Good morrow, travelers! I am Grignr, an Ecordian! Wanderer, carouser, rapscallion, slayer of foes, taker of women, watcher of enchanted moving pictures about warriors and wenches and sorcery!
I come to tell you of one such picture. “She”, it is called, from the 1,982nd year after the Christ-god was nailed to the Cross of Pain by the Ro-Mans. “She”, it is claimed, is adapted from the novel of the same name, with which H. Rider Haggard invented the “lost world” subgenre of the adventure tale. I have not myself read this tome, being but slightly a man of learning and letters. But in my travels I have heard no rumors of Haggard being stricken with madness, or enslaved by addiction to every mind-raping drug dreamt of by alchemy, and so I must assume this adaptation to be as loose as a she-slut of Gorzom.
By all the gods, what a lunatic picture! It seems that the intent was to make a picture of swords and sorcery in the grand tradition, but that a scarcity of coin forced the makers to settle for some sort of beggar’s post-apocalypse. In that way, they were able to use such armor and swords as were at their disposal, and outfit the rest of the cast with whatever came easy to hand, like football pads and baseball bats, and removed any need to find or create any suitably mythic locations. These failings are easily overlooked by a barbarian such as I, but the hows and whys of the lawless world elude my simple powers of reason. For an apocalyptic world, there is a puzzling dearth of blasted landscapes and true devastation. The picture is set 23 years after an event which is called The Cancellation, but never explained. That seems a scant span of time for a world to recover from scorched earth and poisoned skies to a point of lush vegetation and forbidden forests. I would love to believe that the Cancellation was a less explosive world-ender, as if perhaps one Tyler Durden succeeded in his quest, and society as was known collapsed. This solution pleases me, but does little to explain the animation of the opening titles, which depicts a world in space blasted by the light of massive explosions, and twisted landscapes of doom and death swarmed by a Grim Reaper made of smoke. I should add that this animation was vastly bitching, as I am told such things are described, and gave my heart – which lusts always for battle, adventure, and carnage – great hope for the picture to come.
After the empty promise of the opening titles, what greets us is a metal ferry barge crossing an unimposing river, bearing a mule and three people. These are Tom, the musclebound blond hero, Dick, his aptly-named cowardly knave of a friend (who resembles Bret McKenzie, if Bret McKenzie were a human rather than an elf), and Tom’s comely sister Hari.
Yea, travellers, I jest not. Tom, Dick and Hari.
The three enter the village of “Heaven’s Gate”, where a market is in full swing, with items such as board games, shampoo, shoes and yellow kitchen gloves for sale. No sooner have they arrived with their mule-load of unspecified wares to sell than the village is attacked by a band of brigands we are later to learn are called the Norks. They wear sports equipment with painted-on swastikas, and whatever Hallowe’en costumes the actors had in their closets. Our heroes do battle with them, and the Norks do two important things: they drag Hari away by a harpoon fired into her leg, and they serve to make the audience lose all hope for any real suspense to come by knocking Tom and Dick down and beating them extensively, never bothering to use their swords, daggers and scythes on them. “Ah”, one says to oneself, “a picture with villains who do not try to kill the heroes. I suppose I’ll have another mead or four to get in the mood.”
If at this point you wish to see the picture, you may do well to skip to the final two paragraphs. Below I will tell its tale out of a mysterious sense of duty to any who may wish to know, but have the understandible instinct not to bother watching.
Suddenly the scene changes to an art museum, which is the stronghold of the titular “She”. A hall full of worshipers bow rhythmically and chant “She! She! She!”, seemingly ’round the clock, while two to three male prisoners in diaper-style loincloths stand chained to an altar in front for reasons not revealed. One struggles against his bonds in a humorously ineffective and nonsensical way. No man attempting to free himself from chains would move in that way, is all Grignr is saying.
SHE arrives, and She is lovely. In fact, She is Sandahl Bergman, of Conan fame, clad in a torn floor-length nightgown. She looks rather as though she is wearing her boyfriend’s tee shirt, and her boyfriend is a giant. As far as this barbarian can tell, this scene serves no purpose but to allow for the passage of time between the assault on the village and Tom and Dick awakening from their beating, inexplicably left alive, without the editor having to resort to such tricky time-warping effects as the dissolve.
Return we do to Tom and Dick, and the quest is set. Hari must be rescued. Our heroes are promptly duped, drugged and put in chains by a beguiling woman, who also reveals that “She” is a goddess, apparently. The remainder of the picture contains no evidence to back up this claim. Tom is taken by She and made to walk the “Path of Blood,” a torture gauntlet which is as painful-looking as it is pointless.
He is then left alive to learn that only She knows the way to Nork Valley. Tom finds Dick peeling onions and crying, and frees him.
They promptly infiltrate She’s fortress, which seems to be no great feat, and disguise themselves as worshipers just in time to see She leave. She is accompanied by Shanda, her lovely but incessantly whiny sidekick, to a barbed wire fence so haphazard that we suddenly know how Tom and Dick got in. She goes on alone into a junkyard wasteland full of punks in medieval armor who seem to be using kendo, but not well enough to defeat a goddess of extremely human abilities in a nightgown. Also there is a Frankenstein monster/android. She comes to a place of fog and red lights, disrobes and bathes in a hot spring. The only nudity in the picture is welcome, but brief. As she bathes, an old oracle crone tells her that a man will come to claim her heart, that for him She will break her (unspecified?) vow, and that through him She will be destroyed.
She returns home and is goddessnapped by Tom and Dick.
The rest of the picture is a succession of setpieces involving odd tribes in silly costumes. There is a band of chainsaw-wielding lepers in a factory who like to use a Star Wars-esque trash compactor and seem unconcerned by the loss of limbs. Shanda and company rescue Tom, Dick and She from these crumbling simpletons, Shanda whines because She does not plan to execute the men publicly, and She lets the men go for no clear reason. She and Shanda then follow them, also for no clear reason.
There is a Grecian garden peopled by decadent freaks (we can tell they are decadent because their leader seems to be gay, and they have balloons) who get even freakier after dark, but only after dressing Tom and Dick in tuxedos. Tom forgoes a shirt, however. Like myself, he is too much man for a shirt.
There is the stronghold of Godan, another self-styled god. Godan seems to have more behind his claim than She, for he has eyes that glow green and powers of mind-sorcery. His followers dress as Soviet monks. He orders She and Shanda tortured, and they are whipped, mostly across the wide leather straps covering their stomachs, while Tom and Dick dine in luxury because they feigned allegiance to Godan. This was Dick’s idea. Godan takes She for a bit of a rape party, and Tom and Dick save the day (sort of) after they tire of listening to Shanda scream.
There is a forest featuring skeletons tied to trees, a cloud of poison gas which Tom alone escapes, a crazy sort of Doctor Moreau type in a Baron Munchausen suit and a Texas Rangers baseball helmet, and his giant, bearded, hairy-backed assistant in a ballerina costume. The doctor has poor methods of prisoner retention.
There is a bridge guarded by a cigar-waving loon in a fringed cavalry uniform, who behaves like a more annoying version of Robin Williams at his most annoying, speaking in bad movie star impersonations and singing television theme songs. His strategy seems to be to irritate all comers to death, which seems a plausible outcome since he spawns a clone every time part of him is chopped off and Tom is too stupid to stop chopping parts of him off. Dick and She come along later, and She has sense enough to throw the obnoxious fool onto a land mine. Where his innumerable clones went is unexplained.
Then there is the city of the Norks. At last, a location that looks as though some sort of apocalypse might have occurred 23 years ago! Why the producers did not set a much larger portion of the picture in this city is a mystery to me. Our heroes disguise themselves as Nork army hopefuls and attend a pre-deathmatch banquet. The Nork general announces: “This is the life of the Norks. Food, women and war. Nothing better on the face of this Earth.” At last, a man after my own heart!
A gladiatorial free-for-all ensues. The last two survivors will be allowed to join the Norks. The Nork leader, in a disco haz-mat suit, oversees the bout with Hari at his side.
Tom, Dick and She are the last three standing. When Tom is unmasked and the others realize who they have been fighting, they unmask themselves. The Nork leader is furious that a woman has infiltrated his sacred bloodsport, and responds by releasing Hari into their company and letting all four of them go, with a promise to enslave She’s people tomorrow. I swear by the Eye of Argon, not a soul in this picture makes a damn bit of sense.
She decides to wait outside the gate and fight the Nork army by herself. Of course Tom has come to love her, and stays to help. And of course Dick and Hari do as well. In a matter of hours, pits are dug, bows and arrows made, and a mine field relocated by the four heroes. The following battle is better than most in the picture, because the participants are at least trying to kill each other for the most part. Shanda shows up at the last minute with reinforcements, and the day is won. There is much rejoicing.
At long last Tom and Hari return to the barge upon which we first met them. Dick stays behind with Shanda, whom he has apparently come to love for some reason, and she for equally mysterious reasons shares his feelings. Tom and Hari cross the river, and Tom and She stare longingly at each other across the water as the picture ends, the oracle’s prophecy of vow-breaking and destruction completely ignored, or forgotten.
SHE is a queer, queer beast of a picture. Comely wenches, a wide variety of strange characters, and plenty of battle, to be sure. But the battle is too often pathetically staged and bloodless, and is set in a nonsense world built from a meager budget. Worst of all is the utter nonsense of the story and the characters’ choices. Perhaps best of all is the delirious silliness of the whole affair. The picture certainly does not take itself seriously enough that one senses some artistic target was aimed for and missed. Also worth noting is the score by Rick Wakeman, he of “Yes” fame. Grinding guitars and flailing synth riffs abound, and one action sequence is set to a song by… I know not who, but I have heard worse Aretha Franklin impersonators in my travels, of this I can assure you. The strongest endorsement I can give is that you should watch this picture if you wish to be completely perplexed and amused. Much strong drink is a necessity, and a small party of like-minded adventurers is recommended.
Until next time, travelers, drink deep of food, women and war, for there is nothing better on the face of this Earth!