If you think gluteus maximus is an obscure Roman emperor, stay away from "Conan the Barbarian," a Kong-size celebration of violence starring strong-guy Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's stopped pumping iron in favor of wielding it.
In this Herculean opus of gore, presented by Dino De Laurentiis, Conan takes up the broadsword after his father is eaten by dogs and his mother is decapitated by James Earl Jones. But first he grows to manhood while chained to a mill wheel, grinding grain. Here, director John Milius focuses on his subject's leg muscles, at first boyish and scrawny, then thick and beefy as Conan matures. Once his thighs are as thick as his skull, he becomes first a pit gladiator and later a soldier of fortune.
Over this footage runs a bumbling narration by Mako, who sounds like a punch- drunk boxer. Bad as this is, it's better than the dialogue, which is limited to grunts since Schwarzenegger's verbal skills are roughly equivalent to Johhny Weissmuller's. So, for that matter, are those of co-star Sandahl Bergman, a sassy Amazon who is fond of saying, "Whatzamattah? You want to live forever?" as she attacks other barbarians a horde at a time. Actually the strong ones and their Mongol companion, played by Gerry Lopez, have no time for chitchat, what with the swashbuckling needed to avenge Conan's parents and to kidnap and deprogram a princess held by Jones, the Sun Myung Moon of the comic's Hyborean Age.
Nothing would do but to add a little musical muscle: A Wagnerian hootenanny is sung by a choir of hysterics, as brutes of every race, creed and color skewer one other on picks and pikes, with one of them preferring a large wooden hammer. Sucking sounds as swords are pulled free of abdomens and skulls. Thuds of heads falling down stairs. Spurts. Lops. While the choir sings along: "Oooha. . .OOOhaaa. . .OOOOOHAAAAA.."
On it goes, one scene more violent than the next. And to think it all began with a quote from Nietzsche. Perhaps De Laurentiis was going for "Superman, Too," but ended up with "Muscle Beach Bloodbath." CONAN THE BARBARIAN -- At 18 area theaters.