“I’ll be no man’s slave and no man’s whore. And if I can’t kill them all then by the gods they’ll know I tried.”
BARBARIAN QUEEN (1985)
I’m not saying BARBARIAN QUEEN would be great under other circumstances either, but especially watching it right after HUNDRA it seems like kind of a waste. Obviously Roger Corman and/or his people saw that movie and thought “oh shit, we can do a CONAN rip-off but with boobs!” So it’s another sword-wielding woman who overcomes medieval evil, but you’re never really sure how pro-woman it is. As often as they have tough warrior women defeating men in sword fights they seem to have them getting pinned down and having their tops torn off. It happens so much I’m thinking maybe they think the audience is supposed to enjoy it more than root against it.
She even gets hung topless on a rack for a long period and it’s not really treated like a traumatic event. And the wort part is it seems like they could’ve done fine in the titillation department without all that shit. The costume department obviously worked really hard on all the cleavage display all throughout the movie, and then they just get shown up by these boobs ‘n torture scenes.
Lana Clarkson (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) plays Amethea, who’s taking a long bath preparing for her wedding when a bunch of fucking men attack the village, though at least they kidnap her sister Taramis (Dawn Dunlap) instead of decapitate her like in HUNDRA. They also kidnap her fiancee, who is a male (this is a co-ed village).
Trivia: that Alanis Morissette song about irony originally said “it’s like your village getting attacked on your wedding day” but it was awkward so she changed it. Also this is where they got the idea for that Guns ‘n Roses video.
Anyway, when the shit hits the fan she has to woman up and go get her people back. Katt Shea (PSYCHO III) plays her servant and friend Estrild, who’s more of a scaredy cat than her but has to woman up and help out because “We are not little girls anymore.”
“There are no little girls anymore,” Amethea says. This includes the little girl some nearby rebels have offered as their guide into the city to get revenge on the king or whatever. She’s like 12 or 13 but there’s no Polly Pockets for her. She’s at war. So she joins their cause despite the reluctance of a boring but at least eyepatch-wearing non-combatant character.
They immediately get to the downtown area of the kingdom, where the movie grinds to a halt. They figure out that her fiancee is enslaved as a gladiator where he practices in a small fenced off area. Amethea gets tied up in a dungeon wearing only a y-front. Like they had back then. Taramis is there but pretends not to know her.
Nothing exciting happens in the middle of the movie. It’s one of those things where they just keep tiptoeing around in torch-lit corridors, or they’re in the town square wearing capes with hoods to go incognito, and they keep talking about who’s gonna join the fight and how it’s not time to make a move yet. After getting separately captured and abused and then escaping they wait around again and they’re finally gonna try an uprising with the help of the gladiators… but a pro-king fighter already knows about it and starts to suppress their revolt pre-emptively.
Two good things: 1. it’s only 70 minutes long. 2. It does get a little more exciting at the end.
I like that this Barbarian Queen is passing her girl power on to the next generation with this little girl that becomes the guide. They don’t turn her into a child soldier, but she does her part for the struggle. She throws Amethea her sword when she needs it, and also passes out weapons to the other rebels from a hay cart.
I also like that at the very end Amethea kind of grabs her dude by the neck, pulls him to her and kisses him possessively. If anybody is a trophy it’s him, not her.
Hundra would’ve hit it and quit it, though.
The interesting feminist part of the movie is actually behind the scenes. Sidekick Shea, who seems pretty and likable enough to continue as an actress, soon moved up the totem pole to become writer and director of these cable-ready Roger Corman b-movies. She started with STRIPPED TO KILL I & II, made her mark with POISON IVY, even did the bad-idea-but-not-as-bad-as-I-expected THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. Actually it might be interesting to compare hers to the recent remake of CARRIE, also directed by a woman. I might have to do that.
The director of this, though, is an Argentinian dude named Hector Olivera. He also did COCAINE WARS starring John Schneider. The writer, Howard Cohen, went back and forth between movies like this, DEATHSTALKER and EMMANUELLE 5, and kiddie stuff like Rainbow Brite, Care Bears and the SATURDAY THE 14TH movies.
Looking Clarkson up on IMDb just now I noticed she was deceased; I had no idea that this was the woman that Phil Spector killed. Damn. She’s the best part of the movie, a likeable and tough woman along the lines of what Lucy Lawless would later do in Xena, even though she looks less like a warrior princess and more like the busty blond model types that got these types of roles in the ’80s.
She looks the most badass in furs:
So it’s an okay movie, but not the top of the line for this subgenre.
* * *
“Men don’t understand power. They think all it’s good for is getting more.”
BARBARIAN QUEEN II: THE EMPRESS STRIKES BACK (1990)
The DTV sequel is at least a little more captivating than the first one, in my opinion. Lana Clarkson is still a likable lead (though Kat Shea is missed), she has more female warrior characters around her…
…and less dead space in the middle. The cinematography is a little more “just some people out in the woods with some costumes” and the sword fighting is definitely less convincing. Clarkson did okay in the first one but this time she must’ve had less rehearsal time, she’s left looking like a kid swinging a sword from side to side, not really trying to hit the person. And how many times can we fall for that trick where a sword or spear goes under a guy’s arm and he’s supposed to be impaled? But give them points for having multiple archer characters. The best one is the one that’s mute ’cause they slit her throat. She doesn’t need words to tell you what she’s out to avenge.
At first I was confused. The Queen is in the castle talking about getting married again. She’s mad because the guy, a different guy from the first one, wants her to smell better, which she thinks is fucking bullshit and he can go fuck himself. There’s also this asshole king, looks like F. Murray Abraham, wants her to give him the magic sceptre that only women can touch (RED SONJA, right?). His pre-teen daughter tries to help her, but it’s a trick: the princess is in league with the king, she’s totally evil, and she chooses the queen’s boyfriend as her slave and future groom. He accepts politely, which is gross.
I figured this was one of those sequels that skips time to put them in a different situation, to mix things up instead of worrying about continuity. A BEYOND THUNDERDOME if you will. I didn’t pick up that Clarkson doesn’t even have the same name – in the first one she was Amethea, in this one she’s Athalia. So apparently they’re unrelated. New director Joe Finley (he only directed this, but is a final colorist for Game of Thrones) and writer Lance Smith (MUNCHIES, WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM II) might not’ve even know this was BARBARIAN QUEEN II when they made it.
For that matter, Boris Vallejo must not’ve known what movie he was making that beautiful poster for, because I don’t think any of those women or costumes are in the movie. But I guess the same is true of part 1. I am not complaining, those are great posters.
But maybe they did know, because it seems kinda intentional the way it reverses things from part 1. Instead of a little girl helping her a little girl betrays her. Instead of recruiting male gladiators she recruits female warriors, while the men of their tribes mostly stand around. Instead of two heroines getting captured and tied up they catch two men. Instead of women getting pinned down and their breasts exposed she lays down and has hers consensually caressed by her prisoner. And at the end when she rallies the people it seems like it’s mostly women who are joining her.
But unfortunately she does get captured and put topless on a rack again. They must’ve decided that was the signature scene from the first one, the yippee ki-yay or the fools-people-with-sound-FX. At the end there is a battle (with arrows), so that’s cool. Sadly, the little girl uses magic to turn into an adult, so we don’t get to see the Barbarian Queen murder a child. How much of a barbarian is she really if she only kills adults.
I wonder if this had been more successful if they would’ve done a Barbarian Queen fast food chain with ice cream treats and Barbarian cuisine.
As far as gender issues go, this is better than the first one. It’s fun to see the tables turned and women tormenting men (though they’re nice and let them go – Hundra wouldn’t’ve done that). Once again the Barbarian Queen and her boytoy share the victory at the end, and she kisses him a little less possessively this time. She’s getting soft.
At the end she decides to ditch the magic sceptre, because fuck magic (paraphrase). So that’s the story of why there’s not magic.
Note to Franchise Fred: Four years after playing Amethea in part 1, Clarkson was “Amathea” in WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM II. But these movies didn’t motivate me enough to watch that and figure out for sure if they’re connected.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.