Saturday, June 2, 2012

Lady Terminator (1989)

The Movie: The sexually insatiable Queen of the South Sea brings in hordes of handsome young men to feed her enormous appetites; but unfortunately, they tend not to survive them. Asking if there is any man who can satisfy her, the Queen receives her answer in the form of a new suitor. Said suitor not only does well in bed; he finishes by grabbing a rather nasty looking eel that falls out from between her legs, then turns it into a knife. The Queen demands that the man return the eel, the source of her power, to her in its true form; but the man instead demands that she stop the killings. The Queen refuses, and promises to bring horrible revenge upon his great-granddaughter. Then she stomps into the ocean.

We are then brought to the modern day; or at least the modern day as of when this movie was made, where we are introduced to Tania Wilson (the lovely Barbara Anne Constable, also the film’s makeup lady, in what, sadly, appears to be her only movie role); an American anthropology student. Tania has come to do her thesis on the Queen of the South Seas. In a dusty old bookshop she finds a dusty old book of dark legends; and despite the warnings of said book’s dusty old owner, she reads it and discovers the spot where the Queen’s palace is said to have stood before a volcanic eruption sent it to the bottom of the sea.

Of course, Tania hires a boat and heads out there. Ignoring the further warnings of the two sailors piloting the boat, Tania goes deep sea diving. Unfortunately for her and the sailors, this is indeed the remains of the Queen of the South Sea’s palace. The sailors are drowned in a freak squall; and Tania finds herself tied up on the Queen’s bed where a very familiar eel suddenly appears and enters her body (don’t ask). Possessing Tania’s body; the Queen stomps, naked, out of the waves and seduces her first two victims, a pair of losers on the beach.

Our hero, Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart, in what is apparently also his only movie role), is an American police officer who works the homicide division in Jakarta (Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Indonesia and the U.S. have a police exchange program?), and tries to forget about the tragic loss of his wife a few years back. Well, is he in for a distraction today. First Max is brought to the city morgue to examine some fresh murder victims; three men who appear to have had their penises bitten off by an eel. Let that be a lesson for my male readers; beware of sexual advances from strange women, no matter how attractive they are.

Next is an incident at the local mall. The Sea Queen has procured an Uzi from somewhere and is gunning down just about everyone in her path. She is particularly fixated upon eliminating Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker in, you guessed it, her only movie role), a young and upcoming pop star. Max and Erica are thrown together when Max attends a club where Erica’s performing, and the goddess makes an extremely public attempt to eliminate her.

Will Max and Erica’s growing love help them get over their respective, tragic pasts? Will they live long enough to find out? Why is the sea goddess so determined to kill Erica? Where is she getting all of these guns from? Do we really want to know the answer to that last question? And if nothing, from conventional guns to tanks and helicopters, is able to harm her; how will our heroes send this bitch goddess back to the hell that spawned her?

The Review: Probably the biggest reward that comes from being a rabid fan of B-movies is the discovery of something that is truly, mind-bogglingly, other; something you not only don’t see in mainstream films, but that you wouldn’t expect to in a million years. And I don’t just mean the subject matter, either. Location, cultural context, budget, the director’s imagination and how all these elements are employed all have a major impact. And, while it might be a tad unrealistic to expect to find something conventionally “good,” there’s some really fun crap out there if you’re only willing to look.

Lady Terminator comes from (and I’m no expert, so take this with a grain of salt) around the tail end of a period of history in Indonesia; where the government declared that for every five foreign films imported into the country, one had to be made domestically. This stimulated a period of economic growth, and established a domestic film industry in a culture that, until recently, didn’t have one. Of course, exploitation movies were the biggest money makers; as well as being relatively easy to make on the budget that was available.

The result was a blend of local cultural, mythological and folkloric elements with Western movie-making and exploitation sensibilities. Lady Terminator is, indeed, an Indonesian remake of James Cameron’s the Terminator. However, just a glance at my synopsis will show you that this is not merely a slavish plagiarisation of the more well-known movie. This is partly due to the fact that there was no way the studio could recreate a Hollywood blockbuster; they didn’t have anywhere near the budget for it. However, as the director was probably thinking more of home consumption than of international sales, it was made with a mind toward different cultural sensibilities.

In all honestly, there’s not too much to analyze about the movie Lady Terminator itself. It’s your classic, brainless, B-exploitation movie. You just watch this for fun, not to get anything serious out of it. However, there is one curious note I picked up. The documentary on Indonesian films that was included on the DVD said that the character of the Queen of the South Seas became a very popular one in Indonesian horror films of the time. If she’s usually portrayed anything like she is in Lady Terminator; that says some rather disturbing things about the view of women in this culture.

For the most part, one comes to Lady Terminator for the traditional exploitation elements; the gratuitous female nudity and nearly non-stop explosions. However, there is another fun aspect to this film. The director’s attempts to fit as many elements of its American namesake as possible into the film makes for a surprisingly fun and rousing game of ‘find the Terminator references.’ What’s more, if you’re familiar enough with Cameron’s film, it’s neat to see the different spins that Lady Terminator puts on its borrowed elements.

For example, the character of Max McNeil, our fill-in for the male lead of Terminator. In Lady Terminator he’s in a very different position. In the former movie the hero is essentially alone against a hostile world. He not only has to fight the title monster, he has to deal with a police precinct who is convinced that he is a criminal and a madman. However, Max is one of the police; and therefore has the whole department at his back. Of course, they’re every bit as able to handle the monster as the police in the original movie; but at least he and Erica have a lot more bodies between them and their persecutor. I also find it kind of amusing that unlike the hero of Terminator, who couldn’t convince the police that he wasn’t crazy; in this movie it’s Max’s fellow cops who are trying to convince him that there’s something supernatural here, and Max who won’t believe it.

Then there’s our title monster. Whereas Schwarzenegger played a completely emotionless, inhuman machine; the Sea Queen shows some very definite emotions as she stalks our heroes. Of course, there’s all the men she seduces. Then there’s one of my favorite parts, where she’s angrily banging on the dashboard of the car she’s been chasing the heroes in for most of the movie; which is finally starting to react to all the abuse it’s received. Lady Terminator also recreates the cringe-inducing scene where the Terminator cuts out one of his damaged eyes; except in her case she just runs it under the tap and puts it back in, amusingly into the wrong socket.

So in conclusion, Lady Terminator is a definite low-budget, B-exploitation movie; that combines the elements of a well-known American blockbuster with its own cultural references, and is packed with wall to wall explosions and gratuitous nudity. Of course, that is why it’s such a fun movie to watch. You won’t get anything serious or profound here; but this is a must-see for any fan of low-budget, non-Hollywood exploitation cinema.

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