't know. I think you may get Kevin Sorbo's audience and lose the Kull audience because you don't have the essence of what Kull is, just like they lost it on the second Conan movie. I don't know, I've seen so many things make money that I don't understand why they make money. If someone will explain TWISTER to me I would be eternally grateful because it's got to be the worst movie I've ever seen and it made $300 million domestically. So what do I know?

And again, it doesn't mean that just because it made money that it'll be a great movie. I don't know what kind of movie it will be. I just know that I was very disappointed when I read the rewritten script. I thought it became this one-dimensional story that had been multidimensional.


That's another thing. People were really scared of [my] dialogue. People don't understand that words to be spoken are different from words to be read. My edict was Robert Howard and I wanted panache dialogue. I want dialogue that rolls off the tongue.


Exactly, and I fought this fight in DRAGONHEART where Rob Cohen kept banalizing dialogue right and left. You're in a time period that has to have some flavor of the time period that you're in, but it also has to have some bite and some chew. Let them speak better than real life. This is drama. Everything is more accentuated. And if nothing proved it, it should have been proven well beyond a shadow of a doubt during the auditions where they had great auditions and actors were just drooling over this language, saying "We never get words like this. We never get dialogue like this."

So, yeah, I think it's a real shame, but it seems to be what happens to movies. "Let's make everything for the lowest common denominator so that hopefully we can get the widest audience." Sometimes that works. Sometimes that doesn't. I think in these kind of pieces you have to be very true to the core of the piece, and again my guide was Robert Howard. As I started out I wanted the definitive Robert Howard movie. That's what I was after. I wanted that moody blood and thunder prose, and colors and depths. And get into that these people have more than one facet, more than one agenda. People with contradictions. I wanted real life characters and that's what spoke to Kevin Hooks on it, and that's what originally spoke to Raffaella on it. That's what spoke to all the people at Universal when they were reading it and calling it a masterpiece. That's what got them hooked on it. They knew they had an original, interesting piece.

The fear is, have they turned it into just your basic generic pabulum? I don't know. I wanted KULL by way of SPARTACUS. I hope to Hell we haven't gotten KULL by way of RED SONYA. I don't know.

I also must tell you, I got a lovely letter from Kevin Sorbo, after it was all over, and he was very nice and he thanked me for the character and thought I'd like the movie. I wrote him a three page letter back and said I've kept my distance from this and here's why, and I told him the whole sad story. I also told him, look, this has nothing to do with you. It is old, bad business between me and Raffaella on DRAGONHEART.

But it's really a shame that all this pettiness had to get in the way of a great project. That professionalism couldn't be maintained and had to get into unprofessional vindictiveness, and that people would undermine their own best interests to try to punish someone who told them the truth.

I would have done anything for Raffaella except the two things she asked me to do, which were to compromise my integrity and compromise my writing, and it's a shame because it's the first time she ever had first class material since she's been on her own, away from her father. The two best scripts I ever wrote are DRAGONHEART and KULL and it's seven years out of my life by the time KULL comes out.

Any other holes I can fill in?


Universal dropped the rights and it's been picked up by Keller. But at one point what Raffaella and I wanted to do is do KULL and revive the genre and then do a Conan TV series, which I was going to write, and she was going to produce and Universal was all for it. But once the great schism happened it went away along with everything else. And the guy they hired for Conan, Rolf Mueller, is a guy that we read for Kull. He originally didn't want to do Conan. He wanted to do a new character. Everyone's jumped on the HERCULES bandwagon and are trying to imitate it.

I mean, let's get some dialogue up there - some real character in these things. I grew up watching THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and THE SEA HAWK and THE VIKINGS, GUNGA DIN. Even though GUNGA DIN is hysterically funny, there's some real character and depth there and great, great dialogue. They used to make adventure movies for adults and that's what I wanted. I wanted KULL to be an adventure movie for adults that kids could come to, which is what I wanted for DRAGONHEART, which is a swashbuckler for adults but it got turned into a kids movie because everybody's after the big hundred million dollar movie.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Ian Griffith, the actor who both Chuck Pogue and Kevin Hooks wanted to be Kull, ultimately was cast in the film but in the supporting role of Taligaro, the head of the Dragon Legion, the elite guard whom Akivasha uses to try to undermine Kull's quest for the Breath of Valka.]


As I write this on March 24th I have 3 days of solid work to do before I finish the layouts for THE FANTASTIC WORLDS OF ROBERT E. HOWARD. With any luck it will be published about the same time as the next (not current) mailing of REHUPA appears.


After what seems like a year of negotiations and conversations (because it really was a year of negotiations and conversations), we finally signed an agreement with Mandalay Entertainment to try to put together an anthology TV show under the name MIDNIGHT GRAFFITI. We saw a little money up front, but the big money happens if the package we're helping them put together is picked up by one of the major networks to produce a pilot. We have suggestions for possible stories (including a script I wrote adapting Clark Ashton Smith's "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis"), and we've gotten permission from people like Joe Dante, Frank Darabont, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Peter Atkins and Chuck Pogue to use their names as people who'd be interested in being involved with the show should it become a reality. Other stories we're pitching to them to consider should it at least go as far as a pilot include Neil Gaiman's "Murder Mysteries" from the MIDNIGHT GRAFFITI anthology as well as Ray Bradbury's unusual "Frost and Fire" as well as others. It would be nice if this actually went somewhere rather than never even getting pitched to a network and falling apart the way the WEIRD TALES TV series did.


The enclosed, previously unpublished short story was given to me by Ray Capella just so that it could premiere here!



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