This week, I’m stepping into the wayback machine. The Yakmala gang watched Ator, the Fighting Eagle in the old days when we used to watch six movies in a sitting rather than the current four. Ator has become something of a lost Yamala film, so I decided to revisit it. I immediately regretted that decision.
Tagline: A magical power was destined to fight at his side
More Accurate Tagline: A baby bear was destined to help him marry his sister
Guilty Party: Writer/director David Hills, the pseudonym of Joe D’Amato. If you recognize the name, congratulations, you like porn. D’Amato started out in the ‘70s doing Emanuelle movies before degenerating into the less creative but much more descriptive porn titles of the ‘90s. If you rent Ator hoping for boobs and some fantasy-themed softcore grinding, you’re going to be disappointed. For all the talk of Amazons, sex and incest, this movie is perversely chaste.
Synopsis: It’s rare that a film betrays its incompetence right there in the opening credits without the words “Directed by Mark Steven Johnson.” Star Miles O’Keefe is right there above the titles, where they would normally put a name that you might recognize. Then it includes two credits that begin with “and with” and end with names that I had to look up on the IMDB just to verify that they were real people.
The film begins with some booming narration that meanders around before coming around to something resembling a point. The evil Kingdom of the Spiders will rule the land for a thousand years until some guy named Ator will show up and… do something. The prophecies are spectacularly vague. This is what happens when your oracle is a concussed John Edward.
Anyway a kid is born with a cheesy tattoo on his left upper chest. The midwife freaks out about this, because she knows you’re not supposed to tattoo infants until they’re at least eighteen months old. At that moment, the High Priest of the Spider (who looks like a gay Isaac Hayes) sees that a statue is crying blood, which is the equivalent of a birth announcement. Isaac Gayes sends his black knights out for an extremely late-term abortion.
Fortunately, this guy Griba (who looks exactly like a John Byrne drawing of Genghis Khan) shows up and spirits the baby away. The baby’s name is Ator, which is really more of a suffix than a name. He hands the kid over to a random couple and goes to hang out in the nearby woods.
Cut to an indeterminate amount of time later. Ator now looks like the front man of an early’80s metal outfit, complete with a disconcerting permed mullet. Ator decides he wants to marry his sister Sunya, then finds out that she’s not a blood relation. Yes, this was the order in which that happened. Isaac Gayes shows up at the Alabama wedding looking for Griba, but settles for Sunya, kidnapping her, slaughtering the village and conking Ator on the head.
Quest time! Ator sets out to retrieve Sunya with only his axe, a bear cub and a feather/leather ensemble at hand. After getting some training from Griba, Ator wanders in whatever direction that Spider Temple was.
Ator’s first act as hero is to get himself captured by a tribe of Amazons, who then have a catfight over who gets to fuck him. Maybe I’ve got this Ator guy all wrong. Maybe he’s not so dumb! But no. The Amazon who wins, Roon, is a nubile thief that Ator rescued during his hero training. She’s ready to go, but Ator shoots her down. See, he only has eyes for his sister. Roon decides that this is the kind of guy she should hang out with more. They escape the Amazons and, after some poorly placed traveling, wind up at the Temple of the Spider, which mostly looks like the amphitheatre at Pomona College during a Gor LARP.
Ator and Roon encounter Isaac Gayes in the throne room and have maybe the easiest boss fight in history. Ator then hears Sunya screaming and promptly runs off, abandoning Roon. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that black knights come in from all directions (including the one that Ator just went, meaning they must have passed each other in the hall, thrown the other an awkward nod, and kept going).
Ator finds Sunya stuck to a web made out of rope. Not sure how that works. A giant spider lurks farther back in the cave. Ator frees Sunya, but suddenly Griba comes out of nowhere. He reveals that he was the original High Priest of the Spider and he trained Ator to kill Isaac Gayes, who had usurped Griba’s position. Now Griba will kill Ator and everything will be cool again! Nope. Ator sticks him to the rope web and leaves with his sibling/girlfriend. Then he goes ahead and kills the giant spider, because fuck spiders.
Suddenly remembering that he has a companion that at this point has saved his life at least once, Ator runs off to check on Roon. She’s dying on the floor, surrounded by the corpses of the black knights. Had Ator stuck around, or even just killed the one guy he passed in the hall, Roon would be fine. Ator then leaves with Sunya to get to work on some one-eyed flipper babies.
Life-Changing Subtext: Nothing should stand between a man and his ladylove. Not spiders, sexy Amazons or social mores.
Defining Quote: Not a single line, but an exchange between Ator and Sunya early on in the film really tells you what sort of movie you’re dealing with.
Ator: “I love you.”
Sunya: “And I love you.”
Ator: “Why can’t we marry?”
Sunya: “Ator, we are brother and sister.”
Ator: “I’ll talk with our father.”
This is so much funnier if you imagine Sunya as a terrified teenager. In the actual movie, she’s legal and really psyched.
Standout Performance: None of the acting is particularly lifelike, but special mention to the spider. Ed Wood would be embarrassed to have this thing in his film. The fishing lines holding up its limbs are clearly visible, and when Ator kills it, it bleeds orange Fanta.
What’s Wrong: Well, other than the whole sister-marrying thing, there’s the bad acting and cheesy dialogue. It’s also paced very poorly. At a mere ninety-odd minutes, it should be a breeze, but somehow becomes a slog.
Flash of Competence: The most appealing part of the film is that at no point does Roon believe Sunya exists. Throughout the movie, Roon periodically teases Ator, even with her dying breath. “Yeah, sure Ator. I don’t know her. She goes to a different school in Canada. You met her in Niagara Falls. Whatever, dude.”
Best Scenes: There are a lot of uncomfortable conversations one can have with one’s parents. I’m guessing that the worst one of all is, “hey, dad, I’d like to marry my sister!” Well, you wouldn’t know it from watching Ator. This is the best news dad has ever heard. He’s so happy he immediately has to rush off and tell mom about it. They plan the wedding and one day later, Ator is picking flowers out of his perm.
Along the way, Ator encounters a sexy sorceress, mostly because Conan did. And just like in Conan, she turns out to be an evil hag. Here’s the thing. She has a drape hanging over something in her room that she warns Ator not to touch. Later on, Roon shows up, and with no knowledge, shoots right for the drape. This reveals a mirror, which turns the hot sorceress into a hag. Now here’s the great part: the hag curses Ator. At no point does the curse become a factor. It’s immediately forgotten. Also, and this is only apparent on repeat viewings, her weakness is mirrors. Ator later gets a mirrored shield. It’s not the mirror in the hag’s chamber, nor does he use it to kill the hag. Just two random powerful mirrors.
Transcendent Moment: In any epic fantasy film, the opening narration really sets the tone. Think about the wizard’s introduction in Conan, or Galadriel’s history of the One Ring. The narration in Ator feels like someone transcribed the breathless ranting of a first grader off his Ritalin. It starts out talking about the evil Spider Temple, then segues into the hero that will take them down. His name? Ato… Tauren? Who the fuck is Tauren? Well, no one knows because Tauren gets killed. Turns out his only contribution to things was spreading his seed like the unholy offspring of Johnny Appleseed and Ron Jeremy.
In the grand scheme of things, Ator, the Fighting Eagle isn’t that terrible. It’s a dirt-cheap Italian fantasy movie with a sunny attitude toward incest, which is something you don’t see every day.