Monday, June 8, 2015

HUNDRA (1983)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

Many films sought to ride the crest of the 1982 film CONAN, which succeeded in translating to the cinema Robert E. Howard's seminal contribution to the genre later dubbed "sword and sorcery." Of CONAN's many imitators, HUNDRA is the only one I've come across that eschewed the "sorcery" and concentrated only on "sword." The only really "marvelous" aspect of the film is the fact that the heroine dwells in a made-up "barbarian world."

Given an abundance of character-names that don't resemble anything in Earth-culture-- not only the name of the titular heroine but also "Tracima," Pateray," and "Rothrar"--I have to assume that this is supposed to be a world with no ties to Earth-history, not even those of a pre-cataclysmic Earth like the one represented in Howard's "Hyboria."  The script pays a little more attention to a more crucial aspect of Howard's mythology: the opposition of the hardy savage to the corrupt city-dweller. Still, the lack of a "sense of place" results in the film's following the heroine through a melange of violent adventures in a world barely a step up from what it really is: a bunch of movie-sets for an Italian-Spanish production.

Though even basic Dungeons-and-Dragons setups boast better made-up geographies than HUNDRA can offer, the film does keep true to the ideal of barbaric opposition to civilization. But here the representative of noble barbarism is the Amazon-like Hundra (Laurene Landon), whose all-female tribe is wiped by a band of raffish (and thus ignoble) male barbarians at the film's outset. One other member of the tribe survives, a wizened elderly woman long beyond the age for breeding. She tells Hundra that the warrior-woman must seek out a man with which to conceive a female child, thereby to begin the tribe once more. Hundra doesn't point out the illogicality of this proposition. She just protests that she has never known a man in the Biblical sense, and that she's hardly been impressed by the specimens she's seen. "No man will penetrate me, either with his sword or himself!" Nevertheless, after a little more nagging from the elder, Hundra goes off to find a source of male seed.

Following some moderately enjoyable (but time-wasting) encounters with lousy examples of the male gender, the film picks up speed when Hundra arrives in a large-ish town, which serves as the film's example of corrupt civilization. Hundra gets into a fight with the town's priests and constables, but on the plus side, she meets the town's handsome doctor, and decides that she wants to collect his seed. The doctor isn't much attracted to the Amazon with the weapons and the matted hair, especially when her idea of getting him aroused is to chuck knives at him. However, Hundra, having become set on her course, surrenders to the constables so that she can get a chance to see the doctor again.

Only the good fortune of a beneficent scriptwriter keeps the beautiful barbarian from ending up in a rock quarry, or, more likely, a whorehouse. Hundra is made into a slave, but she receives a better than average fate when she's put to work alongside the local ruler's coterie of female slaves. Hundra befriends Tracima, who's never known anything but the life of a dominated woman. The two of them bond and exchange skill-sets: Hundra teaches Tracima to defend herself with the arts of combat, and Tracima teaches Hundra how to clean up good so as to seduce the handsome doctor.

HUNDRA is never subtle, wearing its feminism on its sleeve. Still, the film is effective despite its lack of subtlety. Unlike the 1985 RED SONJA, HUNDRA foregrounds the friendship of two women, which assumes an importance beyond the heroine's quest for motherhood. The doctor is eventually persuaded to cooperate in copulation, and raises no objection to the stipulation that Hundra plans to take their kid away to start a new (lesbian?) society. The question of day-to-day sexual activity in Hundra's lost tribe is never raised. No one attributes to them practices like those of the Amazons, who spent just enough time with men to engender new life for their ingroup. However, no one in the film mentions the "L" word, and Hundra herself soon becomes an advocate of male charms, though she gets points for not giving up her Amazon ideals to become a civilized hausfrau.

HUNDRA is at its best when the lady barbarian is laying about her, crushing impudent males with her fists, feet and weapons, and though the film isn't that well choreographed, the heroine has a fun rooftop-battle with pursuing constables. Landon gives a lively performance, but the script, co-written by director Matt Cimber, lacks narrative drive due to the absence of a strong villain. The nasty local ruler, his mincing assistant, and his chauvinistic soldiers simply offer no serious opposition. A greater variety of villains, some of them comic, resulted in a better action-flick when Cimber once more collaborated with Landon a year later in YELLOW HAIR AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD.

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