Love him or hate him, Joe D'Amato's contributions to the world of sleaze cinema have attained legendary status. He's the Italian director responsible for unleashing monstrosities like "Anthropophagous," "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead," "Zombie 5: Killing Birds," and "Beyond the Darkness" on an unsuspecting public. He also gave us such classics as "Endgame," "The Arena," and "Black Cobra". I could go on and on, citing example after example from D'Amato's extensive filmography. He made a raft of Emanuelle films, most of them starring exploitation favorite Laura Gemser. Spaghetti Westerns, action films, gorefests--D'Amato easily moved from genre to genre during his long career. By the time he passed away in 1999 from a massive heart attack, the man had moved into making cheap adult films. Despite his popularity amongst b-movie aficionados, most of his films still haven't found their way to DVD. That stinks, but it also means his fans move quickly when they see one of his films on disc. And here I am reviewing a classic D'Amato film, the underwhelming sword and sandal flick "Ator the Fighting Eagle". I actually saw this in the movie theater back in the early 1980s. I'm amazed it received a theatrical run.
Why? Because Joe D'Amato's "Ator the Fighting Eagle" stinks. Big time. The fact that a few sequels exist doesn't remove the stain this initial effort left in my DVD player. They'd leave a stain, too. Since I'm a fan, though, I waded right in and watched the adventures of Ator unfold in especially inept fashion. Ator (Miles O'Keefe) is born into a frightening world presided over by some evil dude that likes to play with spiders. His birth heralds the countdown to some sort of prophecy that calls for Ator to grow up and destroy spider dude, so a mysterious man spirits the child away to another village where anonymity will presumably protect the waif from evil soldiers. Our hero grows up not knowing anything about the prophecy. He just likes to play with bear cubs and make eyes at his sister Sunya (Ritza Brown). Beefy Ator doesn't understand that brother and sister shouldn't marry (!), but fortunately he learns from his adopted father, Griba (Edmund Purdom), that Sunya isn't his real sister. Whew! Before the marriage unfolds, soldiers sweep into the village and slaughter most of the inhabitants. Poor Sunya disappears in the melee. Now Ator must go forth and fulfill his destiny.
Remember that mysterious man who intervened to save Ator. He pops up again just in time to give our hero a quickie five minute lesson on swordsmanship and spout off some cryptic mumbo jumbo about the prophecy. Fun. Then Ator hooks up with a sexy, Amazon-type warrior chick named Roon (Sabrina Siani) for further adventures. For example, they wander into the lair of the treacherous sorceress Indun (Laura Gemser) and must defeat her with an object incredibly found just two feet away from Indun. Then Ator and Roon head off to find a magical shield. It won't be easy to discover this item--it'll cost all of five dollars in special effects work to make it happen. This part of the quest (I was also on a quest during this film. Just call me "Seeker of the Credit Sequence".) sees the dynamic duo sneaking past a bunch of blind guards so Ator can pick up the shield and battle his own shadow. Now we're ready for the final showdown, which involves Ator rescuing his beloved from a huge spider web (you won't believe what they used for the web), killing spider dude, and battling a giant arachnid made out of vacuum cleaner hoses and cardboard.
"Ator the Fighting Eagle" is a laugh a minute classic, a movie that falls squarely in the "It's so bad I'll have to drink all night to make it good" category. The dialogue achieves heights of stupidity on a scale so titanic that human reason cannot fathom its dimensions. The costumes elicit snorts of derision. The performances, well, let's just say I've seen better acting from a bag of hammers. What else? Oh yeah--for some reason the movie ends with stock footage of a volcanic eruption that looks interesting but has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. I suspect someone, probably D'Amato, threw it in to pad out the runtime. It's the only explanation I can think of at this point. The only positives in the film are Ritza Brown and Sabrina Siani. Both are really hot, and it's nice to see them running around in skimpy outfits showing off those toned bodies. The bear cub, a major character in the film and the only one who should ever make another movie, is cute but overdone. Yep, babes and a bear cub are the only elements that move this movie closer to the conclusion. Gawd help us all!
A few notes on the DVD version of D'Amato's sword and sandal epic. Just like the movie, the DVD version stinketh greatly. The unpleasant odor wafting into your nostrils is the realization that the distribution company responsible for bringing this classic out on disc refused to spend a cent on bringing the flick up to presentable audio and visual standards. Since I own a copy of this movie on VHS (I freely admit it), I realized quite quickly that the DVD version resembles the grainy and washed out videotape version. Yes sir, it looks like someone pulled a quick one in order to make a buck; they simply burned the VHS version on a disc and called it a day. I can't really blame them, but I'd rather see restored versions of all the Ator films in a box set. What can I say? I've fond memories of this junk film and like reliving my childhood from time to time. I'm also a D'Amato fan. If you like crud like I like crud, you'll want to give this one a watch soon. Have fun!