Skip to content

Plot: Hercules battles the forces of Atlantis to free a member of nobility

History has been perhaps somewhat unjustly cruel to Italian director Alfonso Brescia. He is often passed off as an ordinary hack in the vein of Andrea Bianchi, Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso, or Joe D’Amato. While Brescia was indeed a director without much of a distinct individual style, his early filmography shows a remarkable retraint as to what would define his truly indefensible work in the 1970s. Alfonso Brescia, for all the bad things that can rightly leveled at him, was a versatile, workhorse director that tried his hand at most exploitation genres. That he is retroactively remembered for his unintentionally funny late seventies budget-starved Star Trek (1966-1969) inspired science fiction quadrilogy - Cosmos: War Of the Planets (1977), Battle Of the Stars (1978), War Of the Robots (1978), and Star Odyssey (1979) – does a disservice to his early work as a director. In the 1980s Brescia found success as a director of sceneggiata - especially the ones he made with singer/actor Mario Merola – or melodramas set in, and specific to, Naples.

As is so often the case Alfonso inherited his love for the cinematic arts from his father Edoardo Brescia, who produced three films during the 1940s and 1950s. Brescia first enrolled in production work, before moving up to assistant – and second unit director in the following years. In that capacity Brescia spent his late twenties under aegis of Mario Caiano, Giuseppe Vari, Mario Amendola, and Silvio Amadio with his earliest credits in the industry going as far back as 1957. In 1964 he had penned the screenplays for the Mario Caiano pepla Maciste, Gladiator of Sparta (1964) and The Two Gladiators (1964). The screenplays deemed functional and adequately written Brescia was finally allowed to move to the much coveted director’s chair. Following in the footsteps of his tutors Brescia cut two trite and banal genre pieces with Revolt of the Praetorians and The Magnificent Gladiator in 1964, only manifesting his real creative persona with his third feature, the peplum curiosity The Conqueror Of Atlantis.

By 1965 the peplum cycle was winding down, and the genre had lost its luster and profitability. That didn’t stop producers and directors of various stripe to milk the genre for another decade on a much lower budget scale. The proof that there still was some budget to go around translates itself in location shooting in Egypt and an assortment in extras, including bellydancers, camels and nomad warriors. In that respect The Conqueror Of Atlantis at least has a veneer of respectability, even though it’s obviously a popcorn flick at heart. Whether it’s the lively pastel colors, or the Atlantean subplot lifted straight out of a 1950s science fiction movie The Conqueror Of Atlantis showcases at least a semblance of directorial prowess that Brescia would lose by the next decade. Not that The Conqueror Of Atlantis is in any way original per se. Its most direct forebear is the Reg Park peplum Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (1961) and The Giant Of Metropolis (1961). Hélène Chanel’s Queen Ming wardrobe and headgear obviously was meant to resemble that of Ursula Andress’ in She (1965) and Pietro Ceccarelli’s in Cold Steel for Tortuga (1965). Cinematographer Fausto Rossi - who would collaborate with Brescia on the The Amazons (1973) cash-in Battle Of the Amazons (1973) and the Shaw Bros co-production Amazons vs Supermen (1974) – is obviously no Pier Ludovico Pavoni or Mario Bava but does manage to inject The Conqueror Of Atlantis with a sense of panache, however minimal, and accentuates accentuate the bright colors and lively wardrobe palette that it busies itself with.

Just like The Labors Of Hercules (1958) needed a fitting strongman to fill the titular role, Brescia found his leading man in Adriano Bellini – a bodybuilder working as a gondolier on a canal boat in Venice, Italy – who was to become Kirk Morris. Morris had starred Antonio Margheriti’s Anthar the Invincible (1964), and prior to that several Maciste, Samson, and a number of Arabic variants of the peplum. Luciana Gilli had been in Ursus In the Land of Fire (1963), Sword Of Damascus (1964), Temple Of A Thousand Lights (1965), and Brescia’s spaghetti western The Colt Is My Law (1965). Hélène Chanel - one of the more frequently used aliases of French-Russian model-turned-actress Hélène Stoliaroff - was active in Italian genre cinema from 1959 to 1977. In the near 20 years that she was active Chanel amassed a respectable filmography across a number of genres. Known for her platinum blonde hair and piercing blue eyes Chanel started out in comedies from Silvio Amadio and Marino Girolami in the 1960s. In the following decade she became a fixture in peplum, Eurocrime, and spaghetti westerns. The Conqueror Of Atlantis arrived the middle of her career. Chanel and Kirk Morris collaborated on a further three peplum with Maciste In Hell (1962), Desert Raiders (1964), and Hercules of the Desert (1964). The Conqueror Of Atlantis was the last appearance of Kirk Morris and Luciana Gilli in a peplum. A fitting sendoff for both as The Conqueror Of Atlantis integrates fantasy, science fiction, and retro-future production design in what otherwise is a bog standard and banal sword-and-sandal epic.

The Conqueror Of Atlantis starts out innocuously enough with Heracles (Adriano Bellini, as Kirk Morris), en route to Greece after having battled the Parthians, washing ashore in some unspecified region somewhere in, supposedly, Egypt. After being nursed back to health by one of the region’s nomadic tribes he is immediately smitten with alluring desert princess Virna (Luciana Gilli). Virna’s tribe wages war with the legions of Karr (Andrea Scotti), but both end up reconciling their petty differences in the face of a greater common enemy. As legends speak of Golden Phantoms near the Mountain Of the Dead, a threat far greater than some petty intertribal dispute looms over the arid landscapes. When forces unknown kidnap Virna, Heracles and Karr discover the last outpost of Atlantis buried deep in the Sahara Desert. Presiding over the withering Atlantean civilization is Queen Ming (Hélène Chanel), 3000-year old and dying, the evil sorcerer Ramir (Piero Lulli) and his Amazon high guards. The Atlanteans believe Virna to be the reincarnation of their very first Queen. To save Virna and humanity from certain death both men must face the horrors within the bowels of the Mountain Of the Dead, and overcome the seemingly invincible blue-clad, golden-skinned autonomous combat units, in fact fallen desert warriors, that populate the City Of the Phantoms.

That isn’t to say that The Conqueror Of Atlantis is in any way original. It is, more or less, a loose remake of the earlier and entertaining The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) with Gordon Mitchell and Bella Cortez. Not even the concept of of Atlantis in the Sahara Desert was particularly novel at this point. The Mistress Of Atlantis (1932) and Journey Beneath the Desert (1961) both precede The Giant Of Metropolis, and both are adaptations of the 1920 Pierre Benoit novel Atlantida/L’Atlantide. The Conqueror Of Atlantis follows the basic plot outline of the novel and when it doesn’t, it pilfers liberally from The Giant Of Metropolis and Hercules and the Conquest Of Atlantis (1961). There’s a sense of vitality and liveliness to Brescia’s direction that elevates The Conqueror Of Atlantis beyond mere peplum fodder. Said enthusiasm would be sapped out of Brescia’s direction by the end of the decade. If there’s one characteristic that defines Brescia’s work it’s that detached indifference to whatever project he’s helming that would truly manifest itself during his output in the following decade. The Conqueror Of Atlantis is a wonderfully quirky peplum that steals from much earlier, better properties and makes no qualms about what it is. Brescia’s third directorial effort actually showcases exactly why he was a promising Italian journeyman exploitation director initially. He not always was the inept hack he turned into as the budgets of his productions shrunk.

To his credit Alfonso Brescia makes efficient use of his resources. Kirk Morris was the thrift-store equivalent of Steve Reeves and Luciana Gilli was the perfect leading lady for a production that obviously couldn’t afford hiring continental belles as Dagmar Lassander, Helga Liné, Amparo Muñoz, Bárbara Capell, Sylva Koscina, or Rosanna Yanni. The producers behind The Conqueror Of Atlantis were an assembly of old veterans and new blood. Giorgio Agliani was the most experienced of the three, producing the Lucio Fulci costume drama Beatrice Cenci (1969) a few years down the line. Pier Ludovico Pavoni was a cinematographer that occassionally directed. Ludovico helmed Amore Libero – Free Love (1974) a decade later, introducing seventies soft erotic starlet Laura Gemser to the world. The Conqueror Of Atlantis was Alberto Chimenz’ second with only A Queen For Caesar (1962) preceding it. If one was to trace back where Alfonso Brescia’s peculiarities as a science-fiction writer first took root this one is a good place to start. The Conqueror Of Atlantis wouldn’t be remembered today if wasn’t for the fact that its influence was instrumental on Luigi Cozzi who would, embolstered by Brescia’s inane vision here, helm two Hercules productions of his own. It it wasn’t for The Conqueror Of Atlantis there wouldn’t be Hercules (1983) and The Adventures Of Hercules (1985). We are forever endebted to Alfonso Brescia…

In many ways is The Conqueror Of Atlantis a prototype for his late 1970s science fiction trifecta. The Atlantean world domination scheme would be reused in Star Oddysey (1979) and the turncoat princess plot device would be return in both Battle Of the Amazons (1973) and again in War Of the Robots (1978). Likewise would be two enemies working together resurface in Cosmos: War Of the Planets (1977), Brescia’s take on Mario Bava’s vastly superior Planet Of the Vampires (1965). The golden-skinned automatons formed a crucial part of Cosmos: War Of the Planets (1977), War Of the Robots (1978), and the delirious Star Oddysey (1979), by which point Brescia had descended into unintentional parody instead of loving homage. However here he wasn’t quite at that point yet, and the hunger and enthusiasm is visible. It still isn’t a very good movie by any reasonable metric, but at least it’s thoroughly entertaining. The Conqueror Of Atlantis is probably the most enjoyable the oeuvre of Alfonso Brescia is likely to get, and it is best approached as such. It’s a delectable slice of peplum cheese from a director who would in less than a decade forth be shoveling some of the most comically inept celluloid dirt.

Plot: bored socialites screw themselves, and others, over on opulent yacht

The abolition of the Hays Code in 1968 finally allowed American filmmakers to capitalize on the Sexual Revolution that was taking place in various places around the world. No longer restricted by its stifling regulations and free of its rigorous censoring directors could finally push the envelope in a more liberated fashion. In parallel movement erotic cinema surged in Canada thanks to Danielle Ouimet and her fellow stars of Maplesyrup porn (which is something of a misnomer as many productions of the cycle were soft erotic movies by and large) and the commedia sexy all'italiana turning up the heat in view of the more looser societal norms.

Leading the charge in terms of sexual liberation and gratuitous display of skin was Top Sensation (released in North America as The Seducers through Jerry Gross' Cinemation Industries), a thriller mostly remembered for being the only thriller, or early giallo, to pair together Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech, two of Italy's most desirable exploitation starlets. In a number of ways Top Sensation laid the groundwork for Nico Mastorakis’ deeply cynical Hellenic proto-slasher Island Of Death (1976). Dismissed on release as an exercise in pulp and tedium Top Sensation has since garnered the reputation of something of a cult favorite. Its formula proved strong enough that it even spawned one or two imitations of it own. Not bad for a movie about a bunch of unlikeable, bored rich people.

Ottavio Alessi had been second unit directing in various capacity since 1940, so it seems only logical that he would eventually ascent to the director’s chair to helm his own features. His only directing credit prior to Top Sensation was the Totò comedy What Ever Happened to Baby Totò? (1964). Handling second unit direction for the production was Rosalba Neri, who had over a decade of experience in front of the camera by that point. Based upon his earlier writing, and the decadence that would give Top Sensation its repute, Alessi was hired to co-write the screenplay for The Snake God (1970) with Nadia Cassini and to later provide the story for the Joe D’Amato directed Black Emanuelle installments Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage (1976), and Emanuelle in America (1977).

Top Sensation takes the central premise of Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962), one part of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), and spices it up with a healthy dose of Mediterreanean eroticism. Directed by screenwriter Ottavio Alessi Top Sensation works despite its minuscule budget and solitary location. In fact Top Sensation spawned imitations of its own with Giuliano Biagetti’s Interrabang (1969), with Haydée Politoff, and Ruggero Deodato’s Waves Of Lust (1975) with Deodato’s wife-to-be Silvia Dionisio in what looked like a constant state of undress. Not that Top Sensation is in any way lacking in terms of bare skin and nudity on display. Capitalizing on the nascent pin-up culture Top Sensation puts its two leading ladies in the skimpiest of bikinis, and more often than not, out of them.

Central to the plot of Top Sensation is middle-aged oil heiress Mudy (Maud Belleroche, as Maud De Belleroche), a jetset socialite, who has taken her mentally challenged, socially stunted son Tony (Ruggero Miti) on a boating trip on her yacht. Tony lives isolated in his bunk and enjoys nothing more than playing with his toy cars, and starting the occassional fire. Invited along for the trip are the stunning Paola (Rosalba Neri) and Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia), a young couple whose frolicking she hopes will spark the flame of sexual desire in Tony. Also on the yacht is Ulla (Edwige Fenech), a high-class escort, to ensure that Tony's first sexual experience is worth treasuring. To its credit the screenplay keeps how Mudy came into her fortune - whether she amassed it herself, or plainly married into it - rather vague. Circling around Mudy like vultures are Paola and Aldo, an upper-class gold-digging young couple, who take turns seducing the seemingly always cranky Mudy. Ulla partakes in the scheme but for entirely different reasons than Paola and Aldo. When the boat experiences technical problems near an island, and Tony takes a liking to naive, world-strange goat herder Beba (Eva Thulin, as Ewa Thulin) things go haywire when her husband Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) gets wind of the situation…

Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech spent most of their screentime in the skimpiest of bikinis, and about as much time out of them. Both women are highly sexual, and completely sexualized. In its defense at least Top Sensation makes no qualms or excuses about the fact. Early on Paola and Ulla notice Andro spying on them from the foliage. “God, I wish he'd move into the open more,” Ulla muses, “he ought to be hard by now” Paola notes in a near-porn exchange. The two girls lure him out by taking their tops off and oiling each other on the deck with sunscreen. When the boat first experiences trouble, Tony disappears and is seen on the nearest island. Aldo and Ulla volunteer to search the shore and return the young boy. At one point Ulla, wearing nothing more than a captain’s hat and a white shirt, runs into a wandering goat nearby Beba’s farm, something which greatly excites her. Aroused by the farm animal she spills out her left breast - which the goat happily indulges in suckling with reckless abandon - as the goat makes its way down she allows herself to be orally pleasured by the animal. Aldo, enthused at the shore-bound vista, wastes no time in documenting the salacious happening with a photocamera he brought along for the trip. Later on the boat Paola and Ulla ravage Beba by feeding her alcohol, and the two are only stopped when Mudy barges in on the lower deck.

The stars of Top Sensation are Rosalba Neri, at the height of desirability at 31, and Edwige Fenech, a freshfaced 21 year old model-turned-actress from France. Neri was regular in peplum, spaghetti western, Eurospy adventures and comedies throughout most of the sixties. Rosalba had also partaken in several Jess Franco productions by that point, back when doing so wasn't considered a surefire way to either sabotage, or end, one's career in the cinematic arts. Top Sensation marked Neri's trajectory towards more risqué productions. Not only did she direct second unit but also ensured that she looks amazing for the entirety of the production. In the seventies Neri would figure into, among others, The Beast Kills In Cold Blood (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971), The French Sex Murders (1972) (an all-star giallo with Anita Ekberg, Barbara Bouchet and Evelyne Kraft), and The Devil's Wedding Night (1973). Even though Neri was anywhere and everywhere in the 1970s she never truly established herself as a leading lady, much in the same way as her contemporaries Paola Tedesco and Rita Calderoni. In short, Top Sensation is sensational and quintessential viewing for Rosalba Neri completists/fanatics.

In more ways than one Top Sensation was a career-defining performance from the nubile Edwige Fenech. Fenech owned much, if not all, of her acting career to director Sergio Martino. After Edwige's appearance in Mario Bava’s 5 Dolls For An August Moon (1970) Martino directed her in The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and All Colors Of the Dark (1972). The only thing of note that Fenech had done prior to Top Sensation was the amiable adventure Samao, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) along with that other famous comedic star of the 1970s, Femi Benussi. Thanks to her work in giallo with Sergio Martino, Fenech would establish herself as the royalty of domestic exploitation. In the following decade Edwige would make her return to the commedia sexy all'italiana where she originally found her footing. Like her co-star Rosalba Neri, Edwige Fenech doesn't shy from the near-constant or partial nudity that her role requires. She seems to be having a blast.

Top Sensation was the only acting credit for Maud Belleroche and the screen debut for Eva Thulin whose career lasted a brief two years and encompasses a total of four movies. Maud de Belleroche is a Baroness from the exclusive 17th arrondissement of Paris, France who gained some repute and infamy as a writer, journalist and sympathizer to the Collaboration. As a student she was the mistress of Jean Luchaire and eventually followed her second husband Georges Guilbaud in exile to Germany, Italy, Spain and Argentina. De Belleroche was a decorated sportswoman (French junior ice skating champion, French record-holder scuba-diving) and gifted orator for Amis de Versailles, Amis des Châteaux de la Loire, Alliance Française, Connaissance du monde. She published various book under the alias Sacquard de Belleroche and won the Prix ​​Broquette-Gonin of literature of the French Academy in 1963 for Five Characters in search of Emperor. Her memoire The Ordinatrice from 1968 was so popular that it warranted a follow-up a few years down the line. Ruggero Miti - whose acting career lasted from 1966 to 1972, and whose only other credit of note is La Rivoluzione Sessuale (1968) with commedia sexy all-italiana queen Laura Antonelli - has the look of a 1970s Milo Ventimiglia or rather a fairly standard 1970s Italian pretty boy.

There's plenty of the naked female form to be had in Top Sensation, but it is custodian to quite some rich subtext beyond the superficiality of the premise. First and foremost, Top Sensation is about corruption: the corruption of wealth, the corruption of innocence and its brazen transgressive sexual politics qualify it as a giallo. Every character, Beba excepted, is thoroughly reprehensible. Paola and Aldo are two bored upper-class yuppies, with Paola being a bisexual nymphomaniac to boot. Ulla is a first-class opportunist who will jump at every chance if it involves personal enrichment. Mudy is high-strung, bossy, and abusive to anyone in her vicinity, not only Tony. At one point she encourages Beba, battered once more by her inebriated peasant of a husband, to cast off the shackles of the subservient, submissive housewife role she has assumed. However, none of it is genuine, as Mudy only does so as a way of extorting money from Andro via Beba. In other words, every single person, with exception of Beba, on the boat is thoroughly corrupted by greed, jealousy, and emotionally manipulative in the worst of ways.

Bored with their wealth and bored with their lives the socialites on the yacht will stop at nothing to screw over someone, anyone, everyone if it helps in their personal enrichment. Paola and Aldo are hired by Mudy to get Tony interested in the fairer sex, but that doesn't stop the two from trying to seduce Mudy at various points. Paola only shows interest in Beba once it's clear that Tony cares for her. In the ultimate act of corruption Paola and Ulla feed Beba alcohol which leads into a memorable girl-on-girl three-way that makes Paola's sapphic liaison with Mudy pale in comparison. By proxy Ulla is the least morally bankrupt of the socialites as she's merely there on a contractual basis, although that doesn't make her any less culpable in what ultimately transpires. Top Sensation is transgressive and risqué at various points but it never quite develops into something that really pushes the envelope. It's the old warhorse: the decadent ruling class feeding on the proletariat.

Concluded by a quote from Ecclesiastes in hopes of redeeming itself Top Sensation manages to do a lot with very little. With only a single location at its disposal the premise hinges on how well the dialog is able to sell the characters. Terrible English dubbing notwithstanding every actor gives his or her all to the characters. Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are a delight as a duo of nymphomaniac sex kittens that struggle to keep their clothes on, Maurizio Bonuglia revels in playing a sleazebag, whereas Eva Thulin shines as the innocent shepherd girl. Salvatore Puntillo enjoys the role of the somewhat dimwitted peasant, but in return is allowed to rub closely to both Neri and Fenech. Ruggero Miti is at his best in the scenes with Thulin, but his character is not nearly inculpable in the events that unfold. For a production as impoverished Top Sensation is a scathing indictment of the upper-class and reveals some surprising subtextual depth next to its rampant and near-constant showcasing of its generously formed and seldom clothed female lead duo.