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 twenty-fifth entry into this disreputable canon is the absolutely bonkers action/fantasy monster mash, She…
Eddie Murphy has a bit in his legendary 1983 HBO stand-up special, Delirious, in which he details playing with his GI Joes in the bathtub while he and his brother Charlie manufacture bubbles with their farts. The action figure suddenly becomes an oceanic explorer, desperately needing to know the source of these aquatic rumblings, and dives beneath the surface (only to find the smell in this sea completely unbearable). As much as it’s an extended juvenilve riff, Murphy’s also illustrating the borderless territory of a child’s mind. Eddie’s asshole becomes a cave. The turd Charlie drops becomes a big brown shark. Forget Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination”. This is how kids really fantasize.
She feels like it comes from the weirder corners of a “Go Joe!”-obsessed pre-teen boy’s brain. A veritable monster mash, Israeli director Avi Hesher (Savage; Tales From the Crypt Presents: Ritual) tosses almost every early 80s genre staple into a blender and cranks it to puree. Seemingly fired out of a filmic cannon, it’s a movie that’s almost impossible to keep up with. Warrior women, chainsaw-wielding cultists, orgiastic werewolves, psychic overlords, a mad scientist; She doesn’t so much present a tapestry as it puts forth a patchwork canvas of cool that looks great on the big screen (and would probably be even better airbrushed on the side of a van). Instead of diving in the bathtub, these warrior toys are crashing a Masters of the Universe playset, all while Road Warrior blares from a box TV in the background. However, the most curious element may be the fact that She came out concurrently with many of these pieces of pop iconography, marking the creative team as either being hip to what was going to hit at that particular moment in history, or privy to some insider knowledge they swiped for their own gonzo motorcycle jump into the eighth dimension.
While there’s certainly a plot to She, Hesher’s script (which is credited as being the eighth cinematic adaption of H. Rider Haggard’s eponymous 1887 novel*) is structured like a series of Dungeons & Dragons quests, strung together utilizing only the loosest A + B = C storytelling logic. Imagine doing cocaine off of a Gauntlet arcade game, and you’re pretty close to the way the action unfolds, both in terms of narrative and resolution. Each “act” (of which there are seemingly sixteen or sixty – it’s honestly impossible to keep count) is like another level the characters have arrived at – each fitted with a “big boss” at it’s end for our heroes to show down with. “Video game logic” didn’t exist at this point in history (marking She as predating this cultural phenomenon), but that won’t stop the movie from heavily resembling your favorite eight or sixteen-bit fantasy role playing adventures.
At the center of it all is our titular goddess (Conan the Barbarian’s Sandahl Bergman), aiding two wayward brothers – named simply Tom (David Goss) and Dick (Harrison Muller Jr.) – as they strive to rescue their kidnapped sister from the hordes of Nork Mountain. Along for the journey is She’s beautiful sidekick, Shandra (Quin Kessler), who is shouted down constantly when she tries to make heads or tails of the madness they’re enduring. “Sense has nothing to do with!” she’s told and, in a way, this exclamation could double as the movie’s mantra. You’ve entered an arena of pure anti-logic, where you either accept this bowling ball of sword and sandal destruction or get the fuck out of its way. Thanks to the breakneck pacing, those who aren’t operating on the picture’s wavelength are more than likely going to get crushed underneath its runaway lunacy. She is a juggernaut of pure joy, grinding non-believers into dust beneath its post-apocalyptic punk rock attitude.
She is certainly far from a perfect picture. The acting is stilted. A few of the fight sequences seem to have been edited together utilizing only coverage (though a particularly egregious offender is quickly redeemed via a robot Frankenstein capper). And though the budget doesn’t seem outlandishly low, some of the set design resembles a Halloween Adventure-sponsored funhouse. Yet the movie’s madcap energy and incredibly quotable dialogue act as rocket fuel to propel the audience through 105 minutes of unbridled, reckless creation. What Hesher has crafted is a testament to pure entertainment. It may lack any sense of formal discipline, but careens like a Pixy Stix-coated bullet straight toward the heart of anyone who perused their local video store racks, searching for the weirdest shit they could spend a Saturday night with. As film fans, we often talk about how cinema has the power to mentally deliver us to a place of childlike wonder, but She is one of the few films that’s actually able to distill this mindset into a pure visual sensibility. It’s Eddie Murphy’s “Fart Game” writ large – wielding a chainsaw and sending a psychic communist to choke you out with invisible hands. Just give in.
*Any similarities are almost purely in title alone.
This Week at Weird Wednesday: Encounters of the Spooky Kind II
Previous WW Features: Penitentiary; Skatetown USA; Blood Games; The Last Match; Invasion of the Bee Girls; Julie Darling; Shanty Tramp; Coffy; Lady Terminator; Day of the Dead; The Kentucky Fried Movie; Gone With the Pope; Fright Night; Aliens; Future-Kill; Ladies and Gentlemen…The Fabulous Stains; Pieces; Last House on the Left; Pink Flamingos; In the Mouth of Madness; Evilspeak; Deadly Friend; Don’t Look in the Basement; Vampyres