Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Princess Warrior

Director: Lindsay Norgard
Writer: John Riley
Producer: Philip J Jones
Cast: Sharon Lee Jones, Mark Pacific, Dana Fredsti
Country: USA
Year: 1995
Reviewed from: Online version (naughty)

Princess Warrior has two things in common with Demonsoul. First, it was produced and distributed by Vista Street Entertainment, the stack-‘em-high, sell-‘em-cheap outfit whose greatest contribution to modern culture was dragging their Witchcraft franchise out to an incredible 13 films. The other connection, or rather similarity, is that like Demonsoul I have been waiting 20 years to see this.

Back in the 1990s, I used to collect VHS sleeves. I’ve still got stacks of them. You could buy them for 25p a pop from dealers at film fairs, or just save the ones off rubbish videos you had watched once and then chucked. Naturally I acquired a lot of them during my time on SFX. I don’t know where my sleeve for Princess Warrior came from, but it intrigued me. Two hot women fighting with light-sabres, one clad in a short, simple white dress, the other wearing a sexy black dominatrix get-up. Surely this must be a film worth watching.

In 1998 I found myself in Los Angeles at the AFM where I picked up what was sometimes confusingly called a ‘one-sheet’ for the film. Not a poster but a piece of glossy card about A4 in size with imagery and blurb, a promotional doodad for places like the AFM. It had the same image as the video sleeve. Except: I couldn’t help noticing that the VHS sleeve from the UK had an unexpurgated photo with a fine view of the sexy upper thigh of the white-clad actress, while the one-sheet from the USA had a pair of pink pants crudely Photoshopped into place! From such minutiae is an unhealthy interest begat.

I also met actress Dana Fredsti at the AFM, and did an interview with her which it looks like I never got round to typing up. It must still be in a pile of cassettes somewhere.

Over the years I kept meaning to pick up Princess Warrior, but I never saw a copy anywhere and when it turned up on Amazon it was too expensive for me to bother. But recently I was idly googling stuff and came across a version that somebody had uploaded to YouTube and I felt compelled to finally watch it.

When I eventually got round to viewing Demonsoul after two decades, it turned out to be a revelation, a seminal proto-text for the British Horror Revival. Princess Warrior was less satisfying though I did get some perverse pleasure from watching the thing. A bit like watching Wacko. I’m not saying it’s good. No-one would ever say it was anything less than utter crap. But that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. And not, I wish to emphasise, in  a post-modern or ironic way. I genuinely did like watching this film, and would happily watch it again. About once every 20 years or so.

The story is actually mostly Earth-bound, but topped and tailed by scenes on an alien planet, a matriarchal society populated entirely by fit young women of the same age, except for the High Priestess (Selga Sanders: Interview with Terror) and the dying Queen Mother (Cheryl Janecky: Witchcraft II), who are what would later become known as MILFs. The Queen Mum (Gawd bless ‘er) has two daughters and by rights the throne should pass to the eldest. But this is Curette, a mean, dark-haired bully played with glee by Fredsti in her first major role. So in a break with protocol and tradition, the throne is passed instead to the second daughter - sweet, blonde Ovule, played like a plank of wood by Sharon Lee Jones (Leapin’ Leprechauns).

Well, I say throne. It’s actually a sort of vaguely futuristic-looking recliner. In one of those low-budget rooms where you can’t actually see the walls because that would mean building a set. There’s some sort of hooha between the two sisters and their acolytes – as depicted on the video sleeve, although that’s not an actual image from the movie - the upshot of which is that Ovule escapes by climbing into some sort of transportation chamber which looks for all the world like Bill and Ted’s phone booth. And to use this, she has to be naked for some reason. Though you don’t really see anything.

Meanwhile, on Earth, specifically in LA, we meet Bob (Mark Pacific). He’s currently employed as DJ in a dodgy bar/club owned by dodgy Italian stereotypes Vinnie and Vito (Lee N Gerovitz and Stephen J Cassarino, a double act who call themselves the Clever Cleaver Brothers, billed as ‘TV’s zaniest celebrity chefs’!). Right now, the club is hosting a wet T-shirt contest, which consists of three young ladies gyrating to Bob’s music while occasionally having jugs of water poured over their, well, their jugs. It must be said, this hasn’t exactly brought in the crowds. There’s just a handful of middle-aged guys sitting around, letting out the occasional half-hearted whoop.

The wet T-shirt contest is dragged out endlessly but suddenly ends when a fourth girl appears. Yes, it’s Ovule, whose BillandTedatron has materialised inside the bar, without anyone noticing, and conveniently next to the table with the branded T-shirts. This enables her to grab one and put it on before emerging.

What? You were expecting actual full-frontal nudity? In a Vista Street movie? You’re new round here, aintcha?

Of course, while the other three girls wear short, cut-off T-shirts and put their all into the bump’n’grind, Ovule’s T-shirt is long enough to effectively be a dress. And she wins for simply walking past the other three. Which really doesn’t seem fair.

Ovule runs out of the bar, frightened and confused. Bob goes after her and gets sacked for his troubles, so he hops on his motorbike and cruises the surprisingly empty night-time streets of LA until he finds her.

Meanwhile, the phone booth transporter has disappeared. When it reappears it contains Curette and two of her cronies, Bulimia (Isibella Peralta: Cybernator) and Exzema (Laurie Warren: Twisted Justice). I hope you’re laughing at these hilarious character names because they’re the closest this ever gets to actual comedy. All three are naked, of course, but once again you can’t see anything and they pass up any chance of a three-way lesbo clinch to slip into three more oversized T-shirts and then beat up all the guys in the bar for ogling them. After which they dress in matching lycra jogging outfits for the rest of the film.

And thus we come to what one might term the Middle Act, which drags on and on and on without ever really going anywhere. Bob attempts to help Ovule, who makes a token attempt at being dismissive of him because he’s a man although that aspect of the story is swiftly forgotten. We are introduced to two cops, clearly based on the Lethal Weapon model: middle-aged, black Matt (Augie Blunt: Hell Spa, Steel Justice, Club Dead and the voice of a spirit channelled by Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost) and young, white Johnny (Mark Riccardi, a stuntman whose credits include Star Trek: Generations, Die Hard 4, Big Ass Spider, the 2014 Godzilla and Battlefield Earth). For what seems like hours Bob and Ovule are chased around the dark streets of LA by the cops, by Curette and her cronies, or by the cops (with Curette and her cronies in the back of their car). Every time it seems like this part of the film is over, someone drives past someone else and suddenly the chase is on again. It’s extraordinarily dull.

Actually, the first introduction of the cops isn’t too bad and exhibits the sort of curious anomaly that Vista Street would sometimes let slip into their films. Curette and her cuties catch Bob and Ovule in a motel room and decided to torture Bob by heating a metal soup spoon over a stove until it’s white hot, then sticking it in his mouth. Fortunately Matt and Johnny burst in just in time to prevent this happening, but not before Fredsti delivers a staggering graphic description of what such an act would actually do, in medical terms. (This part of the script was apparently her audition.)

Intercut with all this are scenes back on the alien planet where Curette’s other acolyte Ricketsia (Diana Karanikas: Dead Girls, Tales of the Unknown) has locked herself in the room with the BillandTedotron. The High Priestess gathers around her Ovule’s followers (or possibly just slightly lower Priestesses – it’s difficult to tell and doesn’t really matter) who eventually concentrate hard enough that one of them is able to magically enter the locked room somehow, defeat Ricketsia, and send the phone booth back to Earth. Where Curette has finally been defeated, and Bob and Ovule have fallen in love, so that he returns with her to her home where they can jointly rule.

Or something.

Princess Warrior is rubbish of course. On any absolute scale of one to five stars this would barely merit the individual pixel on the bottom left point of the first star. But in the world of cult movies (and the people who make ‘em) scales are not absolute and there’s a camp fascination to Princess Warrior that makes it bizarrely watchable. Lots of it doesn’t really make much sense: apparently several bits weren’t filmed (hence the car chase padding) and other parts were directed by Brian Thomas, who was Fredsti’s boyfriend at the time. (Fredsti and Thomas are jointly credited as fight choreographers.)

The whole thing was shot in two weeks for 60,000 bucks, with far more time lavished on the wet T-short contest than on the climactic fight between Ovule and Curette in an old warehouse. But Vista Street sold it to USA Network who screened it in a late night slot for bad films, and between that and the UK rental VHS rights, they probably made a clear profit even before DVDs were invented.

Vista Street released the VHS in 1992 then sold the rights to Simitar Entertainment who put out a region-free DVD in 1997 followed by a two-fer disc the next year double-billing this with Eye of the Serpent, a 1994 fantasy cheapie whose only similarity is a ‘battling sisters’ premise. Amazon lists a Spanish VHS release from 2000. Apparently, Troma now have the rights: the film is available on VOD with entirely unrelated artwork showing a woman standing in a field holding a samurai sword. (?).

Many of the cast had never acted in anything before. Many – including leading man Pacific – never acted in anything again (at least, not under the name used here). One of the wet T-shirt girls was Heather Kennedy who went on to a successful career as a bikini model and competed in the Topless Dancer World Championship(!). Another was Janie Liszewski who was a dancer in From Dusk Till Dawn and then turned to stunt work, racking up credits including Spider-Man 2 and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Fredsti made a couple more films in the 1990s - Time Barbarians and Bloodbath - before concentrating on writing. She has penned mystery novels, zombie novels and assorted scripts, and is evidently also very into cats, big and small.

Composer Marc Decker is Marc David Decker, the guy who scored The Dark Backward, Psycho Cop Returns, Soulmates and Bikini Squad. And not, I was disapponted to discover, Dr Marc Decker, Assistant Professor of Music at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Editor Tony Miller cut Inhumanoid and The Omega Code, as well as loads of TV including Alias, Roger Corman's Black Scorpion and the US remake of The Tomorrow People.

Production designer Greg Hildreth (not the Broadway actor) has various credits on The Willies, Dead Girls, the original Mirror Mirror and Not of This World (a 1991 picture not to be confused with any of the various versions of Not of This Earth). The art director was my old pal Mark Adams, later director of Minds of Terror! Costume designer Roxie Poynor now does 'couture bridal gown design'; I think this was her only film gig. Cinematographer Robert Duffin also DPed  action thriller Cause of Death and had a number of cool credits as electrician/gaffer in the 1980s, including Prison, Frightmare and Evil Dead II. "Special visual effects created at William S Mims Productions" is the effects credit; Mims also worked on Time Barbarians and at least one Witchcraft sequel.

Director Lindsay Norgard is a bit of an enigma. When he shot Princess Warrior he was a 25-year-old kid from Michigan. The IMDB lists four other films as writer and/or director and/or producer between 1992 and 2006. I know he directed some commercials, including a superbowl spot for Dorito's. But beyond that I'm drawing a blank. Maybe he'll read this and get in touch. The IMDB thinks that writer John Riley was later a production assistant on Independence Day and Men in Black, which could be true. I think he's now a props maker.

Princess Warrior is a curio. It feels more '80s than '90s, like the film-makers had been watching some old Fred Olen Ray movies and decided to make their own. It really does remind me of Wacko in that there's absolutely nothing to recommend about this film, yet it's far from the worst thing I've ever seen and it exudes a bizarrely magnetic fascination.

MJS rating: C-

1 comment:

  1. Vista Street make many films with that magnetic fascination.
    like Dr. Ice, which proves no matter how ambitious, NTSC shot on video movies always look terrible, even the big budget likes of Victory at Entebbe.

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