WATCH THE SERIES: Ator

Conan the Barbarian and its success just meant that Italians could go back to making the peplum films they made for more than a decade in the 50s. The locations were there, the props were easy and all it took was the germ of an idea to send tons of Italian filmmakers out and about to make their own sword and sorcery movies, like Franco Prosperi’s Gunan, King of the Barbarians and Throne of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Ironmaster and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s Sword of the Barbarians.

For my money, no one made a better barbarian movie on a smaller budget than Joe D’Amato with his Ator films. Made from 1982 to 1990, three of these four films were filmed by D’Amato under his David Hills name. The other one was directed by Alfonso Brescia and D’Amato didn’t like it! As for actors, the first three feature Miles O’Keeffe and the fourth has Eric Allan Kramer as his son.

Instead of just being a big dumb lunk like Conan is in the movies — we can discuss Conan being a thief in the books and comics any time you’d like — Ator is also an alchemist, scholar, swordmaster and even a magician who can materialize objects out of nowhere.

We’ve pulled together our past reviews of Ator’s films, added some content and put them all in one place to introduce you to these astounding movies and hopefully get you watching them.

Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982): Once, Ator was just a baby, born with the birthmark that prophesied that he’d grow up to destroy the Spider Cult, whose leader Dakar (a pro wrestler who appeared in Titanes en el Ring against Martín Karadagian) tries to kill before he even gets out of his chainmail diapers.

Luckily, Ator is saved and grows up big, strong and weirdly in love with his sister, Sunya. It turns out that luckily, he’s adopted, so this is only morally and not biologically upsetting. His father allows them to be married, but the Spider Cult attacks the village and takes her, along with several other women.

Ator trains with Griba, the warrior who saved him as a child (he’s played by Edmund Purdom, the dean from Pieces!). What follows are pure shenanigans — Ator is kidnapped by Amazons, almost sleeps with a witch, undertakes a quest to find a shield and meets up with Roon (Sabrina Siani, Ocron from Fulci’s batshit barbarian opus Conquest), a sexy blonde thief who is in love with him.

Oh yeah! Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle herself, shows up here too. It is a Joe D’Amato movie after all.

Ator succeeds in defeating Dakkar, only to learn that the only reason that Griba mentored him was to use him to destroy his enemy. That said, Ator defeats him too, leaving him to be eaten by the Lovecraftian-named Ancient One, a monstrous spider. But hey, Ator isn’t done yet. He kills that beast too!

Finally, learning that Roon has died, Ator and Sunya go back to their village, ready to make their incestual union a reality. Or maybe not, as she doesn’t show up in the three sequels.

Ator is played by Miles O’Keefe, who started his Hollywood career in the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan the Ape Man, a movie that Richard Harris would nearly fist fight people over if they dared to bring it up. He’s in all but the last of these films and while D’Amato praised his physique and attitude, he felt that his fighting and acting skills left something to be desired.

Ator the Fighting Eagle pretty much flies by. It does what it’s supposed to do — present magic, boobs, sorcery and swordfights — albeit in a PG-rated film. It’s anything except boring. And it was written by Michele Soavi (StagefrightThe ChurchThe SectCemetery Man)!

You can watch it on Tubi in either the original or RiffTrax version.

Ator 2 – L’invincibile Orion (1984): Joe D’Amato wanted to make a prehistoric movie like Quest for Fire called Adamo ed Eva that read a lot like 1983’s Adam and Eve vs. The Cannibals. However, once he called in Miles O’Keefe to be in the movie, the actor said that he couldn’t be in the film due to moral and religious reasons. One wonders why he was able to work with Joe D’Amato, a guy who made some of the scummiest films around.

Akronos has found the Geometric Nucleus and is keeping its secret safe when Zor (Ariel from Jubilee) and his men attack the castle. The old king begs his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster, who starred in the Cinemax classic Fanny Hill and later became a special effects artist and video game developer) to find his student Ator (O’Keefe).

Mila gets shot with an arrow pretty much right away, but Ator knows how to use palm leaves and dry ice to heal any wound, a scene which nearly made me fall of my couch in fits of giggles. Soon, she joins Ator and Thong as they battle their way back to the castle, dealing with cannibals and snake gods.

Somehow, Ator also knows how to make a modern hang glider and bombs, which he uses to destroy Zor’s army. After they battle, Ator even wants Zor to live, because he’s a progressive barbarian hero, but the bad guy tries to kill him. Luckily, Thong takes him out.

After all that, Akronos gives the Geometric Nucleus to Ator, who also pulls that old chestnut out that his life is too dangerous to share with her. He takes the Nucleus to a distant land and sets off a nuke.

Yes, I just wrote that. Because I just watched that.

If you want to see this with riffing, it’s called Cave Dwellers in its Mystery Science Theater 3000 form. But man, a movie like this doesn’t really even need people talking over it. It was shot with no script in order to compete with Conan the Destroyer. How awesome is that?

You can get this from Revok or watch Cave Dwellers on Tubi.

Iron Warrior (1988): 

I always worry and think, “What is left? Have I truly exhausted the bounds of cinema? Have I seen all there is that is left to see? Will nothing ever really surprise and delight me ever again?” Then I watched Iron Warrior and holy shit you guys — this movie is mindblowing.

Alfonso Brescia made a bunch of Star Trek-inspired Star Wars ripoffs in the late 70’s, like Cosmos: War Of the Planets, Battle Of the Stars, War Of the Robots and Star Odyssey. Before that, he was known for working in the peplum genre with entries such as The Magnificent Gladiator and The Conquest of Atlantis. And some maniacs out there may know him from his Star Wars clone cover version of Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast — complete with the same actress, Sirpa Lane — called The Beast in Space.

Today, though, we’re here to discuss Brescia taking over the reins of Ator from Joe D’Amato after Ator the Fighting Eagle and Ator 2: The Blade Master. I expected another muddy cave dwelling movie livened up only by nukes and hang gliders. What I received was a movie where a frustrated artist was struggling to break free.

This movie goes back to the beginning of Ator’s life, where we discover that his twin brother was taken at a young age. Now, our hero travels to  Dragor (really the Isle of Malta) to do battle with a sorceress named Phaedra (Elisabeth Kazaand, who was in the aforementioned The Beast) her unstoppable henchman, the silver skulled, red bandana wearing Trogar (Franco Daddi, who was the stunt coordinator for both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Curse), who is the Iron Master of the Sword.

Princess Janna (Savina Gersak, who was in War Bus Commando) and Ator (the returning Miles O’Keefe) join forces and man, Janna’s makeup and hair is insane. She has what I can only describe as a ponytail mohawk and has makeup that wouldn’t be out of place on the Jem and the Holograms cartoon.

Imagine, if you will, a low budget sword and sorcery film that has MTV style editing, as well as gusts of wind, constant dolly shots and nausea-inducing zooms. It’s less a narrative film as it is a collection of images, sword fights and just plain weirdness. Like Deeva (Iris Peynado, who you may remember as Vinya, the girl who hooks up with Fred Williamson in Warriors of the Wasteland) saying that she created both Ator and Trogar to be tools of justice? This movie completely ignores the two that came before — and the one that follows it — and I am completely alright with all of it!

Supposedly, D’Amato hated this movie. Lots of people hate on it online, too. Well, guess what? They’re wrong. This is everything that I love about movies and proved to me that there is still some cinematic magic left in the world to find.

How about this for strange trivia? When they made the Conan the Adventurer series in 1997, Ator’s sword was repainted and used as the Sword of Atlantis!

You can buy this from RoninFlix.

Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990): If there’s a 12 step group for people who watch too many Joe D’Amato movies, well I should be the counselor, helping talk people off the ledge after they think they need to watch Erotic Nights of the Living Dead or Eleven Days, Eleven Nights or…hell, I can’t do it. For all people heap scorn on the movies of the man born Aristide Massaccesi, I find myself falling in love more and more with each movie.

D’Amato hated what Brescia did with his creation, so he starts this one off by killing Ator and introducing us to his son. Obviously, Miles O’Keefe isn’t back.

This one has nearly as many titles as Aristide had names: Ator III: The HobgoblinHobgoblinQuest for the Mighty Sword and Troll 3.

That’s because the costumes from Troll 2 — created by Laura Gemser, who is in this as an evil princess — got recycled and reused in this movie. D’Amato proves that he’s a genius by having whoever is inside those costumes speak.

Let me see if I can summarize this thing. Ator gets killed by the gods because he doesn’t want to give up his magic sword, which he uses to challenge criminals to battles to the death. The only goddess who speaks for him, Dehamira (Margaret Lenzey), is imprisoned inside a ring of fire until a man can save her.

That takes eighteen years, because Ator the son’s mother gave the sorcerer Grindl (the dude wearing the troll costume) her son to raise and the sword to hide. She then asked him for a suicide drink, but he gave her some Spanish Fly and got to gnome her Biblically in the back of his cave before releasing her to be a prostitute and get abused until her son eventually comes and saves her because this is a Joe D’Amato movie and women are there to be rescued, destroy men and be destroyed by men.

This movie is filled with crowd-pleasing moments and seeing as how I watched it by myself, I loved it. Ator (Eric Allan Kramer, Thor in the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns and Little John in Robin Hood: Men In Tights) looks like Giant Jeff Daniels and his fighting skills are, at best, clumsy. But he battles a siamese twin robot that shoots sparks, a goopy fire breathing lizard man who he slices to pieces and oh yeah, totally murks that troll/gnome who turned out his mom.

This is the kind of movie where Donald O’Brien and Laura Gemser play brother and sister and nobody says, “How?” You’ll be too busy saying, “Is that Marisa Mell?” and “I can’t believe D’Amato stole the cantina scene!” and “What the hell is going on with this synth soundtrack?”

Here’s even more confusion: D’Amato’s The Crawlers was also released as Troll 3. Then again, it was also called Creepers (it has nothing to Phenomena) and Contamination .7, yet has no connection with Contamination.

Only Joe D’Amato could make two sequels to a movie that has nothing to do with the movie that inspired it and raise the stakes by having nothing to do with the original film or the sequel times two. You can watch this on YouTube.

While there have never been any official Ator toys, check out the amazing custom figures that Underworld Muscle has made:

Thanks for being part of all things Ator. Which of the movies is your favorite?

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