The Sisterhood (1988)

The post-apocalyptic Mad-Max cash-in genre has always been a fertile ground for questionable cinema, as shown by this being the third of its highly specific kind put through the Trash or Treasure mill. Something about finding a gravel pit, throwing an assortment of fantasy, sci-fi, and BDSM costumes on low-paid actors, and then just having everyone run around whilst things explode for the smallest of reasons instantly creates potential for a good bit of nonsense viewing. So, when the trailer for this Thomas McKelvey Cleaver-written and Cirio H. Santiago-directed 75-minute movie decided to change the rules and be about a bunch of women shitkicking their way through the dark future, hopes were raised for it adding something new to the old clichés.

It started relatively well, with all the bad guys in sports-store gladiatorial black and the good gals in lighter shades of piecemeal armour. There was also the early demonstration of Amazonian laser death-eyes, sisterly healing powers, and random recruitment of the heroine Marya (Lynn-Holly Johnson) into The Sisterhood because that would get the plot going. Whilst the basic story is written in finely-crafted and artisanal crayon – the world has been wrecked for apocalyptic reasons, the baddies are bad, the goodies are good – there is a surprising amount of world-building done through random scraps of dialogue, in between the schlocky fights, that establishes the three factions. Mikal (Chuck Wagner) leads a random bunch of marauders and is obsessed with The Sisterhood, Alee (Rebecca Holden) and Vera (Barbara Patrick) are two of The Sisterhood who wander around doing random good deeds to further some mystical agenda, and there’s some kind of uber-incel man-cave that is foreboded as the place for Act Three.

So far, so kind of refreshing. There’s a couple of T&A shots for two Sisterhood members, who managed to find bubble-bath in the wastelands, but nothing too terrible and with plenty of semi-clad men oiled up all over the place so you feel like you can forgive this. But things rapidly fall apart when one of the female trio gets kidnapped by Mikal and gets sent off to the all-women slave markets. She gets rescued, but the literal lorry-load of other women you can see in shot is ignored, even though there is plenty of feminist “no woman shall live in fear of men!” banter between the women beforehand and after.

It would be possible to describe this as just a lack of attention to detail by the makers, as there is also talk of how the world is a lifeless husk when you get a full background of the very pretty farmlands surrounding the quarry used for filming. But for all the potential fun and feminist-lite moments of three woman shooting, swording, and armoured-vehicling through a bunch of villainous sleazy blokes, there is a continued sense of it all being done through The Male Gaze. Somehow any sense of empowerment that could make it enjoyable to a modern audience is missing, even as the body count rises.

This is partly due to the clichés thrown at the women. The aforementioned bubble-bath moment is shown partly as a quick bit of near-lesbian eroticism but manages to suggest it’s also a feminine requirement. The Sisterhood all wear armour and wield an assortment of ancient and modern weapons with great skill, but it seems to mostly be done to show off their bodies. To top it off, their mystical-magic-whatever-sense might as well have “yeah, chicks are just more in-tune with nature and stuff” as it’s exposition.

Sexual violence is also shown as being unfittingly and overly-depowering of the Sisterhood as a whole. Whilst they are initially presented as hardened supernatural warriors, they manage to lose all their strength as soon as their top is taken off them, chaining them to a wall removes any ambition to do anything other than hang there, and sexual assault is seen as the ultimate end for them. Obviously, such things are not pleasant, but to have them presented as Kryptonite is almost as minimising of this group of allegedly strong-willed warriors as how exploitatively the camera leers at them during those scenes.

On a more positive note, the film is endlessly inventive and constantly coming up with new threats to throw at everyone involved. The film a lot more about the action and sweeping shots of people running around excitingly than it is with delicate character creation, and everyone with a speaking part goes overboard with every-line they get given. So, if you can chalk up the obvious sexism and utter absence of any female input into the script as “amusing, because they tried and managed to miss the mark so much” there is plenty to enjoy on that front.

However, that requires a lot of forgiveness of its many shortcomings and a very specific mindset that most people just won’t have. Whilst it won’t bore you, there is a very real chance that it’ll annoy you, especially with its plot hopping. If watched in the hopes of some kind of feminist Mad Max (like how it was presented in the trailer) it will disappoint you. This is a missed opportunity that tried to do something different and went headlong into the Trash, partly by sticking too close to the clichés it should have gotten away from.

The Raggedyman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s