Barb Wire (1996)

1995’s Naked Souls kept making me look for the “TV Movie” credit that wasn’t there. A cheap and exploitative “erotic thriller” where Pammie exposes her left breast within the first three minutes of the movie. Anderson is an artist, specialising in plaster-casting nude women, rubbing mixture over their breasts while they proclaim “it feels kinda sexy”. Her boyfriend, decently played by Brian Krause, is studying brain wave patterns and accidentally crosses his own with that of a serial killer. It’s all very silly and derivative, also involving a Faustian pact with a mysterious benefactor. What disturbs is that all the victims of the killer are nude women – I mean, who gets into a swimming pool naked? – meaning the film uses sexual violence as titillation. Dean Stockwell, in a minor role, is wasted in stuff like this.

If Anderson’s role in the predictable Naked Souls was peripheral (and also completely irrelevant to the plot), then Barb Wire sees her take over the screen. Released the following year, this saw the now Pamela Anderson Lee as the titular character, a Barbarella of the 90s. Of course she can’t act – she only manages one expression throughout the whole two hours – but her assured performance is wonderful here. While it’s easy to lump both these films together as trash entertainment, Barb Wire is so much more than that. A vibrant, witty and well-directed cartoon for the screen, its constant energy is a delight. What really appeals is in seeing the sheer amount of cinema pastiches the film rigs up. Batman, Never Say Never Again and even The A-Team are all parodied. But most significantly, it shares multiple plot similarities with Casablanca, and I honestly suspect that this was intentional. Or would its 2017 planes really be so old-fashioned? Barb is a neutral bar owner during a war by day (ring a bell?) a vixen for hire by night. The landscape she occupies is an excitingly neon world of legalised prostitution, engineered diseases and sophisticated contact lenses.

Maybe the opening moments – Anderson Lee exposing her bare nipples while water washes over them to a baying crowd – are tacky and unnecessary. The scenes that follow also contain a torture sequence that is not only misguided in its attempt to arouse but also transparent in its purpose for expository dialogue. Yet beyond those first few scenes we have an action movie that contains above-average scripting for the genre, and some fun moments. It’s amusing to try and guess whether Pam knew she was being kitsch or whether she genuinely believed she was giving a good performance. But whatever the answer, it still gets a laugh when a rowdy customer finds his genitals in the mouth of her rabid Rottweiler. “Sit”, she tells the dog, much to the drunk’s displeasure. “Now, you don’t want to see her roll over, do you?”

All the criticisms that can be made against this film – that it’s badly acted, appallingly scripted, dumb and sexist (even though none of them are 100% true anyway) – can be disputed by the fact that it’s SUPPOSED to be badly acted, appallingly scripted, dumb and sexist. This is a film that never pretends to be anything other than a pumped-up, camp and downright silly movie. What’s more, it succeeds in being more entertaining and convincing than many of the “straight” versions of the same format, with particular note drawn to it’s fight scenes. They may be excessive and lack maturity, but they’re shot beautifully and are fun to watch. I’m not a huge fan of action pictures, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. If you want a film that possesses depth and integrity, then see something else. If you want a lovably stupid movie, with Pamela Anderson sticking out her little finger as she burns rubber on a motorbike, then watch this. Tremendous fun.