Amazons (Alejandro Sessa, 1986)

Roger Corman produced so many Sword and Sorcery flicks from the 80’s that you would think at least one of them would be worth taking seriously, or at least one of them would have a plot worth rehashing for the sake of people who have not yet seen all of them. You would be wrong. Out of all those terrible movies filmed for Corman in South America, Amazons, is... another.

Ostensibly based on the Charles Saunders story “Agwebe’s Sword,” Amazons stars Ty Randolph, a student of karate fully capable of being naked on film, as Dyala. Dyala is chosen by the Emerald Queen to find the sword of Azundati of which Dyala has had prophetic dreams. On the warpath is the wizard Kalungo (Joseph Whipp), who can shoot people with poorly animated lightning. Azundati’s sword supposedly trumps Kalungo’s magic, and so Dyala sets out to find it with the help of Tashi (Penelope Reed), another young amazon with whom Dyala has feuded in the past. Tashi’s mother, Tashingi (Danitza Kingsley), had fought with Dyala’s mother over a man, losing one of her hands in the process. The animosity passed from mother to daughter, Tashi plans (with her mother’s instruction) to kill Dyala once the magic sword is retrieved and return it to her mother, whose allegiance lies not with the Amazons, for whom she acts as a general, but with Kalungo. Just assume how it ends. You’ll probably be right.

It’s a quest movie. Where it should shine -- the unusual places, characters and circumstances encountered along the way; the exhibition of physical skill; the growing relationship of fellow travelers with deep seated resentment for each other -- it does not. Although Penelope Reed seems to take her role seriously enough to actually try conveying emotions and internal conflict and motivation, her earnestness only makes the rest of the production look worse in comparison. The viewer never receives any clue as to the spatial relationships between various places nor the time that it would take to cross from one location to the other: a terrible mistake in a film about a journey, an even greater mistake when there’s a subplot about the impending threat of a murderous sorcerer waiting to attack at any moment.

Looking at the ineptness of the action sequences and special effects, the odd pacing and lack of chronological sense, it becomes clear that the only thing Argentinean director Alejandro Sessa could do was ask women to be more or less naked on film. Whenever things get boring, it’s time for a virgin sacrifice, attempted rape, gratuitous bathing scene, or cheesy soft-core between Kalungo and Tshingi. Aside from the various unnamed Argentinean women who bare their breasts, the trio of Ty Randolph, Penelope Reed and Danitza Kingsley all look nice enough in an eighties-porno chick way -- all bleached out in the head and silicone enhanced, with all the latest in Amazonian cosmetics and hair care products.

We’ve established that Amazons is a bad movie. Its technical qualities are abominable. It exists solely to show big, fake boobs. In terms of both budget and artistic vision, Amazons is actually more impoverished than the usual Roger Corman produced sword-and-sorcery film from the eighties. Now the question: why is any of this worth pointing out?

My favorite movie review from Tomoe Gozen author Jessica Salmonson is not one of her critiques of Japanese jidai-geki (which are fantastic), nor one of her reviews of horror movies (which she handles with good humor and insight). It is her review of Amazons, because of the information she shares about how it was made. I would not otherwise have known Amazons an adaptation of a story, nor that Charles Saunders had been a Black Panther, nor that he wrote the screenplays to Amazons and its sequel, Stormquest. Now it might interest those who don’t know Saunders as a writer of fiction to know that he sets his fantasies in a uniquely African milieu, and with that knowledge, the casting of nothing but big-haired, bleached-blondes might seem inappropriate. Certainly, names like Tashingi and Azundati don’t sound the way their actresses look.

Also worth noting is that Saunders is a capable pulp writer, and that whatever he intended while writing the screenplay (which is quite different than writing a novel or story) probably came out quite differently on screen. Of course, I don’t know enough to say that with any certainty, as there were plenty of examples (Deathstalker, Sorceress, Barbarian Queen) of how Amazons would turn out. But in brief moments and isolated lines and action scenes that probably sound more ambitious on paper than they look in execution, one gets the impression that Mr. Saunders attempted to write a quality film.

But other than presumably butchering its source material far worse than even the various adaptations of Robert E. Howard over the years, Amazons fits in nicely with the other movies of its ilk. As such, it will please those who want to watch women in barbarian bikinis slaughtering men who slaughter less violent women. Cinema masochists will like it too.

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