The Film: 4/5
On the banks of a river in a snowy forest lives a tribe of strong female warriors who refuse to bow to the wills of any man. In fact the only time they bother to have any contact with the opposite sex is when they need to become impregnated so hopefully they'll bear daughters to ensure the tribe's future. That future turns pretty bleak when a band of male barbarians attack and slaughter every member of the tribe, with the exception of who is perhaps their greatest warrior, Hundra (Laurene Landon). Since her sister was among the dead Hundra vows revenge on her killers. She makes short work of them after luring the lusting savages into a trap and soon embarks on a journey to find a man who will give her a daughter and in the process rebuild the tribe. She finds an acceptable sperm donor, and a little more, in the form of Pateray (Ramiro Oliveros), a healer in a village where the men are dominant and the women subservient under the rule of the loathsome high priest Napatkin (John Ghaffari). After giving Napatkin's soldiers more trouble from a female than they're normally accustomed to Hundra becomes pregnant by Pateray and settles down for the time being to bring the child to term. During that time she befriends Cradema (Maria Casal), one of Napatkin's loyal concubines, and dedicates herself to helping Cradema realize her full potential as a strong, independent woman. Once her child is born Hundra intends to leave the village with the baby in tow, but Napatkin and his followers have other plans for the both of them. It will take every ounce of her strength and resolve if she is to defeat her greatest enemy. One thing's for sure: these dickheads have never met a woman like Hundra.
Full disclosure, folks: Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite movies. I've seen it a bunch of times, sat through its inferior sequel at least once, and had the fortune (or misfortune, your perspective depending) of watching most of the trashy, low-budget rip-offs puked out of the less-than-reputable exploitation factories in the U.S. and Italy. Yes, I've even seen Red Sonja, but that was a watered-down treatment of the Robert E. Howard stories that no one could possibly take seriously without the assistance of copious quantities of alcohol (a.k.a. a Lindsay Lohan breakfast). My knowledge of Hundra, one of the earliest Conan cash-ins out of the gate and by far the best, was previously limited to a review written by Joe Bob Briggs when the movie began its short-lived existence in the drive-in bijous of the States sometime in the mid-1980's. Director Matt Cimber (The Candy Tangerine Man) conceived of the story and co-wrote the script with John Goff, a relatively little-known actor who also helped fulfill writing duties on Cimber's Pia Zadora features Butterfly and Fake-Out. They could have simply made their hero another slice of monosyllabic beefcake who couldn't act worth a damn but looked great carrying a sword, but instead Cimber and Goff chose to take the more unconventional route and structure their story around a sexy superwoman who's the best in a fight and a master of the steel but also knows how to employ her limitations as advantages against her opponents. The best part is they execute that concept with great success while using some unique creative choices to give Hundra an identity of its very own.
Speaking of limitations, let's start with Cimber's leading lady Laurene Landon. The statuesque blonde goddess and B-movie starlet with roles in goofball trash like Maniac Cop and Armed Response makes for an amazing physical presence as Hundra. Even when her acting falters - which is every time she has dialogue - Landon dominates the proceedings. There's no question she's the star here and she earns that title by performing the lion's share of her character's action beats in some terrific fight sequences choreographed with comical flair and photographed with pulp novel cover artistry by John Cabrera (a 2nd unit cinematographer on Conan the Barbarian who also shot Bruno Mattei's immortal zombie flick Hell of the Living Dead). Looking like Valerie Perrine and kicking ass like Pam Grier, Landon is so great performing the multiple dangerous stunts without suffering a scratch (at least on camera) that I'm surprised she wasn't able to parlay her work as the star of Hundra into a lucrative career as a action heroine. Maybe it was Hundra's inability to find much of an audience in the U.S. or the continuing rise of male action stars and the box office profits their mindless vehicles reaped, but it's a shame that Landon didn't become a bigger name in the genre. She may not be much of an actor, but then again neither were most of her peers with the Y chromosome.
Cimber puts Landon and the rest of his cast through their paces, but it's Landon who impresses as she runs a gauntlet of increasingly absurd and episodic shenanigans, the craziest of which has her duking it out with a murderous dwarf in red and blue face paint. One of her earlier attempts to find a suitable mate for breeding ends with a messy wrestling match with a slovenly cretin who deals her a few blows that hit hard for both Hundra and for the audience. Watching our heroine get brutally smacked around is made all the more real and painful by Landon's authentic reactions to the violence. But those moments don't diminish her character's strength but rather underscores the challenges she faces in taking a stand for women everywhere in a male-dominated landscape. Finally, here's a lusty pulp fantasy to make the "men's rights" and Gamergate cretins angered and impotent. As Martha Stewart might say, it's a good thing.
Oliveros, looking like the Spanish Max Baer Jr., makes for a suitable male bimbo love interest, given as much character depth as women often are permitted in sword and sandal flicks, while Ghaffari is a perfectly conniving baddie. The best relationship in Hundra is between Landon's title character and Casal's submissive Cradema and Cimber does not give their developing bond short shrift. Instead Hundra acts as Henry Higgins to Cradema's Eliza Dolittle in this unorthodox take on the time-honored Pygmalion story. It's almost as if Cimber decided to remake My Fair Lady but replaced the musical numbers and opulent costumes with nude horseback riding, earthy Spanish locations (parts of the film were shot in beautiful Almeria, best known for hosting the productions of Sergio Leone's iconic spaghetti westerns), and some wonderful action scenes filmed in Peckinpah-esque slow motion with almost complete disregard for human and animal lives. Those poor horses. Furthering the Leone connection is Ennio Morricone's fantastic original score which is far superior to the one he composed for Red Sonja, an actual Conan-related project blanded into teen-friendly PG-13 territory that isn't fit to brush Hundra's flowing blonde locks.
Hundra was first released on DVD back in 2007 by Subversive Cinema. Since that company is no longer in operation it's not much of a surprise that that edition is now out of print. I can't say for certain if the transfer Cinema Epoch used for their new release was the same one Subversive used, but while the film has been framed in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio the picture quality is highly problematic. Overall Hundra looks okay but the image has its share of defects which could be related to the state of the film elements used for the transfer. There isn't much permanent print damage to be found here though the picture does look soft and a bit muddy in spots. It's a very watchable transfer and little else. The English 2.0 audio track is adequate but it could have used a digital overhaul. Dialogue was mixed at a volume that often requires manual adjustment since it also has the disadvantage of sounding muffled due to the excessive dubbing (supposedly every line of dialogue was looped in post-production, if you believe IMDb). Thankfully the Morricone soundtrack is quite robust and distortion in this mix is minimal. No subtitles have been included.
The Subversive DVD was loaded with extras, including a candid commentary with Cimber and Landon, a 47-minute retrospective documentary, a collectible comic book, and a bonus CD of Morricone's score. Cinema Epoch's re-release dumps all those extras (a rights issue perhaps?) and retains a crudely-edited trailer (2 minutes) that appears to have been created for the earlier DVD release. The only extra they added is a full-motion still gallery of their other available titles set to generic New Age music.
The DVD re-release of Hundra is worth recommending on the strength of the movie alone, but if it's supplements you also desire you best get ready to shell out some bucks for a copy of the Subversive Cinema edition. That said, Matt Cimber's attempt to cash in on the post-Conan violent pulp craze succeeds by creating its own unique identity as a gender-reversed take on the same material and by being a completely fun and entertaining B-movie that delivers on all its promises as true exploitation should.