Saturday, August 25, 2007

HUNDRA (1983)

Since my teenage years I’ve had a soft spot in my heart (or head) for the 1980s wave of sword & sorcery movies that thundered through cinemas in the wake of the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. I don’t think many of them are very good but I find them fun entertainments much as I do the similar wave of HERCULES inspired movies of the 1960s. They aren’t brilliant but they are something I can really enjoy. Unpretentious, energetic, colorful and often outrageous the sword & scandal epics can always be counted on as good, mostly clean Saturday afternoon romps. The 80s brand of loin cloth warriors were not as plentiful as their earlier brethren but what they lacked in number they made up for in blood, breasts and carnage. Who says the second wave can’t as good as the first?

But even with my interest in these movies I had never heard of HUNDRA until a few months ago. It was mentioned by a friend in the Euro Trash Palace Yahoo group but little was said and in the crush of daily events I quickly forgot about it. Then just this week I ventured into a local used DVD place and stumbled across the amazing DVD release from Subversive Cinema. Not only does it contain the film but a number of extras and a bonus CD of the (good but not great) Ennio Morricone soundtrack! SOLD!

Of course, the best news about finding this odd little film is that it turns out to be pretty good. Obviously patterned VERY closely on CONAN it follows that movie’s plot so well that once it finally diverges about midway it’s a bit of a shock. Laurene Landon plays Hundra, the sole survivor of a tribe of females who had separated themselves from mankind to avoid the horrors of men’s cruelty. Associating with males only to become pregnant they were happy living apart. Hundra at first sets out to avenge her tribe but is told by a wise woman that she must instead bear children so their kind can continue. Unhappy but respectful she sets off into the world to find a man worthy of her.

This set-up sounds like it could be the start of a pretty stupid sex film but that’s not the track the filmmakers travel. Each encounter Hundra has is symbolic of how women have to deal with men in various situations. This adds a level of intelligence to things which keeps it fascinating even as the pace of the story flags in the second half. Also keeping the movie popping is the satiric approach director Cimber takes. The actions scenes are exciting but also funny with some good slapstick mixing well with the pretty harsh swordplay. If someone had told me HUNDRA would try to be funny I would have doubted if the movie was even worth watching. But they actually pull it off here making it look easy most of the time. There are a few points where the tone shifts too fast for the story’s own good but overall they find the right distance between thrilling and silly.

The sword fights between Landon and her many adversaries are a blast and not only because she is clearly doing all her own stunts. Cimber uses very good editing and smart slow motion effects to maximize a small budget making the battles look truly fierce. I should also single out the excellent animal performance by a dog that acts as Hundra’s only constant companion. Very well trained this canine rides on horseback, cowers in fear to warn his master, leaps at the throat of a bad guy menacing a baby and even leads Hundra’s horse by the reins. There are lots of surprising things about this little movie but I guess the most surprising thing is that it turned out to be pretty good. I think I’m going to settle in and listen to the commentary track now.

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