Sword and Sorcery enjoyed a brief, mostly-unhappy revival in the 1980s. Much of it came in the wake of John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian (1982). Some were downright awful (Ator the Invincible 2), some had their moments (the disappointing Conan the Destroyer), some I really like despite their flaws (The Sword and the Sorcerer).
While I was of an age and inclination to see pretty much anything S&S related in the early 80s, somehow I missed Hundra (1983). Thanks to DVD I came across this cubic zirconium-in-the-rough by accident. What I said “in the wake of Conan” above goes doubly for this — Hundra isn’t so much in the wake as it is being towed by Milius’s epic. The plot arc follow’s Conan’s sandaled footsteps, it was filmed in Spain not only using similar locations but Conan’s leftover sets and what I suspect are bits of the costumes as well.
That being said, it’s a well-done picture. Usually low-budget movies look low-budget, but this one manages to rise above the dollars spent into something bigger-and-better looking.
Hundra opens with some bucolic visuals and voiceover narration depicting a sort of feminist libertarian collective, a group of nomadic women who have escaped the world of men to live on their own terms. They need men only for “seed” — and not the kind you get from Burpee. We meet the statuesque Hundra (blonde Laurene Landon), her beautiful Andalusian and her dog Beast preparing for a hunt. Hundra’s mother urges her to contribute more than food to the village — she’s to go out and find a man and get herself pregnant. Hundra declines the honor and heads off into the woods.
If you’ve seen Conan the Barbarian you know what comes next. Yeah, bloodthirsty riders out of the woods, under a standard of two snakes, facing each other — whoops, I mean bull-horns. What follows is a first-rate battle featuring some choreography that’s both exciting and realistic — at least to my jaded eye. The women give a good account of themselves and put up a better fight than Conan’s villagers, but sadly they’re all slaughtered, right down to Hundra’s mother and little sister.
Hundra returns and sees the femicide, is ambushed by the evil band, and the warrior woman/horse/dog trio leads them on a desperate chase where she manages to take out fifteen of the sixteen with bow, thrown dagger, and sword. Landon is impressively athletic in her riding and combat scenes. I had no problem believing her fighting prowess, and the director used terrain and his star’s vigour to advantage.
After her vengeful slaughter, she seeks the advice of the only other suvivor of her tribe, an old wise woman who lives in a cave. She says that Hundra is the “ember” of her people’s hopes, and she must bring new life into the world, girl-children to restart their creed. Indeed, the wise-woman suggests that she use the very men who destroyed their people so that the agents of their destruction might also be the strong seed of their renaissance. That seems a long and dangerous (never mind the blood feud with the men, the risks of childbirth in such a time and place might off Hundra prematurely) way to do it, you’d think they could just find some likely girl-children going cheap for our heroine to raise and train — but it gives Hundra a neat package of conflicting emotions to keep the plot-wheels spinning.
I won’t give much more of the plot away, but you can guess Hundra will meet the bull-standard again. It’s the symbol of sort of a brothel-cum-temple of the Church of John Norman, dedicated to the proposition that all womankind are created unequal and must submit to men yadda yadda yadda. At least on Gor the women got ravishing beauty out of the deal, in Hundra’s time all they get are some cheap shifts, quickly torn off.
Hundra features a lot of old-school derring-do of the Errol Flynn/Douglas Fairbanks/Tyrone Power mold. Landon spends a fair amount of time running parapets, leaping off a height into her saddle, and working up a healthy sweat being chased around by guards, so it quickly won me over. I regret to say that the film ran short of time and money at the end, and while there is a satisfying final battle, it doesn’t properly bookend the epic fight at the beginning.
Maybe the director thought footage of Landon riding bareback in the surf, naked as the day she was born, would make up for the lack of a big ending. He was kind of right.
The two-disk special edition from Subversive features an okay transfer and an audio CD of the score by Ennio Morricone. Decent enough music but he’s no Basil Poledouris. There are some entertaining supplements, including a running commentary by writer/director Matt Cimber and Laurene Landon. Cimber is quite a character, I don’t know how Landon managed to sit next to him for 90 minutes without smashing a beer-bottle over his head. He routinely dismisses her comments, steps on her input, even makes snide comments about what a slattern his star was during filming in Spain. All I can hope is that they’re really great buddies and this is just their usual ribbing. Otherwise Cimber’s a titanic asshole.