Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reel Bad Cinema: Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982) review


Miles O'Keeffe (Ator), Sabrina Siani (Roon), Ritza Brown (Sunya), Edmund Purdom (Griba), Dakkar (High Priest of the Spider God), Laura Gemser (Indun)

Directed by Joe D'Amato

The Short Version: Misanthropically fake sword and non sorcery pasta actioner is one of the most laughable Euro exports to hit these shores. It's made all the more hilarious in that it managed to garner three increasingly absurd sequels. If you've seen CONAN, you've seen this movie, only ATOR is funnier.

Ator, the son of Torin is prophesized to one day destroy the Spider Sect. Fearing this, Dakkar, the high priest of the Tomb of the Ancient One (it's a giant Macy's Day Parade spider) attempts to murder Ator before he becomes a man. When this fails, Ator grows up only to have his wife kidnapped and his village destroyed by the Spider men. He is trained by Griba to topple the Black Knights (the Spider Sect followers) and a slew of other obstacles on his way to slay the great (and immobile) Ancient One.

Joe D'Amato took a few hours off from directing porn movies with Laura Gemser and gruesome gore epics with George Eastman to shoot this kiddie CONAN clone. Awful in almost every sense of the word, the film reeks of stupidity, but manages to stimulate a heavy dose of laughter when it should be eliciting awe. Miles O'Keeffe, the star of the previous years John Derek rib tickler, TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1981) apparently attracted the attention of Italian movie producers to import him for Italy's next bandwagon series based on the box office success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN and the equally successful THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (both 1982).

What followed was an anemic string of fur-clothed sword swingers that seriously lacked the stone age ingredients that made those movies enjoyable as escapist entertainment. Trading blood and brutality for unintentional hilarity and ridiculous situations, the mercifully short-lived Italian "Sword & Sorcery" genre was predominantly pitiful compared with the above mentioned American counterparts and other fitfully fun entries like THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and HUNDRA (1983), the female version of the barbarian age.

The mighty sword of Torin bends!!!

I first saw ATOR on the CBS Late Night Movie in the mid 1980s. This was during a time when CBS would frequently show movies like ORCA (1977), THE GREAT ALLIGATOR (1979) and CURSE OF THE BLACK WIDOW (1977) after hours. Occasionally, a movie like ATOR would show up and CBS would hype it to high heaven in their commercials. Even as a kid, ATOR did very little for me. I assumed something must have been cut for television, but upon later renting the videotape, I made the horrifying discovery that ATOR contained none of the blood, gore and rampant nudity that was the barbarian bread & butter of these flicks. It did have one monster, a poorly conceived spider beast that makes the GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975) look like the work of Stan Winston.

As with most of these pictures, we get the usual "It was a daaark time!" opening narration, only in ATOR, it's like a mini documentary where the voice over foretells (over the course of the first ten minutes) of the looming danger of the Spider King (the names/titles of the bad guys alternates from time to time) and the history of Torin the savior, who will bear a son that will rid the land of the Ancient One and his minions. The high priest of the Spider sends some men to butcher any male babies in Ator's unnamed village in a poorly done sequence that should ratchet suspense, but instead brings about tedium. The production couldn't afford an actor to play Torin, so we only hear about him and his exploits.

Ator turns down the Valerian qualities of Sabrina Siani for who he initially believes to be his sister?!?!?!?

Then, a few minutes later, we get the exact same scene, only in daylight and after Ator has grown into the lithe musculature of Miles O'Keeffe and looking like David Coverdale's stunt double. Desiring to marry his sister (yes, you read that right), the two love birds quickly learn they're not really related and during their wedding, we get the requisite and full bore(ing) 'Pillage the Village' sequence vital to any long haired he-man adventure. Ator, the Non-Mighty is clubbed in the back of the head and mystifyingly, he's left by the Black Knights (as the dubbing now refers to the villains), who don't even bother to identify his body, which was their sole purpose for marauding that day. Unfortunately, if they did, then we'd have no movie. From here on till the "big" finale, it's the mini adventures of Ator, the Androgynous.

This shot here goes against any and all barbarian lore as well as various Frazetta and Vallejo paintings. Just who is being dominated here? What is wrong with this picture, hmmm?

At this point, the script prefers to throw any number of serial 'B' level scenarios at the screen at regular intervals. This would be all fine and good if it was orchestrated in a way that had any life, or energy to it. None of it does. It all looks a big joke, a funny one, I might add, too. One of the most hilarious is the multitude of plot strands that sprout a virtual cornucopia of characters ala DUNGEONS & DRAGONS or STAR WARS, which threatens sequels, or spin offs. In a brazen act of irresponsibility, there were two of the former and zero of the latter. The script does have potential for exploitation greatness, but squanders it on a level of such mediocrity, that any six year old would be hard pressed to pay attention. Not only that, but Ator is shown to be anything but Invincible. Half the film, he's either captured, bewitched, or has to be saved by his beautiful bleach blonde bombshell sidekick, or his cute little bear cub, Kiok. Yes, a brawny barbarian roams the wasteland of the poor man's Cimmeria with a tag along baby bear.

The lovely Sabrina Siani

Captured by a clan of amazons, Ator, the Ignominious is to be used to sire a new queen and be killed the following morning. Roon, the woman who wins him, decides to escape with him for an alternate plan. Ator wants to kill the Spider Clan while Roon wants to latch onto the vast treasure that's suddenly thrown into the plot. Roon is played by Sabrina Siani and the film is more her showcase than O'Keeffe's. She displays much more machismo than Miles can muster. Siani had a brief, but mildly prosperous career in exploitation movies. She also featured in similar flicks like THRONE OF FIRE and CONQUEST (both 1983). Oddly enough, her career mirrors that of Lana Clarkson, who also garnered attention for her feisty role in the Corman produced barbarian sleaze favorite, DEATHSTALKER (1983).

Laura Gemser, taking a break from porn, still finds time to play with a snake, or two

Getting back to the mis-adventures of Ator, the Boring Barbarian, he's then trapped by some evil sexual seductress named Indun played by petite porn starlet, Laura Gemser who plans to suck him dry(haha) of his virility. Roon and Kiok save him, though, but not before Indun places a curse on the colossal coifed one swearing to be avenged in what was hoped to be a plot device in a future Ator adventure. To escape Indun's domain, our intrepid trio must pass through the 'Land of the Walking Dead'(a great title for an Italian zombie gut muncher) and into the 'Volcano of Shadows' to retrieve the Shield of Mordor, a weapon that makes its holder immortal...but not before crossing the 'Caverns of the Blind Warriors', wiping herbal leaves over their bodies to pass through undetected. Just those few adventures alone could make up a whole other movie!

"...It's like talkin' to a brick wall."

The scene where Ator, the Self-Aggrandizing duels with the Shadow Warriors is one of the most hilarious sequences of any film. I defy you not to laugh. O'Keeffe wacks his sword against a rock wall while an offscreen technician swings a stick in his direction. The strikes don't even match most of the time. A similar gutbuster moment occurs in the first and funnier sequel, ATOR, THE BLADEMASTER (1984) wherein Ator and Thong(!!!), his trusty (and silent) Asian sidekick battle it out with invisible foes of all things. With all this chapter style interplay, ATOR would make a great thrill ride at a theme park (probably cost more money, too) and would likely be far more exciting.

The sets are what you would expect. Some of them are used over and over again with the most minimal attempt at disguising them. The fight scenes are atrociously slow and ponderous. It's as if rehearsals were used, but most likely the production didn't even allot for them. A James Hadley is listed as stunt co-ordinator. As in countless other Italian action films, everyone swings, or kicks wide in such a fashion it clumsily telegraphs every movement. In the films defense, the final fight shows signs of life and is actually pretty decent. There's even a wee bit of half baked martial arts maneuvers on hand and they, too, are too funny for words. The scriptwriters manage ONE last twist before the big battle with the Ancient One. What little we're shown of the thing looks like a pair of humongous lips with equally large and robotically operated pipe cleaners for legs with clearly visible wires manipulating them. The Barely Mobile One is quickly killed prompting Ator, the Effeminate's magical shield to crack and both he and Sunya run off into the field together till the next chapter in the ATOR series.

Joe D'Amato returned in 1984 with an even poorer (but Laff A Lot) sequel, the aforementioned ATOR, THE BLADEMASTER. A third ATOR entry came in 1987, but with perennial hack, Alfonso Brescia as director. Titled IRON WARRIOR, it was a distinct departure from the style (or lack thereof) of the two previous movies. It starts off moderately well, but crumbles quickly. D'Amato returned in 1990 with the worst ATOR of them all with QUEST FOR THE MIGHTY SWORD aka ATOR 3: THE GOBLIN (don't ask). For this one, O'Keeffe couldn't be bothered to return, so Eric Allan Kramer (He played Thor in an INCREDIBLE HULK TV movie and also was great in a CHEERS episode) took up the Ator mantle.

Dakkar, frequent character actor in a number of Italian westerns and horror pictures is supposed to be the main villain (He's called Dakkar in the film, too) in ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE, but does very little to carve a memorable place for himself within the films framework. He's lost in the shuffle of a half a dozen lazily put together set pieces. Mostly he mills around with thick silver mascara on and sporting at least three spiders crawling on his arms and head. Edmund Purdom is nearly unrecognizable as Griba, the one who trains Ator and has ulterior motives. Euro fear fans will of course remember him from the Oscar winning delights of FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1974), ABSURD (1981), PIECES (1982), INVADERS OF THE LOST GOLD (1982), 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (1983) and DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984).

You'll quake before the mighty swordsmanship of Edmund Purdom!!!!

The music by Carlo Maria Cordio is repetitive, yet ominously operatic and quite good. It deserves to be paired with a better movie. Hopefully, there's far of it than what makes it into the picture. Mostly, we get the same oppressive main theme looped over and over again. There's a nice love theme, some alternate cues during some of the various "action" sequences, but the pounding main theme dominates. There's also an 80s style power ballad (sung in English) that sounds suspiciously like a refurbished version of Sheena Easton's James Bond theme song, 'For Your Eyes Only'! Even still, the score sounds like it cost more to orchestrate than anything else in ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE. The only other thing this movie has going for it is a cameo by the Monte Gelato, the most oft used locale in Sword & Sandal cinema in the late 50s through the mid 1960s.

Amazingly enough, D'Amato's kid friendly sword slasher is the best of the Italo barbarian epics which is far from a compliment. Just try watching THE INVINCIBLE BARBARIAN (1982) from start to finish! Euro trash fans will likely get the most mileage out of it what with the gaggle of recognizable exploitation stars featured here. O'Keeffe's heavy metal coif is a howler and Sabrina Siani is an eye full. A shame her sole nude scene is from a distance denying the one true special effect this film had to offer.

This review is representative of the Legacy Entertainment DVD which looks suspiciously like the old HBO video VHS release

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