Saturday, January 16, 2016

#223: Barbarian Queen (Hector Olivera, 1985)

This Roger Corman-distributed, swords-and-sandals T&A-fest is only 72 minutes long, but if one were to edit out the sword fights and bare breasts, the running time would drop to about three minutes of scantily clad women walking through the countryside and celebratory cheering. This is one of those '80s drive-in movies that appears to have been written and directed by 12-year-old boys for an audience of 12-year-old boys, a Joe Bob Briggs-approved, USA Up All Night-style nostalgic bit of immature but relatively innocuous sexist ogling. It's goofy and fun and pretty terrible and not very long.
One of the many sword-and-sorcery cheapies to clog the '80s in the wake of Conan the Barbarian's success, Barbarian Queen also borrows from Star Wars (as my wife noticed way before I did) in its sweeping Hollywood-style film score (lifted mostly from another Corman-distributed Star Wars knock-off, Battle Beyond the Stars) and storyline about a ragtag group of rebels fighting an evil emperor. (The sequel is even called Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back.) A U.S.-Argentinean co-production, Barbarian Queen was filmed in Argentina with an Argentinean director and a few Argentinean actors sharing the bill with their peers from the United States.
The film opens with Taramis (Dawn Dunlap) picking flowers near a river. She's accosted and sexually assaulted by a couple of creeps in armored helmets. Meanwhile, her sister Amethea (Lana Clarkson) and the rest of the villagers prepare for Amethea's wedding to Argan (Frank Zagarino) later that day. The preparations barely get under way when a whole army of armor-helmeted creeps on horseback attacks the village, raping and pillaging and sword fighting and burning, under orders from their emperor Strymon (Victor Bo). Though Amethea kills several of the creeps with her sword, most of the villagers are killed or kidnapped, including her sister and her husband-to-be. Amethea hides under her burning hut, and she and fellow survivor Estrild (Katt Shea) grab their swords and get revenge. They form an alliance with an underground group of rebel fighters, including young girl Dariac (Andrea Scriven, in her only film role). Much fighting and breast-baring follows.
This high drama is supposed to be happening during the Roman Empire, but it looks like nothing more and nothing less than cheap '80s fantasy, which is more of a plus than a minus in my book. More garage-sale Red Sonja, less Spartacus. The low-budget look and feel of the film is at least consistent throughout, with artificial sets, wooden acting (though Clarkson and Shea have a relaxed naturalness), dialogue that was clearly dubbed in later, and a visual style that looks like generic '80s television, not cinema. I have a lot of affection for this kind of B-movie cheapness.
There's not a whole lot to say about Barbarian Queen. It delivers exactly what you expect it to in the exact amount of minutes it takes to deliver those expectations. It's a sexist film, but this sexism is sophomoric and adolescent instead of mean-spirited, and the women characters handle their business instead of letting the men swoop in and save them. Granted, they wear barely anything while they do it, but that's what this film is all about. It never pretends to be something it's not.
Some notes of interest (at least, to me) about the cast. The co-composer of the film's score, James Horner, graduated from the Roger Corman school of exploitation to become one of the most successful composers in mainstream Hollywood (several Star Trek movies, Aliens, Glory, Apollo 13, Titanic, Braveheart, Avatar, etc.). He died in a plane crash last year. Star Lana Clarkson, the Barbarian Queen of the title, is sadly more famous today as the woman Phil Spector murdered, but she starred in several B-movies and had a string of small parts in Hollywood movies and TV shows, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Scarface, Night Court, The A-Team, The Jeffersons, and The Love Boat. Phil Spector. Jesus, that guy. He produced and engineered some of my favorite songs and records, but as a human being, he's at a Bill Cosby level of terrible. What a horrible human. I have to do a lot of separating in my mind of that man and his work.
Katt Shea, who had a long career as an actor in exploitation films, later became a director. She's probably most famous for the Drew Barrymore film Poison Ivy and the Carrie sequel The Rage: Carrie 2. Dawn Dunlap, who played Clarkson's sister, grew up in my city of residence, Austin, Texas, and appeared in a handful of sexploitation and low-budget horror films and one Hollywood film (Night Shift) before quitting acting for good, returning to Texas, and raising emus. People have interesting lives. 

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