United States - 1987
Director – Chuck Vincent
Vestron Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 19 min.
Long before I fully understood the unstoppable social force of the behemoth Barbarian genre I fell victim to the allure of the Warrior Queen cover art. At the vulnerable age of 14 this was no surprise. The film however, was a shock to the system, something I was not prepared for. It was like being an ignorant heathen and stumbling into a full throttle religious ritual. It took some time for me to come to terms with the subsequent viewing experience, and a full six years before I was willing to experiment with barbarians again. To be perfectly honest, Warrior Queen is more of traditional sword and sandal picture than barbarian per-se since it is set in the Roman Empire, but the latter term is more appropriate to the abruptly crude content.
In retrospect there was no reason not to take this film at face value, but I can now understand why such a solidly built exploitation powerhouse as Sybil Danning is looking profoundly bored in her role here. What should be a mildly arousing display of young nubile nakedity for sale in a Pompeiiean slave market becomes somehow simultaneously uninterestingly natural and painfully scripted. Part of this is the disturbing lack of dialogue, but mostly it’s the mechanichal disinterest of the camera, as if somehow group coitus is an everyday experience and warrants no special presentation.
But that’s why I wanted to see this movie, because it is special, particularly at 14! It’s not everyday that we get to see Tally Chanell (Vincent’s Slammer Girls) stripped naked in a slave market and sold to a brothel with a giant cock-n-balls obelisk in the foyer. Nevertheless it’s all shot with the grainy clinical expose feel of a 70’s porno film or one of those German “What Your Daughters Are Really Doing” movies. It’s not a narrative but a series of vague threats.
It’s not nonsense either; Nonsense would infer the intention of sense that had failed, but this is a collection of asensical tableaus. Naked people being sold; sweaty guys arm wrestling; people fucking in a harem. No wonder I was traumatized. Judging by the way the women nibble at a their partners like week old corn on the cob, these people feel a bit violated and directionless too.
Suddenly, enter Donald Pleasence (Will Penny, THX1138) who navigates this emotional desert with magical grace. He has always been a strangely convincing loony character actor, but in Warrior Queen his neurotic gibbering is an astrolabe of precise genius that guides him through these shoals of garbage. I can see now that Pleasence is simply a man driven into the safety of his own head by the world’s inability to understand him. He was not a character but simply himself.
Sybil, Rick Hill of Deathstalker 1 and 4, and Tally Chanell commiserate outside Vesuvius' jurisdiction.Warrior Queen is a Pentecostal tent revival in which the principal actors are dismissively set loose to improvise, move, act, maybe even speak in tongues, should the spirit somehow move them. Alas, only Pleasence, possessed by his own strange demons masters this movie. Practically oblivious to all the other uninspired parishioners, he flits about in his own world having a grand old time while reality literally crumbles around him in climactic Vesuvian footage (which Chuck Vincent stole from Italy’s 1959 Steve Reeves vehicle Last days of Pompeii.)