The whole idea behind Grindhouse films was that these motion pictures – made on the cheap – could be slickly packaged and basically thrown into theatres (preferably drive-ins, where they could be attached as a B-picture to some larger draw) to make a quick buck. While they never truly had the star power to maximize the return on the investment, many were still made by writers, producers, and directors who still had a vision that could translate into a finished product. Through the years, many of them get dismissed into the trash heap of cinema history, but, every now and then, one comes along that gets rediscovered, is awarded another lease on life, and maybe – just maybe – cries out for re-booting, re-invention, or remake.
I could make a hundred arguments for why the time is ripe for a casual flick like WONDER WOMEN to get modernized by some innovative filmmakers. Until that happens, why not sit back and enjoy a film that knew a thing or two about being truly original?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Curiously, the world’s best athletes have started disappearing. When mankind’s most favored Jai alai competitor vanishes after a tournament in the Philippines, Lloyds of London is about to lose their investment: good for them that crack private investigator Mike Harber (played with brilliant 70’s appeal by Ross Hagen) happens to be in Manila! And he’ll stop at nothing – not rain, sleet, hail, nor beautiful gun-toting bikini-clad karate-chopping henchwomen – to uncover the conspiracy that threatens to bring mankind to its knees!
Sure, I exaggerate a little, but that’s the brilliance behind enjoying such camp / cult escapism as WONDER WOMEN. Based on a story by Lou Whitehill and adapted/directed by Robert V. O’Neil, WOMEN feels like a really bad hard-boiled novel brought to silly life. It was the 1970’s, after all, so pointed collars, bell-bottoms, and leisure suits had to be part & parcel of the film’s charm, but whoever had the idea to throw in a bevy of bosomy beauties deserved a Nobel Peace Prize!
Indeed, a man with as much machismo and chest hair as Harber almost cried out for an arch-nemesis, and the evil Dr. Tsu (the lovely Nancy Kwan) is a dream come true. Her diabolical plan has no equal: she’s re-cycling the bodies of these abducted athletes on behalf of elderly millionaires who purchase life eternal for the highest price possible! Throw in her own personal police force – the ‘wonder women’ of the film’s title – and the memorable Sid Haig in a lesser role as her villainous accomplice (named only ‘Gregorious’) in a fluffy pirate shirt and VOILA! Camp movies, here we come!
It all ends up feeling more than a few parts of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU for the groovy, jet-set crowd. The science of the picture never amounted to much more than a bunch of blinking lights and chrome (think Gene Roddenberry’s STAR TREK without all of the cerebral influences, and you get the idea), which is perfect fine in keeping with the light-hearted undercurrent of the story, but there’s an adequate amount of skin (compliments of some very lovely ladies in minor roles) and scares (an industrial fridge full of human body parts) to keep the confident heterosexual males in the audience more than casually interested. It ends with the promise of a sequel as well as the most erotic game of chess ever committed to celluloid!
WONDER WOMEN is produced by American National Enterprises and General Film Corporation. DVD distribution is being handled through Bayview Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, well keep in mind this is an older Grindhouse-style flick shot on film, so it’s best that you’re not expecting much; still, I’ve seen far worse copies and heard far worse sound – if you get through the tin-sounds of the dialogue, you’ll do just fine. Also, Bayview has offered up a solid release with a wealth of extra features: there’s a director’s commentary, some on-set home movies, radio & TV spots, a nice gallery of stills, some missing (but not really all that revelatory) European clipped scenes, an interview with stuntman Erik Cord, and some exclusive scenes from the WARRIOR WOMEN sequel. Seriously, films in production today don’t get as many bells ‘n whistles, so cult movie fans really have something to rejoice here! (Arguably, the quality of some of the supplementals isn’t all that great, but it’s nice to have, nonetheless.)
RECOMMENDED if and only if cult-style classics and/or 70’s Grindhouse flicks are seriously your thing; otherwise, the excitement, fun, and unintentional frivolity that is all 81 minutes of WONDER WOMEN will be completely lost on you. In fact, I have to wonder if Mike Myers didn’t have quite a bit of WOMEN stuck in his fertile imagination when he conceived the whole AUSTIN POWERS thing. The two films have some basic similarities that go beyond the hot ladies, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if Myers had seen the thing and used it as an inspiration.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Bayview Entertainment provided me with a DVD screener copy of WONDER WOMEN by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.