Sheena: Queen of the Junglerecommended viewing

Love amongst the flamingoes
★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
John Guillermin
Starring: 
Tanya Roberts, Ted Wass, Donovan Scott, Elizabeth of Toro, France Zobda
The Setup: 
Assassination in the city calls Sheena out of the jungle to set things right.
Discussion: 

This is one of those things I saw far down on my list and thought; “Good heavens! Why aren’t I watching that RIGHT NOW?” And, although I usually start movies by 10 and am in bed [ideally] by midnight, I was so eager to watch at least a little of this that I started it at 12:45AM! And it was a perfect little burst of pure silliness to send me off to sleep.

We open with this couple driving in a jeep, with their cute blonde little girl in the back. They look at this photograph of a guy covered in “tumors.” Then all of a sudden they come to a head in the road: this fellow who has been buried up to his neck. I got the first of many chortles from how silly it all looks due to the editing and the expression on the buried guy’s face. They get out and look and—wait a minute, where did that native come from? Suddenly there’s this guy just standing next to them. Boy, they’re sneaky. The entire set looks so astonishingly fake. Then little Sheena—still named Janet—comes, and you can see [below] the little actress trying not to smile at all the people in loincloths. They pull the guy out of the ground and all the boils are gone! “The healing earth exists!” gasps dad, and suddenly the natives erupt into this whole ooga-booga ceremony that you just don’t see in movies anymore. Dad wants to take some of the “healing earth” back to the lab [or to Phizer, or whatever] but the native tells him no, it’s scared ground.

The next day Mom and Dad leave little pre-Sheena back at the camp while they explore this cave. There is a big streak of red dirt coming from the mouth of the cave, but still mom says “Do you think it’s coming from that cave?” They then discuss how you can’t make any sudden loud noises in caves because the echo can start an avalanche. Meanwhile, little pre-Sheena, who is unable to keep a straight face with all this funny moviemaking going on, scampers up to see what’s going on. Mom and Dad are collecting samples when she calls for them, causing mom to call her name... and then SCREAM her name! It’s remarkably inappropriate, and also: I thought this woman was a professional? And didn’t we JUST have a discussion about making loud noises in caves? Sure enough, the echo causes a collapse and mom and dad are pulverized to a bloody pile of spattered entrails [not shown]. Little pre-Sheena tries her best to appear sad, and turns around to find this whole group of natives, led by this rather chic woman, their Shaman. Her name is, you guessed it, Shaman. She picks up the girl and recounts this prophecy about how “When the mountain cries out” their savior will appear, and pronounces the girl “Sheena, queen of the jungle.” She’s happy they found their savior and little Sheena seems so amused by the whole thing, you’d be forgiven for being like; “Uh, didn’t her parents just die a horrible death back there? You know, like, seconds ago?”

Then follows a montage of Sheena growing up and being trained in the arts of the jungle [although we see very little actual jungle]. In here is a LOT of prepubescent nudity. At one point Shaman puts her hand to her forehead as though she has got a splitting Excedrin headache, but she actually using her psychic animal-communication powers. Then Sheena tries it, and calls a hedgehog! In here one also has cause to ask: WHY does Shaman speak English?

Sheena learns to summon and ride a zebra, and soon has transformed into Tanya Roberts, of Charlie’s Angels and A View To A Kill fame. There is a long, continuous credits sequence of Tanya riding a zebra, her tits bounce, bounce, bouncing for a full, uninterrupted 90 seconds. Only they don’t really bounce. They are FIRM. While this is going on we have the “theme from Sheena,” which is this slow, majestic synth piece in the Chariots of Fire vein. We’ll be hearing this again.

So our scene shifts to the city where we meet Otwani, brother of the king, and this horrible assistant with a perpetual cigarette dangling from his mouth, and who does his best attempt to cough naturally, which is not very successful. I think we’re getting a stirring anti-smoking message. Anyway, Otwani is planning to assassinate his brother and assume the throne.

So we’ve diverted to see this assistant guy meet with the brother of the king, who is this football star, and show him this mountain that is made of titanium or something. And wouldn’t you know, that is the Zambuli lands, where Sheena and her people hail from! He’s going to assassinate the king, steal his woman [who he’s already having an affair with] and become rich off the Zambuli lands. We also meet this guy who will become our hero, Vic Casey, and his fat schlub sidekick, Fletch, journalists for Sports World magazine. They’re coming in to do a profile of the footballer-assassin. They land and are greeted by the king, who idiot Vic doesn’t recognize, despite the fact that he arrives in a royal motorcade and is accompanied by numerous attendants. This, I think, is supposed to be “cute.”

 

Meanwhile, Shaman is preparing for a trip into the city, which is the devil’s playground or some such. She has to go warn the current king, because she had a vision that he is in trouble. Watch as Tanya is required to swing in from across the way, land and deliver a line, all in one shot. By now one has noticed this bizarre 80s style of acting, where it just seems irrelevant to try to act in any way natural. Of course Tanya is trying to convey that she is of non-Westernized origin, which she attempts to convey by making all her line readings as childlike and earnest as possible. She also has more than a little bit of the Sharon Stone in her, with her blondness and blue eyes, and strangely blank yet emphatic line readings.

Now Shaman has wandered into the city and sits down on the curb, which attracts the notice of the local police force. She reacts with bewilderment-—surely the Zambuli would let anyone sit anywhere they want, for what man can say that they own the Earth?—but regardless she’s hauled off the street and thrown in the clink! We then rejoin reporter Vic and cameraman Fletch as they wander around, first seeing a big military helicopter, then accidentally coming across this large battalion of troops. In an elevator. And yes, the military folk ARE led by a blond German-type in the Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love [I think?] mode. Cut now to Queen Zanda, who is in on the assassination with Otwani. She brings out this huge Zambuli bow that she apparently picked up at the Zambuli Daze arts and crafts fair, and is going to use it to frame Shaman for the assassination! Oh, the wicked ways of the city. I got a few hefty chortles—which had been coming with dependable regularity throughout—at the idea that the sweet, spiritual Shaman, who wants nothing more than to help others, is thrown in jail and framed for murder! I guess the city really is the devil’s playground. By the way, please don’t miss Zanda's declaration around 28:29 that “I am the most wicked woman in all of Tigora!”

So Shaman sends Sheena a psychic txt msg saying she’s in trouble, and Sheena leaps into action. Unfortunately, the assassination has already been set in motion. Vic and Fletch are panning down the line of dinner attendees when they stop to linger on Zanda's breasts, while Fletch makes lascivious faces. So there’s this crossbow rigged in a tree off to the side that is going to automatically kill the king. He’s giving a speech when the crossbow fires and he gets a long arrow right in the heart! Please disregard the facts that a) the crossbow was clearly shown as being to the side, yet the arrow strikes the king full-on, b) the arrow is long, while crossbow’s shoot short arrows, and c) the amazing coinkidink that this fixed, non-aimed crossbow would just happen to strike the king with such deadly accuracy. He dies, and by now it becomes abundantly clear that Fletch is the worst cameraman in the world, always having his camera pointed down and taking forever to start shooting when events are unfolding. Within a few seconds they have dragged Shaman out, seemingly from the other direction than where the arrow came from, and pin the whole thing on her. Well, that’s an open-and-shut case then! What would CSI: Zambuli have to say about this?

So after the assassination, Vic and Fletch get in their jeep and are on their way to interview Shaman in prison. I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that Vic is an utterly charmless dork, seen chain-smoking at the beginning. This movie hails from a time when heroes could still be heavy smokers. He is played by Ted Wass, this guy who is sort of a genetic hybrid of Parker Stevenson and Rick Springfield, who came from television to take over the role of the Pink Panther from Peter Sellers [!] in Curse of the Pink Panther, and went on to star in Oh God! You Devil before returning to TV and developing a television directing career. So they're out at the prison when suddenly the trees part and in rides this elephant, then, to the accompaniment of the soaring, Chariots of Fire-like Sheena theme, she rides in on her horse painted to look like a zebra, accompanied by her monkey minions. Some have derided the mellow synth music here are stunningly inappropriate—as this IS a big action scene—but I think it works because the scene is really about Vic's first sight of Sheena and subsequent transfixion with her. It's very operatic, and I hate to say this, but the way we see her from Vic's point of view as she passes by is a rip from the first good view of Kim Novak in Vertigo. Anyway, the monkeys defeat the inept guards while the elephant breaks through the wall, allowing Sheena to rescue Shaman, who is all weak and near death, despite the fact that all she's been doing is hanging out in a room. Then the elephant knocks over a water tower that destroys the whole building. Vic orders Fletch to follow her.

The next day Vic and Fletch start following these tracks that are OBVIOUSLY not zebra tracks, i.e. they are paws, and soon find it's a lion. They run screaming back to their car and get in, but idiot Fletch decides he doesn't really need to roll up his window. The guy who plays Fletch, by the way, is named Donovan Scott and has been in movies as recent as I Know Who Killed Me, was in Popeye and 1941, and has a featured role on Olivia Newton-John's seminal video for Physical! Anyway, Sheena swings in and demands to know why they're following her, and Vic amazes her with cassette-tape technology, saying they want to tell Shaman's story to the world. But then Sheena is called away to hear a bunch of dying-woman claptrap from Shaman before she finally passes on. I was all like "Kay, bye!" as she was delivering her inspiring final words, and I guess I'm not the only one ready to see her shuffle off to the great beyond [I'm STUNNED that her face doesn't appear to Sheena in the sky later on], as the elephant is digging a grave for her, in plain view, before she's even dead. Sheena doesn't tell Vic that the crusty old curb-sitter is dead, for some reason, and tells him that if he wants to score his interview "you will have to take a long journey with me," to which horny ol' Vic responds in his leering voice: "I'D LOVE TO."

Now, maybe I haven't mentioned that in Fletch's ineptitude, filming everything but what he's supposed to capture, he inadvertently got a quite clear shot of the crossbow in the tree, and now Vic charges him with getting it to safety while he takes off into the brush with Sheena. But then the military invade, and moron Fletch seemingly opens the door and throws the camera and the footage out. This is apparently supposed to look like an accident. I KNOW I didn't mention the scene where Sheena draws a big circle around Fletch and Vic that will protect then from lions, raging rhinos and mosquitoes alike, but you know, there's only so much you can cover here! So the military are coming, and Sheena exhorts Vic to follow her up a tree. This involves Vic [and us] looking DIRECTLY up Ms. Robert's snatch, covered in the tiniest thong string, for an unnervingly long moment. Please consult the photo below. I'm afraid Ms. Robert's cunt does become a distressingly common sight.

So they get up in this tree and "hide" [they are obviously in plain view] from the machine-gun wielding dudes just below. Please clear your viewing area of any and all blunt objects you may be tempted to strike yourself with upon enduring such "comedy" moments as having Vic sneeze, and then having a monkey in a separate tree pretend that it was him. Then Vic is brushing his teeth with some kind of stick or whatnot when Sheena pops by, titties to the wind, and decides that her forearms REALLY need a good wash. Sheena says she doesn't understand Vic, so Vic plants a big wet one right on her lips, and you at home turn to your friend and mockingly growl "Do you understand that?"—then on screen Vic says "Do you understand THAT?" Yes, this that kind of movie! Sheena says no, "Mouths are for eating. Why did you press your lips to mine?" Around this time you'll notice that Vic's shirt is now permanently open, and he is now required to blurt out such lines as "Your hair smells fantastic!" Sheena soon delivers an earnest "Guns are bad!" then it's poor Vic's turn again with "You make me wanna cry!" to which Sheena responds "For what?" and he ruefully shakes his head and responds: "Just everything." A few seconds later we're staring right up Sheena's snatch again.

So the bad guys are charging forward—for something, I could never really remember what—while Vic and Sheena's love comes into bloom. She finally gets into the whole "pressing mouths together" thing, and then [this is round 1:09:08 ] they have this huge kiss amongst the flamingoes as the strings soar and we're supposed to be carried away by the beauty and wonderment of nature. Except we can't, because we're like, "Wait a minute!? You mean there are still 50 MINUTES of this shit left to go?!?!?" Unbelievable, but true. So Sheena's gonna take Vic back to meet the grand pubah or whoever, saying "his locust bean cakes will be your locust bean cakes," but the bad guys are there and they burn the village of the peaceful Zambuli peoples! Sheena is all traumatized, but you'll notice that afterward there is a lot of smoldering pottery around, but no dead bodies. It was the Zambuli pottery massacre! She and Vic make an arrow ["Is it a good arrow?" "YES!"] and shoot it at all these fuel tanks this one truck is inexplicably carting through the savannah, but the helicopter comes and the wind from its blades blows it out! Then the helicopter goes around killing all Sheena's precious animals, and I'm afraid that Sheena has become such an eco-goody-goody by this time, I was shouting "Kill her zebra! Kill it! Do it!" Sheena surrenders, rather than letting any of Earth's creatures, great or small, be harmed, and she and Vic are bound and being marched through the plains with a gun at their backs by the kind of guard that shoves them every few steps, but they don't let this situation get in the way of their throwing big devoted love scenes with extended kisses. Some people will just get affectionate anywhere.

Anyway, it's clear that Otwani is all into Sheena [white women? I thought that was a stereotype?], which Zanda does not like one bit. She takes Sheena up in the helicopter and is going to dump her in the big Zambuli waterfall in front of all her people. Meanwhile Vic scolds Otwani pretty bad, but unfortunately loses all credibility by calling a crossbow a catapult. Meanwhile, in the chopper, Sheena pretends to have a terrible headache, but is actually calling her animal pals. I'm glad SOMEONE acknowledged the whole headache thing, though! She has summoned her flamingo friends, who fly into the helicopter and mess with the controls. I was bummed we didn't get to see at least one of them be pureed by the whirling blades. Anyway, soon enough Zanda is leaping straight over Sheena's lap and into the yawning abyss, then you'll notice the helicopter lowers and steadies itself just long enough for Sheena to get out, before losing control once more and crashing. You will notice that the music around 1:30:00 is a bald rip-off of Wagner's famous "Ride of the Valkeries." So then Sheena is swinging alongside the jeeps of Otwani, offering quite a number of clear shots, but none of his henchmen can hit her. With their machine guns. Then the German guy gets a spear directly in the throat—it's a little graphic—and then it's all the natives vs. the baddies.

Then there's this final chase with Sheena on her horse pained like a zebra and Otwani and Vic in two separate jeeps, but it's shot and edited so poorly that you REALLY can't tell what's going on. Sheena falls off her trusty steed right in front of Otwani's jeep, but Vic comes in out of nowhere and hits the other jeep, causing an explosion and sending his flaming body flying! Otwani is dead, but now Vic's got third-degree burns over 67% of his body! Golly, if only there was some healing earth around here….

At the end, Vic realizes that he and Sheena can never be together, and he dumps her and heads back to New York . You see, that's just how men are. We get some more majestic footage of Sheena, and we out. < < < SPOILERS END

THIS is pure bad movie satisfaction. This is a rare and magical film. I was chortling and guffawing all the way through, which is rare, especially for a movie this long. And while I did watch it in two parts [probably a good idea], it was so different in each part, there were different things to laugh at. I guess my favorite section has to be the period between 60-90 minutes, when Vic is all smitten and blurting out his romantic declarations in his clumsy voice. But there's so much all the way through that is so delightfully off in so many ways—from stupid ideas, idiotic writing, terrible acting, horrid direction, incoherent editing—there is no end to the amusement. This is definitely a safe bet to plan a bad movie party around—it's horrid from beginning to end, and it doesn't suffer [in fact, it improves] from not paying close attention to it.

Tanya Roberts, sorry, is FABULOUS. I mean, she's not the greatest actress here—but who could be?—but she's still got a certain fabulousity that raises her above it all. I want more Tanya. I'm going to put A View To a Kill on my list right now. This movie was directed by John Guillermin, who may be the worst filmmaker ever, and is responsible for two early Tarzan films, Shaft in Africa, the Towering Inferno[!], the DeLaurentiis King Kong[!] and King Kong Lives. Wow. What else? This whole thing was filmed in Kenya, so that's nice. This was astonishing. This was an adventure in movies. I'm considering buying this for several of my friends. YOU NEED SHEENA.

Should you watch it: 

YES! This is a blazing star in the bad movie firmament!