Tuesday, August 3, 2010

HUNDRA (1983) Movie Review

HUNDRA (1983)

When a clan of female nomadic warriors, made up of women who were once slaves and escaped to find personal freedom, are attacked and killed by a roving tribe of barbarians, only one remains alive. Her name is Hundra (Laurene Landon), the finest warrior of her people. Hundra seeks out her elder, who in turn prophesies that Hundra must go into the belly of the beast - the home of the barbarians that slaughtered her tribe - and find a man to plant a seed within her so that her bloodline will go on.

After Hundra arrives in the walled city, she finds its citizens living in fear and oppression of the local temple. It is there the young women of the city are taken to be made over as slaves for the pleasure of the chieftains. Hundra, under the pretense of being captured, infiltrates the temple. There she meets another young woman who does as she is told in order to survive. While Hundra allows her to make her over as one of the slaves, she also teaches her how to fight, so that she may break free of the shackles of domination. While in the city, Hundra also meets the local healer, and it is he that Hundra deems worthy to plant his seed. Once with child, Hundra faces the first difficult choice of her life, whether to stay in the company of her child's father, or set off back to the hideout of her people's elder.

In the wake of CONAN THE BARBARIAN and the resurgence in interest in the sword and sorcery sub-genre, production companies were scrambling to put their own epic adventure on the screen. Director and writer Matt Cimber was approached to literally make a "female Conan" movie. After setting out the basic story line, co-writer John Goff reworked some of the plot points and HUNDRA went into production in Spain. Actress Laurene Landon, who had previously worked with Larry Cohen and a small role in AIRPLANE II, was entrusted to take up the lead role. Landon, who performs almost all of her own stunts here, looks the part of the warrior woman, and though her swordplay lacks some finesse, she is quite believable in the role and is able to carry the slightly corny dialogue with dignified decorum. Ennio Morricone is also brought in to emulate Basil Poledouris' CONAN score, and creates several triumphant and invigorating theme tunes.

Over the years, there has been quite the discussion over the subtexts within HUNDRA. Is there an underlying feminist message decrying the vicious domination that men have had over women throughout the centuries? A critical eye would certainly take it that way. Hundra, who would rather be riding with a horse between her legs than a man, is quick to dismiss men as needless, and has had no previous interaction with them not dealing with a sword. Matt Cimber, whose previous film THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA dealt with a woman who subdued sexual predators and then castrated them, continues that theme here. Almost all of the men in HUNDRA are portrayed as sexual predators, beasts, and oafish soldiers who of course are always armed with a long spear. Hundra's way of dealing them usually involves some form of crotch attack before killing them. Hundra also makes some powerful speeches to any woman who will listen throughout the picture.

However, Cimber does stray a bit too far into epic-style exploitation that diminishes the feminist tones found within and would have the casual viewer take this as nothing more than rousing adventure entertainment. There is more than enough swordplay, spear-impaling, blood-spraying, disembowelment and decapitation to please any action enthusiast. The first twenty-minutes of the film alone is comprised of two spectacular fight sequences. Cimber also interjects eroticism as his camera lingers lustfully on the female slaves, clothes many of the extras in see-through garments, and shows off a titillating scene of the slaves bathing nude which is there just to ogle the women. Additionally, there are several scenes of implied rape and forced sex. Though non-explicit, and necessary to set-up the danger Hundra faces, these scenes do set a rather uncomfortable tone that is hard to shake.

Due to a distribution fiasco with Universal that was of Cimber's own creation, HUNDRA was hardly seen in the theatre and fell into the void of VHS and never found its domestic audience. A DVD release in 2007 finally allowed this film to be seen by the masses, but with the likes of XENA, who has truly given the sword-carrying feminists of the world a champion, whatever rallying call HUNDRA may have been shouting initially has been drowned out. What remains is the best CONAN rip-off flick you'll ever find, and should easily find a place in the libraries of those that already own RED SONJA.


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