Tuesday, 27 October 2015
Writer: John Riley
Producer: Philip J Jones
Cast: Sharon Lee Jones, Mark Pacific, Dana Fredsti
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (?).
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.
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-