Warrior Women Watch-a-thon Part 2: The Middle Ground
My look back on my Warrior Women film marathon continues with a clutch of movies that I don’t consider terrible, but don’t meet many of my requirements either. For a detailed rundown of the criteria I imposed on this project, see Part 1 here.
The first four in this group actually pass the Bedschel Test, but are still lacking in anything resembling practical armour. This group also includes a cheat film, as I had seen Red Sonja back in the day (and had mostly forgotten it), but I got around this using an entirely unnecessary loophole, which meant watching it in Spanish on YouTube with a translated transcription on my phone. Red Sonja still feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity and merely a vehicle for more Schwarzenegger flexing (who reportedly regards it as one of his worst films).
This is not the first or last time I would see a female warrior in boob armor and short loin cloth, and further research unearths many convoluted reasons why this protection might be considered practical and not not just to satisfy the male gaze. For Barbarians, the reasons could legitimately include desert heat dissipation and maneuverability (not to mention intimidation), but these excuses don’t really fly in dreary medieval forests. So, as much as I enjoyed the crowd-funded Felicia Day effort, Dragon Age: Redemption for its enthusiastic attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons movie with a tenth of the budget required, it lost marks due to the vulnerability of its two female warriors to arrows aimed at their chest.
The Huntress: Rune of the Dead is an odd duck. A Scandinavian mood-piece about zombie Vikings, this is more a slow-burn character study than an out-and-out actioner, but it is very well cast, compellingly performed and well scored. The protagonist is good with a bow and clad from head to toe in 9th Century garb and although I wasn’t a fan of the fight choreography or the night shots, it’s worth a look.
The Sisterhood from 1988 scored remarkably well on my non-scientific ranking chart, despite failing miserably to limit the male gaze (knee-high boots, not particularly well-armoured hot pants and post-apocalyptic bubble-baths), and I put its placing down to 80s nostalgia. It was daft and fun, and I forgive Roger Corman for pandering to the foreign markets with a sneaky bosom. Considering this is about the ‘sisterhood’, the bad men in this Mad Max/Conan/Beastmaster rip -off get about 75% of the screen time, and yet my nostalgia goggles did their job.
The next three films in this middling section all failed the Bechdel Test and male gaze parameters in spectacular fashion, but were entertaining enough for me to not relegate them to the bottom of the pile.
The Crown and the Dragon: The Paladin Cycle from 2013 features a protagonist who hits someone with a stick and someone else with a pot, such is the extent of her fighting skill, and she does all this while wearing a dress, which makes it easier for the men to pick her up or carry her across bogs. An unnecessarily lengthy sponge bath (all kept PG-13) and some horrible CG dragons denied this film some extra points, and I suspect all involved thought they were making the next Game of Thrones, so I can’t fault their enthusiasm.
Then we come to a couple of 80s gems, Warrior Queen from 1988 and Sorceress from 1982. Sorceress is actually my second ‘cheat’ film, as I had seen this as a spotty youth, but I suspect I was so preoccupied by the recycling of James Horner’s score for Battle Beyond the Stars, and puberty, that I recalled very little of the actual plot. So I watched it again. Sorceress has no actual sorceresses in it, but Roger Corman polled a high school, and this was their favorite title, so who am I to argue? The warriors are introduced during a skinny-dipping scene, and then they pop out their chesticles at regular intervals when not covering up in little more than potato sacks. The women are warriors though, and they certainly put up a good fight without the constant need for men.
Warrior Queen is right on the cusp of being lumped in with the bad films, and is only saved because I got the sense that Donald Pleasance was have a great time. The ‘Warrior Queen’ does not do much fighting but remains clothed throughout in little more than a pleasant frock. Naturally, the male gaze is running rampant through this production and not only are togas removed with wild abandon, but slaves are stripped and swung from the rafters. It’s grubby, garbled and morally lacking, and I think I enjoyed it.
I’m rounding out this middle section with a strange movie called Blood of Beasts (aka Beauty and the Beast) from 2005. Essentially a convoluted fairytale romance stuffed into a story about a viking curse, Blood of Beasts features Jane March, an actress mostly remembered for being hounded by the press after appearing in 1992’s The Lover. She wouldn’t be my first choice for the role of a viking warrior, but she ends up being the most heavily armoured out of all the women on my list and for that I give the film credit. Ultimately though, it was a struggle to remain engaged with the film once the beast turned hunky, and I found myself hankering for more ridiculous fare, even if it did include post-apocalyptic hot pants.
Part three will deal with the worst of the bunch. Gird thy loins.
Neil Baker’s last article for us was Street Battles and God-like Machines: The Robots of Gotham by Todd Mcaulty. He is an author, illustrator, outdoor educator and owner of April Moon Books (AprilMoonBooks.com). His most recent books include the science fiction anthology The Stars at my Door and A Picnic at the Mountains of Madness. He currently lives near Toronto with his family and is officially an old fart.
You have a pretty big list already but I might suggest “The Arena” aka “Naked Warriors” – early Roger Corman movie about women gladiators in Ancient Rome. Made just before his “Women in Prison” Filipino made movies where he really defined the Grindhouse, WIP, Exploitation genre. It was a cool shift from the Monster Movie and Poe adaptations of the 60s and before the B-Movie, Star Wars 1.0 derivative sci-fi ones. About (1% history, maybe) female slaves being used as Gladiators, first for a joke then seriously. Pam Grier is one lady well known that started out there. The costuming was pretty spot on as Galdiator battles were more a theater event including blood and death, but they wore pretty close to what history likely had.
I’m mentioning because as a tangent it also hit the Betchdel thing. I make no pretenses, my “Male Gaze” is what got me to rent/buy many of these movies. Likewise Corman’s audience and focus, no apologies. However, most of these movies despite that (Grindhouse, Exploitation) would pass Betchdel easily – Women with names, have a conversation not about a man/romance. And many additions after to the standard – Women as major characters, non-white people as major characters, homosexual characters. Corman filmed them on the cheap in the Philippines under Marcos’s rule – got to use a real jail, dungeon, & brothel too… The documentary “Machete Maidens Unleashed” covers this area. As he needed extras and characters as he made things up on the fly he’d just grab a local and they’d have a role. This effect had many of the characters being ‘real people’ because they were. And total indifference to what ‘race’ anyone was – they were making a story, a movie though plenty of progressive messages that IMO are a lot better than most modern movies.
Neat list and set of articles – this genre – “Women Warriors” is a strange niche. There’s also “Hundra” kind of a post nuke but fantasy, maybe.
I actually had The Arena on my shortlist (it’s free on Tubi), but nixed it due to the lack of fantasy elements. Of course, I immediately broke my own rule by including ‘Warrior Queen’, which is a straight up gladiatorial romp, but I couldn’t resist watching Donald Pleasance. I’d still like to watch The Arena though – so now I have to think up another list theme! I’ve just finished 20 giant bug films, 20 bigfoot films, and am currently ploughing through some off-world alien flicks, so I’m up for suggestions 🙂 Thanks for reading my article!