Saturday, April 1, 2017

Without A Wing Or A Prayer: "Ator, The Fighting Eagle"

He's ripped! He's ready! He's ridiculous! Miles O'Keeffe in his greatest(?) role.

Happy Spring, movie lovers.

Do you know when you've hit Junk Cinema pay-dirt? When the flick you're watching contains the following:

1) A big, beefy bald villain who loves to have spiders crawl all over him.

2) The movie's hero is Miles O'Keeffe, the poor, unfortunate soul who played the speechless Tarzan opposite Bo Derek in "Tarzan, The Ape Man"(1981).

3) An extra exclaims at one point, "The ground is trembling like a virgin drawn to the nuptial bed!"

"Can I get an amen, somebody?": The High Priest of the Spider God cult rallies his troops.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Ator, The Flying Eagle", a dumber-than-dirt "sword and sandals" epic from Italy, circa 1982.

Made in hopes of cashing in on the success of "Conan the Barbarian", "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" begins, as all mystical fantasy mush must, in a far away land. The average citizens toil under the yoke of "The Spider God"cult, whom the prophets say will rule for a thousand years. After that, an avenger will come forth to challenge their rule, inspiring the people to rise up and declare their freedom...No. That's not right. The Spider God cult will reign for a thousand years and then an avenger named Turren will rise up to challenge their rule..and promptly die. However, even in death Turren can't be stopped because (according to the narrator) "he (will) cast his seed upon the wind"(eww) which will allow some lucky gal to bear Turren's son. The tot will be named Ator and he will "bear the mark of Turren", which will be proof of his destiny to destroy the Spider God cult.

No, wait, forgive me, that's still not quite right. Turren does indeed "cast his seed upon the wind" (eww). And an unnamed village maiden does give birth to Ator. However, when the mid-wives notice that the bouncing baby boy bears "the mark of Turren", they don't joyously announce that their savior has arrived; instead, they head for the hills. This leaves Ator's ma rather confused and upset.

She's not the only one. Over at the palace of Dakar, the High Priest of the Spider God (played by an actor named Dakkar), a statue of a bird begins bleeding from the eye. The winds blow, the skies darken and an extra rushes in to declare, "The ground is trembling like a virgin drawn to the nuptial bed!" That can only mean one thing: the prophecy is coming true!

Refusing to have the son of Turren kick him off his spider throne, Dakar orders all baby boys and their mothers killed. As the troops merrily slaughter away, a mysterious fellow named Griba (Edmund Purdom) arrives at the hut of Ator's mom. He insists that the child be turned over to him for protection. A single parent with few options, Ator's ma agrees. Seconds later, a member of the High Priest's posse shows up and hacks off her noggin--proving the decision to hand her kid over to a complete stranger was a wise one, at least for the tot.

"Yes, Sir, That's My Baby": The infant Ator.

Well, on second thought, maybe not. Turns out Griba had no intention of raising the kid himself. Instead, he pawns baby Ator off on Bardak and Nordya, a poor couple in a poor village, who already have an infant of their own (a daughter named Sunya). To make sure nobody knows Ator's true identity, Griba rubs some powder on "the mark of Turren", making it disappear. Then he disappears for about half of the movie.

The years pass and Ator grows into the lean form of Miles O'Keeffe. He is a mighty hunter with abs of granite, buns of steel and the hair of Farrah Fawcet from "Charlie's Angel's". He's also in love...with his sister Sunya (eww) played by Ritza Brown. Current mores being what they are, Ator and Sunya can't marry, but that doesn't stop our plucky hero from broaching the subject with his dad. It's at this moment Bardak reveals to Ator that he's adopted. Overjoyed by the news--but ignoring the obvious psychological implications--Ator and Sunya marry in a goofy ceremony where they each sport floral head dresses. Then the happy couple is lead to a hut to consummate their marriage, while their fellow villagers mingle outside and cheer them on (eww).

Before the new Mr. and Mrs. so much as lock lips, the Spider God's army roars in and starts killing everybody. Turns out the High Priest of the Spider God has realized that his first mass slaughter did not kill Ator. Therefore, he orders a second mass slaughter, hoping that will finish the job. It doesn't. Ator is merely conked on the head, while his fellow villagers are toast. Meanwhile, poor Sunya is dragged off by the Spider God's soldiers, kicking and screaming all the way--and, really, who can blame her? The only wedding worse than hers was the "Red Wedding" on "Game of Thrones". I don't blame Sunya one bit for being upset.

Anyway, once Ator comes to and discovers his family dead, his bride gone and his village brunt to the ground, he puts on some furry Uggs and hits the road. Lo and behold, who should Ator meet but Griba? The mysterious mystic takes Ator under his wing and into his home. He also reveals to Ator his true destiny and begins training him in earnest to defeat the Spider God. Then, just like before, Griba disappears again, only this time he leaves Ator a special sword and shield that will allow him to kill the Spider God and rescue Sunya.

Ator's quest, however, gets off to a rocky start when's he's ambushed by a tribe of Amazons. Dragged before their Queen, Ator is poked and prodded like the prime cut of beefcake he is. The Queen then announces Ator will father the heir to their throne. She claps her hands and all interested Amazons line up to fight to the death for the privilege of being impregnated by Ator--who, after the deed is done, will be killed. The eventual winner is a sullen white-blonde archer named Roon (Sabrina Siani), who coolly announces to Ator, "Are you ready to perform the duty that is mine by right?"

Trembling like a virgin dragged to the nuptial bed, Ator prepares himself for victor Roon.

Actually, no. See, Ator explains that he's married to the love of his life and that he was on his way to rescue her (and defeat the Spider God) when he was shanghaied by her fellow Amazons. Roon could care less about Ator's sob story; however, she is interested in the treasure the Spider God has supposedly stashed in his castle. Before long, the two cut a deal: they will forget about siring the Queen's heir and give the Amazons the slip, venturing to the Spider God's castle together. Ator will save Sunya, Roon will help herself to the treasure in the Treasury. All they have to do is sneak out of the Amazon's heavily guarded encampment, traverse over uncharted territory, find food, water and shelter as needed, defeat the Spider God's troops, kill the High Priest of the Spider God cult and then off his furry, super-sized spider puppet. Should be a cinch.

As it turns out, escaping from the Amazon's encampment is a fairly easy task, thanks to a frisky bear cub (which Ator has adopted as a pet) and a tree with thick foliage. It also helps that the Amazons are really stupid (and terrible actresses). The problems begin when Roon and Ator stumble unwittingly into the clutches of an ancient Enchantress (Laura Gemser), who looks like Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs--only with more lip gloss and teased hair. While this hotsy-totsy traps Roon in a cave, she lures Ator into her boudoir with visions of Sunya. The Enchantress then slips him a Mickey and pants, "You will be mine until you have no strength left to gratify me." While Roon is busy digging herself out of the cave (with help from the bear cub), Ator and the Enchantress get busy, too ("Your touch is ecstasy," moans Ator). Taking a breather, the Enchantress shows Ator her pet owl. She explains he was "once a prince" who dared "opposed my will" so she "transformed him into an owl who has to stay upon this perch." Ator, however, is more interested in a huge mirror that is covered by heavy cloth. The Enchantress promptly orders him to never touch it. That said, they head back to bed for more whoopski.

Roon breaks free and locates Ator and the Enchantress. Helped once more by the bear cub, Roon distracts the evil one and shoots an arrow into her cave. By doing so, she uncovers the magic mirror. The Enchantress gets a good look at herself and is instantly transformed into an ugly hag. Ator snaps out of his drugged stupor and runs away to safety. The Enchantress, however, is really mad and screams, "I will be avenged!" I bet the owl (who was once a prince) is happy the Enchantress got her comeuppance, even if his situation hasn't improved.

Finally, Ator and Roon arrive at The Spider God's castle. Even though there are only two of them, our plucky duo manages to slay all the guards and sneak into the castle. Perhaps Ator's special sword and shield has something to do with that. While Roon is checking out the treasure in the Treasury, Ator comes face to face with the High Priest of the Spider God. They tussle a bit and Ator defeats him soundly. Then our hero hears Sunya shrieking like a dental drill, this time for real. Turns out the poor gal is tied to a giant spider web (yes, you read that right; she's tied to a spider's web. Wouldn't it be more logical for her to be stuck in the giant web, since spider webs are suppose to be sticky?). While Ator rushes to cut his bride free, who should show up but Griba--only this time, the mysterious mystic reveals his true colors. See, he was only pretending to protect and nurture Ator. What Griba really wanted was for Ator to kill the High Priest of the Spider God he could regain is his post as the High Priest of the Spider God Cult! The fiend!

While Ator and Griba duke it out, a giant spider puppet ambles on screen, causing Sunya to shriek even more. Finally, after a round of spirited sword fighting, Ator pushes Griba into the huge spider, who promptly bites his head off. Ator unties Sunya and they run away.

"Do you get my point?": Griba surprises Ator and Sunya.

Of course, "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" isn't over yet. The High Priest of the Spider God cult may be dead, but its super-sized spider mascot is very much alive. While Sunya watches from a safe distance, Ator--shield and sword at the ready--approaches the fearsome beastie. He takes several broad swipes at the critter, which wiggles and jiggles like a furry bowl of Jello. Then our hero plunges his sword into the spider's head/heart/stomach with a manly thrust. The spider collapses in a heap, simultaneously gushing red Kool-Aid, which splash all over Ator's Ugg boots (eww). However, that is a small price to pay for defeating an evil that terrorized people for a thousand years. Besides, Ator can probably find a new pair of Uggs on real fast.

Oh, by the way, Roon is dead, having been ambushed by guards while looting the Spider God's Treasury. So what.

When we next see them, Sunya and Ator are hand in hand, skipping merrily in a spring meadow dotted with flowers. They have every reason to celebrate, of course. The Spider God Cult is no more. The High Priest is dead and so is that spider mascot. Come to think of it, Sunya and Ator's parents are dead, too. And so are their friends. And Roon. They have no money. Their village has been burnt to the ground. An Enchantress has sworn to avenge herself on Ator for turning her into a hag. And somewhere out there is a tribe of Amazons spitting mad that their designated baby daddy gave them the slip. 

Hey, what are these two so happy about?! Their lives haven't improved at all! In fact, things have gotten worse!

Oh, yeah, the movie's over. Never mind.

Flower Power: Not really brother-and sister Sunya and Ator are now husband-and wife.

When a movie is as delightfully dense as "Ator, The Fighting Eagle", conventional film analysis is beside the point. Therefore, lets focus instead on several key elements that helped make "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" the Junk Cinema messterpiece it is.

1) Despite its prominence in the flick's title, eagles are nowhere to be found in the movie. Spiders, yes. An owl (that use to be a prince). A tiny bear cub (who easily out-acted the human cast). Even a dog shows up. But no eagles. Go figure.

2) The flick's villain was a rather strange fellow, don't you think? Although he held the position of High Priest of the Spider God cult, he seemed more interested in frolicking with his pet spiders than over-seeing the organization he was in charge of. He presided over no meetings, passed no laws, didn't comment on cult doctrine and screwed up the execution of his rival twice. How did Dakar get this job? And how did he manage to keep it?

3) Twice in "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" Ator is forced to be a sex slave against his will. Was this because the film's producers wanted to reverse the tried fantasy movie trope of female characters constantly being forced into sexual servitude against their will? Or did the producers think the audience would get a kick out of seeing big, buff Ator at the mercy of a bunch of girls?

4) Pauline Kael once said the only flair in Ali McGraw's acting was in her nostrils. Poor Miles O'Keeffe can't even claim that. Despite his killer cheekbones and lean torso, Miles has all the screen presence of a department store dummy. He has the acting talent of a department store dummy, too. Movie heroes must have intelligence and personality. Think Russell Crowe in "Gladiator". Think Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus". Think Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens". Miles is just an empty vessel in contrast.

Miles O'Keeffe defends himself against the pointed barbs of film critics.

So why was he hired for all three "Ator" movies? Were the producers gluttons for punishment? Did Miles agree to work for cheap? Was the whole enterprise just a tax write-off? The world may never know.

5) The only decent plot twist in this movie was Griba turning out to be a secret baddie. I did not see that coming. So, half a point for team Ator.

I like to call bad movies "success stories in reverse." It's their failures we love, not their triumphs. If you want to watch an inspiring epic about a guy challenging an evil power, watch "Spartacus."

However, if you want to watch a semi-dubbed Italian rip-off of "Conan the Barbarian" complete with a himbo lead, a bleached-blond side-kick and a passel of "blind craftsmen" who have wet paper bags stuck to their eyes, boy, do I have a movie for you!

Until next time, movie lovers, please remember that a full loin cloth does not a movie hero make, and help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

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