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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 (1979) and a score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. It is almost as if it was envisioned as a project for Umberto Lenzi.

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.