A literary form first perfected by pulp author extraordinaire Robert E. Howard, Sword-and-Sorcery is a stylistic/thematic offshoot of the Epic, rooted in the heroic struggle, myth and magic of various Fantastical sub-genres. Penning such influential characters as Conan and Kull, Howard's (mostly) masculine characters, larger than life approach, and grim nihilism welcomed in a whole new age of male centered fantasies, rooted in violence and stereotypical sexuality. These often involved black magic, sultry women in distress, and white-knuckle battles, and what they may have lacked in subtlety they made up for in archetypal honesty. Howard's particular strand of fantasy was drawn upon by future authors, including Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and Karl Edward Wagner, each of which copied the essential structure of their predecessor and added to it their own concerns and imagery. A similar process of evolution/borrowing is seen in Sword-and-Sorcery cinema. With the success of the first screen adaptation of Howard's Conan character, European (and to a lesser extent, American movie makers) rushed to make their own barbarian/ancient world spin-offs, resulting in several slip-shod Italian pot-boilers and the occasional triumph. Along the way, the male centered themes were retained, as was the traditional image of the woman as either villainous bitch, helpless victim, or sex toy. One exception was the entertaining if indifferent Red Sonja. One of the more interesting yet sadly overlooked efforts of this sub-genre, and one that defied the male egocentric approach, was Hundra. A bold re-interpretation of an admittedly male archetype/character/genre, this feisty re-telling of the classical 'heroic struggle' motif is distinguishable for several reasons, not the least of which is its inspired (if occasionally tongue-in-cheek) merging of masculine bloodshed with a feministic attitude. If Hundra was an attempt to cash in on the success of Conan (which it certainly was), it approached its material from a unique vantage point, reinterpreting ancient archetypes with the help of its sexually provocative and daring starlet. Subversive Cinema presents this parody of the Barbarian genre in an impressive limited widescreen edition with an admirable transfer and stunning extra features, making it a must-have sensation for fans of this guilty pleasure.
Directed by Matt Cimber, Hundra preserves the basic narrative structure and themes of the traditional heroic form, celebrating blood and breasts and mayhem, but with a definite (if occasionally redundant and preachy) twist. Laurene Landon's performance, the pace, and the tongue-in-cheek tone make for a fun time! The title character, appropriately savage and resourceful -- and not bad to look at -- was born in a tribe of fierce warrior women and raised to despise -- you guess it -- men! Those dirty Bastards! This Amazonian inspired story soon delves into the familiar if time honored pattern of heroic struggle. When Hundra finds that her tribe/family has been slaughtered, she vows bloody vengeance on her enemies -- uh, men. Using her formidable skills as an archer and swordswoman, Hundra fights against destiny and overwhelming odds, finding more than she bargained for in a city of savage, skilled male warriors. Adding a religious/spiritual division into a story already seeped in gender differences, we find that these men worship the bull archetype, symbol of sexual prowess and strength, forcing our feminine warrior to deal with unexpected internal instincts as well as constant physical perils.
A feministic riff-off the classical 'Journey of the Hero' as described my mythologist Joseph Campbell, Hundra is surprisingly literate in its use of symbolism and structure. Included in her conflict are the "call to adventure," "initiation," and "Catabasis" stages of the classical hero, in this case spiced up with pulp-style references and plenty of exploitative gravy. Scenes drip with wanton savagery while remaining surprisingly tasteful. With enough sexual suggestion and savage swordplay to appeal to fans of Sword-and-Sorcery, yet thoughtful enough to encourage deeper analysis, the various physical struggles on hand are mirrored by Hundra's internal struggle between her warrior code and the more amorous feelings of a woman. Sultry moments of barbarian women fighting and making love lend the whole affair immediate sleaze prestige, while the atmosphere is appropriately grimy, gritty, yet strangely beautiful -- appealing in a primal, animalistic manner. This is helped no small means by the explosive, steel-and-hooves score of Ennio Morricone, whose music evokes images of sacrifice, desperation, and battle. If sometimes weighing in on the side of 'cheese,' the more ridiculous elements of the film -- including effects and awkward story lapses -- simply add spice to the stew. Making itself accessible for deeper meaning, the film doesn't demand it, inviting fans to simply enjoy the dopey fun. Including such priceless turkey dialogue as "No man will ever penetrate my body, with his sword or himself," this orgy of weapon wielding midgets, genre slavery, and unintentional humor is a cult classic waiting to be rediscovered.
An impressive achievement from Subversive Cinema, who surprised fans last year with an excellent package of Dust Devil and Savage Cinema -- two of the genre's more accomplished DVD releases -- Hundra is treated here with Norm Hill's customary devotion to technological superiority and context. This is the film's first DVD release, and the quality of the transfer is gorgeous. The new anamorphic widescreen transfer (2:35.1) is free from grain, with no splotches or disruptions in the fluidity of the picture noticeable. Colors are clear and the skin tones realistic. Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is clean and crisp, without the scratchy interruptions or distortions one might expect.
If anyone is doubtful at this point about the value of this package, than the extra features should help decide you. First up is the full length Audio Commentary with director Matt Cimber and starlet Laurene Landon. This fast-paced, provocative blend of discussion and monologues is insightful, scathing, and witty. Cimber and Landon have a love-hate relationship, and break each other's balls with abandon (in fact, their behaviour is suggestive of lovers). When not weighing in on the challenges of making the film, their opinions of the genre, and their impressions of other cast and crew, Cimber recalls his work with Orson Wells, his theater career, and high regard for crazy woman Landon. Even more impressive is the Making Of Featurette "Hunting Hundra," which is divided into around thirteen different sections, covering various aspects of the director and star's life experiences and professional work. Among the more interesting tid-bits discussed is the director's relationship with Jayne Mansfield, the film's attempt to parody what Cimbers saw as an over-serious approach in Conan, and his relationship with writer John Goff. Landon discusses her childhood, her early career, the attitude she needed to adapt to play a barbarian, Larry Cohen, and the difficulties she had doing her own stunts. This is an informative and spirited commentary that digs deeper into areas mentioned in the commentary (but, thankfully, with little overlap). Cast and Crew Bios are well written, as is the original comic book tucked into the package as a welcome surprise, serving as a provocative appendix to the feature. Last up are trailers for other worthwhile Subversive features. The star attraction of the DVD package has to be the Bonus Soundtrack of the Hundra score, composed/conducted by Ennio Morricone. This in itself would have made the package worth its price, as the maestro's emotional, spirited score is pure mood-candy, summoning up thoughts of battle and lust, turmoil and victory. This is a wonderful package of an overlooked cult release.
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Subversive Cinema|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|