Stream This? is a feature devoted to exploring and reviewing some of the lesser known and often-times weirder films that can be found on various streaming services. Today, Matt Morrison examines the 1984 post-apocalyptic film She.
She is a difficult film to quantify and it is even more difficult to describe. The credits claim the film was based on the novel She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard. Yet the only common ground they share is having a title character who is a queen known as She, whose main purpose in the story is supporting the male protagonists.
The novel She: A History of Adventure is largely forgotten today, save by retro-pulp writers who want to work with the idea of an immortal African sorceress in a more feminist or Afrocentric context. She has been similarly forgotten, save by fans of action shlock, fans of dancer turned actress Sandahl Bergman and aficionados of Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. Yet the movie has enough of a following it recently earned a Blu-Ray restoration.
Nominally She is a post-apocalyptic movie – one of many filmed in Italy in the 1980s in the wake of the success of The Road Warrior. Yet it is far more fantastic in tone than most movies of its type, with several characters that have powers that could be magic-based or mutations. She explains precious little about its reality and the various cultures our heroes encounter as they stumble through the wasteland.
The only way I can describe what She is like is to imagine that someone was tasked with making a movie based on the Fallout games. Rather than playing the games for reference, however, the screenwriter and director were only allowed to watch a video of someone playing a heavily modified version of Fallout 4, with random elements of Skyrim hacked into it. The end result is insane, yet memorable and oddly compelling.
Our story opens 23 years after something known as The Cancellation, and focuses upon three traveling merchants – Tom, his best friend Dick and Dick’s sister Hari. When Hari is abducted by a tribe of raiders known as The Norks, Tom and Dick seek help in the next city only to wind up sold into slavery. To make a long story short, Tom escapes, rescues Dick and the two decide to follow the one lead they have on Hari’s whereabouts by kidnapping the goddess/queen of the city, She, and force her to guide them into Nork territory. And this all occurs within the first 20 minutes after the opening credits!
She takes this with phenomenal good grace and eventually decides to travel with Tom and Dick of her own free will, along with her right-hand woman, Shandra. Why? Well, there’s a matter of a prophecy regarding a man someday winning She’s heart and her breaking an oath and being destroyed because of it. This is proclaimed, but not explained, during a sequence in which She renews her legendary immortality by bathing in a mystic hot spring after fighting Frankenstein’s monster.
She was Avi Nesher’s first English language film. Nesher has gone on to become something of a legend in his native country and internationally. Nesher wrote the script for She in addition to directing it and while it’s impossible to say what was going through Nesher’s mind as he wrote this movie, it cannot be denied that She has a certain sense of style. It is a weird, eclectic style, to be sure, but it does successfully create a unique setting.
Despite this, I think the reason She works half as well as it does lies in its star, Sandahl Bergman. Best known for playing Valeria in Conan the Barbarian (a role for which she won the Golden Globe for Best New Star) Bergman has a tremendous screen presence and she infuses She with a sense of quiet, never-fading dignity. That turns She into the perfect straight-woman for the insanity she encounters, yet she remains unflappable, whether she’s facing torture or staring down a self-cloning Robin Williams impersonator.
Again, I can’t begin to fully describe the insanity of She‘s world and the wide variety of characters our heroes encounter on the way to Nork Territory. I’m unsure if Nesher had a plan apart from taking advantage of whatever costumes and props he had access to and writing a script to make use of all of them. Certainly this seems to be the only way to explain the factory populated by chainsaw-wielding mummy men or why our heroes are abducted by a scientist who dresses like Mozart and employs a lab-assistant who dresses like a ballerina.
Writing this out, I realize that the way I’m describing She makes it sound utterly random. That’s because it is. But this is not the forced randomness or “throw-it-in”attitude of an Asylum picture. It is clear that Nesher had a design in mind when he made this film but Heaven only knows what it was!
So is She a good movie? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for in a film. If you’re looking for a solid story, look elsewhere. As I noted before, the story is utterly nonsensical, with our heroes stumbling around from one weird situation to another. The actual plot is largely trope driven and basically comes down to a fetch-quest fantasy with a princess to be rescued at the end.
The main reason to see this movie is for the sense of spectacle. Whatever else may be said about this movie, its imagery will stick with you once it is over. Part of me wanted to start stating the characters for a Dungeons and Dragons game. It would make for a hell of a supplement and would be just as funny as Critical Role.
Bottom Line: She isn’t a great piece of cinema. It barely scans as a movie. But for sheer insanity, it is well worth streaming once just for the visuals and the experience. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a movie quite like this one before.
She is currently streamable on Amazon Prime.