Film Review: Hundra (1983)

Also known as: Warrior Queen (German DVD title)
Release Date: July 23rd, 1983 (Spain)
Directed by: Matt Cimber
Written by: Jose Truchado, John F. Goff, Matt Cimber
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Laurene Landon, John Ghaffari, Marisa Casel

Continental Movie Productions, S.T.A.E. Productions, Cinema Epoch, 90 Minutes (original), 109 Minutes (extended DVD cut)

Review:

“Bow!” – every asshole man in the film

Hundra has a 4.6 on IMDb. That seems pretty low and that puts it below average. I think it’s at least a bit above average. It isn’t a classic or even very good but it has some pretty strong positives that at least keep its head above the water line.

To start, the first fifteen minutes or so are badass. A horde of evil men show up to rape and pillage a village of only women. It’s a rehash of the beginning of nearly every barbarian-esque picture since the first Conan came out but it works to great effect here.

Plus, it is immediately followed up by Hundra returning home and having to lure out the testicle-having baddies to a place where she can use the environment to her advantage and kill the entire horde. Well, one escapes to fight another day but that whole battle sequence was well orchestrated and showed a warrior woman who was able to outwit and outsmart a large number of rapist thugs.

Weirdly, she has a hard time taking out a midget on a miniature horse just five minutes later.

The problem with the film is that after all that awesome action in the beginning, it just slows to a halt and continues on for another hour and a half.

I guess the biggest highlight, other than that long opening pillage and the battle on the rocks between Hundra and a gang of rapey tyrants is the incredible score by Ennio Morricone. Morricone is mostly known for his work on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns and other films in that genre. Unlike those movies, however, he gives us something a bit more classical and pure. His themes during the pillaging scene and the chase out to the rocks was stellar.

Additionally, Laurene Landon as Hundra was a pretty big positive too. She looked and acted the part and hats off to her because she did all of her own stunts except for the big stumble off of the top of the tower around the middle of the film. I really only knew Landon from her role in the first two Maniac Cop films but after seeing this, I wish she had more roles where she got to play a hardcore feminine badass.

The cinematography is a mixed bag. The outdoor stuff is great. The landscapes are beautiful and everything in the first fifteen minutes is shot and captured really well. However, when you get to the interiors or other closed set pieces, things take a turn for the worse, as the film just becomes dull, poorly lit and ugly. It’s hard not to compare this to the very similar Red Sonja and when you see the films side by side, at least Red Sonja had more interesting interiors. Granted, Hundra also didn’t have as big of a budget as Red Sonja.

The acting isn’t very good but if you’re watching this for that reason, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Landon is charismatic and very likable as Hundra and her friend Tracima (Marisa Casel) was incredibly alluring and had my attention.

This is really a film about women overcoming evil men who only want to use them for sex and as servants. Sure, it’s written by a man as most films with a feminist message were, back in the day. However, Landon’s performance legitimizes it beyond just being some guy’s Amazonian fantasy.

If this movie was whittled down to 80 minutes and had as much energy as its first fifteen minutes, it could have been something really good. Unfortunately, despite the long list of positives I just gave, it is just too slow and dull for about 75 percent of its running time.

But I would love to see a Hundra and Red Sonja team up story, even if it were just in comic book form.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other sword and sorcery movies from the era, most notably Red Sonja, the Conan movies, Beastmaster and Conquest.

Film Review: Hercules Unchained (1959)

Also known as: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (English literal title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci
Based on: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Primo Carnera, Sylvia Lopez

Lux Film, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I’m so sleepy, I can’t seem to keep awake!” – Hercules

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always loved to showcase old sword and sandal movies of the worst quality. Actually, nearly everything in the genre is of poor quality. However, you knew you were getting into something special when one of MST3K‘s sword and sandal selections was a Hercules movie. Okay, maybe not special… more like, slightly better but still not good.

At least this one stars Steve Reeves, the true Hercules of his era and the only one that really mattered in that iconic role.

While this isn’t as good as the first Reeves’ Hercules, it is better than nearly everything that came after it. Still, it’s a fairly crappy motion picture that doesn’t do much to capture the imagination and makes one wonder why these style of movies were so popular. I mean, at least in the ’80s there was ConanRed Sonja and my personal favorite, Beastmaster. But those were actually sword and sorcery movies and not sword and sandal ones. I guess sorcery pairs better with sandals on the big screen. I certainly enjoyed James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom, as a villain, much more than the many harlots and weirdos that Hercules got tangled up with.

This film is pretty boring overall. It’s less interesting than the zanier stuff like Hercules Against the Moon Men and it doesn’t have a cool Hydra like The Loves of Hercules. It may be a hair better than both of those due to Reeves giving the film some legitimacy but to be honest, these films all sort of blend together in my mind as a big stew of sand where Steve Reeves’ face occasionally pops up.

Hercules Unchained isn’t a painful experience, it is just a really dull one.

And it is also shitty enough that I must run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.” That’s a bit harsher than I thought but the machine never lies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Steve Reeves’ first Hercules movie.

Film Review: The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)

The Dollars Trilogy, also known as The Man With No Name Trilogy, is one of the best film series there has ever been, capped off by the greatest film ever made.

These films also featured the best soundtracks ever created by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

But let me talk about all three of Sergio Leone’s masterpieces on their own.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964):

Also known as: Per un pugno di dollari (Italy), lit. For a Fistful of Dollars
Release Date: September, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Víctor Andrés Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari, Tonino Valerii (all uncredited), Mark Lowell, Clint Eastwood (English version)
Based on: Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Dan Savio)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Josef Edger, Wolfgang Lukschy, Gian Maria Volontè (as John Wells)

Jolly Film, Constantin Film, Ocean Films, Unidis, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“To kill a man you shoot him in the heart. Isn’t that what you said, Ramon?” – Joe (The Man With No Name)

The first film in the series is the smallest in scope. The story is very straightforward and compared to its sequels, it is pretty basic. It is still a fantastic film on its own and is one of the best westerns ever made. Had Sergio Leone just made this film and not the other two, it may have had the same level of love and admiration that accompanies The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

It introduces us to the character referred to as “The Man With No Name”. In the film, he is casually referred to as “Joe” but it isn’t the true name of this stranger who wanders into town and changes things for the better before leaving.

This film is a template for the ones after it and that isn’t a knock, as it was executed greatly and fits well within the series that this trilogy became. You can tell that Sergio Leone is getting his feet wet with the western genre and for a first effort, this is a magnificent work of art.

It is also a lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It turns the samurai wandering into a Japanese village and switches it to a gunslinger wandering into an Old West town.

Clint Eastwood truly owns the character and the villainous Ramón (played by Gian Maria Volontè) is a perfect foil for the hero.

The movie ends with one of the greatest and imaginative gun duels in film history. In fact, it would go on to be seen in Back to the Future, Part II and would inspire Marty McFly when he had to face his evil foil in a gun battle in Back to the Future, Part III.

Plus, the opening sequence of this film is absolute perfection and maybe my second favorite sequence in any spaghetti western, only surpassed by the finale of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But those two scenes were incredible bookends to this film series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

For A Few Dollars More (1965):

Also known as: Per qualche dollaro in più (Italy)
Release Date: December 30th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Enzo Dell’Aquila (uncredited), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Alive or dead? It’s your choice.” – Monco (The Man With No Name)

The first sequel expands on the world of the first film. It feels bigger, the plot has more meat to it and our hero gets to team up with a bounty hunter named Col. Douglas Mortimer (played by the always spectacular Lee Van Cleef). The villain, El Indio is played by the previous installment’s villain actor, Gian Maria Volontè.

The two heroes work together and sometimes against one another in trying to take down El Indio and his gang. There are a lot of twists to the story and there is a lot more depth and layers than the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Leone really found his stride in this film but it still wasn’t absolute perfection – that was yet to come.

This installment is also a bit more humorous than the previous film, in that the relationship between “The Man With No Name” (referred to as “Monco”) and Col. Douglas Mortimer is pretty chummy and entertaining. But this was Eastwood and Van Cleef in their prime, if you ask me. Both are magnetic, charismatic and each brings so much gravitas to any role that the cup was overflowing with masculine intensity.

As the story unfolds and the relationships build, you are left with a pretty lovable tale. Albeit a pretty badass lovable tale.

And as incredible as Ennio Morricone is as a composer, each chapter in this trilogy sees him evolve into something even greater.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966):

Also known as: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Italy)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 177 Minutes

Review:

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – Blondie (The Man With No Name)

In my opinion, this is the greatest film ever made. It is perfect and truly has no flaws. Sure, westerns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but some people eat laundry detergent because the Internet tells them to.

Clint Eastwood (The Good) is back, as is Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) who plays the evil Angel Eyes. Eli Wallach (The Ugly) joins them and becomes one of the best characters in cinematic history.

This is a three hour epic and not a single moment of film is wasted. Each segment serves the story well and fleshes out these dynamic characters. Everyone is given a chance to play off of each other and each exchange between characters drives the story forward and strengthens the relationship between all three men.

Even though Clint Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name” is the hero of this series, it is Eli Wallach’s Tuco Ramirez that is the actual star of this picture. He goes from annoying but funny bandit to a lovable and tragic character that you find yourself cheering for by the time this thing is over.

This film is a perfect example of how to develop characters well but with a minimalist approach. Their backstory doesn’t need to be spelled out in every detail. You can hint at their past, drop clues and come to conclusions based off of the emotion the actor wears on their face at certain points. Eli Wallach really gave an Oscar caliber performance here but these sort of films are ignored by elitist Academy snobbery.

The cinematography, the geography, the interiors – all are perfect. This film takes place in a massive and dirty world and it really feels like the American West, even though it was filmed in Europe in 1960s spaghetti western fashion.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly plays like an old opera in its level of scope, story and violence. While the violence isn’t over the top, it serves a real narrative purpose and has a gritty authenticity about it that no other director has been able to capture since.

There isn’t a single thing about this movie that I would tweak, edit out or even try to expand on. I keep saying “perfect” and “flawless” because those are the only words I can even use to describe this untouchable film.

This is Sergio Leone’s magnum opus and the man was one of the greatest directors to ever live.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

Film Review: They Call Him Holy Ghost (1972)

Also known as: Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo (original Italian title), …Y le llamaban El Halcón (Spain), El halcón de Sierra Madre, Blazing Guns, Forewarned… Half-Killed… the Word of the Holy Ghost, His Name Was Holy Ghost
Release Date: March 30th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by: Tito Capri, Federico De Urrutia
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Gianni Garko, Pilar Velazquez

Astro C.C., Lea Film, 94 Minutes

Review:

They Call Him Holy Ghost is a film that sounded much cooler from its synopsis than what the final product actually was. IMDb describes the film as “Gianni Garko returns as the Holy Ghost, a supernatural gunfighter dressed in white and with a dove sitting on his shoulder.” Man, that sounds friggin’ badass.

Gianni Garko is a legendary spaghetti cowboy, a supernatural gunfighter sounds intriguing and a sidekick played by a white dove… well, why the hell not? Plus, one of the pictures I saw online had Garko’s Holy Ghost blasting off one of those giant machine guns that were synonymous with Django and other roles Franco Nero played.

Then the film started and the opening sequence was just purely f’n awesome! Evil men, people treated like garbage to the evil men’s amusement, then the just and righteous Holy Ghost shows up with his dove and a machine gun, drops some quirky dialogue and turns the bad guys into Swiss f’n cheese! Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, though.

For 94 minutes, the film is slower than it should be. I had hoped that this would be as energetic and nuts as the original 1966 Django but it was pretty talkie and actually quite goofy. Sure, it had some action but this picture evolved into more of a comedy as it progressed. In fact, the longer the film ran, the sillier it got to where the big finale was sort of like a spaghetti western reinterpreted by slapstick performers. This would have been a cool film to have seen in a realistic and gritty spaghetti style.

This movie was mostly enjoyable even if it went off the rails after it’s great opening. Gianni Garko is always fun to watch and he committed to this role very well but the schizophrenic tone pulled me out of the movie and turned potential into disappointment.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Any spaghetti western starring Gianni Garko.

Film Review: Superargo and the Faceless Giants (1968)

Also known as: L’invincibile Superman (original), Superargo the Giant, The King of Criminals, Superargo (UK)
Release Date: January 26th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Paolo Bianchini
Written by: Julio Buchs
Music by: Berto Pisano
Cast: Giovanni Cianfriglia, Guy Madison, Luisa Baratto

G. V. Cinematografica, Societa Europea Cinematografica, Izaro Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

This film is actually a sequel to an earlier Superargo film. I’ve been trying to track that one down to no avail. But since this one is readily available on a few streaming services, I figured that I’d check it out, as it’s a film that has been mentioned a lot in some of my circles over the years.

It is an Italian film that features a superhero detective similar to Batman. In fact, Superargo looks like a mixture of Batman and The Phantom. He is actually an ex-professional wrestler and he wears his wrestling costume because it gave him good luck in the ring. I guess it didn’t give him good luck though when the girl in the film was kidnapped while under his care.

The film is cheesy and over the top. It is colorful but not quite as colorful as an Italian giallo film. The action is pretty decent for what you can expect from an old school Italian action bonanza. But the film is so hokey that you kind of dismiss some of its faults. Really, it is exciting and has a lot of energy.

The movie is fairly nonsensical and strange but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an entertaining ride. It has a coolness about it and almost feels like the Italian version of the ’60s Batman show, as well as having strong similarities to those Mexican movies featuring the lucha libre legend El Santo.

Superargo and the Faceless Giants makes me wish I had access to the first film. However, when and if it does pop up somewhere I can check it out, I am much more motivated after having experienced this chapter in the two film series.

Film Review: Blood Money (1974)

Also known as: El kárate, el Colt y el impostor (original Spanish title), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (alternate), Dakota (French video title)
Release Date: 1974 (Spain)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Written by: Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Margheriti, Barth Jules Sussman
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, Harbor Productions, Shaw Brothers Studio, Midega Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

The king of the spaghetti westerns that isn’t Clint Eastwood teams up with the king of kung fu movies that isn’t Bruce Lee. Sure, that sounds like a diss but I am a pretty big fan of Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. Both men owned the 1970s in their own way, so seeing them come together is pretty interesting.

Sadly though, their talents and their team-up were wasted in this picture, which just doesn’t live up to whatever hype my mind might have had in the ’70s when this actually went down.

The film’s premise is pretty interesting though. Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) journeys to America from China in search of his uncle’s fortune. He discovers that his uncle is dead and the only man that knows where his body is, is the one accused of murdering him, an Old West gunslinger named Dakota (Lee Van Cleef). Once the uncle’s body is found, the pair find clues that point to the fortune. This then becomes a real spaghetti western treasure hunting movie with kung fu flair. The reluctant pair must track down the uncle’s mistresses, each of whom have a section of the treasure map tattooed on their bums. Ultimately, the two men become friends and kick a lot of ass.

The problem with the movie is that the execution is poor and really kind of lazy. Van Cleef and Lieh are both solid but the script just isn’t there and everything is fairly pedestrian. This is a film that is an example of wasted potential. But then again, a studio specializing in spaghetti westerns didn’t have much experience creating kung fu pictures just as Shaw Brothers, even with their input on kung fu filmmaking, didn’t know how to make westerns. And really, I’m not sure how much input Shaw Brothers actually had, it seems pretty minuscule.

Still, if you like both of these men, this is worth checking out. It’s not a total waste but it won’t get you pumped up either.

Film Review: Navajo Joe (1966)

Also known as: A Dollar a Head (US working title), Navajo’s Land, Red Fighter, Savage Run (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 26th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Dean Craig, Fernando Di Leo, Ugo Pirro
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Leo Nichols)
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Aldo Sanbrell, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Tanya Lopert, Fernando Rey, Franca Polesello, Lucia Modugno

Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica, C.B. Films, Dear Film, United Artists, 93 Minutes

Review:

“My father was born here, in the mountains. His father before him and his father before him and his father before him. Where was your father born?” – Joe

I have never seen Navajo Joe, which is probably a crime, as I love spaghetti westerns and consider myself an aficionado of them. I especially love the western films of Sergio Corbucci and I have always been a big fan of Burt Reynolds, a man too cool for just about anyone they put him in a movie with. Also, this has one of the greatest scores that Ennio Morricone ever did. In fact, some of this songs here have been reused in other films.

Burt Reynolds plays Joe, a Navajo badass that wants to avenge the slaughter of some of his people and his woman. He tracks the killers and finds that they are taking advantage of a desert town and that someone in the town is working with them. He offers his services to the citizens at one dollar a head, to be paid by each person in town. The town is reluctant to pay Joe and realistically, if Joe is just planning on getting revenge, he should just go for it. But I guess making some money isn’t a bad thing. He gets mixed up with a local woman of Navajo decent but ultimately, only cares about his dead love. Navajo Joe is a true drifter with revenge in his heart. He’s got no time for love, only time for justice served with a hearty helping of lead.

Corbucci, one of the three Sergios of Spaghetti Westerns, made this film just after Ringo and His Golden Pistol and his most famous classic Django. This is a film that carries on the quality that Corbucci westerns were known for. While it isn’t quite the masterpiece that Django was, it is still a balls-to-the-wall violent action epic that will leave you satisfied. Revenge stories are great and adding in Burt Reynolds was a pretty cool touch, even if Corbucci didn’t know how great the man would become, as this is very early in his acting career.

The action sequences were well shot and very fluid. I liked the fighting style of Reynolds’ Joe as he slithered around the dirt and in and out of the train, killing off scumbags in the process. The film’s action was well choreographed, unique and interesting.

Navajo Joe is a good western and after seeing it, it would have been cool if Reynolds and Corbucci did a few more. I liked Reynolds in this role a lot and this played really well, mainly because the script was good and Corbucci is just a great director that probably deserves more credit outside of his preferred genre.