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.

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>.