Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seven Rebel Gladiators (1965) review


Roger Browne (Marco Aulo), Jose Greci (Assuer), Alfio Caltabiano (Vadio), Harold Bradley (Tucos), Erno Crisa (Morakeb), Carlo Tamberlani (King Krontal), Arnaldo Fabrizio (Golia), Dakar (Dakar), Pietro Ceccarelli (Adenobar), Nazzareno Zamperla (Euro), Mario Novelli (Fisio), Jeff Cameron (Aspettatemi), Pietro Torrisi (Arminio), Pietro Tordi (Omar)

Directed by Michele Lupo

The Short Version: Lupo's concluding chapter in his gladiator trifecta is consumed in overt silliness of the highest order. However, the cast is in on the joke as if they were very much aware the genre was done. Possibly the lesser of the three, it's still a ton of fun and will be best enjoyed by less demanding sword and sandal fans who don't have an aversion to midget mania as that lovable Arnaldo Fabrizio gets tons of screen time.

Left to right: Pietro Ceccarelli, Roger Browne, Pietro Torrisi, Nazzareno Zamperla, Mario Novelli, Jeff Cameron and Harold Bradley

Vadio, a greedy and duplicitous Roman tribune working under king Krontal, makes a pact with the guileful Morakeb to win the hand of princess Asseur and the throne of Aristea. In exchange, Vadio will supply Morakeb with a steady supply of slaves to run an underground mechanism lorded over by the Kiva, a race of mole men. Meanwhile, Marco, a Roman centurion in charge of a frontier garrison, comes to Aristea to find out what has become of his legions war funds. He ends up arrested for treason and forced to fight to the death in the arena. Winning the respect of six other warriors, the seven men escape and launch an attack against Vadio and his plans on king Krontal's daughter and his throne.

Kaptured by the Kiva, alias the Mole Men!

Michele Lupo completes his gladiator trilogy with this riotously lively, rip roaringly goofy comedy peplum. The movie is fun from start to finish and the total antithesis of the first two chapters, both starring Roger Browne. Unfortunately, neither Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, or Gordon Mitchell return, but there's more than enough familiar faces filling out the cast. Many of these actors were mostly bit players in other sword and sandal flicks and also in the later spaghetti westerns. They get at least one film with which to shine and as brain dead as it is, it's a briskly paced actioner.

The comedy is glaringly self aware and intentionally tongue in cheek with numerous gags and near non stop fighting. One such bit has Little Goliath marking on a chalk board the number of thugs the seven gladiators take out. Occasionally creative, these fight scenes are mostly of the pratfall variety with lots of individuals getting clocked with all manner of tables, chairs and other assorted balsa wood accouterments. It's safe to assume that the acrobatic silent movie styled shenanigans of the later spaghetti westerns were inspired by the cinematic "fate" that befell the peplum epics.

The fights are, for the most part, well choreographed especially the one that introduces us to the seven of the title. Marco is pitted against six fighters in the arena. He defeats four of them and fights the last two together. Out of exhaustion, he is defeated, but the two men refuse to kill him since he showed mercy on the previous four warriors. They eventually escape the arena and plot the downfall of the scheming Vadio and his co-conspirator, Morakeb. This leads to more comical moments such as when the seven disguise themselves not once, not twice, but three times in order to get one over on the bad guys.

The first time they dress up like Middle Eastern officials bearing gifts in a ruse to kidnap princess Assuer. The second time, they manage to dress up as some of the mole men to fight their way out of the Kiva's underground lair and the third time, they disguise themselves as dancers in a last ditch effort to get rid of Vadio before he has a chance to marry King Krontal's daughter, princess Assuer and get his hands on the throne.

Erno Crisa (right) with the mole men behind him

Underneath all the silly mayhem there lies a thin layer of seriousness with the usual elements of subterfuge and deception. Caltabiano and Erno Crisa are suitably villainous and look the part especially Crisa who also seemingly plays the same bad guy in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963) even down to bearing the same lycanthropic eyebrows. He rules an underground race of mole men called the Kiva. This allows for some stock footage from the ridiculous MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961) for a couple of scenes. There's also brief stock footage from COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962; you can even see Dan Vadis in one of the chariots) and a peplum I don't recognize.

Roger Browne (left) as Marco and Alfio Caltabiano (right) as Vadio

Roger Browne is excellent the third time around more or less playing another wrongfully framed Roman caught in the middle of a coup for the throne of Aristea. In the first movie, he plays a Roman legionnaire who, after tragic circumstances, joins the rebels. For the second film, he plays a Roman tribune framed for releasing hundreds of slaves working under a cruel centurion. For the third movie, Browne plays the same character from the second film, only here, he's no longer a tribune, but a centurion officer who is framed yet again.

The absolutely lovely Jose Greci

Whereas the stunning Scilla Gabel played the love interest, this time we get the hypnotic beauty of one of the genres most prolific lovelies, Jose Greci (billed as Liz Havilland). She's simply gorgeous here as she is in all her movies, but she's especially sexy in this film. We also get a look at her legs when the unsung Italian muscleman, Pietro Torrisi carries her off fighting soldiers along the way. Greci always seemed to play a princess, or a woman of royalty masquerading as a peasant girl. She's easily one of the most sensual women to ever appear in these movies.

Dakar (left) and Arnaldo Fabrizio aka Little Goliath in one of many overly silly bits

Those who abhor the inclusion of little people in peplums may want to steer clear of SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS. It's the ultimate in midget mayhem. Arnaldo Fabrizio has the time of his life in this movie. He's in nearly every major sequence either rescuing the heroes, aiding them in a battle in some amusing way, or simply being a nuisance to the bad guys. Italian horror fans will also recognize Dakar (Fulci's ZOMBIE, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, the spaghetti western NO ROOM TO DIE) playing one of the villains ruling over the gladiators. Getting back to Pietro Torrisi, he was late arriving on the muscleman movie scene and surely would have been a headliner if the genre wasn't on its last legs by 1964. He's one of relatively few Italian born actors to appear in these movies.

Pietro Torrisi (left) had a long career as a bit player. He got to partake in a lot of the action in this film, though. Jeff Cameron (right) appeared in a lot of spaghetti westerns.

The score by Francesco De Masi is one of the best ever heard in the sword and sandal genre. The score could just as easily fit into any spaghetti western and the main theme is one of those tunes that will have you humming it after the movie is over. Masi also served up a maestro worthy soundtrack for THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964), a score that was done in a far more opulent style. Here, the music is more playfully rhythmic and matches the constant flow of action. Little Goliath even gets his own silly theme that crops up on occasion during certain comedy relief moments.

Certainly the least serious of Lupo's gladiator trilogy, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS is a fun flick for more tolerant peplum fans who don't mind the comedy which isn't the least bit intrusive since the whole film is built around these moments. It's serious at times, but it's blatantly obvious the actors were simply enjoying the moment knowing all too well that the fun was coming to an end for this unjustly ignored genre of Italian cinema.

This review is representative of the Eagle Pictures region 2 PAL DVD

Switchblade Sisters (1975) review


Robbie Lee (Lace), Joanne Nail (Maggie), Monica Gayle (Patch), Asher Brauner (Dominic), Chase Newhart (Crabs), Marlene Clark (Muff), Kitty Bruce (Donut), Janice Karman (Bunny), Don Stark (Hook), Don Marino (Guido), Bob Minor (Parker)

Directed by Jack Hill

The Short Version: Awesome and super sleazy girl gang exploitation picture with soap opera overtones wedged between glaring stage play tragedy theatrics. Jack Hill made many a lean, mean movie dealing with the most malevolent and unsavory characters imaginable. This is Hill's outrageous 70's redux of such juicy juvenile delinquent filth as HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS and HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (both 1958).

The Dagger Debs are an all girl gang working with the Silver Daggers, a male gang that controls a tumultuous and rundown school expediting sex and drugs to the student body. Another gang led by the sadistic Crabs feels the Daggers are intruding on their turf and decide to go to war. Meanwhile, a tough broad named Maggie shows she's no pushover and quickly joins the Debs. With this sexy new member trouble arises between the Debs and the Daggers while the Crabs wait in the wings to strike.

If one were to compile a list of classic exploitation movies from the 1970's, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS would be on there somewhere along with several other Jack Hill pictures. A master of making movies with zero fat on them, this slimeball soap opera, ghetto girl gang gutbuster represents what made trash cinema so immersive. Despite all the violence and squalor showcased during the movies breezy 90 minutes, the narrative is Shakespearean in its depiction of these sad, sometimes irritating, yet eventually tragic characters.

Robbie Lee, who played Polly McClatchie in BIG BAD MAMA (1974)--shedding her clothes in several questionable sex scenes (she looked all of 13 years old)--looks too young to be spearheading a violent all girl gang, but she makes it work over the course of the film. For the most part, she's an annoyance as the whiny, but lovelorn Lace, who, with the help of Patch, knows she's slowly losing her man when Maggie gets initiated as a Dagger Deb member.

Lace likes to humiliate those who piss her off including her own girls, Donut being one. She makes her oink like a pig during a scene at the beginning when she wants to buy a double cheeseburger. Later in the film, Maggie picks up some of these characteristics by walking over Hook making him say he's a "big fat yellow chicken" while she holds a knife at his throat. These two become fast friends for a time before things begin to fall apart about halfway through. The script is successful in making the audience feel sympathy for some of the characters even though the bulk of them are the lowest form of barrel scum. These individuals inhabit a grossly exaggerated dystopian world where brute force and sudden death are the order of the day.

Joanne Nail is the super sexy and resourceful female fighter who shows up the Debs when they try to intimidate her in a small eatery at the beginning of the movie. Lace's boyfriend, Dominic instantly shows a good deal of interest in her from the beginning. So much so that he ultimately rapes her. What makes this scene so surprising is that Maggie resists at first, but then begins getting off on the experience. Maggie eventually takes over the Dagger Debs while Lace is in the hospital. She also changes the name of the gang to 'The Jezebels'. It's also around this time that the gang is broken up from within as treachery and deceit splits the gang apart. Everything goes to hell during the final confrontation between the Jezebel gang members when the truth comes out and Lace attempts to take back her gang.

Hill's trash epic has a little bit of everything brewing in this toxic soup. There's tough gangs, lesbian wardens, misogyny, a machine gun battle in a roller rink, black revolutionaries and a wildly over the top war in the streets with an armor plated battle car that foreshadows the post apocalyptic actioners of the early 1980's. There's also political subtext with gangs following the words of Mao Tse Tung and Crabs wears a German cross with a swastika in the center. The movie also takes a grim, yet wildly over the top view of violence in the school system and youth in general. These punks run prostitute rackets in the bathrooms and sell drugs outside in plain sight. Look for television and exploitation personality Marlene Clark as the leader of the black revolutionaries and the esteemed Bob Minor, an accomplished stunt coordinator and supporting actor from dozens of movies playing a cop.

The dialog is voraciously witty and memorable. Often the actors' delivery is hammy in the extreme. Most of them shout their lines with the utmost seriousness and proclivity. It's this supercilious societal defiance of the characters married to the guttertrash dialog that makes the whole movie a supreme slice of sleazy scintillation. It's the 'R' equivalent of all those 'Youth Gone Wild' flicks of the 50's and 60's only this one rubs your face in skanky squalor, kicks you while you're down and it's in color. Don't miss this unwholesomely fun low budget gem.

This review is representative of the Miramax DVD

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