Barbarian Queen (1985)
By: Mr Intolerance on September 4, 2009  | 
Big Sky Video (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 70 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Hector Olivera
Starring: Lana Clarkson, Frank Zagarino, Katt Shea, Dawn Dunlap
Screenplay: Howard R Cohen
Country: USA
External Links
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When the words "A Roger Corman Production" are proudly emblazoned on the front cover of a DVD, you know that you're in for exploitation gold. Corman has directed and produced some damn fine films, and usually has them looking pretty good for what are essentially B-movies – no other producer has ever been able to squeeze a dollar for all that its worth so effectively. Whether it's sci-fi (Battle Beyond the Stars), horror (Humanoids from the Deep), his own adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe (Masque of the Red Death), road movies (Grand Theft Auto), kinda/sorta post apocalyptic (Death Race 2000), Women-in-Prison (The Big Doll House), or sword and sandal (The Arena), Corman makes mighty entertaining films for the drive-in crowd – or at least these days, a crowd with the drive-in mentality. Artistic pretentions? Bollocks! He very obviously wants to let the audience get their money's worth, and give them some great eye-candy along the way: violence, scares, and boobs, all done with the sensibility of the carny huckster – he knows what we deep-down want to see, and gives it to us.

You know what kind of film you're in for when the first pair of boobs is seen at the 35 second mark, and the first rape at 46 seconds. The unfortunate victim is Taramis, sister of the titular (and boy, do I mean titular!) Queen – or actually Queen-to-be, y'see she's about to be married to Prince Argan in their little barbarian village, and some slavers have turned up to ruin everybody's day, right on the day of their royal wedding. Cue: fight scene – which begins with the village shaman copping an arrow through the forehead; some of the gore scenes almost seem as though they've been added later on, which wouldn't surprise me, given that Corman did exactly the same thing when re-cutting Sergio Martino's Island of the Fishmen for a US audience, as Screamers, among others (including Humanoids From The Deep, if you believe what you read). Everyone in the village is either raped, killed, captured or flees (I was left reminded of the beginning scene of The Arena – very similar, except these guys ain't Romans). Can I remind you, we're now three minutes into the film – padding? I don't think we'll be seeing any of that. The Queen is a dab hand with a sword and puts in a pretty good showing trying to save her people (and, presumably, her wedding day), but alas, to no avail.

Our Queen, Amethea, sees her people (the ones who are still alive, that is) led away in chains, including hubby to be, Argan, and vows vengeance. Hmm, didn't I see something similar in The Beastmaster? And wasn't there a village razed to the ground, with the populace enslaved or killed in Conan The Barbarian? And a similar theme of vengeance against a black-clad warlord with a distinctive standard? I only mention this in passing…

Amethea and two of her homegirls tool up and set about finding the slavers' camp, which they do almost immediately. Battle scene #2, and this is at maybe minute 9 of the film. The fight scenes, it must be said, are not especially well choreographed, and the DP doesn't seem to know where to put the camera, but seeing as we are watching wet busty women in leather bikinis kicking arse, who cares if the sword-play seems a little stilted? Watching them fight did make me think though, that if I ever get back into the whole medieval re-enactment thing I was into in my late teen years – note to self: invest in an armoured cod-piece. These girls signature move (and often their first one in the fight) is to kick their male antagonist in the nuts, which would kind of tend to cramp your fighting technique somewhat.

The Queen and her campadres find Taramis at the slavers camp, after having opened and closed a can of whup-ass on these arse-holes, understandably unhinged by her ordeal, and set off on their quest, meeting up with some other folks from another village destroyed by Arrakur, the leader of the bad guys, and his men. The excruciating dialogue takes a turn for the mystifying ("We're not little girls any more." "There are no little girls any more." Eh?), and they're led into the Kingdom by a young girl, via the catacombs under the city which are peopled by more resistance fighters, ones who, in the way of such films, just aren't quite ready to fight - yet. They always seem to need more time, these resistance types.

Argan, we find out, has been sold into slavery as a gladiator, and Amethea is obviously keen on trying to rescue him. Taramis, however, is more than just a bit of a loose cannon, and is a real liability to their whole quest – although she can hardly be blamed for her mental state. There is an art to not drawing attention to yourself, and these girls are not practitioners of that art. Taramis has fucked off, and the girls try to find her in the city's market-place, managing to successfully gather the attention of the guards. Well done, ladies. Guess who gets captured and slung into prison, to face inevitable torture under the watchful eye of Arrakur?

Amethea's homegirls meet different fates, one of them manages to become a whore for the gladiators and is saved from a certain raping (there's rather a disturbingly large amount of it going on in this film) by a moustachioed creep who reminded me all too much of the wrestler Killer Karl Cox, by Argan, whose pectorals are almost as big as Lana Clarkson's boobs – it's like the casting director had some kind of Russ Meyer-style prime directive concerning fellas. Disturbing. Argan seems convinced that he can lead the rest of the gladiators against Arrakur's men as an army, to fight for their freedom, Spartacus-style, saving Amethea in the process. The resistance are gradually coming around to the same idea.

Amethea is tortured by Arrakur's bad man, and it's yet another moment where she gets to prove how tougher than a coffin nail she is, refusing to give up the resistance and their whereabouts. The creepy fella tries to rape the information out of her, and this is the only point of my life where I've ever seen in a film a practical use for Cleopatra grip. It did not make for comfortable viewing, although you do have to admire that level of muscular control.

Having escaped, Amethea and her gladiator friends are ready to rock, as are the rebels – will they survive? Will they triumph over Arrakur's forces? Well, watch the fucking thing and find out! It's only 70 minutes out of your life – it's not like watching Apocalypse Now or A Passage To India or Lawrence of Arabia – it's a low budget sword and sandal "epic", and it's tremendous cheesy fun. It's worth watching for Clarkson's energetic and charismatic performance – she really does give it her all. Is she great? No, but she is very good in that B-movie queen kinda way, and I'll guarantee she had fun doing this film, swashing buckles at all points, and looking all sorts of good while she did it.

The dialogue is excruciating – a sad attempt at fusing 80s slang with that of the ancient world. What really sucked is that the back cover repeatedly states that the bad guys are Romans, when they rather obviously aren't. They're Mongols, if anything, and it's obvious from armour, swords and just the general look. This wasn't aimed at a historically literate crowd, if this is meant to be an exercise in even the crudest form of historical accuracy. And the whole ending's rather quite abrupt, to say the least. Time for the wholly unrelated straight-to-video sequel!

There's rather a tragic post-script to this film: Lana Clarkson's career (which sadly never really took off) was drastically cut short on February 3, 2003, when she was found dead, from a gunshot wound to the face, age 40, in the lobby of noted rock lunatic Phil Spector's house in Alhambra, California. Spector claims that it was an accidental suicide, but had already confessed to his chauffer that he'd shot and killed someone accidentally. Seeing as this is the same fella who once pulled a gun on Johnny Ramone for refusing to play the same chord for over four hours, I think I know which version of the story I believe.
Pretty ordinary. This is presented in 4:3, which did make me wonder if it was made for TV or was a straight to video affair like its "sequel", Barbarian Queen 2: The Empress Strikes Back (I kid you not) – a thought further strengthened by its less than feature-length run-time (it did have a theatrical release, but didn't become a fan favourite for many years, being panned by audiences and critics alike on its initial release). The picture is soft, occasionally grainy, and really quite underwhelming.
Weird. The diagetic sound effects and soundtrack generally are a bit muffled, with occasional moments of dialogue being extremely crisp and clear – can you spell Foley? It's rather inconsistent, to say the least. If you watch this back to back with Battle Beyond the Stars, the soundtrack might seem a little familiar…
Extra Features
Bugger all, really – simply a bunch of trailers for other BSV Fantasy titles: The Sword and the Sorcerer, The Beastmaster and The Perils of Gwendoline (which I may have to buy – I already own the other two – as it stars not only Brent Huff and His Incredible Beard Stubble, but also Tawny Kitaen. If you don't know who that is, you've obviously never seen her gyrate prettily on the bonnet of a car in a certain Whitesnake video, or – and this is an unpardonable sin – you've never seen Bachelor Party). But that's it. Surely they could have found some interview footage with Corman?
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The action scenes are amateurishly directed, the dialogue is awful, the acting is worse, and yet Barbarian Queen is great fun, a cheesy slice of the sword and sandal pizza. There's not a wasted opportunity for boobs and blood, and the whole thing goes down like a two dollar whore. From the cover art down (I wasn't sure for a second if it was Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo – those two great proponents of panel van art – it's Vallejo, by the way), Barbarian Queen is the kind of movie you watch and giggle at, revelling in how great it once was to be a teenage boy – it'll take you back to those times tout-de-fucking sweet. A 70 minute race-to-the-finish-line, exploitation films are rarely this gleefully ripping off their big-budget betters and stomping on PC morality. Watch and learn, kids.

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