Barbarian Queen – Sword, Sandal and Sexploitation

The Warrior And The Sorceress / Barbarian Queen – Double Feature (Shout! Factory)

David Carradine, deep in his B-movie slide into the eighties, stars in the crude post-Conan sword, sandal and sex fantasy The Warrior And The Sorceress (1984), but it’s the second film on this Corman double bill, Barbarian Queen (1985), that fascinates me. Not because it’s any good (it’s not, by any definition), but because it’s an exploitation cheapie that is genuinely exploitative from a director who, in another life, made provocative, intelligent and politically savvy films. Argentinean director Hector Olivera made the superb Funny Dirty Little War (1983), a savagely funny satire of a brutal period of civil war, and the heady, at times pretentious A Shadow You Soon Will Be (1994), two significant art house exports, but the ten years between he spent churning out cheap genre films for the international market, with titles like Cocaine Wars (1985, with John Schneider), Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985, with Bo Svenson) and Play Murder For Me (1990, with direct-to-video veteran Tracy Scoggins).

Lana Clarkson gives the Barbarian Queen call to arms

I can’t say with any authority that Barbarian Queen is the nadir of this period (I really haven’t investigated these films in any depth) but it is a wretched little film that announces its intentions in the first two minutes, when an idyllic riverside scene becomes the setting for a tribal maiden being raped by marauding warriors. The thugs attack the local village and enslave everyone who isn’t dead, but three warrior women survive and team up to rescue their people (the men from the gladiator arenas, the women from the harems). Not content with simply parading topless actresses, Olivera resorts to scenes of bondage, torture and rape for his exploitation spectacle and only then gives the women their revenge (including the strangest, most perverse escape I’ve ever seen, one that might have been genuinely compelling with even a modicum of creativity in the direction).

This is ostensibly set in the Roman Empire but the production (shot in Argentina) doesn’t even make an effort to evoke ancient Mediterranean culture in the jungle locations and South American architecture of the temples and towns. Not that anyone watching the film would care. B-movie babe Lana Clarkson is the titular (doesn’t that word just seem so right in a film like this) Barbarian Queen, though today she is better known as the murdered girlfriend of Phil Spector (who was convicted of second degree murder). Katt Shea took the second lead in exchange for a shot at directing her first film for Corman, Stripped to Kill, which worked out okay for her; she went on to make the moderately successful Poison Ivy with Drew Barrymore. Baby doll cutie Dawn Dunlap (Forbidden World) co-stars as Clarkson’s little sister (it was her last film; unlike Shea, she apparently didn’t see a future doffing her clothes in exploitation movies) and Frank Zagarino (a mainstay of eighties and nineties direct-to-video box covers) struts around as the evil king. In classic Corman fashion, the film recycles musical cues from previous productions (including James Horner’s memorable score for Battle Beyond the Stars) and credits two composers to film. I wonder if any of it was original?

Both films are included on a single disc with no supplements but for the original trailers. The widescreen films (presented 1.77:1) look generally okay but there are a few moments of print damage and soundtrack glitches. Which, given the material, feels quite appropriate. Available exclusively through the Shout! Factory website.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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