Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

The Arena

Cinema Monolith: 5/10 The Monolith
IMDb: 5.4/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: ** out of 4

Released on January 15, 1974
Rated R
83 minutes

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)


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14 comments on “The Arena

  1. I recall this one well from one of my Corman/Grier box sets, Worth repeated viewings for a couple obvious reasons. Honestly I need that poster in my collection. I too have noticed Miss Neri in my thirst for Euro flicks. Not to missed is her appearance in The Devil’s Wedding Night. A great pick and one that has me thinking I might be due for a revisit. Haven’t seen since I started up the blog so it’s 5ive plus years.

    • Todd B
      4/20/19

      I have The Devil’s Wedding Night, but don’t remember much of it, so that’ll be a re-visit for me as well. But if you haven’t seen it yet, Lady Frankenstein is worth a look, not only for Rosalba but for it’s camp value. And yes, the one-sheet for The Arena is pretty cool…I miss that type of artwork style in today’s posters.

      • I have seen Lady Frankenstein and it’s classic Euro trash. Recently scored the overseas blu ray edition as well. Looking to check it out.

      • Todd B
        4/20/19

        Oh my, Ms. Neri on Blu-ray…all the copies I’ve seen of that one are cruddy, muddled on-line editions, in full-screen, so yours has GOT to be an improvement. Hmmm, do I see a Sara Bey festival in our future?

  2. Oh my good god! They are medieval beer vendors! I need to get Pam and Margaret down at my local the Barking Cat as soon as humanly possible. Obviously this will need the assistance of a time machine as we’d need 1970’s Pam and Marg not Pam and Marg in their 70s! Actually scrub that, hell you would get some mighty fine stories from those fine cougars.

    Haha the Todd trademarked VMQ needs to be the tried and tested stamp of approval for essential films to be seen. Just one look at that stamp on a VHS box and who needs to read the plot on the back! Just take that bad boy up to the counter and you know you’re getting good Visible Mammary Quotients.

    Rosalba Neri noted, off for investigation right now. You might want to look at the pictures from Top Sensation (1969) I’ll add as a side note. The Arena is one I’ve always wanted to see. So hopefully I’ll get to it soon.

    • Todd B
      4/21/19

      If Pam and Margaret (from any era) were working at the Barking Cat, I’d be on a British Airways flight tomorrow, and be catching a shuttle to Poole immediately upon landing! And after checking out some photos from The Seducers (aka Top Sensation), I think we’d have to throw Edwige Fenech into the mix as well.

      That would be awesome if video stores had included a VMQ sticker on the cases of certain ‘Monolith approved’ films; they could even have an entire section devoted to such tapes!

      Hopefully you have access to The Arena somehow…I couldn’t find it on YouTube, so you may have to track down that Corman Classics set. Or I can just lend you mine, for a nominal fee.

      • I’m sure I’ll find it by hook or by crook. The babe count will keep me going through my arduous quest and laborious dangerous adventure. Pam and Marg VMQ promise will boost the energy levels as I climb perilous google search mountains. I shall be victorious and then replenish my soul with imagining nesting my face upon their bosoms.

        Damn man Edwige Fenech “schwing” lol

      • Todd B
        4/22/19

        Now I know what my choice of theme will be for our next VSAH blogathon: “Edwige Fenech Films from ANY Decade”. And thanks for that link…that reminds me of me when I stand in line at Taco Bell!

        And sadly, it’s been quite some time since I’ve replenished my soul…

      • 🙂 An Edwige Fenech blogathon would be just pictures and no words! Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.

        “That reminds me of me when I stand in line at Taco Bell!” HAHA To bloomin funny 🙂

      • Todd B
        4/25/19

        Who needs words? Nothing wrong with that AT ALL! And now I’ve got a few more ideas for what our next VSAH theme will be. Hmmm…I’ve got a lot of thinking to do over the next few months…

      • Can’t wait to see our next subject for the next VSAH adventure in the video store memory bank.

      • Todd B
        4/27/19

        I hope you guys like the theme I picked: ‘G-Rated Action Rom-Coms Starring Phyllis Diller’.

      • LOL Well I’d be doomed! I’ve never heard of her but on looking I would of heard her voice at sometime or another. I know your joking but please don’t hehehehe

      • Todd B
        4/28/19

        Awwww, I was SO LOOKING FORWARD to having a Phyllis Diller theme! Oh well…back to the drawing board!

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From the Monolith: 124

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