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Plot: journalist and mercenary take down corrupt South American dictator.

Of all the talentless hacks working the Italian exploitation circuit from the 60s to 80s shlockmeister Alfonso Brescia by far was the most seasoned and mercenary. Over a three-decade career Brescia built a reputation on doing it quicker and cheaper than everyone else. He made whatever was fashionable (or profitable) irrespective of whether he had any affinity or interest in the genre he was contributing to. As such old Alfonso made everything from peplum, superhero movies, and comedy (or some cross-pollination thereof) to commedia sexy all’italiana, World War II epics, a Shaw Bros co-produced martial arts slapstick romp and helmed a series of five of the cruddiest, sloppiest, and frequently most incoherent space operas ever to come out of Italy following the box office success of George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977). Strangely he never partook in either the cannibal craze of the seventies or the zombie fad of the eighties. While Brescia was a director of dubious merit he occassionally stumbled onto a good idea, either by design or by pure dumb luck. That serendipity struck again on Cross Mission (released domestically as Fuoco incrociato). In North America it was part of Cannon’s four-part Action Adventure Theater series, introduced by the king of low-budget action himself, Michael Dudikoff. All things being cyclical Cross Mission ended up inspiring the sixteenth James Bond episode Licence to Kill (1989).

While there’s no contesting that Brescia’s oeuvre mainly consists of some of the worst genre exercises ever conceived old Alfonso could actually make a decent feature if given the chance. He, after all, directed the very enjoyable duo of peplum The Revolt of the Pretorians (1964) (featuring Richard Harrison a full twenty years before he got lost in the wacky world of Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung (何誌強)), the The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) plagiate The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), the early (and relatively tame) giallo Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972), the The Amazons (1973) derivate Battle Of the Amazons (1973), the bootleg Ator sequel Iron Warrior (1987) (which Joe D’Amato, not exactly a paragon of integrity, famously denounced), and the Zalman King inspired erotic thriller Homicide In Blue Light (1991) (with French sexbomb Florence Guérin). In between those last two Brescia helmed a globe-trotting and explosive international action movie so hopelessly inept (and completely enjoyable for exactly that reason) that it makes the body of work of Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, and Wilfredo dela Cruz look measured and sophisticated in comparison. What was he ripping off this time, you ask? Well, the thing every Italian director was back then… Rambo, or more specifically, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988). The only reason to stay awake during the endless montages of jeeps driving, stilted firefights, and bamboo huts blowing up is Caribbean one-hit wonder Brigitte Porsche. Porsche not only gets to wear a Versace dress but also does karate… We love you, miss B – wherever you are!

General Romero (Maurice Poli) is the tyrannical dictator of some unspecified backwater banana republic somewhere in the Latin American jungles. With Nancy Reagan’s War On Drugs in full swing Romero shows UN inspectors that he’s dealing with his country’s narcotics manufacturing and - trafficking problem by very publicly burning some smaller marijuana plantations whilst secretly still controlling the bigger ones for his own personal enrichment. A press attachee releases a statement that there are no Contra-rebels in the region. Plucky photojournalist Helen (Brigitte Porsche, as Brigitte Porsh) doesn’t believe the official story and convinces the General’s former right-hand-man, and sometime Marine, William Corbett (Riccardo Acerbi, as Richard Randall) to help her in taking down his former employer, the self-proclaimed "El Predestinato". Along the way Helen and Corbett fall in with local guerrillas led by Myra (Anna Silvia Grullon, as Ana Silvia Grullon) and Ramirez (Riccardo Petrazzi). It’s all fairly standard jungle action fare until General Romero summons Astaroth (Nelson de la Rosa), a pint-sized warlock, and makes people do his bidding by putting them under macumba spells. Will the combined firepower of Helen, Corbett and the local Contra-rebel enclave be enough to overthrow an enemy of such awesome magnitude and influence?

The screenplay from brothers Donald and Gaetano Russo is about as terrible as their collective filmography. There’s no chemistry between Porsche and Acerbi, and their characters are so terribly underwritten that it makes you wonder why they even bothered differentiating them. Helen’s only character trait is that she’s a journalist. Corbett is a mercenary who sees the wrongs of his way, and tries to better himself. Corbett nor Helen have any signature lines or moves, and the only memorable scene is when Corbett gears up for vengeance in a montage clearly imitated from the Arnold Schwarzenegger body count movie Commando (1988). That said montage isn’t followed up upon is, of course, expected in a cheap, cruddy Alfonso Brescia production. That is to say, Corbett is the only character to even have an arc. General Romero is the fairly standard greedy, megalomaniac evil dictator until Brescia pulls the voodoo act towards the second half. It’s exactly the kind of stunt that made him famous some two decades prior with the sudden explosion into 1950s science fiction insanity on the otherwise perfectly enjoyable but otherwise unassuming peplum The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965). If Cross Mission is remembered for anything (if it’s remembered at all, that is) it’s solely for the duo of Nelson de la Rosa and Brigitte Porsche.

Brigitte Porsche is as much of an enigma as the girls from the Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) opening. Porsche seems to have no ties to the Austrian industrialist dynasty of luxury car manufacturers, or at least none of which there’s any historical documentation. As these things go, Cross Mission was her sole acting credit and her identity is shrouded in mystery – something not uncommon around this time with late Italian exploitation. Whether she was of Filipino or Dominican Republic descent is difficult to ascertain as in all likelihood Porsche used an Anglicized alias as many were prone to when working with Brescia. Writer Gaetano Russo famously was in The Red Monks (1988), a gothic horror throwback so tedious and directionless that not even the gratuitously exposed body of Lara Wendel could possibly redeem.

Also hiding under an alias is Riccardo Acerbi who, while not as prolific in exploitation as co-star Maurice Poli, starred in some of the worst latter-day Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato productions including Aenigma (1987) and Frankenstein 2000 – Return From Death (1991). Poli - who debuted in an uncredited role in the acclaimed World War II epic The Longest Day (1962) and became a spaghetti western and war movie regular afterwards - had been in Giuseppe Vari’s Urban Warriors (1987) just the year before. Maurice Poli and Peter Hintz were in Apocalypse Mercenaries (1987), while Anna Silvia Grullon and Nelson de la Rosa were both in Ratman (1988). Grullon would do nothing of particular interest afterwards, and de la Rosa would go to co-star alongside Marlon Brando in The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996). Even by late 1980s Italian exploitation standards Cross Mission had a cast of complete and utter nobodies. Hell, Cross Mission is so much of a curio that not even The Italian Movie Database, nor the Caribbean Film Database for that matter, seem in any hurry to acknowledge its existence.

By the time Cross Mission went into production the Italian film industry was in shambles as television provided entertainment across all age brackets. In the late 1980s the famous Cinecittà studio compound was on the verge of bankruptcy, and budgets all but dried up. Italians went en masse to the multiplexes, while older movie theaters simply disappeared altogether, but primarily for big-budget Hollywood productions while domestic movies hardly attracted an audience. Much in the same way was the illustrious career of Alfonso Brescia, probably one of Italy’s most journeyed but least competent exploitation directors, coming to a crawl. Brescia would shoot only four more movies after Cross Mission before passing away in June 2001. Cross Mission was a Filipino co-production afforded location shooting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

However there isn’t anything that Brescia and Ferrando can’t make look absolutely god-awful despite a wealth of natural beauty and scenic vistas. This could have been shot on decaying leftover sets from Zombi Holocaust (1980) or Devil Hunter (1980) and nobody would be any the wiser. Ferrando worked on All Colours Of the Dark (1972), La Liceale (1975), Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), and Hands Of Steel (1986) but apparently phoned it in here. The cinematography is as flat, hideous and ugly as Fausto Rossi’s work on Battle Of the Amazons (1973) more than a decade prior. Brescia could produce a decent movie if his heart was in it, as The Adolescent (1976), Frittata all'italiana (1976), Big Mamma (1979), and his many sceneggiatta with Mario Merola attest to. Clearly Alfonso didn’t care much, or at all, about the international action movie. We are a long way from Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972) and an even a longer way from The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), indeed.

There’s probably a reason why Cross Mission is the only full-on action movie in the Alfonso Brescia repertoire. It’s emblematic for Brescia’s late eighties output as it generally moves too slow, has an inpenetrable plot, and the action is far more lethargic than it ought to be. Brescia would helm two more action-themed yarns with the buddy cop movie Miami Cops (1989) and Deadly Chase (1990) in the following years. The defining characteristic of Brescia’s career has always been that of underarchievement and Cross Mission is no different. Iron Warrior (1987) had Hong Kong written all over it – and you’d halfway expect Brescia to finally get a clue. That wasn’t exactly the case as with Homicide In Blue Light (1991) old Alfonso managed to fumble his way through an erotic thriller. Il faut le faire… Like any good obscurity Cross Mission deserves the proper high-definition digital remaster/restoration treatment, and hopefully some courageous company will rise to the task. It makes you wonder what Antonio Margheriti and Bruno Mattei could have done with a premise like this and what could have become of miss Porsche had she been employed by Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, or Wilfredo dela Cruz. Alas, the world will never know…

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.