This is yet another entry in Shout Factories LETHAL LADIES series. More bodacious badass babes beating back the bad guys in B movie boilerplate. From bullets blazing, bare breasts to bloody beatdowns these movies have all the “B” sounding things you would ever want in a film except for brains, of course yet somehow, remarkably, I think many fans of this genre will barely notice their absence. Let us ravage its packaging, and forcibly insert this DVD at once for our selfish male enjoyment and hope that it doesn’t come back to kill us an hour and a half later for not gently asking its consent first. As I often do, I have subliminally given away the basic plot of all of these films, even though I have actually told you nothing new.
The Arena (1974)
At the beginning of this film two different women who have never before met find themselves in pretty much the same dire situation. A Roman legion attacks and slaughters everyone they have ever known and makes slaves of them. One of the women, Bodicia (Margaret Markov) is conscripted from a Viking village, while the other Mamawi (Pam Grier) plays a Nubian tribeswoman. At first these women and other female prisoners like them were only supposed to serve as slaves, women of comfort for the arena gladiators but soon after witnessing them engaging in a kitchen catfight, an enterprising Roman senator naming Lucilius orders them to start being trained into gladiators themselves as a kind of novelty act, because it seems the Roman citizens have been getting tired of the same old stale games of death packaged as entertainment (I somehow know the feeling). As they are trained in basic combat it is obvious that these two women will come to rely on another to survive even perhaps at the expense of the other’s life in a fight to the death in the arena. While many of the other female slaves serve as fodder for the plot as well as the Arena game itself, our two intrepid gladiatrix find themselves in a final fight to the death in the center of the Arena, each woman desperate for a last stab at freedom.
I don’t want to call this a simple jiggle film, despite the rampant nudity in this movie as in all other movies contained in these Roger Corman Cult Classics thus far. There are some heavy themes explored in this film, from racism, to the “surprise” equality of women (to be every bit as mean, violent and as bloodthirsty as their male captors). There is even some unspoken discussion of racism and related visual themes of inequality as in any movie featuring slaves of whatever color representing characters who all belong to some sort of historically exploited group e.g., (female, black, half naked B movie prisoner)… But oddly enough, this film seems to suffer greatly for its attempts at higher meaning as it is essentially just another woman in prison movie which plays out in perfect order from the beginning obligatory shower scene to the final escape attempt sequence. Yet, oddly enough despite its W.I.P. heritage SET IN ANCIENT ROME?!?, there wasn’t a lesbian scene but this film could have really used one, between Bodicia and Mamawi even and especially if it was tasteful, consensual and without nudity. This whole film only had any higher meaning whatsoever because of the unlikely friendship between the two women from vastly different worlds, who were all but destined for a fight to the death and yet a final scene of ultimate tenderness (as if from a single, understated girl on girl kiss in the closing credits) would have given the plot of this thing a breakneck character fulfillment arc that would have completely ensnared the viewer’s sensibilities in its final moments like a Roman Gladiator with an Iaculum (casting net). Roger Corman produced a remake of the THE ARENA in 2001 starring former Playboy centerfolds, but needless to say this film was relegated to late night, crotch-conscious cable channels where it is still occasionally seen to this day.
Fly Me (1973)
Another touching story of three assertive ladies in formulaic tales of intrigue, and sexy adventure reminiscent of the Naughty Nurses collection I reviewed here. While the trio of women in this flick are all stewardesses instead of nurses, this is much the same film as that box set except for a sinister subplot of organized crime involving a Hong Kong crime syndicate, (more on this later). This story centers on Toby (Pat Anderson), a pretty blonde whose attempts to court and have some romantic down time with a handsome bone doctor are thwarted by her overprotective mother who seems to engage in the exact type of shrewish, obsessed stalking behavior toward her daughter that she accuses all men of. Next is Andrea (Lenore Kasdorf), a karate trained woman who spends the movie searching for her missing boyfriend, a man who may be more (and less) than he represented himself to be to her. Finally there is Sherry (Llylah Torena), a part time drug smuggler who shouldn’t have sampled her own supply and quickly runs afoul of the bad people. And this is where this film of silly, sexy adventure and giggling trysts takes a darker turn that jogs this jiggle film into a darker place; an unexpected tale of foreign travel gone horribly wrong that even a HOSTEL movie wouldn’t touch..
Sherry is soon kidnapped by the Hong Kong Mafia for her stealing company product and it is decided that she will work off her debt to the company in a high end brothel. Vague scenes of her being drugged against her will and raped (at least once) are understated but obvious for all viewers of at least the age of puberty. The other women miss their friend so they start to poke around and also end up drugged or nearly sold away to the slave auction as well. The sudden surprise disintegration of just another silly, sexy romp by nubile half naked service industry workers into an classic evil sexploitation “escape from rape island” plot actually shocked me, when I thought nothing in these bulk fed box sets could anymore, and at least kept my interest for the bizarre gun toting, Kung fu finale where all the Hong Kong thugs were beaten back by the three women and their boyfriends, (one of them just happened to be an authority from the Japanese Secret Police).
This sudden conversion (perversion?) of just another nubile sex adventure by buxom topless nymphs looking for nookie into an international tale of intrigue filled with sexual slavery, murder and chop socky was nothing that truly gave me cause for either lust or dread, but the shift in tone was enough to where I couldn’t exactly tell you what was going to happen next so I have to say these stewardesses kept me company for this 72 minute flight into sexploitation, though it certainly was not first class accommodations and there were long stretches of this where they offered me little comfort, save for the usual abundance of “pillows” of the nurses set.
Cover Girl Models (1975)
From the director of the last genre twisting film comes COVER GIRL MODELS once again a trio of clothing optional ladies are shown at work and at play in a foreign land, this time the Philippines. This one is easier to follow as two of the women in it happen to be carbon copies of one another as successful blonde models Barbara (Pat Anderson) and Claire (Lindsday Bloom) the real story of this one is the classic development of girl next door Mandy (Tara Strohmeier) into unlikely supermodel by film’s end. Had this been the simple story of a small town girl persevering against long odds to become a fashion model while still keeping her virtue intact it would have been a much better and easily comprehensible film, instead we get the story of a young fashion model hopeful repeatedly seduced, degraded and lied to by her big name fashion photographer “Mark” (John Kramer) who routinely sleeps with all the subjects he shoots, and secretly submits pictures of his models to hardcore porno mags and yet somehow ends up at the end of the film no worse for wear for his trickery.
But not so fast! As if this dystopic, depressing look at the fashion industry wasn’t a weak enough premise for a film, this flick has the sub-plot of a certain microfilm hidden in one of the dresses containing top secret cold war information which could change the balance of world power. So for seventy-three minutes the drama plays out. Let’s recap. Mark diddles all three models with no price to be played for his duplicity, no less than three separate national factions battle each other for the possession of the microfilm which culminates in a gigantic violent free for all involving all characters and in the end Mandy gets awarded a lucrative modeling contract for reasons having nothing to do with the fact that she spent the better part of the film unknowingly acting as Mark’s cuckold and whore throughout the duration of the film. The ending of the flick is a mix of open gunplay, karate death blows and loud shrill nonsense which reminds us that sex and violence should never be allowed to mix unchecked onscreen without at least some directorial control if not focus. Unlike the rest of the films in this set, the “photo shoot” scenes so inherent to this particular film are just an excuse to indoctrinate the female characters into taking off their tops as quickly as possible in the story and I have seen less clinical exposition of naked breasts on an instructional self-exam card from the National Breast Council Foundation than in this film.
Once again I have danced with the LETHAL LADIES of Shout Factory and the verdict remains much the same. First, lots of gratuitous exposed breasts followed by open cans of whoopass on every man who dare touch them against the owner’s consent. Oh well. When compared to most of the films that get sent to me these days, these almost pass as romantic comedies. I give these films three stars collectively, but only because THE ARENA is highly sought after by collectors who have been anxiously awaiting this film on DVD for years (but don’t want to pay $40.00 for it).
Special features include audio commentary during THE ARENA by Director James Carver, a featurette IN THE ARENA with Roger Corman, producer Mark Damon, Director Steve Carver and Margaret Markov. Also included are trailers and TV spots.