Hundra

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“Blonde barbarians have more fun.”

hundraDirector Cimber seems always to have had an interest in the action-heroine genre, having previously directed Lady Cocoa, he’d go on to do Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold , also starring Landon, and work on Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. But this was likely his best work, a rather inspired Conan knock-off, which both predates and is significantly better than Red Sonja.

The titular heroine (Landon) is left virtually the last of her all-female tribe, after everyone else is slaughtered while she’s out hunting or something. Initially intent on getting revenge, the tribal shaman, Chrysula, then insists Hundra’s more important task is to find a man appropriate to start the job of repopulating them. But our barbarian queen quickly finds out that most men are, indeed, dicks, and not in the sense she hoped either. The remainder of the film is mostly about the task of trying to locate someone worthy of being the father of her child, while also bringing a feminist consciousness to other women, who tend not to be anywhere near as liberated as Hundra.

It certainly starts impressively, with both the massacre and the resulting revenge-based chase (in which the hunters become the hunted), being well-staged and brutally effective. Landon could probably do with some more muscles, particularly in her arms; when she’s clashing blades with guys twice her size, it isn’t entirely convincing, but she largely makes up for that with a fierce personality. After that barn-storming start, the pace does slacken considerably in the middle too, as Hundra goes into “hormonal clock overtime” mode, eventually deciding that Pateray (Oliveros) has the seed worthy of her loins. However, he insists she must first learn how to be a lady, a rather odd concept for the genre – what is this, My Fair Barbarian? However, a strong score from legendary composer Ennio Morricone helps things tick over until the action quotient ramps up again in time for Hundra to pop out the necessary rug-rat and pick up her sword once more.

I believe the producers purchased some of the left-over costumes and props from Conan, which makes sense since the story here is also largely recycling its plot as well. Admittedly, it does so with a significantly enhanced feminist agenda, although this consists as much of portraying men as nothing but mindless boors as anything uplifting. Landon apparently did almost all her own action, and has to be commended for that; credit also Hundra’s dog, who succeeds in out-acting and being more sympathetic than most of the men present. You’ll believe a canine can ride a horse… While I’d be hard-pushed to claim this is great overall, and the inconsistency of tone is occasionally very jarring, there are enough aspects and elements which work, to make this an interesting, generally entertaining watch.

Dir: Matt Cimber
Star: Laurene Landon, John Ghaffari, Marisa Casel, Ramiro Oliveros

Sweet Home

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“Hogar, dulce hogar…”

sweethomeA straightforward yet effective cross between a slasher film and Die Hard, sees Alicia (Garcia-Jonsson) plan a birthday dinner for her boyfriend, Simon (Sevilla) in an almost deserted apartment building. However, she stumbles into a plot to evict the last remaining tenant… in a body-bag. Trapped inside the locked tenement, the young couple become the target, first for the evictors, and then their boss, the Liquidator (Tarrida), as they seek to cover the tracks of their murderous work.

Three sentences, and that’s basically the entirety of the plot covered, since most of the film is an extended stalk ‘n’ slash, with Alicia, in particular, seeking a way out. It’s absolutely her story, because Simon is wounded relatively early in proceedings, and ends up close to a non-factor in proceedings – for one reason or another. Even though there’s a sense of Garcia-Jonsson acting mostly in her third language (she was born in Sweden, most of her career has been in Spain, yet her dialogue here is mainly English), it doesn’t harm the film, because Martinez is a firm believer in showing, rather than telling. That’s just what something like this needs, with gratifyingly few pauses for exposition after things kick-off. In particular, things are ramped up with the arrival of the Liquidator, who disposes of bodies with the aid of liquid nitrogen and a hammer. This is about as wince-inducing as it sounds.

As well as a fairly monstrous villain, who is quite prepared to dispatch his supposed allies if they prove more trouble than they are worth, the main appeal is seeing Alicia use her wits to survive, clambering in, around and through the maze of corridors and service passages in the building, as she tries to stay one step ahead of those hunting her down. The claustrophobic setting, enhanced by a thunderous deluge coming down outside, which has cleared the streets of everyone else, generally work for the movie too. Reading other reviews, seems I’m not the only person to detect notes of John Carpenter, with this in particular evoking feelings of Assault on Precinct 13 crossed with Halloween. Though it has been a very long while since Carpenter has directed anything as shallowly entertaining as Sweet Home.

On the other hand. the floor-plan of the house, an important factor in proceedings, seems more than a little inconsistent. This may be less an apartment building, and more a Klein bottle, for there were times when I was thought Alicia was on an upper level, only for her to open a door and suddenly be back at ground level. However, if you’re prepared to let that aspect slide, along with the occasional moments of less-than-sensible behaviour (almost inevitable, given the genre), this is an energetic and enthusiastic romp, which will likely have you quoting various John McClane-isms over the course of proceedings. But it’s safe to say that Die Hard did not end in a climax which had Bruce Willis in the basement, unconscious, dotted lines drawn on his limbs, in preparation for easy separation by Alan Rickman and his hacksaw. More’s the pity, perhaps.

Dir: Rafa Martínez
Star: Ingrid Garcia-Jonsson, Bruno Sevilla, Oriol Tarrida, Jose Maria Blanco

The Naked Killers

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“Because ‘Topless killers’ wouldn’t sell quite as well, I guess.”

naked killersNot to be confused with the Hong Kong exploitation classic Naked Killer, this 1977 Spanish film is set mostly on a Pacific island inhabited solely by a veteran Japanese soldier, Yamato, who thinks World War 2 is still going on, and three women, whom he rescued from a plane crash when they were small children. He has raised them in military style, to defend the island against any “invaders”, and it’s not long before these show up. They come in the form of a boatload of treasure-hunters, who have heard that a Japanese freighter carrying gold wrecked itself on the island’s shoals. Adding an additional layer of complexity, the crew, a collection of ne’er-do-wells apparently chosen at random from the dockside, are planning a mutiny, unhappy with captain Paul, and old salt Walter, who knows the island’s location. This leads to a rather unusual alliance between Yamato and his adopted daughters with Paul and Walter, as they fight for survival against the latter’s former employees.

It’s more than a little bizarre, not least because the actor playing the soldier is very obviously not Japanese at all. I was thoroughly confused when he called himself a Japanese officer, until I realized this was made not long after the last Imperial Army holdout. Teruo Nakamura, having surrendered in December 1974. The other unusual aspect is making him more than somewhat sympathetic: perhaps this is due to Spain’s position in the war, which leaned toward the Germany-Japan Axis under General Franco, who had died not long before this was made. He’s shown very much as a father figure, loyal to a fault (which is why he stuck to his post for 30 years after everyone else gave up) and utterly honourable. Witness his face as one of the mutineers tells him the Japanese emperor is now shining the shoes of the American president every morning, or his embarrassment as he tries to breach the subject of s-e-x with his nubile foster family. It’s kinda endearing, despite this still being the worst case of yellow-face I’ve seen since Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The film’s original title translates as The Island of Burning Virgins, which is one of the most awesome titles in exploitation history. Naturally, they spend an impressively hygienic amount of time frolicking in natural pools – though I do have to wonder, where the hell did they get their thoroughly modern bikini costumes? And they’re naturally delighted when the handsome captain shows up, happy to demonstrate to them what this s-e-x thing is actually about. However, they are not mere puppets, laying some rather nasty jungle traps for the “invaders”, and with hand-to-hand skills that are occasionally surprising. It is, of course, extremely silly, very dated and questionable in a whole number of ways. However, it certainly isn’t boring, and compared to certain jungle girl films I’ve seen, can only be appreciated for that.

Dir: Miguel Iglesias
Star: Sita Sadafi, Roxana Dupre, Inca Maris, Alejandro del Enciso

Libertarias

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“More like sitting through an earnest lecture in Politics 1.0.1, at a college of dubious merit. “

Like most civil wars, the Spanish one was a nasty, brutal affair that split families as well as the nation. Not that you’d know it from this, which suggests the citizens were entirely behind the anarchist forces: odd how the opposing Fascist forces not only prevailed, but then held power for close to 40 years. You don’t do that without significant popular support. Putting that aside (for the moment), this is the story of Maria (Gil), a young nun ‘liberated’ from her convent as the Civil War gets under way, amid a wave of anti-religious fervour. Initially just trying to get home to Zaragosa, she’s escorted by militant militia woman Pilar (Belen), and eventually decides to join their female fighting force and take up arms against the Fascists. That puts them at odds not just with the men in charge, but many of their own sex, who would rather see them doing laundry and providing ancilliary support, rather than in the front lines.

Actually, I can see from this why they lost, because this comes across as a bunch of idealistic anarchists, playing at soldiers, and going up against the real thing. The results were hardly surprising (and I also note the hypocrisy on view, in a society which professes the equality of men and women, while actively discriminating against the latter). It’s not an area of history with which I’m all that familiar, and the lead actresses did a good job with what were really paper-thin characters – oh, look, it’s a prostitute with a heart of gold. When it sticks to the central group, it’s a lot more successful than when it tries to broaden things out, for example by the inclusion of a former priest with the hots for Maria. It’s also way too heavy-handed with the politics and political symbolism, and the final section, while certainly an effective illustration of the brutality present in armed conflict, comes out of nowhere and jars badly with the tone set by the rest of the film.

There are a few moments which do stand out, such as Maria lecturing the Fascist troops with Anarchist propaganda through a megaphone – that goes about as well as you’d expect. But the bulk of its over two-hour running time is a chore, with a story that feels built around and forced into making its political points, and is only loosely masquerading as entertainment.

Dir: Vicente Aranda
Star: Ariadna Gil, Ana Belen, Victoria Abril, Blanca Apilanez

SexyKiller

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“Being the adventures of a young womman whose principal interests are fashion, ultra-violence and Cindy Superstar.”

When it comes to horror movies, the line between clever and too clever is often a thin one. While a certain degree of self-awareness is good in the horror genre, it’s easy to topple over into smugness, where you stop working with the genre, and end up laughing at it with a self-superior attitude. SexyKiller manages to avoid this fate: director Marti and writer Paco Cabezas both have a love for the genre, that shines through in just about every scene. It centres on Barbara (Gómez), a medical student at a college being terrorized by the Campus Killer, a murderer who is taking out the trash in spectacular ways. It’s giving nothing away to say that Barbara is said psychopath, but no one-believes her. Even her bare-faced statement to the police, when they knock on her door looking for the killer – “You’ve found her” – gets nothing more a droll laugh from the officer in question.

Her career of beautifully-accessorized slaughter is eventually put on hold, thanks to fellow student Tomas (Camino), for whom Barbara falls, mistakenly believing him to be a fellow psycho. He has also invented a machine to read thoughts, and it’s turned onto some of her victims, in an effort to find out their last memory – presumably, of who killed them. As this, it’s not entirely successful. But what it is very good at, is bringing them back from the grave, though with a minor side-effect. Involving flesh-eating. Yes, from being a blackly humourous serial-killer flick, it’s now a zombie movie, and it’s not long before the campus Halloween party is under siege, and Barbara’s unique skill-set becomes extremely useful. Mind you, her sociopathy is still an issue, and she has absolutely no qualms about feeding those she dislikes to the undead horde.

Interestingly, in the IMDB ratings, it currently scores more than two points higher among women than men – while the sample size is still small, that’s rare for the genres of serial-killer or zombie flicks. I just loved the unashamed nature of it all: Barbara is perfectly comfortable with who she is, and is in no need of redemption, by Tomas or anyone else. The fourth wall is continually broken, and Marti uses a whole bunch of tricks, from flashbacks to musical numbers, to get his point across and make his anti-heroine sympathetic, in which he succeeds marvellously. Even if Gómez occasionally looks a bit too much like a pissed-off version of Mena Suvari, and the sex and violence quota are not quite as high as they could have been, this is a great way to start the New Year. [Seen at the Phoenix Fear Film Festival]

Dir: Miguel Martí
Star: Macarena Gómez, César Camino, Alejo Sauras, Ángel de Andrés

Marujas Asesinas

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“Marriage can be murder.”

This tale of a Hispanic wife whose sanity disintegrates, beginning with the murder of her husband and ending with…well, you have to see it, had me shifting somewhat nervously, as my Hispanic wife sat beside me. “These are your people,” I said. Chris disavowed all knowledge, being Cuban rather than Spanish – while I can see her point, still… Azucena (Asensi) is unhappy in marriage to a greedy builder (Resibes), but his money keeps her family afloat, so she tolerates it, finding love with his hunky employee, Pablo. However, when the money looks like drying up, she hatches a lethal plan – which would probably go better if she didn’t hire the local retard [Non-PC that may be, there’s no other way to describe him; he agrees to do the murder for 1,000 pornos and a VCR]. However, that’s just the start: Pablo has a nasty surprise, and Azucena soon finds others needing disposal. And did I mention her TV is now talking to her?

Things take a bit of time to get going, and for a while it looks like it’s going the tiresome, Almodovar route of “All men are bastards.” Fortunately, it starts to develop its own style, and Asensi is great in her role; you can see while the individual choices make sense, even if the end result is disastrous in every way. The director does a nice job mixing a number of genres: telenovelas [the Spanish soaps], black comedy and horror – particularly the final scene. Credit also to Karra Elejalde as the imbecile Lalo, who manages to bring humanity to a role which could easily no more than a stereotype. There is some unexplored potential in the idea of the heroine getting advice from her television, and that could easily have been expanded. Mind you, at 105 minutes, it is somewhat over-stretched too, and tightening of the early portions would have helped. Overall, though, the time passed quickly enough, even if I will be keeping Chris away from sharp objects for a while. :-)

Dir: Javier Rebollo
Star: Neus Asensi, Antonio Resines, Nathalie Seseña, Pere Ponce

El Palo (The Hold-Up)

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“Women on the Verge of an Armed Robbery.”

Four unlikely women team up, for their own but unselfish reasons, in order to rob the bank where one (Ozores) works as a cleaning lady. There’s also a rich bankrupt, out to fund her daughter’s wedding; a slutty hairdresser who’s just found out she’s pregnant; and an antisocial punk orphan, who wants to be reunited with her father in Argentina. What makes this Spanish film work, is less the action, and more the characters – or at least, the women, since the men never become more than two-dimensional. The script is brisk and efficient, moving things along with swift abandon, and sucks the viewer in to a connection with the ladies, their problems, and the solution.

Of course, this being a heist film, spanners get thrown in the works at random, derailing their non-violent way to liberate the cash. Add in to the mix, that the cleaner ex-husband is a cop, and their young son has picked up on Mommie’s plan, and the potential for disaster is clear. Interestingly, however, the film may not quite end up where you think, and director Lesmes deserves credit for avoiding the most obvious cliches or, at least, presenting them with enough spin as to keep them entertaining. The four lead actresses are all excellent – if you’ve seen many Almodovar films, you’ll recognise Maura as the rich lady. Just on top is Alterio, playing punk Pecholata (which translates as ‘Thimbletits’!), who combines strength and vulnerability in a way that’s a good summary of the whole movie.

Dir: Eva Lesmes
Star: Adriana Ozores, Carmen Maura, Maribel Verdú, Malena Alteiro

Perdita Durango

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“The two greatest pleasures in life are fucking and killing.”

perdita_durangoDespite flaws, this merits your attention simply because of the title character, even if describing her as a “heroine” would necessitate a wholesale redefinition of the term – the quote above is entirely typical of her attitude. When she teams up with bank-robber Romeo Dolorosa to traffic a truckload of foetuses to Las Vegas (as you do…), it’s like putting a lit match to fuel. You just know there’s trouble ahead.

Romeo is into Santeria, and Perdita convinces him to perform a human sacrifice; to this end, they kidnap a slumming young WASP couple (Cross and Graham – and yes, it is Heather’s sister, though notably less well-endowed), and the film goes into nightmare mode. You get the horrible feeling that absolutely anything could happen, and de la Iglesia shows that he has no problems pouring on both sex and violence. [I should mention at this point that you should track down the German DVD, which is the only uncut version currently available, AFAIK] It’s difficult viewing – and Rosie Perez always seemed so nice. You certainly won’t sustain that view afterwards.

The film does run out of steam when this extremely menacing section is completed, and ends up petering out somewhat, as the focus moves off the couple and more onto Romeo – Perdita is pushed into the sidelights, and she deserves a much better fate. If there’s also a sense of deja vu, it’s because the story comes from the same writer as Wild at Heart, and both depict a twisted love-story/chase. Despite this, there’s enough perverted nastiness here to satisfy the most jaded palate.

Dir: Alex de la Iglesia
Star: Rosie Perez, Javier Bardem, Harley Cross, Aimee Graham