Dir: Alain Payet, Jesús Franco
Star: Analía Ivars, William Berger, Stanley Kapoul, Eva León
a.k.a. Les amazones du temple d’or
Jess Franco. It’s a name which strikes terror into the soul of right-thinking cult movie fans around the world. For few have directed a bigger pile of feature films that commit the irredeemable sin, of making sex ‘n’ violence dull ‘n’ uninteresting. Admittedly, few have directed a bigger pile of feature films, full stop. The IMDb credits Franco as director of almost 200 features, and claims Amazons one of a dozen made in 1986 alone, though the accuracy of that is questionable. In this case particularly, some accounts say the film was unfinished by Franco, and completed several years later by Payet. Others, that it’s all Jess, with Alain only getting credit for tax reasons.
In the end, does it matter? Not when the opening shot of the movie is as shown below. Yes, it doesn’t mess around, immediately greeting the viewer with a slew of topless women cantering about on horses. These are the, ah, titular Amazons, on their way to shoot arrows into Mr. Simpson. He’s a missionary who made the ill-advised, and not exactly Christian, decision to steal some of their gold, after stumbling across the Amazon’s combined temple/mining facility. For good measure, Mrs. Simpson is also slain, but the women depart before the arrival of their little daughter, Liana, whose emoting over her parents’ corpses barely reaches the level of filial obligation.
Fast forward a few years. If the now-grown Liana (Ivars) learned anything from the experience, it’s the art of gamboling around the jungle with her bosom out. She’s like a topless version of Dr. Doolittle, chatting to a chimp, gabbing with a giraffe and expressing herself to an elephant. None speak back, though the chimp was surely wondering if Liana was part of #TitsOutForHarambe. Family friend Father Johnstone shows up, and explains to Liana what happened to her parents. Rather than asking the good Father where the fuck he has been the past decade or so, Liana decides to go all Bruce Wayne, and head off to revenge herself on the Amazons.
On the way, her mission is derailed by a local tribe, who kidnap Liana to stop her. It’s at the behest of native shaman, Koukou (Kapoul), in a case of blackface, barely alleviated by the production apparently being unable to afford actual blackface. Mind you, the Amazons seem to be played by the Swedish beach volleyball team, and their king by Austrian character actor Berger. While I’m at it, doesn’t “Amazons” imply, oh, the Amazon? Yet this is set in Africa; the stock-footage hippos are a dead giveaway. The reality was a wildlife park in Spain, which explains some of the incongruous foliage, and perhaps why the Amazons’ “dungeon” looks like a disused aircraft hangar. But, hey: mammaries!
After being bested by Liana in hand-to-hand combat – yeah, beating a fat middle-aged European guy isn’t exactly worthy of much praise – Koukou tags along as she heads to the Blue Mountains where the Amazons reside. On the way, they also meet another expedition, led by an archaeologist, Harvey, and his wife, Bella. There’s initially a bit of a misunderstanding, which leads to Koukou scaring off all their porters with his “magic fire”. I’m not sure who takes over, as nobody seems to be lugging the camping gear about. Bella goes for a bit of a naked swim, then…just wanders off. Meanwhile, Liana bonds with Harvey’s guide, Bud, with her opening line being, “Why do you hate women so much, why?” Sounds like me trying to have a conversation with a liberal friend on Facebook.
Bella – still completely naked – wanders into the Amazons’ Cave of Anaesthetic Gas, which represents their defensive perimeter. As the rest of the party follow in her tracks, we get a classic Franco sequence of shots, depicting Rena (León), leader of the Amazon guards, and her minions. Long-shot. Mid-shot. Close-up (above). Extreme close-up. Random shot of Rena’s crotch, which tells us that uncivilized though they may be, gold lame thongs are still available to these primitive tribeswomen (the same goes for Liana’s lipstick, and razors for her armpits). But you’d think she’d have got an eye-patch to match, surely? Anyway, the rest of the party fall victim to the Cave of Anaesthetic Gas, and are duly captured.
Things become awkward, because Rena sees Liana as a potential replacement for, and thus threat to, her position. She’s not wrong, since Ulruck, the leader of the Amazons, clearly has the hots for Liana, in his role as “The Procreator”. I don’t want to think about that. He says Rena can dispose of the others, but Liana could become an Amazon – if she can draw first blood in a fight against Rena. I imagine most viewers are already anticipating the topless catfight that’s sure to follow, and scurry off to the kitchen to ensure they have enough popcorn to hand. They’ll therefore have missed the shots of the Amazons’ “gold mine”, which is no more than rock with foil glued to it, on which their ‘slaves’ lightly tap, again barely achieving a level of contractual obligation.
To soften Liana up, she is thrown in the previously-mentioned aircraft hangar/dungeon (also wrapped in gold foil) for the night, and made to watch as her friends are tortured. Which might be more effective if she’d known any of them for more than a few hours. The next day, the “duel” in question takes place. As shown below, it delivers pretty much everything you would expect. Liana avoids Rena’s ax, draws first blood with a scratch to her cheek… and as her reward, gets hauled off by Ulruck and raped. Franco shows remarkable restraint for him, letting the assault unfold well in the background. Though it’s still thoroughly creepy, considering Berger was born in 1928, making him thirty-five years older than the woman into whom he is thrusting energetically
However, Ulruck makes a literally fatal mistake. If ever I become an evil, rapey overlord, I will not fall asleep next to the woman I just violated. It’s right up there alongside “taking a bath with a woman I raped,” in terms of stupidity. Liana wastes no time, stabbing Ulruck to death. However – and this is actually an interesting plot twist – doing so plays right into Rena’s hands, as she can now take over. Did she throw the battle against Liana, knowing what would happen, and giving her a patsy to kill the incumbent? Well played, if so. She shoots Liana with an arrow, and locks her up alongside most of her pals, to avoid Rena’s sadistic pleasure.
And the woman certainly has imagination. As shown top, Harvey and Bella are first up, tied together and made to stand in the middle of a platter of spikes – golden, natch. They have to maintain their balance while Rena whips them, yelling things like, “The bed here is quite comfortable! You can lie down any time you wish!” But while she’s distracted, Liana’s chimp – remember him? – sneaks in and frees the captives, with the help of a set of keys our heroine had lifted from Ulruck, and hidden in her panties. Yes, a chimpanzee turns out to be the real hero here, which says a lot about the intelligence of the other characters. It’s too late for H+B though, as they finally collapse onto their pointy demise.
Also from the “If ever I become an evil overlord” file… I will search my captives carefully to ensure they are not carrying any explosive material which could be used to cause my death. Rena’s failure here leads to her doom: remember Koukou’s “magic fire”? [How long ago it seems now…] He’s still got it, and uses it to blow her up. Liana frees the captives, and strongly suggests the rest of the Amazons might want to catch the next flight home to Stockholm or something, now their leaders are dead. Koukou, meanwhile, has run off to claim credit for everything, telling his fellow tribesmen “Koukou’s magic stronger than evil.” What a dick. Liana hooks up with Bud and they ride off on an elephant – giving us one final look at her dirty pillows, naturally.
To be honest, this wasn’t as bad as I feared. There was, admittedly, far too much wandering through the jungle or underground corridors; the production values were terrible; the story made little or no sense; and most of the performances were functional at best. But I’m a sucker for a good, unrepentant villaness, and Eva León certainly delivered in that category. She kept the film from imploding into complete tedium, when most of the other elements had failed to do so.