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>.