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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ator The Fighting Eagle aka Ator The invincible (1982)


Great fantasy movies are great. Do you know what else can also be great? Low budget rip offs of great fantasy films. This where every sleazy rip off movie aficionado's favorite director comes in: Joe D'amato. He's responsible for other not rip off of something else films like the glorious cinematic dung pile that is Anthropophagus (1980). Only a man with his eye so keenly on the profit margin of a total knockoff of Conan The Barbarian (also released in 1982, strange?) could ever manage to produce, along with two of its three sequels.

I can always come back to all that later, I think what all of you really want is to see the trailer:



For the eagle eye/eared viewer, you may notice that the trailer features a piece of music which sounds vaguely familiar but not quite how this one sounds. What is it? Oh I don't know, maybe a complete copy cat effort of the Conan The Barbarian theme?


Naaaaaah, couldn't be. Total coincidence (it is worthwhile to note that the music in question in the trailer does not appear in the actual film, talk about marketing genius).

In case you haven't already guessed, this review is going to regularly feature the term "rip off" and various synonyms. There will also be regular comparison to the film which begat this beyond bizarre gem of Italian daring-do, because quite frankly it is unavoidable (and for the sake of ease will be referred to for much of the rest of this review as CTB). The sequel has quite a few more parallels (maybe one day I will discuss that too) but I will point out a few of them but not all- as I' like to leave you with a few surprises.

Plot synopsis: The story begins with an ancient legend involving a spider cult ruling the land for something like 1,000 years. It states that a mighty warrior by the name of Torren (for some reason spelled Thorn on the back of the box) will come forth to challenge them but will ultimately fail. His son will be a mighty warrior named Ator who will destroy the mighty high priest of the spider and free the land once again. Funny how an ancient prophecy can be so specific that it features exact names that apparently nobody would fake anybody out before it becomes true by naming their kids that, anyways back to the movie- Torren "casts his seed upon the wind" (didn't make that up, will discuss after plot is described) and young Ator is born. He is taken to a foster family by a wigged skeezoid named Griba who silently watches over him as he grows up. Later on follows a quest to rescue his wife to be (awkwardly the daughter of his adopted parents), where as the legend explains to you at the start, concludes with Ator winning out over the evil spider cult and restoring freedom to all the land.

There, now I can go on to point out the parallels. You'd like that wouldn't you? Let's face facts, I really beat around the bush with the plot synopsis (but don't I usually?) as what I really want to write about are the overarching similarities with CTB. Actually the first place the similarities begin is on the box for the tape itself.

Take a look below at a section of the image you saw at the very start of this review:


Yes I know fantasy movies pretty much have the same cover when taking a jab at the success of Conan, but this being one of the earliest that I know of really goes for it in a subtle yet tremendous way courtesy of one particular element. It's as if D'amato was attempting to challenge the far superior and better made CTB single handedly. Notice that helmet there, buried in the earth at the highly idealized image of Ator's feet? Tell me it doesn't resemble the helmet Conan wears on the poster/vhs cover (which by the way is only briefly seen during the pit fighting sequences early in the film)? It's not an exact match by any means but the resemblance is striking.

Decide for yourself:


At any rate, the art is done in the truest traditions of low budgeted Italian exploito cinema. He not only is not this ripped, but he also never wields a multi ended morning star, wears that insane cloak, has a scantily clad brunette nymphette as a side kick (we touch on the movie sidekick in a bit), and also doesn't have a cool sabertooth tiger as a battle beast. Instead he has a bear cub that somebody painted a skunk stripe on its head. Misleading? Not particularly, but a cute bear bear cub instead of a cool sabertooth tiger is pretty lame if you ask me.

Consider my hands up in the air.

 This film features a lot of plot exposition that is simply thrown at the audience with no explanation, such as the secret talismanic weapons Ator must find. Some of it might have been told to me before but it is a Joe D'amato movie so probably not, speaking of Joe (allow me if I may, to completely diverge from the topic at hand for a hot minute if you will)- it's a good time to mention that he uses several aliases in this particular production. While that's nothing unusual for many a director who finds themselves on a budget, for D'amato (whose real name by the way is Aristide Massaccesi, so far as we are all aware anyway) this was standard operating procedure, which including the D'amato alias equals 40 odd names, several of which were used on more than one production. Fella has a history of sometimes sketchy behavior if you look around, just sayin'.

Now that that is off of my chest, I can afford to be fully on topic again. Like I was saying there's some tools Ator needs to obtain to defeat his foe that aren't really revealed to you until he is close to going to get them. One is the sword of Torren, which when spoken about sounds like they are saying Turin (you know, like the shroud). The other (I'll just spell it the way it sounds) is the shield of Mordor. I swear they say Mordor, just like in The Lord of the Rings. Anyways all it is is a mirror with a handhold on back that summons shadow warriors when uncovered. Kinda cool and kinda lame at the same time but it is there so what are you going to do? After he gets it he has to fight his way out of a cavern of dangerous sword wielding blind men. Don't ask, just watch it.

While there are similarities to CTB aplenty in this film, I will just mention three that immediately stand out in my mind (I also promised this review like a week and a half ago) and leave the rest for you to discover on your own should you decide to watch it for yourself (which I recommend doing, by the way, because why the hell not?). I'm typing these stream of consciousness, so there's no semblance of chronological order, not that it really matters all that much, right? Don't worry about it.

Maybe the biggest similarity is giving him a blonde lady sidekick who is a warrior/thief much like Sandahl Bergman's character in CTB. The only differences being that while not stellar, Sandahl is by far the better actor (which says A LOT) and actually has blonde hair, unlike the really terrible drag wig the lady in this is wearing. She couldn't act her way out of a wet paper bag, so it is probably for the best that she isn't in it for more than say a third of the movie. It also doesn't help that she has a lame character name like Roon, but what more can you really say about that? Both Ator and Roon have would be witty one liners (much like our heroes in CTB) but there is no love affair between them. I'll get to that at the end of the review. There's more to the pairings that is similar, but I don't want to give it away as the goose needs to live so you can have the golden egg and eat it too.

Earlier in the film Ator's village gets attacked by a group of horsemen and his parents get savagely murdered (sound familiar?). This is where another bit of film rippery occurs. I am a sucker for film scores now and then, and couldn't but notice that the piece of music that plays during the scene is a direct mimic of this track from the score for Star Wars that plays over the scene where Luke finds the smoldering Jawa sandcrawler. Similar imagery, similar music. Coincidence? I wouldn't bullshit you on this one.

Watch the Ator, but listen out for this:


The bad guy also happens to be a man of African descent who has a respectably low timbre in his voice and also worships a beastly creature. Only this time instead of turning into something cool like a giant snake he is the keeper or whatever for a small tarantula army that crawls on him often and a very VERY hokey looking gigantic spider puppet that builds somehow not at all sticky when extricating someone from it but sticky when you fall onto it webs that consist of very well woven together rope. He's much less of a Thulsa Doom as he is a Thulsa D'oh.

So yeah about that no love affair thing I mentioned while talking about Roon, Ator's heart belongs to another he says. This other awkwardly happens to be his sister (but he's adopted so in this fantasy world it somehow isn't considered weird when you are adopted and grow up with someone as a sibling and you want to marry them. not. weird. at. all.). He has to rescue her so he can get married and blahblah. Here's proof of their awkward interaction just below, along with proof of that damn skunk striped bear cub:


Nope, NOT WEIRD Ator.

While I can't find video proof of this I might as well tell you to stick around until the end of it as the end credits theme is sung pretty much to the tune of and has similar lyrics to the theme to the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. NOT KIDDING.

Don't believe me?

Watch it! With all of the ridiculous fantasy costumes featuring chest medallions and furry boots how can you really go wrong? There is also some A class fantasy dialogue that I don't dare give a line of away without you hearing it first.

DEFINITELY WORTH THE WATCH WITH OR WITHOUT BOOZE.

You heard it here first, maybe.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

After Hours (1985)


Everybody knows who Martin Scorcese is. We best know him for his Mob films and his grittier fare such as Taxi Driver but my favorite era of his was a magical point in the mid 80's I will hereby refer to as his "gonzo period". He made some real top notch (and dark!) comedies during this period of time that for casual fans either take the back burner or have disappeared from consciousness entirely. After Hours is one of these mostly forgotten gems from the cinematic nether regions of 1985.

Trailer anyone?
And yes, the film is just as frenetic as this trailer would lead you to believe.


Plot synopsis (or the best I can do? this shit really IS nuts): Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne of An American Werewolf In London fame) has a job in a big mid 80's New York conglomobusiness as a word processing guy (you know, back when computers actually were rather difficult to use). He obviously hates his-no pun intended-programmed day. He decides to blow off some steam later that night by reading some Henry Miller at a coffee shop, only to find a beautiful woman named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) chatting him up. Getting her number and retiring to his apartment, he calls her and begins a dowardly spiraling journey into the night of NYC full of art weirdos, burn cream, suicide, and enough crazies to fill hell's handbag.

Make no mistakes- this movie is really nerve wracking to watch. I don't recommend it to anyone that has anxiety problems because this movie is a tense situation from end to end and you just might wind up bursting into flames midway through it. I fidgeted like you wouldn't believe. I also sat completely stiff for ten plus minutes at a stretch for a good part of it.  Nail biters need not apply here.

There's a serious seat of the pants energy in this film that I find lacking in Scorcese's work in the formula we are presented with in After Hours. The editing is super hectic. Tons of snap zooms and quick shots, coupled with practically every style of cinematic lighting ever dreamed of. I don't think I have seen another film quite like it, certainly no other film in the catalog of Mr. Scorcese looks anything even remotely like it. I hope you are curious by now, because I don't know how much further I am willing to tip the hat as you should really be as surprised as I am as to how this film occurs.

The film was made as many genius things are- out of necessity. What do I mean by this? Scorcese had been trying for a good while to have a version of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation Of Christ come to fruition (he had optioned it back in the 70's), and after the first attempt at production fell through in 1983 poor Martin was devastated. He needed a project that he could just do quick and dirty, experimenting all the way. Tim Burton was originally slated to direct this, but when he caught wind that Scorcese was interested he stepped aside. One wonders what the film would have been like had Burton taken it. Maybe similar but definitely not like this I think.

The casting of this film is really spot on, I simply cannot stress that enough. Look up the list and you will see what I mean. Not one of them is the least bit unmemorable, and their performances only serve to stoke the melting pot of frustration that is the film itself. I should mention that Teri Garr is a total babe in this movie as a Monkees obsessed mod girl, the lady has taste. So is this the movie for you? I cannot rightfully say, but if you enjoy a film that has enough tension to choke a camel (like I do) then this is definitely something you should poke your nose into.

Also, I highly recommend getting this DVD edition of it as it has some really neat special features, including a description of the unshot but would have been super raw ending sequence. I like the way the films ends just fine (it is over all way less psychedelic and more fitting than the alternate one) but catching a glance at what could have been is always a joy.

YES!