BARBARIAN QUEEN (1985)
Unless this is the first time here at The Movie Madhouse, you know I am a fan of exploitation flicks, especially ones produced by Roger Corman. But even I have to draw a line somewhere…a line Barbarian Queen crosses more than once in my opinion. I am all for some fun T & A. If you want to fill your flick with pretty girls willing to show their boobs or have some naughty R-rated sex, fine. But when things get abusive, I have to say, I find it very distasteful (see my Mother’s Day 1980 review for another example) and while some harmless T & A can be entertaining, rape is not. I can even let one scene pass if it’s part of the story, but Barbarian Queen has at least four and the almost giddy nature in which they are filmed is the most distasteful and uncomfortable part.
The movie has a simple plot with a peaceful village being attacked and pillaged by a band of ruthless soldiers, lead by the vicious Strymon (Victor Bo), and a group of three women warriors escape, including their queen Amathea (Lana Clarkson). Amathea sets out to rescue her sister Tamaris (Dawn Dunlap), her husband-to-be Argan (Frank Zagarino) and to free those captured and avenge the destruction of her village. Simple.
But don’t let the fact that Barbarian Queen is about a warrior woman coming to the rescue of her loved ones and her people fool you, as this is an exploitation flick and director Héctor Olivera has populated his film with plenty of nubile young babes, including Corman vets Clarkson, Dunlap and Katt Shea (who went on to direct some good flicks for Corman). And I have no problem with that, or would have no problem with it, if the film didn’t have not one, but four (and that’s if I counted right) rape scenes and while I understand the villains are despicable, do three out of the four leading ladies have to be assaulted to make that point? In fact Dunlap’s Tamaris is violated before the opening credits even roll. We don’t even get to know the character, or who she is, before she’s attacked. And if the film left it at that, then you would chalk it up as an example of how rotten these guys are, but does Clarkson and Shea have to suffer the indignity, too, as well as, some supporting players? We already got the idea by the second incident that these guys are filth, they’re barbaric and have no respect for women, so did we need the repetition? To me…and I’m not a guy easily offended…it crosses the line from exploitation into just plain bad taste. Olivera wants to have it both ways by portraying his female characters as strong warriors, but also be the subject of torture, beating and sexual abuse…and that’s what makes this distasteful. Nudity can be fun, depending on it’s use, abuse is not and this film clearly is using the more abusive scenes as entertainment and in my opinion, it isn’t. I know they are barbarians, but the gleeful manner in which the assailants act and their gloating dialogue makes one cringe as does the repetitive use of this particular violent action. Perfect example of the difference is Corman’s Forbidden World. One of my favorite Corman exploitation flicks and also stars the beautiful Miss Dunlap. In that flick the two female scientists parade around in tight outfits, skimpy robes or naked the entire movie. It’s sexy, it’s titillating and it’s fun. Why?… because director Allan Holzman filmed his leading ladies in a flattering manner to make them as beautiful as possible in each shot. When June Chadwick’s scientist has an unfortunate and deadly sexual encounter with the film’s creature, it is filmed in a manner to convey the horror of what is happening. You are not supposed to enjoy it, you are supposed to be horrified. Olivera films his ladies like pieces of meat in a butcher store window and Howard R. Cohen’s script doesn’t treat them much better. It’s not sexy at all, it’s degrading and uncomfortable to watch. Ironically Cohen also wrote the far more fun sword and sorcery flick Deathstalker which knew when enough was enough with the exploitative material. I repeat, I am not easily offended, but to me the misogynistic tone in Queen is obvious.
Of course all this may be mute as it’s a terrible film even without being misogynist. The action is poorly choreographed, the sets and costumes look really cheap and most of the dialogue and acting is terrible…and not in a good way. Clarkson…who in a tragic and sad irony was killed in a shooting incident by Phil Spector in 2003…made a career for Corman playing these strong warrior women types and somehow retains her dignity. Girl-next-door Dunlap isn’t so lucky, as she looks really uncomfortable during the whole film and after this flick, she quit acting and went back home to her native Texas. I would not find it hard to believe at all that the humiliation of being in this film was a big part of it. So, all in all, whether it’s misogynistic tone and the exploitative way it portrays it’s rape sequences offends you or not, is up to you. My personal views aside, it’s still a crappy movie and even fails as exploitation. There’s very little bloodshed and the non-violent nude scenes are shot in the most unflattering ways. Barbarian Queen has a cult reputation and if it’s fans and viewers out there are entertained by it, that is your right and maybe you view the film differently, but it makes me cringe. And a good exploitation flick should make you giggle mischievously not feel uncomfortable.
1 and 1/2 swords
WARNING: TRAILER IS GRAPHIC… and kinda proves my point…