Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: ATOR THE INVINCIBLE 2 (1984)

No doubt Tom’s review of ATOR left you on the edge of your seat regarding his further adventures (Ator’s, not Tom’s), but before I tackle the sequel I’ll give you a quick “Never Got Made” moment.  Indeed the Italians got the CONAN-lite into their theaters a mere 6 months after CONAN THE BARBARIAN, but did you know they promised to deliver a sequel to distributors in November 1982?  Behold the artwork for ATOR THE INVINCIBLE: THE RETURN.  This was probably intended to be shot back-to-back with the first film and offers most of the sequel’s cast with one exception.  Head villain Dakar (who played the Spider King) is listed as returning.  I know Tom is weeping at not getting to see a second battle with The Spider King.  Oh, and pterodactyls.  They promised pterodactyls.

Alas, it did take a little bit longer to get the further adventures of Ator off the ground, but they did manage it with ATOR THE INVINCIBLE 2 (released as THE BLADE MASTER in the United States).  The sequel opens with a narrator talking about the legend of Ator “which inspires the brave, comforts the weak, and strikes fear in the craven and wicked."  Damn, I don’t know how to feel – inspired, comforted, or scared.  We then cut to some shots of some cannibalistic cavemen for some reason (I guess QUEST FOR FIRE just opened in Italy?).  Keep them in the back of your mind.

The proper plot gets into motion with the men of evil Zor (David Brandon) coming to retrieve the “geometric nucleus” mechanism from scientist/alchemist Akronas (Charles Borromel).  Knowing what destruction this device can wreak in the wrong hands, Akronas sends his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster) on a quest to find Ator (the returning O’Keeffe), his former pupil and the only man who can help.  Naturally, this requires him filling her in on all the events of the first film in a 5 minute flashback.  Times have been tough on the ol’ gladi-ATOR (hey, that is how they got his name!) since he killed the Spider King.  His beloved Sunya is now dead and he has shacked up with some mute Chinese guy named Thong (Kiro Wehara) and spends all day walking around topless and lifting weights.  Hmmmmm.

Mila sets off just in the nick of time as Zor’s men storm the castle and give pursuit.  She is shot with an arrow in the shoulder, which inexplicably causes her to limp all the way to Ator’s cave.  Once there, she is saved by Ator (in surgery that requires big leaves being placed on her face) and conveys her father’s plea for help. Ator responds by locking her in a cell and stating that Akronas’ true daughter would know how to get out. She passes the challenge by making some natural gunpowder and blowing the gate off the wall. So your test is having her destroy your pad?  Gotcha.  Zor has his own plans and brings in warlock Sandor to stop our trio.  His main trick appears to be trapping them in a foggy forest and that doesn’t go over too well.  His next attack?  Invisible warriors who attack Ator and Thong in a cave.  They are quickly foiled when our heroes throw their capes over them.  Really.  Major fail Sandor and that gets you a flogging.  In the caves our trio also runs into the aforementioned cavemen and Mila almost has her heart torn out.

Now rumor has it that this film was made without any real script and the next bit substantially builds that case.  Heading to save Mila’s father, Ator decides to take a side trek to his parent’s village after Thong captures two sneaking around girls who complain of the Cungs and their ritual human sacrifices to the snake god. Ator gets there, tells his people to take a stand and is quickly captured in this obvious trap (Thong is smart enough to not get caught).  The topper to this is Mila saying to Ator as they are tied up, “I wonder if it just would have been easier if we kept going to the aid of my father?” Ya think? Captured by the Cungs, Ator and Mila watch as five local girls are sacrificed to the snake god in its cozy little snake pit.  Thong arrives just in time and frees Ator, who saves Mila down in the snake pit by battling the funniest damn huge snake you’ve ever seen.  Remember those rubber snakes you’d get as kid?  Well, imagine one of those a thousand times bigger and you’ll get how cheap this thing looks.  Our heroic trio FINALLY gets to the castle to battle Zor and Ator has a plan.  He disappears into the woods and – I’m not kidding you – pops out with a hang-glider to storm the castle via the air!  Oh, it is on now!

The sequel follows the age old tradition of doing everything twice as much as the first film.  How do we know this? Because D’Amato has Ator fighting with two swords this time! He truly is the blade master.  Unfortunately, a zero budget doubled is still zero.  Oh, I take that back as Tom has informed me they did plunk down enough cash for a one-hour hang-glider rental.  Other than that, this is as starved as the original with more of the action focused on individual sword fights rather than huge battles. Even worse, D’Amato opts to do double the amount of non-nudity and bloodletting.  Yup, once again the exploitation master chooses to make his film as bare as the bones the cavemen munch on.  I think he missed the point on why everyone was so jazzed with CONAN THE BARBARIAN in the first place.  And this film’s big snake would give the first film’s giant spider a run for its money in the “most useless monster prop” contest. Seriously, the pic above is the best look we get at it.

O’Keeffe retains his trademark stoicism and his hair is decidedly puffier this time. Lisa Foster, while no stunning Sabrina Siani, is attractive and a decent actress. David Brandon, later memorable as the angry director in Soavi’s STAGE FRIGHT (1987), is good in the role of the lead villain. He has some funny lines (“You do amuse me and provoke me”) and sports a wig and mustache that make him look like Freddie Mercury crossed with Fu Manchu.  Luckily for him, the sequel does carry over Ator’s ineptness as a barbarian.  Again, our hero gets easily fooled and trapped.  But the absolute blockheaded gem has Ator deciding to fight with only one sword in the final duel after Zor chastises him by saying, “So the might Ator needs two swords to fight, does he?”  I know Zor was probably saying to himself, “I can’t believe he actually fell for that.”  Of course, Zor ain’t too bright himself as he only starts roughing up Akronas and demanding to know where the device is seconds before Ator arrives.  Anyway, despite his dimwittedness, Ator wins in the end and decides the geometric nucleus is too dangerous for man and detonates in the barren wasteland (cut to atomic bomb stock footage).  Again, not too bright and I’m wondering how our bonehead barbarian managed to survive that one.

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