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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hundra (1983) review


Laurene Landon (Hundra), John Ghaffari (Nepakin), Maria Casal (Tracima), Ramiro Oliveros (Pateray), Tamara (Chrysula)

Directed by Matt Cimber

The Short Version: Easily the most intriguing of the barbarian movies that came in the wake of CONAN. This feminine version has many humanistic qualities in addition to its comic book, but occasionally ultra violent content. That there's a lot more going on than a mere revenge plot is what makes this picture stand out from the pack. Although there's swords sans the sorcery, the plethora of action, the smart script and the dynamic Morricone score make HUNDRA a journey worth taking.

Chrysula: We were but few in the beginning who did not feel as the slave beings we were taught by men we should be. As our belief that we were not below them grew, so did our courage and our strength until we fought our way free of their domination to become our own masters. Out of fear and hatred for what we stood for, they pursued us relentlessly. To elude them we became nomads...and in our freedom, we found we had all that men could give us...except one thing...the seed to plant life inside us that we might bear children. Lacking that, we were driven to go among them when our bodies became fertile. In order to hold our nation safe and our beliefs pure, we gave away all male offspring. Many of our women preferred to bear arms rather than children. The champion of these was...

Hundra is the strongest fighter in her village, a nomadic tribe of Amazonian warrior women who live without the aid of men. Having contempt for the male gender, she refuses to accept the touch of a man to bear her a child. While away hunting, a savage tribe of barbarians rape and massacre everyone in her peaceful village. Hundra, along with her dog, Beast, takes off in pursuit of those who butchered her people. Paying a visit to the wise Chrysula, Hundra is informed that she must repopulate her village and take a daughter. From there, the wild female fighter seeks the right man and also hunts down the remaining barbarians responsible for the destruction of her village.

Barbarian movies enjoyed a brief stint of popularity thanks to the releases of both CONAN THE BARBARIAN and THE SWORD & THE SORCERER in 1982. Both films were big hits (the latter film was more ambitious and shot for less money). This led to the bare chested, fur wearing, sword slinging floodgates to be opened for a few years before they were quickly and mercifully closed thanks be to Crom. The Italians kept the stone-iron age alive in a string of awful entries (the ATOR series, IRONMASTER) and even Roger Corman produced a few (the DEATHSTALKER series, THE WARRIOR & THE SORCERESS) as well.

One of the most fascinating and curious of these films came in 1983. Matt Cimber, the director of THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN (1975) and THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976) journeyed to Spain to shoot this flip version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. At its core, HUNDRA is basically the same movie as CONAN, but the script (by John Goff) goes much deeper than a mere tale of vengeance. The script was totally rewritten by Cimber and Goff to include the overt feminism that dominates much of the film. It definitely adds a lot to this little $900,000 film.

Here, chauvinism and misogyny are just as prevalent (if not more so), but feminism rules the day as Hundra represents the empowerment of women. Numerous scenes showcase her attempting to get women to stand up for themselves as individuals, but the script also allows for Hundra to relax her hatred of men and give in to the notion of love. It is in these areas that HUNDRA has a bit more going for it than the average barbarian movie most especially the inferior RED SONJA (1985). The movie begins much in the way CONAN begins. There's a brutally violent 'Pillage the Village' sequence accompanied by a robust orchestral score from maestro Morricone.

Speaking of Morricone, Cimber met the esteemed composer after striking up a friendship with Sergio Leone while in Rome when the director was working on his epic, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984). Morricone scored several of Matt Cimber's movies such as BUTTERFLY and A TIME TO DIE (both 1982). As for the HUNDRA soundtrack, Morricone instantly saw the film as a comic book and employed Verdi as a source for his bombastic and occasionally riveting musical arrangements. Two years later, Morricone would seemingly pilfer his HUNDRA score for the inferior one heard in RED SONJA (1985). Morricone would receive an Honorary Academy Award in 2007 for his brilliant career in music and no doubt that was a contributing factor in Subversive including the soundtrack as an extra on a separate disc.

The producer, John Ghaffari (left) as Nepakin

Cimber's film further compliments CONAN in that the producer purchased the bulk of the costumes and some sets left over from the De Laurentiis production. The producer, John Ghaffari, also plays one of the main villains in the movie. Also, in CONAN, a symbol of two snakes facing each other was a motivational plot point for the title character. In HUNDRA, a sign of a bull serves the same purpose for the fighting female barbarian.

As for the film itself, the opening massacre immediately grabs your attention and maintains that interest during the extended chase when Hundra returns to her village. She immediately takes off after the throng of barbarians and slaughters most of them. Cimber masterfully captures the tone of John Milius's equally violent opener. The difference here is it's men versus the women. It's gory, too. Throats are slashed, stomachs are sliced open, heads are lopped off with abandon and bodies are pierced with spears. The women in Hundra's village are tough bitches and more than a match for the rampaging men. When they do go down (in spectacular fashion I might add), it's usually from being outnumbered, or attacked from behind.

Hundra (right) before applying "elegance"...

...and after

After visiting the wise elder of her now decimated village, the violence level relaxes a bit as Hundra embarks on a journey to find the right man to repopulate her tribe. The next few scenes are played for comic relief as Hundra explores the various examples of what the male species has to offer. With relatively slim pickings, Hundra makes her way to a male dominated city where she meets up with Tracima, a slave girl. In the interim, she finally meets a man worthy of her attention, but because of her savage appearance and lack of manners, he wants nothing to do with her. Tracima then teaches Hundra in the ways of being a lady and in exchange, Hundra teaches her in the ways of being a strong, self sufficient woman.

Tracima tries to teach Hundra how to eat with utensils

While some might think all this characterization bogs down the film (action dominates the first hour of the near 110 minute running time), I think it's the key to the success of the picture and the main aspect that separates it from the pack of similar movies. While it's still a quest movie, it isn't a point 'A' to point 'B' scenario. There's not a lot of filler to pad out the plot till you get to the finale. The revenge element is always there, but the main gist is that women are as strong, and in Hundra's case, stronger than men. If there's one area where Cimber's movie falters, it would be in the gory climax when Hundra confronts the remaining men who annihilated her people.

Shot almost entirely in slow motion, the big finish isn't nearly as spectacular as the opening of the movie. According to Cimber, they ran out of money and had to wrap things up quickly. Sadly, this kept the ending from being a totally satisfying finish. Still, Morricone's soaringly loud and proud opening theme helps in making the final battle somewhat engaging. Humor also aids the finish as the other women revolt and attack their captors the leader of which, is a clean freak and can't stand the touch of others. Hundra's cowardly male dog, Beast, also scrounges up some courage for a brief bit of heroism when he saves Tracima and her infant.

Euro fans will recognize both Eduardo Fajardo (white beard/no hair) and Frank Brana (white beard and hair)

Landon herself isn't totally convincing in all her dialog scenes (mostly a few emotive exchanges), but she excels in the physicality demanded of the role. In the battle scenes, she's believable and intimidating and is also funny in her comedic scenes. Whether she's being roughed up by a potential suitor, or being taught womanly ways, Landon does just fine.

Laurene Landon was one of the feistiest of the American action heroines. What made her special was that she was a bit of a daredevil and did almost all of her own stunts (including swinging around a tower 60 feet above ground without a net). In regards to HUNDRA, the only bit of stunt work she didn't do was a long fall from a tower. The gutsy starlet made a major impression while in Spain doing her own action winning the respect of the Spanish cast and crew. Life imitating art I guess you could say. Landon later was approached by both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dino De Laurentiis to take the lead role in RED SONJA, but decided against her citing that the similarities would be too great.

Landon previously starred in the unfairly obscure Robert Aldrich movie about lady wrestling, ...ALL THE MARBLES (1981) also starring Peter Falk. Landon also had a small appearance in the drab horror comedy, FULL MOON HIGH (1981; she originally was offered the lead, but declined due to personal reasons) and also the funny AIRPLANE 2: THE SEQUEL (1982). Landon later reunited with Cimber in the lead action role for YELLOW HAIR & THE FORTRESS OF GOLD in 1984. Horror fans will recognize her from Bill Lustig's MANIAC COP (1988) and MANIAC COP 2 (1990) and Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE 3 (1987) among others. Landon also co-starred in another 'men versus women' movie, the bizarre AMERICA 3000 (1986) for Cannon.

Media Home Entertainment released the film to videotape in a fullscreen uncensored version in the late 80's. The now defunct Subversive Cinema released a special edition 2 disc package of this title in early 2007. The first 5,000 copies contained the soundtrack on the second disc. The score was released on both vinyl in 1984 and CD in 1997. For fans of Morricone, it's a worthy purchase whether separate, or part of this DVD package. Subversive was always generous with extras and they maintain that with this release packing this edition with a 47 minute documentary, commentary with star and director and also an all new Hundra comic book.

Arguably Landon's best remembered role, HUNDRA is one of the best films of its kind and easily the most interesting in terms of what it sets out to do. The script is much more than a simple action adventure. There's the requisite blood and gory violence, sex and nudity, but underneath it all, there's a humanistic touch lacking in virtually all the other movies of this ilk. HUNDRA is a satisfying experience for those who enjoy these kinds of movies and also for those who are interested in seeing an often times humorous and occasionally violent battle of the sexes.

This review is representative of the Subversive Cinema 2 disc set. The back of the box erroneously lists the running time as 90 minutes.


Fazeo said...

This is one of the most underrated genre films of the 80s, it is a true classic in my book. The whole film is a lot better than one would expect, though not a big budget film by a long shot it looks, feels and sounds like one and I think it deserves to be better known.

Thanks for the excellent review.

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Fazeo! I think it needs to be better known, too. It's miles away better than either RED SONJA, or those BARBARIAN QUEEN movies. Laurene Landon had more spunk and was more daring and natural in the action scenes. Those movies had minor points of interest, but aren't on the same level as HUNDRA.

Fazeo said...

I really never heard of Hundra until I got the DVD from Subversive Cinema on a whim, the film blew me away on almost every level. The music alone was spectacular but the scope and action in the film was a lot bigger than I expected, especially for such a low budget film.

I don't know how Matt Cimber did it, he made a low budget sword and sorcery seem epic.

venoms5 said...

I first heard about it after reading a review by Joe Bob Briggs. Pretty much anything he reviewed was right up my alley so when I found the tape at a video store, I jumped at the chance to buy it. Not sure if there was ever an 'R' version, I've only ever seen the uncensored one as it was listed on the back of the Media tape. That tape also had a trailer for YELLOWHAIR on it, too. I haven't seen that one, but it looked like it was a lot of fun as well and also directed by Cimber.

It's a shame Subversive isn't around now, they really knew how to put together a damn good special edition.

Jay Shatzer said...

After reading your review, I'm dying to get a hold of this film and check it out for myself. Seems right up my alley because I'm desperately searching for a Conanesque fix from the 80's.

Thanks for the right up!

venoms5 said...

I would say this was one of the best of its kind. According to the director, Roger Ebert said the beginning of the movie was one of the most exciting, bombastic sequences of any film he'd seen at that time. This one follows the barbarian movie template, but changes things up a bit along the way. A little over an hour the action takes a backseat to the characterization till the finale. Another totally underrated fantasy movie, imo.

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