Plot: scientists and mercenaries battle the advance legions of ancient Atlantis
The Raiders Of Atlantis is one of the great patchworks of Italian exploitation. After a fairly standard action opening in the next 85 or so minutes it rips off all the great American properties of the day and a few exploitationers for good measure. Like Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980) the pace is absolutely frenetic and the screenplay from Tito Carpi (as Robert Gold) and Vincenzo Mannino (as Vincent Mannino) barely makes sense or does much in the way of explaining but that doesn’t stop director Ruggero Deodato (as Roger Franklin) from pulling out all the stops and creating perhaps one of the greatest Italian action cheapies in living memory. Like many productions from this period The Raiders Of Atlantis comes with a pulsating synth-rock score and through out the wall-to-wall insanity it somehow manages to push an admirable environmentalist message.
Ruggero Deodato is one of the greats of the Italian exploitation industry and while he dabbled in a variety of genres, he’s most known for his cannibal atrocity excursions. Deodato started as assistant director to Antonio Margheriti on the peplum Terror of the Kirghiz (1964) before venturing into the nascent jungle goddess genre with Gungala, the Naked Panther (1968), an obvious riff on Samao, Queen Of the Jungle (1968) that put Kitty Swan in the role that Edwige Fenech popularized earlier. After the usual amount of commedia sexy all’italiana, poliziotteschi and spaghetti westerns Deodato arrived at Jungle Holocaust (1977) and later Cannibal Holocaust (1980). The Raiders Of Atlantis immediately followed House On the Edge Of the Park (1980), his take on American shock classic The Last House On the Left (1972). Suffice to say The Raiders Of Atlantis does not disappoint and the cast has a selection of well-known names in it.
In a non sequitur opening only there to establish that The Raiders Of Atlantis is an action movie, Vietnam veterans turned mercenaries Mike Ross (Christopher Connelly) and Washington (Tony King) complete a dubious operation for a hefty sum of money. Once the cash has changed hands the two head out to sea for a well-deserved vacation. In the open sea they are followed by a helicopter flown by port authority Bill Cook (Ivan Rassimov). Meanwhile somewhere off the coast in Miami, Florida a clandestine United States military operation, led by nuclear physicist Dr. Peter Saunders (George Hilton), is underway attempting to float a sunken Russian nuclear submarine. Preliminary exploration of the site underneath the oil rig has yielded a mysterious skull-adorned tablet of unknown origin. Just like in Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) the military brass strong-arm Dr. Cathy Rollins (Gioia Scola, as Marie Fields), an archeologist with a Ph.D. in pre-Columbian dialects, previously engaged at “a very important dig” in Mazatlán, México to decipher the artifact. The float countdown is eerily reminiscent of the inane Ciro Ippolito shlockfest Alien 2 – On Earth (1980). As the submarine is brought up a tidal wave destroys the oil rig as a landmass in a transparent dome emerges from the ocean, sort of like The Abyss (1989). The survivors of the wreckage - Drs. Saunders, Rollins and technician James (Michele Soavi, as Michael Soavi) – are picked up by mercenaries Ross and Washington who heard their cries for help in the open sea.
In a sudden twist Manuel (John Vasallo) grabs a hostage and warns them to surrender to the Atlantis Interceptors who they’ll soon meet. Manuel, of course, brandishes a tattoo delineating his allegiance with the Atlanteans. Just like in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) and Zombie Holocaust (1980). After the interruption they make landfall in Little Havana and meet up with Bill Cook who has landed his helicopter there. They find the Caribbean island abandoned, desolate and burnt out. Almost immediately they run into the Atlantis Inceptors led by Crystal Skull (Bruce Baron). The Atlanteans and the Atlantis Interceptors curiously look like extras from The Road Warrior (1981). In a succession of scenes recalling Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) and The Warriors (1979) the group defends their position before taking refuge in a nearby warehouse where they happen into Larry Stoddard (Maurizio Fardo, as Morris Fard) and his daughters Liza (Gudrun Schmeissner, as Gudrun Schemissner) and Barbara (Benedetta Fantoli) who were hiding beneath some rubble. Their mother Mary (Adriana Giuffrè, as Audrey Perkins) having being killed earlier as the Dome rose.
Just like in The Night Of the Living Dead (1968) the group quarrell and decide strategy against their Atlantean enemies. At this point Crystal Skull broodingly intones, “we have come back. Come back to the world that has always been ours. You have no place in it. You cannot defend yourselves. Our civilization does not accept intruders. We have returned to re-establish our presence. You have violated our world, and therefore you must be punished. All of you will be executed!” All this wouldn’t be complete without setting up the prequisite third act plotpoint, “All of you, except one...” A plan that sounds awfully familiar to that of the Atlanteans in Alfonso Brescia's amiable The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965). The group continues to search-and-destroy as they advance through the blasted ruins. Along the way they team up with George (Mike Monty, as Mike Monti) and German mercenary Klaus Nemnez (Stefano Mingardo, as Mike Miller) for extra firepower.
Cathy is then kidnapped by the Atlantis Interceptors and the mercenaries give pursuit. They find an old bus and chase the Atlantis Interceptors in a number of scenes directly inspired by War Bus (1986). The chase results in a daring beach assault lifted wholesale out of W Is War (1983) and Clash Of the Warlords (1984) and takes them to a bridge which leads into a vicious shoot-out straight out of Gold Raiders (1982). Taking a helicopter the mercenaries are inexplicably drawn to Atlantis by a radio signal. This leads into a series of exploration and battle scenes reminiscent of every cheap Italian Vietnam war movie, alternated from time to time with the kind of jungle booby-traps you’d expect in an Italian cannibal atrocity film. How else could it not? The Raiders Of Atlantis was directed by Ruggero Deodato, maker of Cannibal Holocaust (1980). As the group navigates the jungle eliminating sentries guarding the perimeter technician James is brainwashed by the Atlantis Inceptors which, as these tends to go, leads to him being killed. At this point every unimportant secondary character is killed as Deodato thins the cast for the final showdown with the Atlantean warriors.
Ross and Washington make their way to the Atlantean caves where Ross dukes it out with Crystal Skull in a vicious brawl. Crystal Skull was prescient of the design of the Iron Warrior in Alfonso Brescia’s Iron Warrior (1987). The Raiders Of Atlantis then remembers to riff on Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) again as Ross and Washington neutralize the Atlantis machinery, that suspiciously looks like something out of The Giant Of Metropolis (1961), and cross the stormblown hallways in a scene apparently that inspired the Hell scene from Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988) where Kirsty tears off Julia’s skin coat or its equivalent scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when Luke Skywalker confronts Darth Vader. The dynamic duo then stumble into the heart of Atlantis, or just Central Command (it’s hard to tell exactly), where a sassied up Cathy telepathically does the Atlanteans’ bidding. Once the Tablet Of Knowledge is in position in the machinery the situation progressively turns worse for the mercenaries. Washington doesn’t like any of it but Ross is somehow able to break Cathy’s spell. In a race against time Ross and Washington make their escape in the helicopter they chartered as the Dome starts to close again and Atlantis is swallowed by the sea. For reasons inexplicable and unexplained Cathy is in the helicopter and her old self again.
Christopher Connelly was a television actor that got lost in Italian exploitation. Tony King debuted in Shaft (1971) and had an uncredited bit part as a stable hand in Francis Ford Coppola’s crime epic The Godfather (1972) with Al Pacino. King ended up in exploitation via Larry Cohen’s crime cheapie Hell Up In Harlem (1973). Gioia Scola was in Lucio Fulci’s Conquest (1983) and in a 1981 Pierino comedy from Marino Girolami. Bruce Baron was in Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980) and Jing Wong’s Winner Takes All (1982) but through a brief excursion into Filipino exploitation ended up in Italy and from 1986 onward went to star in a number of dubious Godfrey Ho-Joseph Lai cut-and-paste ninja movies. Ivan Rassimov was a pillar of continental shlock having appeared in a couple of gialli starring Edwige Fenech with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and All Colors Of the Dark (1972) before becoming a fixture in the cannibal atrocity genre through The Man From Deep River (1972), Jungle Holocaust (1977), and Eaten Alive! (1980). Rassimov also was the villain in the enjoyable Star Wars (1977) plagiate The Humanoid (1979). George Hilton was in a regular in giallo, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi with credits including the Edwige Fenech gialli The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and The Case Of the Bloody Iris (1972) as well as Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Must Kill Again (1975). The only credit of note for Giancarlo Prati was the original Man On Fire (1987), famously remade in 2004. Benedetta Fantoli and Michele Soavi both were in Alien 2 – On Earth (1980). The English language international version has voices provided by prolific dubbing regulars Nick Alexander, Susan Spafford, Pat Starke and Frank von Kuegelgen.
The Raiders Of Atlantis never bothers explaining who Crystal Skull is or what the Atlanteans plan beyond reclaiming their earthly throne. Crystal Skull only becomes hostile once the Dome and the island emerge out of the sea. Crystal Skull is apparently a guy in a suit who is never even given a name or much of a backstory. Likewise does the screenplay never explain why the Atlanteans looks like rejects and extras from The Road Warrior (1981). As in the Cirio H. Santiago yarn The Sisterhood (1988) do some of the Atlanteans wield spears, axes and swords while others brandish automatic weapons. The pace is as breakneck as in Wheels Of Fire (1985) and The Raiders Of Atlantis is custodian to a slew of very brutal kills (including incineration and decapitation-by-wire). As always does the main villain, in this case Crystal Skull, come with his own set of belles. One of the Atlantean babes looks like a very young and punkish Lisa Kudrow with the fashion sense of early Madonna. Of course it isn’t Kudrow since she didn’t start acting until 1989 but the resemblance is striking. Not that these productions were known for their complete and detailed credits anyhow.
How could The Raiders Of Atlantis not be so utterly amazing in its derivation? It was written by Tito Carpi and Vincenzo Mannino. Both were specialists in spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi, and giallo. Carpi wrote a bunch of Euro war movies and commedia sexy all’italiana through the 60s. He wrote the screenplays to Jungle Holocaust (1977), Tentacles (1977), Thor the Conqueror (1983) and Alien From the Deep (1989), one of the more notorious The Abyss (1989) knockoffs. Mannino wrote the spy-action/superhero romp Argoman (1967) which, at least in part, goes to explain the sheer level of insanity that The Raiders Of Atlantis frequently indulges in. The Raiders Of Atlantis was produced by Edmondo and Maurizio Amati, who were responsible for Argoman (1967) and more post-apocalyptic action shenanigans with Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984). Amati also produced the great pandemic classic The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) and the two Agent 077 (1965) Bond knockoffs with Ken Clark. There was never any question about how insane this one would be, more of how far it would push it. Also helping are the cinematography from Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, director of photography on Luigi Cozzi’s StarCrash (1978) and a score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. It is almost as if it was envisioned as a project for Umberto Lenzi.