Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cinemasochism: SHE (1983)

“This isn’t about sense.” – She (Sandahl Bergman)

You can say that again, sister!  We’ve previously covered the various film adaptations of H. Rider Haggard’s seminal adventure novel King Solomon’s Mines.  But the man also provided another work for cinematic fodder in She: A History of Adventure, the story of explorers who locate a lost kingdom that worships female goddess She in the deepest of African jungles.  The story initially debuted in serialized fashion and has been adapted for film no less than eight times, with the 1965 Hammer production starring Ursula Andress and Peter Cushing as the most well known.  Of course, if I had my way, you all would be worshipping at the altar of 1983’s SHE, a mind-melting “adaptation” of the source novel. In short, SHE rocks!

SHE takes place in a post-apocalyptic world (we assume) twenty-three years “after the cancellation.”  Wanderers Tom (David Goss, later of HOLLYWOOD COP infamy), Dick (Harrison Muller, Jr.) and Hari (Elena Wiedermann) – yes, those are really their names – arrive at what looks like a Renaissance Fair flea market where folks sell such in demand items as Corn Flakes and Mountain Dew.  The awe at such amazing products doesn’t last long as the vicious Norks, led by Hector (Gordon Mitchell), pillage the village and kidnap Hari in the process.  Rule #1 in post-cancellation world – don’t trust guys in football pads that have a Nazi swastika painted on them. And be wary of Gordon Mitchell with highlights.

Tom, looking to save his wounded friend Dick, steals a horse from fair maiden She (Bergman) by knocking her off it and rides into the local town looking for help.  Of course, they don’t realize they just rolled into She’s kingdom and both men are quickly drugged by a lady and made into slaves.  She the Goddess seems to enjoy torturing men and makes Tom walk blindfolded through a series of spikes. She leaves him for dead, but doesn’t know they are somehow linked together through some mystical story that some old lady in a cave tells She after she kills some warriors who pop out of boxes. Anyway, Tom is saved by an old hermit with lots of dogs (isn’t that always the case), who tells him the only She knows the way to the Nork headquarters.  Looks like we’re gonna have a good ol’ royal kidnapping.  I wonder if they will hate each other, but then learn to work together.

So Tom returns to the city of She, frees his friend Dick from a pigsty, and the duo then abducts She.  Damn it, Mircosoft Word, I want She capitalized.  Stop bugging me.  The trio immediately encounters trouble as they are captured by some chainsaw wielding mutant lepers who put them in a big trash compactor. Shandra (Quin Kessler), She’s right hand woman, saves them at the last minute and Tom and Dick are slaves again.  But She feels a tinge of sympathy for their plight and lets them go.  Then, inexplicably, She and Shandra decide to join them on their quest to save Hari. Why?  Because She said so!  So their journey begins with increasingly odder encounters with every step that include werewolf cannibal yuppies, psychic cult leader Godan, a big oaf in a pink tutu, a self cloning robot named Xenon, and, finally, the Norks who like to spray paint their compound with threatening (and grammatically incorrect) graffiti about themselves.

Is the director trying to tell me something?
If you want a good laugh, head on over to Wikipedia and read the synopsis of Haggard’s source novel to compare it to the previous three paragraphs.  Uh, lets see, we have She, a regenerative fountain (a hot tub in the film) and, damn, that’s it!  I haven’t read the novel, but I assume there is no Frankenstein monster that’s head explodes when you pull a bolt from its neck.  This “adaptation” is so loose with the source material that Stephen King watched it and said, “Damn, Haggard got royally screwed.”

But what director Avi Nesher lacks in faithfulness, he more than makes up for with WTFness.  This is a film of such utter bizarreness that you have to wonder how this isn’t a cult classic getting ROCKY HORROR-esque screenings every weekend.  The opening flea market scene lets you know right away that something is totally “off” with this flick.  I mean, a guy attacks our heroes with an umbrella!  Look, I know nuclear radiation is bad, but will it really make you dress like a kabuki performer on acid?  There is just so much strange stuff going on here, like Nesher caught a screening of FLASH GORDON and thought, “I can out-weird them with 1/20th the budget!”  The entire quest is bizarre and I love that Hari doesn’t even seem to be happy when her brother finally rescues her.  My personal viewing highlight has to be Xenon, the ever duplicating bridge guardian who does all those impersonations. He is so annoying that I found myself wishing for the subtlety of some like Robin Williams.

Of course, there is a simple reason why such a bastardized (bitchized?) version of SHE exists.  Well, two reasons actually. See if you can spot them in the chart below:

Yup, CONAN THE BARBARIAN and THE ROAD WARRIOR were tearing up the box office in May 1982.  Hell, anything with a sword near it was making cash (see Albert Pyun’s THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER posting a strong $14 million in 5 weeks, a feat he has never topped).  I can clearly see Nesher’s pitch to the money men now – “What if we take a CONAN-style flick and set it in a post-apocalyptic world?”  Hell, the producers even went out of their way to sell SHE as a CONAN rip-off (see the above poster).  But it gets even better as Nesher says, “And we’ll even hire the chick from CONAN!” Yes, Sandahl Bergman was wooing many a pre-teen boys’ heart with her turn as Valeria in the Schwarzenegger classic and they made sure to exploit that fact by casting her.  And, of course, by giving her skimpy clothes, a nude scene and getting whipped.  How many young S&M freaks did this flick mold?  You can’t get much better than that…

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