Welcome back creeps and ghouls! Remember last time when I took a look at the blockbuster cinematic adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian hero Conan the Barbarian? Yeah, well wait until you get a load of what that film wrought in its mighty wake.
As ol’ Conan was becoming a legend at the box office, folks in the movie biz worldwide started to take notice. Never one to let a cinematic trend go unexploited, the Italians were some of the first to realize they could tap into the sword and sorcery zeitgeist. Their response to Conan? Why Ator the Fighting Eagle of course!
Joe D’Amato, director of such family fare as Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust, brought the adventures of Ator to movie screens a mere 5 months after the premier of Conan. While incredibly similar to its more famous antecedent: Ator leaves his small village to go on an epic quest to rescue his sister (instead of the daughter of an aging monarch) from the clutches of a villain whose whole shtick is based around spiders (instead of snakes like Thulsa Doom).
So, how does Ator differ from Conan? Well, Miles O’ Keefe (Tarzan the Ape man) has one of the most preposterous wigs in cinematic history (if this is in fact the actor’s own hair I apologize…well for the wig part, it’s still outrageous in its abject terribleness). While we are on the subject of wigs, remember James Earl Jones’ Bettie Page style number from Conan? Here they go the opposite route and provide us with a bald villain in disco eye shadow (Dakar from Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust). We also have some almost incest (Ator falls in love with his sister, but thankfully Ator is adopted, so score!), and a giant spider that defies logic in the ineptitude of its execution (those strings wouldn’t be more visible if they were spray painted neon orange)!
All in all, Ator is a great time… it’s fun, over the top, and doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is: Conan on one tenth of the budget. The film was also followed by 3 sequels (2 of which were helmed by D’Amato): The Blademaster (1984 – the same year as the Conan sequel, Conan the Destroyer), Iron Warrior (1987 this time directed by Alfonso Brescia after D’Amato left when he realized there wasn’t going to be a third Conan film), and Quest for the Mighty Sword (1988 – which saw the return of D’Amato, but the exit of O’Keefe as Ator who was replaced by Eric Allan Kramer who played Thor in The Incredible Hulk Returns and Little John in Robin Hood: Men in Tights).
As some of you may know, my longtime collaborator and Team Retroist member Sean Hartter passed away April 27th. He was working on coloring the illustration that accompanies this article at the time of his passing. I have left the piece uncolored in tribute to my friend.