Lana Clarkson, who was found shot to death in Phil Spector's foyer this week, was never entirely comfortable as a B-movie queen.
For a long time I was the only person reviewing her movies in any kind of depth, and she read the reviews with rapt and disapproving critical attention. All the other "scream queens" were more or less good-natured about their work—I made fun of them because they were making fun of themselves, and the movies were fun because they were spoofing other movies—but Lana was different. She thought Barbarian Queen (1985) was high art—or at least she did when she was in her early 20s.
Lana was a protégé of the great low-budget producer Roger Corman, who gave many famous actors their starts, and he did his best to make her into a genre star. Her obituaries this week say she "starred in" 17 movies, but most of those—Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Scarface, even Deathstalker—were little more than bit parts. She had principal roles in only five films, all of them produced by Corman—Barbarian Queen, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (1988), The Haunting of Morella (1990), Barbarian Queen II (1992), and Vice Girls (1996).
Her career coincided with the sword-and-sorcery boom that followed the release of Conan the Barbarian, and the reason Corman picked her to be one of his Amazon warrioresses (long before Xena) was simple: she was 6 feet tall, blonde and buxom. (She seemed to become more buxom in her later movies, but she once wrote me an angry letter wanting the public to know that she had never enhanced herself and was 100 percent natural. Who knows? Maybe they did it with camerawork and special effects.)
At any rate, the problem was that she didn't look 6 feet tall on screen, especially in Barbarian Queen, her first big starring role. She was so thin that her height made her look like Popeye's Olive Oyl. Her arms looked like No. 2 pencils. It didn't seem to affect the popularity of that film, but I noticed that in later roles she had beefed up considerably.
Barbarian Queen, in case you've forgotten, was filmed in Argentina by Hector Olivera, a respected South American director who agreed to slum for Corman in the hopes of breaking into the American market. The movie starts off, like Conan, with some Invading Hordes. The Invading Hordes carry off a few virgins, rape some tribal mothers, fire a few slow-motion arrows through the head, burn some bamboo, and pretty much turn the jungle into East St. Louis.
Lana, as the Barbarian Queen, escapes in a canoe with a couple other ancient bimbo tribeswomen who wear Mary Kay Cosmetics, but first she has to clobber six Mexican guys with a cardboard sword. Finally she speaks her immortal line: "I'll be no man's slave and no man's whore."
Next comes the Journey (where one of the bimbos starts having rape-mares), then, of course, we got your standard Soothsayer (blind old lady), then another gang rape that's necessary to the plot, then the Fortress City (which looks exactly like the Fortress City in the previous Corman classic, The Warrior and the Sorceress), and then, finally, the scene we've all been waiting for: Torture City.
Pretty decent torture scene here, too. "You know," says the evil king, "pain is a wonderful thing. You're much too beautiful a girl to let yourself be broken into dog food for the royal dogs. When I command you to strip your garment off, you do as I say!" Of course, she gets rescued before she becomes food for the royal dogs but after she strips off her garment.
She's even feistier in the sequel, which didn't appear for eight years because it took that long for Barbarian Queen to acquire a following on cable. In BQII,she once again joins a band of warrior Amazons with enormous hooters and cute little leather fighting bikinis, leading a peasant revolt against the corrupt castle-dwelling rulers until she is captured, chained up, and has her blouse ripped off several times—again.