She (1984) – Journey to the centre of insanity

Strap in, because this is a bizarre whirlwind of crazy antics and nonsensical events that will excite and confound. She is a low budget, Mad Max imitator, made in Italy – as so many movies of its kind were in the 80s. This one stands out from the crowd thanks to its ridiculous story world, populated by clown Nazis, an Amazonian society, sophisticated werewolves, a cult of Jedi worshippers, android comedian bombs, chainsaw lepers, and a hairy dude in a ballerina getup. With its strange post-apocalyptic-meets-Medieval setting it comes across like Monty Python and the Holy Grail on an acid trip. It’s a fast paced, totally incomprehensible, sword and sandal sketch show, with a rocking soundtrack by Rick Wakeman and… Motörhead?!

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As the basis for this unusual adventure, Israeli director Avi Nesher has taken the novel ‘She: A History of Adventure’ and thrown it in the garbage. There are a few minor plot points that match up, but that’s about it. Incidentally, author H Rider Haggard’s work has inspired a lot of adaptations over the years, and this holds the honour of being one of the absolute worst.  The impact of Nesher’s bravery, in torching the source material, is that we get to ride along on a ridiculous journey, through an even more bizarre, future-Dark-Ages wasteland. From the spookily animated, and seemingly unrelated, opening credits we are introduced vaguely to our band of adventurers, so cleverly named Tom, Dick, and Hari. Tom – David Goss from Amir Shervan’s Hollywood Cop and Dick – Harrison Muller, whose short catalogue is a trove of great trash – are good friends, though they’re incapable of protecting Tom’s sister, Hari – Elena Wiedermann who went on to a women in prison film and not much else. She is kidnapped, of course, by a marauding band of gladiator-clown-Nazis and thus begins our epic journey into insanity.

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In the blur that follows, Tom and Dick are seduced by a lady and sold into slavery, under the Amazonian society of our titular goddess lady. Sandahl Bergman as She seems to fit the role well – Arnie’s lover in Conan the Barbarian, and the evil queen from Red Sonja. She’s not much of a goddess, although she does have a cult of worshippers, and a personal font of eternal youth. She kind of feels sorry for the hapless pair, allowing them to break free to continue their quest. From here Nesher jumps rapidly from one strange situation to the next, utterly lacking in context, attempting to create the illusion of excitement – instead, it gives the movie a zany, Monty Python vibe. The group are besieged by all manner of things, including angry lepers, garden party werewolves, a mad scientist in a greenhouse, duplicating android comedians, and another cult, this one worshipping a guy with some kind of force power. I definitely missed some things there, but you get the idea. It all culminates in gladiatorial combat and a huge fight scene with the wannabe Roman Nazi guys.

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On one hand, Nesher impresses me greatly with his total disregard for plot development and other narrative conventions, and he’s certainly crafted an interesting world, as ridiculous as it is. On the other, I feel a little bad for the actors, who try their best to give decent performances through the suffocating stupidity of it all. The crew seem to have put in a solid effort too, though I have no idea how complicit they were, or weren’t, with Nesher’s creative vision. The production doesn’t look terrible, it just doesn’t look good, or even logical for that matter. The design behind this whacked out vision of post apocalyptic society, is both kind of cool and complete rubbish. The make-up and costuming folks have certainly created some interesting stuff, but there is a disappointing lack of gore. To confuse things even more, Nesher loves to throw in pop culture references, everything from a trash compactor room, a la Star Wars, to a Groucho Marx android singing Green Acres. This all makes it impossible to tell if She is in fact a genuine attempt at comedy, an accidental spoof of the popular Italian Mad Max rip offs, or just a self aware trashfest.

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Oh wait, the soundtrack! As usual, it’s one of the few things that shines through the murk of this low budget production, perhaps that’s because it was written by Rick Wakeman of Yes. I don’t know how or why he’s on board, though he always was the experimental type. There doesn’t seem to be much of his trademark keyboard wizardry, it’s mostly straightforward Rock tracks, and some strange disco stuff. He also has help from Justin Hayward, of The Moody Blues, and apparently Motörhead. IMDb only lists later Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell, however there are some fairly convincing moments of driving, dirty bass guitar throughout which do sound a little Lemmy. Who really knows? There’s not even a clear timeline for the film to extract any clues from – it’s generally listed as a 1982 production, but was released between 84 and 85. In any case, the talent and fame in the music department eclipses any other element of She.

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She is quite a film, the kind that constantly hits you with the unexpected, despite being completely trite, leaving you exasperated and bewildered. The story chews up and spits out classic literature, resulting in a fantastically unintelligible, sword and sandal rendering of a post apocalyptic quest narrative. As She in her infinite wisdom says at one point, “this has nothing to do with sense.” Rarely will you see a low budget production utilise its crew so poorly, churning the moderate amount of talent at its disposal through a meatgrinder of totally misguided attempts at creativity. This crazy adventure is really something else, and it’s incredibly hard to process, but you’d be a sucker to miss out.

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