The Movie that Explains
--But Does Not EXCUSE--
the Gor Movies
A hot, scantily clad blonde being dragged around in chains in
Warrior Queen. Oh, if only this were indicative of what the movie's like ...
by Pat Powers
The Gor movies, for those of us who enjoyed the Gor novels, take a lot of explaining. As happens all too frequently the Gor movies were not quite up to the quality level of the Gor novels, in the sense that they were nothing like the Gor novels, and totally unworthy of being associated with the Gor novels in terms of quality.
How did this happen? The Gor novels were powerful and gripping enough to spawn a subculture. Very few science fiction or fantasy novels have had such an effect on people, for good or for ill. Given that the novels have that much cultural juice as it were, you have to figure that if the project had been given to a writer and/or director who understood their power, you could have created a film series that could be a franchise in the same sense that the James Bond films and Star Wars are franchises.
Somehow, the people who got their hands on this potential franchise COMPLETELY blew the opportunity.
Well, not somehow. I know exactly how they did it.
They hired the writer of Warrior Queen, a fellow named Harry Alan Towers, to write the scripts for both Gor movies. And Harry Alan Towers can't write. He has over a hundred movies to his "credit" as a write and/or a producer. But three of his writing credits are Warrior Queen, Gor and Outlaw of Gor, and if he could write at all well, I should think at least one of those films would have shown a glimmer. And none of them do. In fact, all three reveal the same flaws.
Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, the principals of the Cannon Group during that time, are listed as the executive producers of Warrior Queen and both of the Gor movies, which explains quite a lot, when you are paying attention. One of the things Menahem Golan was famous for during his tenure as Cannon's chief artistic decision maker was not reading scripts.
That's right, he refused to read scripts. He preferred to make decisions based more on ideas -- i.e., brief descriptions of films, rather than on scripts. Which kinda explains Towers, in combination with the fact that the Cannon Group gave all kinds of personal freedom to filmmakers, so long as they stayed within budget. They didn't care what the Gor movies were like, so long as they made a profit. In the hands of some OTHER filmmakers we will mention later, this could have produced some very good movies. (In fact, the Cannon Group produced several "quality" films that were critically well received, because they gave the quality filmmakers freedom too.)
But exactly what did Harry Alan Towers (a notorious hack and former child star who would have been much less of a detriment to society if he had only taken up robbing convenience stores like other former child stars, instead of producing and writing bad movies) do to make Warrior Queen and the Gor movies so bad?
The worst flaw the movies have is that they go nowhere, there's no dramatic tension whatsoever, no over-arching plotline to pull the story along.
Gladiators mark time in old Pompeii by fighting, as they wait for Vesuvius to erupt and kill them.
This is most evident in Warrior Queen whose storyline is easily described as, "People fight and have sex in ancient Pompeii until Vesuvius blows up." Really, there's nothing more than that driving the story. Oh, there are a couple of themes about a good gladiator vs. a bad gladiator, and a pretty blonde slavegirl who shouldn't be raped for some reason (when all the other slaves are being raped and tortured right and left) and there's the Warrior Queen empress who hacks people's heads off with ease and acts bored a lot. But there's no sense that all of this is going anywhere in terms of character or plot development.
Bad guys attempt to rape the good slavegirl at swordpoint, but of course rescue is not far away. Interestingly though, the rape proceeds quite far before it's interrupted, to judge by the way the slavegirls' head is bobbing around as she writhes underneath her attacker.
(By the way, I hate it when you have a story where it's very important that a particular person not get raped or enslaved or killed, but it's somehow implied that's somehow OK for a lot of other people in the movie to get raped, enslaved, killed or whatnot. No, it's not OK, and if you're going to make a point of having one slave not raped, you ought to at least, at one point in the movie, acknowledge that it's awful that so many others DID get raped.)
The directionlessness of Warrior Queen is shared by the Gor movies, though to a lesser extent. In Gor there's a theme of Tarl Cabot restoring the rightful ruler of Koroba after a bad guy takes over and institutes lots more slavery than they used to have. In Outlaw of Gor there's Tarl Cabot struggling to escape from a frame-up for murdering the king of Koroba.
Wasted hotties of Gor!Check out the bod on the two cuties attending the king in this vidcap from "Gor." Too bad neither of them got the nice ogling they deserved.
Both plots SHOULD have laid the groundwork for a story that moved right along, but somehow Towers' writing turned both into stories about people hiking through the desert a lot, getting in the occasional fight, having sex occasionally, and generally just knocking around until Towers gets around to having Tarl and the chief bad guy confront the each other with swords in their hands, shortly after which it's goodbye, bad guy, hello ending. And make no mistake, there's no dramatic buildup to this fight. A bunch of random things happen, then a big fight, a few minutes or seconds later, the end.
Of course, that's not the only mistake that was made, but it was good enough to sink the movie all by its lonesome. It took a lot of other mistakes to make Warrior Queen as awful as it was, but Towers and his accomplices were ready and willing to make them.
All right, slave auctioned naked and in full suspension in Warrior Queen! But notice ... where is the real focus of this scene? On the auctioneer, who is clearly visible against the black backdrop, while the slavegir's figure is lost in the background.
The thing is, they halfway got things right at times. For example, they were smart enough to have the slaves auctioned naked. This puts Warrior Queen ahead of many other epics. They even had their slaves auctioned in full suspension, hung up by their wrists before the audience. Very humiliating, but the slavegirl's figure was often lost in the background.
Far better is to follow in Norman's footsteps, having the slave bound and naked and display her sexually to the crowd. Much more vulnerable, much more humiliating, therefore much more dramatic even than being hung by one's heels, and their body parts all hang the way they should, too.
So we can give Warrior Queen credit for at least taking a step in the right direction with regard to slave auctions.
But when it comes to the whole public sex and nudity thing, Warrior Queen takes one step forward and three step backward.
Warrior Queen does "sorta" have public sex and nudity, which puts it at ahead of a lot of other sword and sandal flicks, you've got to give it that. But then it has to go and screw up in three different ways.
The one-eyed pimp takes Blondie McHottie Slavegirl on the Sexual Tableau Tour of his bordello, as part of her Slavegirl Indoctrination training, slowing the plot to a crawl.
Warrior Queen's "sorta" consists of a series of tableau of slavegirls and maybe slaveguys having sex in a Pompeiian bordello whose sex workers are all slaves.
I have written in the past (possibly the Cambrian Era) that a Gorean movie would do well to copy the Gor novels' technique of showing naked slavegirls in bondage and/or naked slavegirls in the background having sex while in bondage to give his scenes that unique Gorean sexual frisson. The sexual tableau in the bordello were a step in the right direction, but they were done so badly that they didn't work at all.
Mistake number one: the sex scenes were all bunched together, and the camera did not ogle them and move on. Instead, the camera went back, over and over, to the tableau, using the same clips over and over like a porn loop tape.
This had the effect of stopping the movie's plot progression cold. What's more, lumping all the hot slavegirl action together like that had the effect of stopping the plot as if it were a ball of raw pizza dough hitting the cold side of a brick oven.
Background slavegirls done right: in "Gor" a pretty much naked slavegirl spread a carpet in preparation for a fight. Lotta bending over there, and although the slavegirl doesn't get the full ogle she deserves, the plot moves right along.
On several occasions, I have pointed out that the way to handle the Gorean sex slavery scenes is to have them occur in the background as the main actions occur. Have your main characters talking in a public square. In the background, have a slavegirl naked, gagged and in stocks, getting fucked doggie-style by male passers-by whenever they drop a coin in a bowl at the base of the stocks. You wouldn't even have to show any naughty bits, just the slavegirl's head rocking back and forth as she's fucked, and making faces over her gag while she moans.
The camera gives the whole set up a good ogling once, then goes back to the main characters and their discussion. They ignore the scene, as do the many other people in the square, they're used to it. The main characters talk briefly and move on. As they move on, maybe we see another guy dropping a coin in the slavegirl's bowl and stepping behind her while she waits helplessly for the next round of fucking.
At other opportune moments, similar scenes can occur. In almost any scenes, a slinky naked or half-naked slavegirl in chains can strut by, or stand chained at some point, gazing at the crowd over her gag with knowing, sexy eyes. One good ogle and then she is in the background while the action proceeds.
In short, you don't cram all the sex scenes together in one big blob and then try to shove them through the movie like a pig in a python. You spread things out.
Mistake number two: the sex scenes are all held inside the confines of a Pompeiian bordello, instead of out in public.
I have to tell you, there's nothing really unusual about people having sex in a bordello. Many people go there for the express purpose of having sex, I hear. True, the Romans in Warrior Queen had their sex in open alcoves instead of enclosed rooms, but still, an audience expects to see sex in bordellos, it's what they're for.
Granted, they are having sex. Granted, they are naked. Granted, they are out in plain sight. But they ARE in a bordello.
Also, which one is the slave? I'm guessing it's the woman, but I don't KNOW.
It would have been much more dramatic if the sex had occurred in an open street or public square as described earlier. This would have been more shocking to modern audiences, and it would have highlighted the slavegirls' helplessness and vulnerability. She is permitted no modesty in terms of clothing or behavior. No one will rescue her, because by the norms of her society, what she's doing is appropriate for a slavegirl. She may not even be very distressed about it for that reason, especially if she was raised as a slavegirl from birth.
(There is some evidence that some filmmakers have caught up with this idea -- two or three years ago, in the initial year of HBO's Rome series, there was a scene of a Roman legion waiting patiently in the road while an officer fucked a shepherdess in plain sight of all of them. It wasn't a big deal for anyone involved, and it wasn't even made clear whether or not the shepherdess was being raped of whether the officer had offered her some coin and she accepted. It didn't matter much. She was just a shepherdess, he was an officer in the Legion. She was going to have to bend over for him one way or another. Now, that's quality television.)
The public sex imagery has three important advantages -- it allows the sexual scenery to occur in the background without impeding the flow of the story too much, it impresses how different things are in the society being portrayed, and it's powerfully dramatic. A newly captured slavegirl looking at the slavegirl in the stocks taking it doggie style has cause for concern.
Mistake number three: the slavegirls are not gagged or in chains or collared or dressed in any way that demonstrates that they are slavegirls.
As noted in my description of the sex scenes in the bordello, it was kinda hard to tell who was a client and who was a worker in the place. Everybody was dressed (or more accurately, undressed) the same. Would it have killed them to show a few collars, cuffs or shackles so the audience could tell who were the bordello slaves and who were the customers?
At least the slavegirls look nice. (I THINK she's a slavegirl -- she's not chained, gagged or wearing an obvious collar, but she's all naked.) She also does not appear to know where a man's fun zones are, because she's about to start kissing his kneecap. No, I'm not kidding. A lot of the slavegirls in the bordello sex tableau had this problem. They were kissing and fondling all sorts of zones that were semi-erogenous at best. Kinda makes you wonder about those Romans.
But that's not the really important reason to have the slaves bound in some way when onscreen. The real reason, as I've noted in other reviews, is that chains, collars, gags, ropes and whatnot visually define slavery. If you are going to have a movie with hot slavegirls figuring in it, which is clearly the case with Warrior Queen, then chains and collars and such are VERY handy and add a lot of drama to the movie, plus a certain kinky bondage frisson. To put it as simply as possible, if you can't tell who the slaves are, you might as well not have them as characters.
Of the three mistakes in the bordello sex scenes, the first one -- bunching all the scenes together and slowing the action down -- is clearly the worst. It just stopped the movie cold, reduced it to a bunch of people having sex in a bordello and occasionally fighting for a good twenty minutes.
Now, I got no problem with ten-minute chunks of sex in a movie, it works in some films really well. Softcore erotica, for example. But Warrior Queen is a sword and sandal flick, so let it be one. Include nudity, brief shots of public sex and a full on sex scene or two, sure. But keep the plot going, if you've got one.
That said, there was no other element of Warrior Queen that made it worthwhile. It was badly written, acted and directed, and the cinematography really sucked. In fact, the cinematography was another major failing of the movie. If you are going to have shapely young hotties remove all their clothes and have sex, at least take the trouble to photograph them properly so their beautiful bodies look their best.
Don't photograph the hotties in harsh sunlight with a camera that renders their bodies as so many ill-defined, glowing blobs. And don't photograph them in dim lighting that renders their skins an ill-defined brownish-purple lumps. Especially don't photograph them in rooms that are dimly lit except for shafts of bright sunlight, so that the hotties' bodies appear to be lumps of flaming gold on top of piles of indistinct brownish purple lumps.
These mistakes could so easily have been avoided. As I noted at the beginning of this review, others were around who could have done a MUCH better job on the Gor movies. Two of the best sex and sandals movies ever made had already been released prior to 1988 (the release date of Gor) with completely different directing and writing teams.
Deathstalker was directed by James Sbardellati, and written by Howard Cohen. Cohen seems to be a hack who knew how to lay out the cheese, and Sbardellati went on to be associated with some A-list films, but the real point is, Deathstalker is so much better than Warrior Queen that it is its own advertisement -- if you can't look at the two movies and easily see which is better, you don't belong in the business. Hell, you shouldn't even be WATCHING movies.
Here's a bound slavegirl from "Deathstalker," enjoying a temporary reprieve from molestation by her master, before being molested by the guys in the background, after they chase her master off. Fortunately, she's rescued from them by the hero of Deathstalker...
In fact, the first five minutes of Deathstalker, in which a bound slavegirl is fought over by three different captors, one of whom is the hero of the film and all of whom only want to ravish (not rescue) her is about the most Gorean five minutes on film.
... who is primarily interested in molesting her ... no rescue for slavegirls in a Gorean movie ... (OK, she does get away when a preist distracts the hero for a moment so she high-tails it to the woods.
Barbarian Queen was directed by Hector Olivera who also directed "Amazons" and several others along these lines, and was written by the same Howard Cohen who wrote Deathstalker. Once again, the difference in quality is striking. For example, Barbarian Queen actually has an interesting subplot involving the protagonists' raped and traumatized younger sister's strange attraction for the chief bad guy. There's nothing like that in Warrior Queen in terms of character development.
"Barbarian Queen" features an actual interesting subplot as Termis, the Barbarian Queen's raped and traumatized younger sister (seen here at right) is attracted to the evil scumbag whose thugs did the deed (seen here at left). Here she makes a sexual move on hm, offering him her affection in return for a dog to play with. Nice bit of pathos.
If the people who made the Gor movies had signed either of these teams: the ones who made Deathstalker or the ones who made Barbarian Queen (especially Howard Cohen, who wrote both) -- the Gor movies would most likely have been much, much better films. Films worthy of the Gor novels? Somehow I doubt it -- Barbarian Queen and Deathstalker were much better films than Warrior Queen, but they're mediocre films at best. Still, the folks who made them would undoubtedly have made a film MUCH more in keeping with Gorean sensibilities than Towers managed with the Gor movies.
So that's how Warrior Queen explains the Gor movies. It doesn't EXCUSE the Gor movies, not by a long shot. It does nothing to lessen the tragedy that Harry Alan Towers wrote the Gor scripts. But sometimes understanding is the best you can do.
Stock footage of Vesuvius erupting. Hey, it worked for bringing "Warrior Queen" to its miserable ending. Might just work here, too.