Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on January 15, 1974
Directed by Steve Carver
Written by John & Joyce Corrington
Cast: Margaret Markov, Pam Grier, Lucretia Love, Paul Muller, Daniele Vargas, Sara Bey, Mary Louise Sinclair, Mary Count, Vic Karis, Sid Lawrence, Peter Cester, Dick Palmer, Anthony Vernon, Christopher Oakes
For our latest installment of the Video Store Action Heroes blogathon, my three colleagues and I—Mikey at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club, Greg at Destroy All Fanboys, and Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies—decided on ‘cage or ring fighting’ as our movie theme: boxing, martial arts, wrestling…any type of brawl within a square or circular playing field. So, with all those options available to me, did I go with Sylvester Stallone in any one of his many Rocky films, or Ralph Macchio battling the Cobra Kai, or perhaps even Matthew Modine going on a vision quest? Hell no, I went with the obvious: scantily-clad gladiator women beating each other silly in a Roman colosseum!
Yes, it’s The Arena, a 1974 drive-in exploitation actioner starring Margaret Markov and Pam Grier, together again after sharing the screen in Black Mama White Mama one year earlier. The setting is a small town in ancient Rome, where Markov and Grier are brought after being kidnapped from their respective clans, and are put up for auction as slaves. Soon they are sold to a man named Timarchus, who puts them to work—basically as medieval beer vendors—at the local arena, where his male gladiators do battle. But the crowds are becoming bored with it all, and after he witnesses a savage food fight between the girls, Timarchus gets an idea: how about having women do battle in the arena as well?
Though it’s nothing more than drive-in fodder, and just another of Roger Corman’s low-budget ‘women of action’ films that he cranked out in the early-’70s (a list which includes The Big Doll House, The Hot Box, and The Unholy Rollers), I must say that The Arena took itself more seriously than I expected it to, and offered up a storyline that surprisingly kept me entertained, as well as intrigued. Would these gossamer-garbed servants stand up to the Roman hierarchy, and demand justice and freedom, or would they accept their roles as arena fighters? Or, would they band together to plan an escape, and if so, how would they go about doing it?
But wait…this is a Roger Corman film, isn’t it? Yes, and if it’s skin you crave in your gladiator pictures, don’t worry, you won’t go home disappointed; sex scenes, shower scenes, dressing-for-battle scenes, waking-up-from-bad-dreams scenes…all had high Visible Mammary Quotients, with Grier and Markov leading the way in that category. But oddly enough, it was a fully-clothed character that my eyes remained locked on throughout; the handler of the slave girls, played by Italian hottie Rosalba Neri (here credited as Sara Bey), who first caught my attention in Lady Frankenstein, but who looked equally good in everything from Spaghetti westerns to Eurospy to these ‘sword and sandal’ epics.
With a decent story—okay, and a lofty VMQ—holding my interest, and with all the clashes and carnage taking place (with real swords and spears, I might add), and with location filming in Italy adding a touch of realism to the sets and backdrops, I’d say this rates a small cut above the typical Corman exploitation movies released in the 1970s, and earns itself an extra point or two in my usual ‘low-end cheese flick’ rating. And if you happen to have a video store in your area, this is not a bad rental for a night spent hanging out with your non-discriminating friends. (5/10)