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DIRECTED BY: Avi Nesher
FEATURING: Sandahl Bergman, David Goss, Harrison Muller
PLOT: Two brothers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland go off on a quest to rescue their kidnapped sister, meeting a menagerie of mid-grade antagonists along the way as a million flavors of all hell breaks loose.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What a tragedy that She (1984) is so obscure, its title so Google-unfriendly, and its competing versions so better-known. If not for these handicaps it might have squeezed onto the List. It is a gonzo anything-goes claptrap of nonstop action with costumes, sets, and indeed whole scenes made out of whatever the filmmakers had lying around. If weird movies are a flea market, She rolls in Crazy Glue and runs through the bazaar, buying whatever sticks.
COMMENTS: The first rule of She (1984) is that it sets out to break every rule of filmmaking, and the second rule of She is that it circles back to break the first rule again. The goal of all this seems to be to make film reviewers look like fools; so allow me to draw the roadmap for the twists and turns ahead. She starts out bluffing with a trite and cliched approach, then steadily gets friskier along its run-time, until by the end it has become a completely different movie. It’s like the whole crew grew up over the course of shooting, or else they just improvised and got lucky. It starts out as a tired post-apocalyptic action clunker in the same vein as Mad Max and Tank Girl, only way less interesting than either of those. Somewhere between shooting the beginning and the end, the crew must have discovered—I’m guessing—Monty Python, Mel Brooks, something in that vein. It’s like they tried to make a serious Road Warrior-ripoff, but gave up after twenty minutes and decided their budget was better suited to making a campy satire; but, rather than withering away the fun, as you’d expect, they discovered they happened to be really good at comedy. Whatever happened, they sure as hell chucked the source material. This is allegedly an adaptation of “She: A History of Adventure,” but if you’re expecting anything to do with H. Rider Haggard‘s typical Victorian adventure universe of Allan Quatermain and King Solomon, you’re queuing in the wrong line.
After elaborate animated credits which also have nothing to do with the movie, we’re plopped “year 23 after the Cancellation.” Siblings Tom, Dick, and the sister Hari pilot a barge to a post-apocalyptic flea market selling cereal and chess sets, when a warrior tribe of “Norks” (composed of Clockwork Orange droogs, bikers, quarterbacks, Roman centurions, and Nazis) raid the market and haul Hari away screaming. The brothers now have a convenient plot: they have to go rescue Hari! If you liked that fight scene, you’ll look forward to the rest of the movie, which has one noisy brawl after another. The defining characteristics of post-apocalyptic people here are that they’re all feisty, all grouchy, and love to take each other hostage. The brothers encounter “She” (Bergman), the sole connection to the book, presiding over a temple that worships her by whipping their heads around chanting “SHE!” (Or maybe the audio sucks and they’re demanding “cheese!”) “She” kidnaps men for concubines by having her female flunkies slip them mickeys, sometimes disciplining the testier ones by forcing them to run down a path of wooden spikes and impaling themselves at spear-point. Tom and Dick escape this peril with the aid of an alchemist. “She” is compelled to have a sword-fight in a warehouse, culminating in decapitation a foe resembling Frankenstein, who walks around for a few paces after missing his head to show how offended he is. The warehouse was apparently a necessary ritual to visit an oracle who counsels “She” as she takes a naked dip in the pool of fan-service. Tom and Dick return to turn the tables and capture “She,” because a goddess can come in handy on a quest to rescue your sister.
We’re about 20 minutes in, so I hope you’re taking notes before this gets confusing. Tom, Dick, and “She” next encounter a gang of chainsaw-wielding mummies who force them into a trash compactor, but her Amazon minions show up to rescue the party. From here on, less a couple more friendly re-capture rounds, “She” becomes Tom and Dick’s willing ally, because why the hell not? The party becomes a small caravan of whatever characters want to tag along as they forge forward in their quest for Hari. The rest of the movie repeats a pattern at roughly 20 minute intervals: the band meets a new trap/camp/village/menace; this new foe threatens and captures random members of the party; those not captured rescue the hostages; they vanquish the foe and ride right into the next trap/ camp/village/menace. The foes they encounter include mixtures of monks, Greek philosophers who listen to doo-wop music, vampires, cultists, psychics, transvestites, Marxists, mad scientists, mutant starfish people, slave traders, and finally more “Norks.” Party members might also be stripped and tortured in kinky dungeons, or subjected to a live performance of the entire theme from the TV sitcom “Green Acres.” And, fighting!
Between the swastikas and the hammer-and-sickles, there may be some attempt at political allegory. The structure takes a Swiftian tempo, with each side-quest encounter having some gimmick for the band of adventurers to contend with. The hodge-podge trail mix of crazy makes She feel like several movies mixed together. The tone ranges from campy Conan shenanigans to outright comedy skits. And let’s not forget the soundtrack, which is a shuffled playlist of every kind of music the filmmakers could get their hands on, none of it fitting any particular scene.
The editing is best described as “whiplash,” but you will not be allowed to complain that you are bored for one second. Everything is paced based on the drive to complete the film, do or die, common sense be damned. It’s hard to tell what was a mistake and what was intentional comedy. When a character pratfalls into the weeds and utters a very clear, out of character “dammit,” was it planned, or just left in because they couldn’t afford to reshoot? Was the squeaky toy somebody steps on deliberate, or did the one of the cast’s dog leave it there? We may never know for sure, but this rowdy film deserves to be better known as the rich midnight movie candidate it is!
Kino-Lorber re-released She on DVD and Blu-ray in December 2019. The disc includes cheesy 80s B-movie trailers and an interview with director Avi Nesher.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
She at Million Monkey Theater – This is the best recap possible if you’re having trouble following the movie. Which you will.