I first became aware of Barbarian Queen in the distant days before Yakmala when I went to a friend’s house for a bad movie night. Remember when I complained about all the rapeyness in Deathstalker? Well, this one is so bad, my friend posited that the world of Barbarian Queen operates entirely on a rape-based economy. Yeah… so that’s the kind of thing we’re dealing with here.
Tagline: No man can touch her naked steel
More Accurate Tagline: Pretty much everyone is going to touch whatever they want
Guilty Party: Writer Howard R. Cohen, who also wrote the first, fourth, and possibly third Deathstalker movies, Emmanuelle 5, eight episodes of Rainbow Brite, and a couple episodes of something called Lady Lovelylocks and the Pixietails. I don’t know if that last one is a Saturday morning cartoon targeted at girls or something you see on Cinemax after midnight. Maybe both.
Synopsis: In what we now have to acknowledge is Howard R. Cohen’s trademark, we open on a rape. Those had to be really upsetting episodes of Rainbow Brite is what I’m trying to say here. This time, a pair of black-armored men capture blonde Taramis by the river. Fortunately, it’s an ‘80s movie rape instead of a ‘70s one, so we don’t have to stick around and watch.
Then we’re at a peaceful village of barbarians, where everyone is dressed like a bunch of butt rockers doing an offensive Native American video. It’s the wedding day for Amethea (Lana Clarkson), and Argan (some guy reading off cue cards). While they fret over Taramis (she’s Amethea’s sister), a whole bunch of black armor guys come in, rape, kill, pillage, and cart off everyone as slaves. The only ones that remain are Amethea, wimpy Estrild (Katt Shea), and badass Tiniara. They decide to head off to rescue their pals. Unfortunately, they are wildly, recklessly incompetent at nearly everything.
On their first stop, they find a bad guy outpost where Taramis is being held. She has also been at least mildly brainwashed here, though I’m not sure how much brain there was to wash in the first place. Amethea and Tiniara ruthlessly butcher the bad guys using a combination of cautious stuntwork and flinching swordplay.
Then they run into a band of surly rebels. I never caught their names, so I’m calling the leader Eyepatch for obvious reasons, and his daughter Jody, because she looks like every character from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s named Jody. Jody is all for joining Team Barbarian Queen — which for her mainly consists of standing about fifteen feet away with no expression on her face — but Eyepatch thinks they’re troublemakers. Eventually, they get the good guys into the bad guys’ walled town through an underground passage beneath a cloth-dyeing facility.
Taramis wanders off, and when Estrild follows, two guards capture Estrild, rape her and throw her into the dungeon. And the rape is just that perfunctory. It’s like how these assholes stamp passports or something. Amethea finds the captured menfolk being trained as gladiators, and then she and Tiniara get captured. Great job there, ladies.
It’s time for torture, because that’s what kind of movie we’re watching. Tiniara momentarily escapes, but is swiftly killed. Estrild gets thrown into the brothel/sex room where ladies service the gladiators. Taramis decides to become the kept woman of the bad guy leader. Amethea escapes — pretty awesomely for this movie, and we’ll get there — and somehow manages to engineer what is almost a plan.
The rebels suck, but there’s a lot of them. The gladiators are awesome, but there’s only a few of them. The plan kind of happens, and like everything else, it’s a total fiasco. Amethea fights the lead bad guy, who is this old fat dude, and she can’t even take him. Taramis has to snap out of it and shank him from behind.
But hey, the good guys won.
Life-Changing Subtext: Women can do anything a man can do, so long as they don’t mind being raped.
Defining Quote: “You went first last time. This one’s mine.” This is said by the guards right before they assault Elstrild. She’s a major character, and this is the respect the narrative shows her. It’s like they were checking the script and were all, “Howard, we have a mistake here… I don’t think Estrild gets raped.” “Oh, shit, we can just throw a little pickup scene in here. Good catch, man. Good catch.”
Standout Performance: I don’t know the actor’s real name or the character’s name, but the guy who runs the brothel thing that serves the gladiators is Varys. He’s not actually Varys, but he totally is. Only he throws a ridiculous fu manchu mustache on top of it, and plays the whole thing like that jerk on The Simpsons who says, “Yeeeeeees!”
What’s Wrong: Cohen appears to have been trying to make a distaff version of Deathstalker. This was a viable low-budget genre at the time, and it was chiefly known for people wandering around in not much clothes. Makes sense to grab a couple ladies from the nearest Ratt video, give them some swords, and film the results. I also — and this might be from the time I live — think that he was trying to make something at least a little empowering, albeit with the leering objectification of the time. As the synopsis hopefully makes clear, he did not succeed.
Flash of Competence: If you like ‘80s hair metal women, you could do a lot worse.
Best Scenes: There’s a character I really enjoy for no reason. In my notes he’s called Mustache, and he basically looks like one of those fat Coney Island strongmen from like 1850. Somehow he discovered time travel and appears in Barbarian Queen as a gladiator. He’s initially a rival for Argan, but then he joins the rebels, but in the final scene he decides, nope, he’s a double-traitor. It’s like he was written as a wrestler who can’t decide on his alignment. Maybe the whole story is a tragedy about Mustache’s undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder, and when Argan hugs him to death (that’s seriously what happens), we were supposed to weep.
Transcendent Moment: I mentioned that Amethea kills the torturer. It’s how she does it that’s special. She’s tied to this rack and the more she struggles, the tighter it gets. Because this is the kind of movie we’re dealing with, the torturer decides he’s going to rape her. Turns out, that was the wrong thing to do. Amethea has been super into her Kegels. She wraps him up and just squeezes like a python trying to get a bunny to pop. And it works. The torturer, panicking and in agony, unties her. Then she pushes him into a vat of acid.
Barbarian Queen is pretty much everything bad about this specific subgenre. It’s a shame its occasional goofy charm is mired in all the misogyny.