Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Unexpected Treat!

Exordium (2013) NR

Listed as a "Fantasy Epic", this short film doesn't quite live up to that name, but while it certainly isn't an epic, it is still a remarkable film. One might even say brilliant. In less than eight minutes, Exordium manages to invoke the feeling of great Sword & Sorcery literature. The heroes stand before the unyielding guardian, and one by one they fall.

 
This short is relatively new, and I certainly don't want to spoil it for anyone. So consider this an exhortation for you to view the film, and read a review on a later date.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oh...that woman is PISSED!

Hundra (1983) NR
Hundra tells the story of the last of an Amazon-like tribe of warrior women. The film opens with Hundra going off to hunt, shortly before her village/tribe is attacked. The twelve minute long battle scene that starts the movie washes away any illusions that these are helpless women. The only way to describe it is, these women went out HARD. A mother wielding a quarterstaff while her daughter clings to her back, a dying woman, speared through the chest, diving onto an attacker to stab him with that very same spear as she dies, these are only a few examples of the brilliant battle scene.



video

Far too often, the combat in movies of this sort is reduced to a few men posing while others wave swords about unconvincingly. Not so here. The fight sequence is believable. The combat is brutal, bloody, and loud, perfectly nailing what such a fight would look like. After the opening, the film turns expectations on their heads and takes a decidedly nontraditional course.

Hundra finds herself pursued by a portion of the force who wiped out her tribe. She, of course, slaughters them. From there she goes to speak with a wise woman who informs Hundra that her destiny is to rebuild her tribe. She is the only hope. So, rather than running off and seeking further revenge, Hundra must find a man to impregnate her (with a girl) so she can start the rebuilding process. To this end she finds herself in a city run by a high priest who, on his mildest day, could be called a raging misogynist.

There is more combat, much of which Hundra grins her way through like an overjoyed child, until she finally is lead to the temple to be trained as an offering to one of the local chieftains. While being trained, Hundra is also training her teacher and, together they sneak away so that Hundra may spend time with the "love" interest of the movie. She becomes pregnant and we flash forward to the child's birth and delivery by...the love interest.

Hundra rebels against the training and all hell breaks loose. Great stuff! The movie is a bit thin on actual story, being heavily driven by the on screen action instead. In this particular case, it really works. Form over substance is rarely a movie that is going to be overtly successful, but with all the subtext to the film, it really shines.

While the movie is billed as a "rousing, erotic, adventure", that doesn't describe the movie at all. Erotic? Not at all. A rape, an attempted rape, and a brief lovemaking scene in a movie filled to the brim with action and combat? Not erotic. Damn good though. The first half of the movie is almost non-stop action, with a few moments of comedy thrown in.



Sexual Themes
Like the previously reviewed film, Red Sonja, there are some heavy sexual and gender themes running through this movie. First, it is interesting to see men portrayed in a fashion similar to the way women are normally treated... stereotypically. For the first 42 minutes of the movie, all men are simply cardboard stereotypes. They shout, hoot, belch, fart, and rape their way across the scene. Hundra's tribe finds men of use for one thing, reproduction. Even Hundra's dog, Beast, is given grief, called a coward because he is a male.

Hundra's tribe fight as well as any of the men in the movie, often better than several. While it isn't enough to save them, it paints a picture of warrior women who are truly equal as opposed to subservient. This sets up the major theme of the film, women rejecting a subservient and sexually submissive role towards men.

Hundra is essentially a wild Amazon or barbarian. As she is "trained" to become more beautiful, she begins experimenting with makeup. There is an intentionally comic scene with her trying lipstick but, even after that, all of the use of makeup is over the top and poorly applied. The exact opposite of a traditional "beauty" makeup, Hundra's makeup makes actress Lauren Landon look worse. This seems to represent the attitude that makeup covers and distorts a woman's natural beauty.

The villain of this movie is, essentially, the male gender. There are only two non-threatening male characters in the film. The first is a grandfather who's granddaughter is forcibly taken for training in the temple. The second is Pateray, the healer/love interest. Of the rest, all are misogynists, rapists, and murderers who toss out lines like "Teach her what a woman's mouth is for." They are so over the top chauvinistic that is almost embarrassing. At the same time though, this makes for a thought provoking movie. By ramping up things to the absurd, Hundra attacks the basic tropes of the genre by showing their absurdity.

But the gender as a whole is not given a pass. Servant to the high priest, Rothar, flounces through each scene. Put bluntly, he's a catty queen and his mannerisms are so affected that there is no mistaking his intended sexuality. That said, his treatment of women is no different than the rest of the men. In the world of Hundra, sex is only a part the subservience of women to men, and is not the root cause.

Finally, there is the High Priest himself, Nepakin. The mere touch of a woman sends him to his wash basin to cleanse himself. I found myself wondering if this was a reflection of some of the attitudes towards women found in the Old Testament. It is obvious that he finds women to be unclean, and there is a strong religious basis for that amongst the Abrahamic faiths of the real world.

Of course, having director Matt Cimber involved made it certain that these themes would play out. Other directors might have softened the character and toned down the feminism in the movie, but not Matt Cimber. Cimber's directorial career is filled with projects featuring strong women. Whether the soft sell GLOW: Gorgeous Women of Wrestling to the documentary the Sexually Liberated Female, Cimber never has shied away from the subjects of women's liberation and empowerment.


Lauren Landon
The star of this film is one of the things that makes it so wonderful. Lauren Landon is simply believable. When she is enraged and howling during combat? Seriously believable. When she is leaping about, toying with the men she is fighting, clearly enjoying herself, she is totally charming. Landon had been considered for the title role in Red Sonja but, disappointingly, was not cast because she had done Hundra, which was seen as being so similar.

Had Red Sonja actually been similar to Hundra it would've been a MUCH better film and would've been far better served with Lauren Landon at the lead.


What Didn't Stink
Overall, the movie is actually fairly good. Certainly one of the better films to have grabbed on to the coattails of Conan the Barbarian. That I'd never seen it before made it a surprising treat.


But is it Sword & Sorcery
Here it gets a bit tougher. There are certainly swords but there is no sorcery. A solid Sword & Sandal film, this one skirts the boundaries. As the film crosses over to the realm of fantasy it is certainly understandable to label this as Sword & Sorcery. Hundra comfortably hits the marks for both categories by its inclusion of its Amazons and fantasy locations. There isn't a large margin but it certainly does qualify.


Final Thoughts
A movie that should be far better known than it is. While the dialogues sometimes muffled the rousing soundtrack, provided by Academy Award winner Ennio Morricone, really shines. A solid four stars. If you haven't seen Hundra, you should rectify that.

Works Cited

"Hundra - Trailer." Dailymotion. Daily Motion, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1gspq_hundra-trailer_fun>.
"Hundra (1983) Review." Cool Ass Cinema: Hundra (1983) Review. Cool Ass Cinema, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.coolasscinema.com/2010/07/hundra-1983-review.html>.
"Hundra." IMDb. IMDb.com, 11 May 1999. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087436/>.
"Hundra." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundra>.
"Matt Cimber." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0162343/?ref_=tt_ov_dr>.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sorbo'd

Kull the Conqueror (1997) PG-13

Originally envisioned as a third movie in the Conan franchise, Conan the Conqueror, this movie takes another of Robert Howard's creations and drops him into the middle of the story. This is a movie that was filled with great potential yet fell flat. If one squints really hard, one can almost see the gem that this could have been.
As Barbarian stories go, the basics are fairly solid. Barbarian fights king, barbarian kills king, and barbarian becomes king. Then barbarian marries Queen, Queen is ancient demon witch who nearly kills barbarian, barbarian is exiled, finally barbarian reclaims throne. All of these basics sound solid, so why is this movie so disliked?

The story itself, originally written for Arnold Schwarzenegger, reads like a fairly straightforward Conan film. Indeed, much as people may pan Kull, this movie is still better than the mess that was Conan the Destroyer. Sorbo's Kull fights with the forces of General Taligaro's army, hoping to win a place amongst them. He fails, and is taunted for being a barbarian of low birth. In comes a runner, proclaiming that the king is slaughtering is heirs and all rush back to the castle where... Kull lays hands on the King, strikes him down in single combat, and (while the surviving heirs fight over the crown) is given the throne by the dying king.

Yeah, there are a few issues with that scene. Seriously, no one rushed to aid their king as a lowborn barbarian was trying to kill him? That sticks out as wholly unbelievable. Where are the king's guards to protect him against this assassin? Still, Conan Kull picks up the crown and becomes king. The two remaining heirs plot his downfall.

We are treated to Kull's chivalrous treatment of the slaves of the harem, bowing to them, and stating that no woman will be taken against their will. While this is a really refreshing reversal of the standard Sword & Sorcery Trope that women in the background are there simply to be abused and raped, it comes off flat and forced. Perhaps just deeds instead of words could have gotten the point across less awkwardly.

Among the harem is Zareta, harem slave and seer, she had once read Kull's fortune, telling him that a kiss lay between he and his throne. They kiss, then Kull goes off to sleep alone. Soon, Kull discovers that being king is not all that he thought it to be. The old laws are carved in stone and the chief eunuch, Tu, is determined that Kull should get things right. Among Kull's new duties is to choose a queen.

Enter Akivasha, the long dead witch queen of Acheron, recently revived and seeking to return "modern day" Valusia to the dark ages of an Acheron reborn. She bewitches Kull, who chooses her for his bride. On their wedding night, she seemingly kills him, blasting fire into his mouth while they kiss in bed. A funeral is held, and Akivasha takes up the reins of power with the two former heirs to the throne close by her side.

But Kull finds himself alive, but imprisoned, at the new Queen's pleasure. As one might expect, the evil Queen has fallen for Kull and offers him immortality while ruling the world at her side. He refuses and she orders his death, this time for real. She leaves, forces close in, and Kull escapes. Joining up with Zareta and her brother, the priest Ascalante, they flee Valusia and join with Kull's former companions, a group of pirates.

There is a great deal of potential here. The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) used a similar plot device to great effect, teaming up the hero with a band of loyal pirates. It was fun, lively, and exactly NOT what happens here. Disappointingly, Kull's old companions betray him and plot to sell him to Akivasha (although how they would know that the evil witch queen is searching for her escaped, declared dead, husband. This was a real missed opportunity to take something that had previously been done well, and to do it better. Falling flat shouldn't have been an option.

From here on out, the film just flat-lines. The movie is never horrible, it just becomes a string of missed opportunities, as Kull and his companions seek out the mystical breath of Varna, and take it back to destroy the queen and regain the throne. The end of the movie blurs into a lackluster performance by Akivasha (pouted by Tia Carrere and the not-horribly choreographed fight to the death between Kull and General Taligaro.
  

What about Conan?
Truly, of all the missed opportunities in this film, the absence of Schwarzenegger's Conan is chief amongst them. The general line is that he had declined to reprise his role. More likely is the fact that he was paid $25 million for his appearance in Batman & Robin. When one considers that the entire budget for Kull was in the neighborhood of $30 million, money is probably the reason that Schwarzenegger didn't return. But what if he had?

Reportedly, screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue was very unhappy with the amount of studio interference in the movie. With no major star at the helm (sorry K Sorbo), the studio most likely continued to cut budgets and make decisions to curb spending while, in theory, boosting box office. A prime example of this would be the movie's soundtrack, a hybrid of Sword & Sorcery orchestral music and heavy metal. The movie was even advertised with the slogan "Kull Rocks!"

Still, had Schwarzenegger returned to play Conan, the script gives us a good enough idea of what this movie would've been like. There would've been a lead swinging a real sword (Kevin Sorbo injured himself on a blunted stunt blade in rehearsals and used a rubber sword for the movie), with a believable barbarian delivery. Sorry, Kull is too pretty and well spoken for a barbarian. Still, the groundwork for what could have been is there if one looks. This movie could've been great.

But...it wasn't.


Evil Queens
In the last Conan-ish outing, there was an evil lesbian queen spurned by Red Sonja. In this one, it is the proto-Conan who spurns the advances of the evil queen. Apparently, evil queens are prone to becoming hot and bothered over protagonists and will risk everything if spurned. Quite the solid safety tip.


What didn't stink?
To be fair, quite a bit. While overall reviews of this movie are uniformly negative, it really isn't as bad as all that. The movie is simply frustrating because it could have been so much more, and it is obvious. In addition, the soundtrack is actually quite decent (and available for sale on Amazon).


Final Thoughts
This movie is much less than it could have been. The casting of TV's Hercules as Kull certainly didn't give it the lift that they had hoped. While dropping a known face in the lead works for many movies, Schwarzenegger was virtually unknown when cast as Conan and it worked...because they cast a character, not a name-brand. Certainly, this movie was never able to live up to potential and, sadly, not even expectations. Still, it is a fairly middle of the road outing, three stars.

Works Cited

"Batman." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_>.
"Kull the Conqueror (1997) Trailer." YouTube. YouTube, 28 Apr. 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLWayoYSLHA>.
"Kull the Conqueror." Conan Wiki. Conan Wiki, 7 Aug. 2010. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://conan.wikia.com/wiki/Kull_the_Conqueror>.
"Kull the Conqueror." IMDb. IMDb.com, 18 Sept. 1998. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119484/>.
"Kull the Conqueror." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kull_the_Conqueror>.
Rabin, Nathan. "Kull The Conqueror." The A.V. Club. The A.V. Club, 29 Mar. 2002. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.avclub.com/review/kull-the-conqueror-19089>.

Survivor's Guilt

Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991) R

I have heard so many horrible things about this particular movie, I felt it impossible that they all be true. Of course, that was before taking into consideration that this movie is distributed by Troma. Troma films play at being so bad that they are good. They are not. They are awful, twisted, mutations of cinema that hipsters used to pretend to enjoy for the fun of watching their fiends yawn in apathy. Wizards of the Demon Sword lives up to Troma's level of "quality".

Upon viewing the cast list, that this movie is this bad is a matter of astonishment. Lyle Waggoner, a perennial TV favorite in the 60's and 70's, pops in as the villain Lord Khoura. This starring movie role was his last, assuring that he'd spend the rest of his time popping up from time to time on television. Russ Tamblyn, fresh from Twin Peaks, plays Ulric, the bit part king and sword guardian who is the father to the mildly interesting "romantic" interest. For fans of horror films? Michael Berryman appears, for about 4 lines of dialogue in a murky day for night shot that clearly shows his bald head while mostly obscuring his features. Finally, Lawrence Tierney would survive this debacle and move on to a role in Reservoir Dogs.


 

One would think that, with a cast like this, WotDS would be a fantastic film. One would be wrong. This star power is all bit parts. It is almost funny to see the level of personal contempt that oozes out of Tierney's few scenes. It is apparent that he knows he's better than the people he's sharing the screen with, but he has a bit part and they are the stars.

That's right, that list of names aren't really the stars of the film. No, for that we have Blake Bahner in the role of Thane. Bahner washed out of General Hospital and Days of our lives and went on to star in a string of direct to video action-ish movies. Prior to this film he'd even appeared in another Sword & Sorcery film, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, which leads on to wonder if that title had anything to do with this film's title.

Bahner's co-star and love interest was Heidi Paine as Melina.. If you remember her from anything, it would be for... well, nothing really. Ms Paine did a string of appearances as forgettable background women, often topless (indeed she once appeared as the character "Topless Girl" in the movie Terminal Exposure), but never important. Her career lasted 5 years, ending in 1991. Coincidence? I think not. One might wonder how an actress who is this excruciatingly bad could ever land a leading role. The only sensible reply is that the quality of her acting is suited to the script.

With "Star" power like this to drive the movie, only a decent script could save it. Sadly, there was not even a bad script. What passes for writing in this movie is a confused mess. First, the movie can never decide if it is taking itself seriously as a bad movie, or if it is trying to be so over the top as to be forgivable. The lead characters go off in search of the Seer of Roebuck. Let that sink in for a moment. The "Seer of Roebuck, played by Hoke Howell and his distinctive southern drawl....How about the multiple references to "Corinthian leather"?

In one seen, a distant garbage truck can be heard to be backing up. Sadly, it didn't carry away the movie. There are the sets, including a castle wall, from which a guard, hops halfway down and attacks. Our heroes are over the wall in three bounds. What purpose does such a wall serve again? The majority of the costuming obviously came from a cheap costume shop...The list of crimes against film continues.But perhaps now is time to discuss the movie itself.

The story starts in the generic deserts of California. While easily recognized, this is a fairly small sin. Cheap locations are often overused. Suspension of disbelief can get one past that. We enter as three men on horseback, one wearing a black hood for no apparent reason, are pursuing Melina. Having already captured her father, they wish to bring her in so as to cement complete control over Blade of Aktar, the Demon Sword of the film's title.

The "sword" that barely is long enough to be called a dagger, and which is obviously made of cheap, clear, plastic. Seriously, people are fighting over a Halloween costume piece. That Lyle Waggoner is able to do this movie with a straight face shows his depth of commitment as an actor. But we digress.

Melina is captured and Thane, the self-appointed "world's greatest swordsman" comes to her rescue. By the fight choreography it is quite apparent that Thane earned his title by buying a coffee mug with "World's Greatest Swordsman" emblazoned upon it. The fight is slow, clumsy, and lacking in any tension. It is just grown men "playing swords" on screen. To make things even worse, Thane is wielding a sword so improbably long, it is almost anime-sized.

Later in the movie, Thane teams up with another self-appointed "Greatest Swordsman in the World". They duel and their apparent skill level drives home the fact that they both own the same coffee mug.

REALLY awful.

It simply gets worse from here, at a level that is almost physically painful to recount. We are treated to re-used dinosaur footage clipped from the film Planet of Dinosaurs, sad attempts at comedy, still poorer attempts at drama, and then? Then there is the performance of the "Harem Mistress", woodenly played by Tina Plackinger. She perhaps glances at the camera one. For the rest of the scene, she is staring off camera while smoking a hooka and stiltedly delivering her lines. Thankfully, this WAS the last project of Ms. Plackinger's career. To be fair, her career up to this point involved being "Health Club Woman #1" in a Z-Movie and appearing in a workout video. Hollywood certainly didn't lose a great talent with her retiring from the business.


What Didn't Stink
This movie has no redeeming qualities. Even the soundtrack is certain to put the most forgiving teeth on edge as it repeats the same synth-chords over and over.

Watching this film, and surviving, is a badge of honor. This movie is so terrible that it scores a 0% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Seriously, nobody likes this film...and for good reason. While this movie certainly hits on all of the Sword & Sorcery tropes: Mystery man with a sword, a strange wizard, an ancient artifact/weapon it all comes off forced. The story plays out like there was a group of horrible actors and someone threw the concept of Swords & Sorcery at them and they half-heartedly walked through what they felt were the requirements.


Final Thoughts
They really don't get any worse. 0 stars (only because I cannot give it less).


Works Cited
"Blake Bahner." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0046922/?ref_=tt_cl_t3>.
"Corinthian Leather." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corinthian_leather>.
"Ernest D. Farino." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0267495/?ref_=tt_ov_wr>.
"Heidi Paine." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0656838/?ref_=tt_cl_t4>.
"Hoke Howell." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0397982/?ref_=tt_cl_t11>.
"Lawrence Tierney." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0862937/?ref_=tt_cl_t8>.
"Lyle Waggoner." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0905741/?ref_=tt_cl_t1>.
"Michael Berryman." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0077720/?ref_=tt_cl_t9>.
"Russ Tamblyn." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0848560/?ref_=tt_cl_t2>.
"Tina Plackinger." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0686378/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t19>.
Watson, Dan. "Wizards of the Demon Sword." Somethingawful.com. N.p., 13 Nov. 2006. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.somethingawful.com/movie-reviews/wizards-demon-sword/>.
"Wizards of the Demon Sword (1992)." Wizards of the Demon Sword. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wizards-of-the-demon-sword/>.
"Wizards of the Demon Sword." Ballie's Bad Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.englishtreejapan.com/archive/Ballies_Bad_Movies-Demon-Sword.htm>.
"Wizards of the Demon Sword." IMDb. IMDb.com, 27 Aug. 1999. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103278/>.
"Wizards Of The Demon Sword Trailer." YouTube. YouTube, 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHz9k8sE50w>.

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ladies First

Red Sonja (1985) PG-13

The movie that introduced Brigitte Nielsen also introduced movie-going audiences to Red Sonja. The character of Red Sonja is not a creation of Robert E Howard, but is inspired by one..Red Sonya. While the two characters are both women of adventure, the differences pretty much end there. The character of Red Sonja as we know her (the She-Devil with a sword) first appeared in the pages of the Marvel book Conan the Barbarian, issue #23 (February 1973). The creation of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith, Red Sonja became the most well known of Sword & Sorcery heroines.

Fast forward twelve years to 1985. Dino De Laurenttis, who brought us both "Conan the Barbarian" as well as "Conan the Destroyer" is looking to return to the well of Fantasy. Bringing back Richard Fleischer, the director of "Conan the Destroyer" they green light Red Sonja.




The movie opens by quickly establishing Red Sonja's back story. In many ways it does not stray far from the standard Sword & Sorcery film tropes. Her family is killed, her home burned, and she is violated by her family's killers. Left for dead she rises and seeks vengeance on teh evil Queen Gedren. So, suffering the victim's trifecta of murder, arson, and rape our main character is approached by a spirit who offers an unequaled sword arm for her quest of justice and vengeance. In the written Red Sonja storyline, this is an important moment. This is where the Red Goddess Scathach appeared to Sonja... In the movie it is a misty figure with a mostly disembodied voice, who touched Sonja on the head with a misty sword. Vague and unsatisfying, much like the rest of this movie.

While we do have Arnold Schwarzenegger in this movie, we do not have Conan. He certainly sounds like Conan, but even if you squint he doesn't look like Conan. The character of Lord Kalidor is dressed as if he combined the fashion sense of Olivia Newton John and wrestling superstar Rik Flair. It is seriously painful to look at. The character was meant to be Conan, but rights were not acquired in a timely fashion. Seeing Conan as not-Conan is a bit jarring, but the usage of Schwarzenegger is even more bothersome.

Filming what he thought was going to be a cameo, Schwarzenegger's time on set stretched from one week to four weeks. What the role turned into was a top-billed co-star, who was only on set for a few weeks. This leads to lengthy action sequences where Arnold Schwarzenegger suddenly appears by stepping through a doorway after a lengthy absence. The constant coming and going for a co-star (and romantic interest) is abrupt and jarring. The reluctant co-star of this movie has publicly stated that it is the worst movie he ever made (and he's made some stinkers) and joked that he uses the watching of the movie as punishment for his children.

The plot, if you can call it that, of this cinematic mess, revolves around "the talisman". A glowing, green, orb of magical power. The destruction of the device is thwarted in the beginning of the movie by the forces of Queen Gedren who have come to steal it for their queen's plans of conquest. The talisman draws energy from light and so is to be destroyed by placing it in permanent darkness. Why anyone waited so long for such an easy fix is never explained...but this is fantasy. Who needs logic?

Leaping across that plot chasm, the queen's men charge in and steal the talisman, capturing and killing all of the priestesses who protect it. One lone priestess escapes, the villains in hot pursuit. Coming to a chasm she sees Conan Lord Kalidor and she attempts to zip-line to safety. Shot in the back, she delivers her news to Kalidor and lies dying. It is vital that the talisman be destroyed and it is important that Kalidor finds...her sister.

Sister?

Yup. Remember that family that was slaughtered in the beginning of the movie? Well it appears that Sonja's sister was alive and doing well as a priestess, up until today. When told that her sister is dying, Sonja shows no surprise that she has a sister that is alive. Then again, the wooden acting of fashion model Bridgette Nielsen also shows no real concern that her sister is dying either. So the two rush back to where Kalidor left Sonja's dying sister lying on the ground. She repeats the importance of destroying the Talisman by sending it into darkness, asks her sister Sonja to swear to do so....and dies.

Ok, now Red Sonja's family are all dead. Conveniently, they are all still dead at the hands of the forces of Queen Gedren. Hurrah! The back story from the first three minutes is still intact! Moving on.

Riding on alone (because she doesn't need the help of a man), Sonja arrives after the destruction of the city of Hablac. Rescuing the bratty Prince of the city (played by annoying Ernie Reyes Jr) from the rubble, Sonja is greeted by youthful sexism (the Prince's army may need a cook) and we observe just how clueless the young Prince is as he decrees that he will dine in an hour..in the middle of his city.. which is nothing but smoking rubble. Showing solid common sense, Sonja gets directions and rides on alone.

Two pointless fights later and young Prince Tarn and his long-suffering man-servant Falkon are once again rescued by Sonja. Why they left the city and how they got in front of Sonja (who took the short cut) are things never explained. But this is fantasy. Who needs logic?(x2) This time, Sonja's maternal instinct kicks in, showing concern for the young boy. She begins to take him under her wing, trying to make him a better person. It doesn't really stick, but its a nice effort as Sonja builds a strange sort of replacement family around herself.

Finally, after many further forced and hokey scenes, we arrive at the climactic battle between Red Sonja and Queen Gedren. The scene lacks any real tension, and drags on like the rest of this painful movie. Finally, Sonja destroys the talisman by throwing it into a river of brightly glowing lava.

You know, because that is just like destroying it in darkness. But this is fantasy. Who needs logic?(x3) Seriously, if one has made it past this far they are either watching it for the purposes of review, they are one of the Schwarzenegger children being punished, or they are waiting for their brain to melt.

The pure awfulness of this movie never crosses into the realm of "so bad it is good", rather choosing to linger on the far side of "just awful." Sandahl Bergman (who was the romantic interest, Valeria, in "Conan the Barbarian") was offered the role of Sonja but reportedly turned down the role in favor of Queen Gedren to avoid being "typecast". It seems far more likely that, as an actress, Bergman didn't want to pass on getting work but preferred to spend her time wearing a mask to cover the shame of being involved in this movie.


Characterization
Bridgette Nielsen was just not right for this role. Sandahl Bergman might have been able to play the role believably but the real missed opportunity is Laurene Landon. With a bit of hair dye, Landon could have played the role perfectly, easily shown by her playing of virtually the same character two years earlier in "Hundra". Of course, the similarities between that film and this were too great and so she was passed over for the job. To date, few people have played the role.

1) Bridgette Nielsen's portrayal here was wooden at best. She doesn't have the look, nor the attitude to pull off this character. She was nominated for a Golden Razzie for Worst Actress and won a Golden Razzie for Worst New Star.

2) Wendy Pini (of "ElfQuest" fame) portrayed Red Sonja for years, performing "Sonja & The Wizard" on stage at conventions in the 70's. If you can find any footage of those performances, I strongly recommend it. Her portrayal is strong and believable, despite the fact that she's wearing an armored bikini, the power of Red Sonja comes through.

3) Angelica Bridges portrayed Red Sonja on a single episode of the TV series "Conan the Adventurer." There is a pretty good reason for this.

4) Rose McGowan was to play the role in a 2008 remake/re-imagining. Massive nerve damage in her arm prevented her from playing the role and the film was scrapped.

5) Amber Heard is the latest actress to be rumored to be slated to play the role.


Sexual Themes
Queen Gedren wanted Sonja for herself. Sonja, not interested in women, spurns her advances...by slashing Gedren's face. Sonja's family are then murdered, her home put to the torch, and Sonja's body "violated" by the soldiers of Queen Gedren. Yes, the evil lesbian queen has the object of her desires brutally raped for saying "no". Pretty strong back story, even if mostly handled off camera. This little bit of plot caused the Encyclopedia of Fantasy's labeling the film "morally dubious" and led, in part, to their calling it a "great embarrassment". If only it stopped there.

The next piece is from Sonja's back story and actually comes from the original character source prior to being continued into the movie. The goddess Scathach orders that Sonja will not lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. In the movie, this is mentioned much later in the movie, and there is no direct connection to the goddess given. Now, at first glance, this may seem like she will accept no man who is not her equal. It almost seems reasonable. However, upon second look? We have a rape victim who will only have sex with a man who can dominate her on a physical level. Sonja is a rape victim who has the need to be faux-raped to have any sort of intimate contact.

Once Kalidor returns, he shows interest in Sonja and so, the two fight. The lengthy fight, filled with grunting and heavy breathing, is certainly an allegory for the sex that they both are wishing for. In addition, young Prince Tarn comments "Why does she fight so hard? She doesn't want to win."

That comment is representative of what is wrong with the movie.This isn't a movie about a strong heroine. This isn't a movie about a woman who "doesn't need the help of a man" (because she often does). This is a movie about a woman who has been brutalized and craves what she loathes. The sexual attitudes in this movie are just plain creepy.


What Didn't Stink
Despite all of the flaws in this movie, and there are many, there are some high points that do stick out. While not always used very effectively, the score of the movie was penned by legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone. The music is very evocative of the genre and certainly well worth enjoying if you can find a copy of the film's soundtrack.

Secondly, as bad as the acting was, the sets were wonderful. Much like the first Dino De Laurenttis offering in this genre, "Conan the Barbarian", the sets are large scale and envelope the viewer. That the sets work so well to draw the viewer in whilst the acting is failing to build upon this foundation is the tragedy of the movie. Certainly, the crews that toiled to build those sets worked much harder than the people who strode about them woodenly reciting their lines.


Final Thoughts
Painful. The genre offers much better, especially in the 1980s. Two stars.



Works Cited

"1985 RAZZIE® Nominees & "Winners"" The Razzies. The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation, 4 Dec. 2005. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.razzies.com/forum/1985-razzie-nominees-winners_topic335.html>.
Clute, John, and John Grant. "Red Sonja." The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's, 1997. N. pag. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. SFE Ltd., 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://sf-encyclopedia.co.uk/fe.php?nm=red_sonja>.
"Conan: Red Sonja." IMDb. IMDb.com, 27 Apr. 1999. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0545492/>.
"Hundra." IMDb. IMDb.com, 11 May 1999. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087436/?ref_=nm_knf_i3>.
"Mike Douglas Show." The Mike Douglas Show. CBS. Cleveland, Ohio, 28 July 1977. Television.
"Movie Slammers." Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Red Sonja' The Daily Beast, 7 Mar. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://xfinity.comcast.net/slideshow/entertainment-starswhoslammovies/3/>.
"Red Sonja (1985)." At-A-Glance Film Reviews. RinkWorks, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.rinkworks.com/movies/m/red.sonja.1985.shtml>.
"Red Sonja (1985)." Letterboxed. Letterboxd Limited, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://letterboxd.com/film/red-sonja/>.
"Red Sonja (film)." Wikipedia, 14 Oct. 2005. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
"Red Sonja." IMDb. IMDb.com, 1999. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089893/>.
"Red Sonja." Wikipedia, 22 Nov. 2002. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
"Rose McGowan Explains Why Red Sonja Never Happened." Reelz. REELZ TV, 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.reelz.com/movie-news/11407/rose-mcgowan-explains-why-red-sonja-never-happened/>.
Schaefer, Sandy. "Simon West Will Direct ‘Red Sonja’ Remake; Amber Heard May Star." Screen Rant. Screen Rant, LLC, 24 Aug. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://screenrant.com/red-sonja-simon-west-amber-heard-sandy-100935/>.
Sonja & the Wizard 1978. Perf. Wendy Pini and Frank Thorne. YouTube. YouTube, 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDj5wRbgf8A>.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryas...

Sword & Sorcery

The exact meaning of the term, especially when related to film (and television) is often debated. Still, the foundation of Sword & Sorcery is the collected tales of Robert E Howard. It is there that we begin. With other genres that often are crossed over into, or mislabeled as, Sword & Sorcery, it can get difficult to pin down that definition. Let us start then, with what it is not.

The Lord of the Rings is not Sword & Sorcery. One might argue (and some have) that there are both swords and sorcery involved in these stories, but stories of this nature are "High Fantasy". High Fantasy are massive tales of epic proportions. While, in both cases, the world may lie in the balance, in High Fantasy the tale is less a personal one, being more a global one.

In film, Arthurian Legends is middle-ground for Sword & Sorcery, this being a case where there is some overlap. Arthurian Legends often skirt the line betwixt High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery, many times combining elements of both. Still, inspired by legend, they often deal with an individual's struggle as opposed to an epic storyline.

Sword & Sandal is rarely Sword & Sorcery. This genre crosses back and forth from historical to fantastic, and it is those fantastic tales with which we concern ourselves. For those tales rooted in mythology, some allowance can be made. The tales of Hercules are sometimes both categories, but the movie Spartacus is firmly Sword and Sandal.

So, this gives us a starting point. The genre is one of fantasy that most often revolves around an individual's journey. There is adventure, but the stakes are not often the world. Instead, the risks (in the literature) tend to be more personal. In the movie Krull, for example, while the world has been invaded, it is Colwyn's personal quest to rescue his bride that drives the movie. Colwyn's objective isn't to overthrow dark armies, it is to save the woman he loves. While this may change the fate of his world, such a result is secondary.

To quote author Fritz Leiber (who coined the term), "I feel more certain than ever that this field should be called the sword-and-sorcery story. This accurately describes the points of culture-level and supernatural element and also immediately distinguishes it from the cloak-and-sword (historical adventure) story—and (quite incidentally) from the cloak-and-dagger (international espionage) story too!"

In literature, the field is filled with giants among the field, Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Sprague de Camp, and others. In Film? Maybe not so much. While Howard's Conan has made three notable (and one less notable) appearances on the big screen, there is corresponding love for Elric or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. While the written portion of this genre is capable of handling dozens of stories per character, rarely does the cinematic do so, at least successfully.

Finally, there is the "feel" of the stories. Much of the accepted Sword and Sorcery film canon has a distinctly European feel, laid down by those early authors. While this is not a requirement (much of the early writings in the field were influenced by tales of the Arabian Nights) it is a cultural feel that dominates the field.

Bit by bit we will delve into the films, and even television, of this genre. We will explore all of this as our adventure begins....