Everybody’s Into Weirdness: LADY TERMINATOR (1989)
The Alamo Drafthouse is a brand built on weird. Beyond being situated in a town that has long aspired to remain eccentric in the face of all normality, it’s easy to forget that the original Alamo started as something of a private screening club, running prints of the odd and obscure into all hours of the night*. Though the company has obviously grown into an internationally recognized chain of first run movie palaces, the Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, Texas remains committed to showcasing genre repertory programming, namely via its Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday showcases. This column is a concentrated effort to keep that spirit of strangeness alive, as programmers Joe A. Ziemba and Laird Jimenez (often pulling from the extensive AGFA archives) are truly doing Satan’s bidding by bringing ATX weekly doses of delightful trash art.
The ninth entry into this disreputable canon is the Indonesian female murder machine riff on James Cameron’s classic, Lady Terminator…
Trailers: Sister Street Fighter; Future-Kill
Alternate Titles: Nasty Hunter; The Curse of Erika; Snake Terminator: The Snake Wench Dies Twice
(What’s this? Last week, Pinball Summer was promised to the twelve of you who read this column regularly, and I did indeed sit through that piece of junk. Unfortunately, that picture brought nothing remotely thought-provoking to the table – disclosure: I nodded off three separate times during its interminable 99 minutes – so I opted to take a Mulligan and catch Lady Terminator at Terror Tuesday last night. And boy do I have a treat for you…)
In 1990, notorious Italian copyright infringement wizard Bruno Mattei directed Shocking Dark, an unauthorized sequel to 1984’s immortal Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring ode to cyborg violence, The Terminator; a mere year before James Cameron’s own follow-up hit theaters. In typical Mattei fashion, the movie is a mash-up of bad make-up, worse special effects, fractured storyline, and an uncompromising desire to earn a buck off of someone else’s hard work (see also: 1995’s Jaws rip off, Cruel Jaws – or just the majority of the filmmaker’s oeuvre). However, that doesn’t stop Shocking Dark from being relentlessly entertaining, as it shamelessly cribs not only from the iconic cyberpunk horror film, but also Aliens, thus rendering it something akin to an awful, VHS-contained Cameron cover band, rocking out in the garage on busted amplifiers while the neighbors keep screaming for them to shut the fuck up.
There’s a long, sordid history of “knock-off” movies, both overseas and in the United States. Mattei and his fellow Italo-schlock maestros are probably the most famous (Enzo Castellari’s great white steal, The Last Shark, fought an army of Universal lawyers to reach US soil), but even in America there were notorious filmic con men like William Girdler (or, if you want a modern example, the sub-Syfy goofs at The Asylum). Churning out delightfully tacky nonsense based on bigger, better, more successful works, Girdler’s Exorcist pillaging is some of the best “don’t give a shit” cinema ever produced.
Dreck like Abby and The Manitou took William Friedkin and Roman Polanski and then filtered their work through the prisms of Blaxploitation and disco, resulting in some of the strangest slices of psychotronic mayhem to ever assault Times Square midnight movie audiences. While these films undoubtedly caused another legion of legal assistants to remain sleepless (Warner Bros. infamously sued to try and keep Abby from seeing the light of day), there’s still something admirable about watching a renegade filmmaker brazenly take a big studio IP and then use it to hock their own shoddy wares; the picture house equivalent of a corner merchant, selling “designer” handbags you know in your heart were stitched by abused sweatshop orphans.
Indonesia was another hotbed for hucksterism. The Republic churned out crud like Satan’s Bed; a lo-fi take on Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street mythos (not to be confused with Khooni Murda, the nation’s other Krueger duplication, which features the murder-gloved maniac taking a dump). Yet what sets much of Indonesia’s oddball plagiarism apart from other countries’ theft is that it feels wholly sincere; as if the production team set out to write love letters to their favorite films instead of merely cashing in (though the money was certainly a motivating factor). Recognizable scenes are re-created wholesale (like a claw gliding between a bathing girl’s legs) all on a budget not too much bigger than your average Swede artist’s. In-between these shoddy replications are moments of bizzaro creativity, such as “Freddy” combating a martial arts shaman by removing his own head and utilizing it as a weapon, or introducing the nightmare prowler’s sidekick: a soul-sucking succubus. That’s not to say these movies were’ “original” or “inspired”, but the joy of cinema (no matter how unskillfully channeled) is certainly present.
Which brings us to Lady Terminator, arguably the pinnacle of “knock-off” cinema and (dare I say it) human achievement itself. Also a product of Satan’s Bed madman H. Tjut Djalil (going under the “Starting Center for the Milwaukee Bucks”-worthy nom de smut, Jalil Jackson), it’s additionally an amalgamation of straight up theft and sincere weirdness, tossed into a blender and spiked with a healthy dose of ayahuasca. An early New York Times review of the movie (dated June 10, 1989) states: “its only redeeming feature is that the ending does not promise sequel.” But what Times capsule slinger Caryn James seems to overlook is the joy of watching a gaggle of slightly incompetent psychopaths throw all caution to the wind in the name of pure entertainment. There’s nothing really deep on Lady Terminator’s mind, but who cares? She’s a walking avatar for annihilation, snapping off dicks with a vagina possessed by a vengeful South Sea goddess, yearning to murder every man in sight, thanks to a spurning she endured a century earlier. This is Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” shouted at the karaoke bar by a ruthless dictator; off-tune but soulful in its liquor-stink disregard for societal norms as it grips an Uzi in one hand and a Mai Tai in the other.
The plot of Lady Terminator is perfunctory window dressing for pure carnage. An ancient preying mantis deity (the South Seas Queen – apparently a figure from Javanese folklore**) gets tired of screwing the beta male dishrags her lady servants bring her night in and night out. “Is there any man who can satisfy me?” she ponders, before being introduced to a white-suited refugee from CSI – Bollywood, who proceeds to fuck her and then yank the spiritual snake from her haunted nether-regions. Without any real motivation outside of “I’m a man, so eat shit”, our tan Don Johnson proceeds to turn the serpent into a dagger, to which the Sea Queen responds with a hundred year curse before marching into the ocean.
Snort six lines of coke and speed up to the 1980s, where Tania the anthropologist (Barbara Anne Constable) is inexplicably investigating the Sea Queen and becomes possessed by the ghost snake, who slithers into her own lady-parts after a round of scuba. This overtaking causes a tsunami to capsize her chartered vessel, acting as a kind of thundering natural linebacker, making way for her nude materialization from the raging waters. Thus begins Tania’s reign of unholy terror and cheapo Terminator cosplay, as scenes from Cameron’s original are then duplicated wholesale.
While he certainly doesn’t look like Bill Paxton, one of the two punks Tania first comes across is urinating wildly while his fellow crust associate guzzles beer and giggles. Keeping with her newly established #brand, LT swiftly fucks and discards these two cretins, borrowing one of their leather jackets, presumably so that we have Schwarzenegger on our minds at all times. Yet it isn’t until she obtains an assortment of automatic weapons and enters the Indonesian version of Tech Noir (where her own personal Sarah Connor – the great-great-granddaughter of the man who done her wrong – is performing) that the drugs peak. Lady Terminator then proceeds to play like a half-remembered viewing of Cameron’s film during a weekend psilocybin binge – woozy and feverish, yet vivid enough that it’ll never leave your personal RAM.
The disregard for human life in Lady Terminator is nothing short of astonishing, and actually helps highlight one aspect of “knock-off” filmmaking that’s impossible not to love. Often these films will exaggerate the lurid aspects of the movies they’re aping, thus bringing what works about the originals into full focus. However, Lady Terminator actually one-ups Arnold by killing nearly EVERYONE on screen. Seriously. The amount of innocent bystanders who get mowed down in a hail of lead will make even the most hardened exploitation champ’s head spin. Men, women, children, cops, doctors, nurses, janitors, delivery boys; none are safe once Tania pulls the trigger. Even after a few are downed with the initial shot(s), our machine gun toting vixen will empty another clip into their chests and then kick them in the crotch, just for good measure. Imagine the T-800’s police station massacre stretched out for forty-five whole minutes, and you pretty much have the back half of Djalil’s picture nailed down.
But what good is a sex/murder machine if you don’t have a squad of loveable doofuses diligently slaving away to stop her? The squad of cops tasked with solving the Lady Terminator murders is enigmatically eclectic; including an American (Christopher J. Hart) and an Indonesian whose features are so angular he – in the words of Zack Carlson – looks like a “cross between Rod Stewart and a rat” (and is played by the awesomely named Adam Stardust). All are dubbed by actors who obviously never vetted their lines through any other English-speakers, resulting in marvelous nuggets like "It says here all three of these guys died with their cocks bitten off. Could be a small animal,” or "Hey listen, Jack and I have seen more dead bodies than you've eaten hot dogs. So just shut up and eat." The fact that any of this exists is a goddamn miracle.
Lady Terminator climaxes in a chase that involves missile-launching helicopters, a tank (which Adam Stardust rides whilst hollering “FUCK YEAH”), and a zombie who fires laser-beams from her eyes. But that’s the ecstasy of Djalil’s grand experiment – it rapidly escalates from brazen carbon copy to wholly original slice of insanity, all while keeping its tongue firmly in cheek. You could try and make an argument that the filmmakers were somehow creating an anti-feminist statement about women being the root of all evil, but that would actually require more subtextual thought than what was put into this pile of action figure lunacy. Lady Terminator is the final cut in a great bar band’s set; the one they know is going to send you home with that special someone who, in the morning, you may actually regret having drunkenly propositioned. It’s a riff, but a monstrous, deafening one, destined to leave you with hearing problems for the next month, and possibly an STD for life.
*For an oral history of the Drafthouse’s beginnings, I’ll refer you to Zack McGhee’s wonderful “My Favorite Movie” Podcast, where he interviews old school DH programmers Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson, as well as current Wednesday night ringmaster, Laird Jimenez. They’re GREAT listens, full of knowledge, wit and insight.
**Source: cursory Internet search.
Tonight on Weird Wednesday: The Bees
Previous WW Features: Penitentiary, Skatetown USA; Blood Games; The Last Match; Invasion of the Bee Girls; Julie Darling; Shanty Tramp; Coffy