(Subversive Cinema, 3.27.2007)
If you believe men are stronger than women, you clearly haven't met Hundra (Laurene Landon), one of the toughest female characters in the history of movies. Conan the Barbarian is afraid of no one... except Hundra. Like all good feminist exploitation films, Hundra's female empowerment message comes mixed with egregious toplessness and even physical abuse. But Hundra more than holds her own. In fact, if you mess with this woman, there's a good chance she'll wrap her legs around your neck -- while dangling from the ceiling like a gymnast -- kick you through a door, pounce from a rooftop, kick/punch you in the face repeatedly, and scare away your posse by roaring her trademark high-pitched roar. In short, she's a beast.
Hundra is the story of a battle-of-the-sexes so out-of-hand, it makes the crisis in the Middle East look like a game of backgammon. When not fighting midgets in war paint or riding a horse topless on the beach -- in equestrian circles, they call this "riding barefront" -- Hundra searches for a man to impregnate her and help re-populate her exclusively female community. In spite of her violent tendencies, Hundra isn't afraid to speak in enlightened Eastern aphorisms (if she was hit by a bus, she'd probably grin and say something about her "destiny") that give Yoda a run for his money ("I will stay... until I go.").
Hundra is a visually impressive and entertaining feminization of Conan the Barbarian and countless other heroic male myths. Impressively crafted on a tiny budget by cult director Matt Cimber (The Witch Who Came From the Sea), Hundra might have benefitted from a better script -- they made it up as they went along -- but it scores points for sheer originality and audaciousness. Cimber doesn't simply re-work the Conan myth, he actively makes fun of it. And yet this is essentially a good-natured fantasy film for kids... with nudity and provocative ideas about gender politics.
Subversive Cinema has done a typically stellar job on this release. In addition to an enjoyable new Hundra comic, the disc includes Ennio Morricone's stirring soundtrack -- arguably the film's greatest strength -- on CD. The DVD itself contains trailers for six Subversive releases, a commentary by Cimber and Landon, and a documentary that runs nearly an hour.
When Cimber and Landon aren't bickering about location affairs, prostitutes, unpaid salaries, the mafia, and credit disputes, they reveal a long-standing feud with Arnold Schwarzenegger (in a daring combination of biting steroid satire and self-effacement, Landon claims she has a bigger penis than Schwarzenegger). They also reveal that Quentin Tarantino is a devoted fan of the film. According to Landon, he tried to cast her in Kill Bill (for the Daryl Hannah part, presumably), but she was busy.
Unfortunately, the anamorphic transfer on this disc is flawed and the sound is quite poor (most of the thickly-accented voice-over is indecipherable unless you crank the volume to dangerous levels), but it's currently the best way to see this forgotten cult oddity. -- Jonathan Doyle