søndag 26. september 2010

Grand Hotel gallery #3: Leonora Ruffo

The above autographed photo of actress Leonora Ruffo was originally printed in Grand Hotel issue No. 1101 (published July 29, 1967).

The strikingly beautiful Leonora Ruffo was born in Rome on January 13, 1935 as Bruna Bovi, and would go on to enjoy a very successful film career in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Leonora was only 16 years old when she began her acting career in 1951. She first started out appearing in fotoromanzi (photo-novels) under the Swedish-sounding pseudonym Ingrid Swenson, and experienced notable success with her leading role in the photo-novel Il giardino di Allah (published in the magazine Cine Illustrato), which was a photo-novel-remake of the Hollywood film The Garden of Allah (1936) with Marlene Dietrich. Soon afterwards, Leonora was discovered by peplum and adventure movie specialist Pietro Francisci (best known as the director of the original Hercules), who cast her in the female lead in his adventure film Wonderful Adventures of Guerrin Mescino (1951). Impressed by her performance, Francisci awarded Leonora the title role his the next film, the Biblical costume spectacle The Queen of Sheba (1952).

Throughout the rest of the 1950s, Leonora Ruffo's career blossomed and she worked with some of Italy's most important directors - appearing for Federico Fellini in I vitelloni (1953), and for Dino Risi in The Widower (1959). But she also appeared in genre cinema, and during the early 1960s, Leonora was the leading lady in three excellent sword and sandal adventures: Vittorio Cottafavi's Goliath and the Dragon (1960), Sergio Corbucci's Goliath and the Vampires (1961) and Mario Bava's Hercules at the Center of the Earth (1961).

But after 1961, Leonora Ruffo abruptly stopped making movies. She did not retire completely, however, as she continued to play occasional leading roles in photo-novels published in Grand Hotel. This part of her career appears to be completely forgotten today, even though several of the photo-novels she starred in are quite interesting. Most notably, she played historical figures such as Catherine the Great in La grande Caterina (published in Grand Hotel during 1964) and Queen Christina of Sweden in La regina Cristina (published from 1965 to 1966 in Grand Hotel).

After a five year break from cinema, Leonora's old friend Pietro Francisci helped her make a comeback by casting her in his cheesy science fiction film Star Pilot (1966). Leonora plays the starring role of a wicked alien woman and she does a superb job - managing to really make this weird space opera enjoyable to watch. But, sadly, her comeback was to be short-lived. Her next film, the spaghetti western Tequila Joe (1968), would offer Leonora the last substantial role of her career. After that she made one final film appearance - an uncredited cameo in Fernando Di Leo's erotic drama Burn, Boy, Burn! (1969). Leonora then abandoned the limelight for good, and was not written about in media again until her death on May 28, 2007 - at the age of 72.

I've always thought it was a great shame that Leonora chose to retire so prematurely, because she was a very good actress and a radiant beauty whose eyes were absolutely mesmerizing. One wonders what direction her career had taken had she stuck around during the 1970s...

Anyway, here are a few pictures to remember the lovely Leonora Ruffo by:

Leonora together with Broderick Crawford in the highly enjoyable Goliath and the Dragon

Leonora in the role of Catherine the Great in the photo-novel La grande Caterina

Leonora in top form as an alien villainess in Star Pilot

Leonora - still at the hight of her beauty - in Tequila Joe

søndag 19. september 2010

Grand Hotel gallery #2: Robert Hundar

The above autographed photo of actor Robert Hundar was originally printed in Grand Hotel issue No. 1030 (published March 19, 1966).

Italian actor Robert Hundar was born in Sicily on January 12, 1935 as Claudio Undari, and is fondly remembered as one of Italian cinema's most memorable bad guy actors of the 1960s and 70s.

Claudio Undari made his film debut with a supporting role as an evil centaur in the peplum adventure Goliath and the Dragon (1960) starring American muscleman Mark Forest as Goliath. Soon afterwards, Undari changed his name to the more American-sounding Robert Hundar, and stuck to this pseudonym for most of his long-running career.

The genre with which Hundar is most closely identified is no doubt the western. He got his first leading role in Antonio Del Amo's fairly obscure western Son of Jesse James (1965), and would go on to star in three further westerns: Maurizio Pradeaux's Ramon the Mexican (1966), Joaquin Romero Marchent's 100.000 Dollars for Lassiter (1966) and Tulio Demicheli's Dakota Joe (1967) - playing the title characters in each of them.

But it was first and foremost as a villain that the tall and menacing-looking Hundar would make lasting impact in the spaghetti western genre - appearing in such memorable efforts as Gianfranco Parolini's Sabata (1969), Mario Caiano's The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1972), Joaquin Romero Marchent's Cut Throats Nine (1972), Joe D'Amato's Cormack of the Mounties (1975) and Michele Lupo's California (1977). As the western fad gradually died out, Hundar switched to playing bad guys in other genres - popping up in crime/police thrillers such as Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976) and The Cynic, the Rat & and the Fist (1977), both directed by Umberto Lenzi, and in two of Alfonso Brescia's wacky but enjoyable space operas: Star Odyssey and The Beast in Space (both 1978).

After 1980, Robert Hundar's career slowed down and he only made sporadic film appearances - his final role being a supporting part in the drama Ponte Milvio (2000). He died in Rome on May 12th, 2008, at age 73.

To round off, here are a few screenshots to demonstrate the many different roles played by this excellent actor:

Hundar in the ultra-violent western Cut Throats Nine

Another bad guy role in Umberto Lenzi's awesome The Cynic, the Rat & the Fist

Hundar in alien make-up in the hilarious low-budget space opera Star Odyssey

Naturally, a new installment in the Grand Hotel gallery will follow next week!

Evil Eye/Malocchio

Italy/Spain/Mexico, 1975

Directed by Mario Siciliano

Jorge Rivero, Pilar Velazquez, Anthony Steffen, Richard Conte, Maria Pia Giancaro, Eduardo Fajardo, Luis La Torre, Lone Fleming, Daniela Giordano, Luciano Pigozzi, Terele Pavez, Eva Vanicek, Flora Marrone

I’ve previously covered the fluffy porno comedy My Swedish Aunt (1980), directed by former western and war movie specialist Mario Siciliano (1925-1987). Siciliano is not someone who is typically associated with horror movies but he did take two stabs at the genre. One was the genuinely bizarre porno-horror flick Orgasmo esotico (1982) but his first attempt was the stylish and supernaturally themed Evil Eye.

Evil Eye is about Peter Crane (Jorge Rivero), a hunky American millionaire playboy living in Rome. Peter is suffering from bizarre and unsettling nightmares, in which creepy, naked Satanists are compelling him to do bad things. Soon, things take a stranger turn when Peter’s girlfriend Tanya (Maria Pia Giancaro) drags him along to a fashion show, where he meets an attractive French widow named Yvonne (Lone Fleming). On hearing the name Peter Crane, Yvonne is visibly startled, and she reveals to Peter that she has had a strange dream in which her late husband appeared before her and told her she would be murdered by a man named – you guessed it – Peter Crane. At first, Peter suspects the whole thing of being a practical joke orchestrated by his party-loving pal Robert (Luis La Torre) but it quickly transpires that Yvonne is being completely serious. Intrigued and attracted, Peter ends up bringing Yvonne back to his big villa for some hanky panky.

Peter encounters the mysterious Yvonne

However, they don’t get very far before Peter is suddenly struck with an intense headache. A powerful storm sets in and blows the windows open, a sculpture starts to inexplicably move, a painting falls down and shatters a floral vase, and Peter’s eyes turn dark and sinister as he appears to go into some kind of trance. He menacingly approaches Yvonne and starts to strangle her...
Cut to a confused Peter waking up the next morning. Yvonne is gone and everything is back in order. The painting that fell down is back up on the wall, and the no-longer-shattered flower vase is back in its place. It’s as if none of the events from last night ever took place. Was it all just a bad dream?

Peter murders Yvonne. Or does he...?

Unable to distinguish nightmares from reality, a concerned Peter contacts psychiatrist Dr. Stone (Richard Conte), an old friend of his father, and confides his concerns to Stone and his sexy colleague Dr. Sarah Turner (Pilar Velazquez). But while Peter is talking to the shrinks, Yvonne’s bloody corpse is fished out of the water. A seasoned police inspector (Anthony Steffen) is assigned the case and starts snooping around.

Peter's shrinks

Yvonne is discovered dead

In the meantime, Peter is being subjected to all kinds of strange tests at Dr. Stone’s clinic, and it doesn’t take long for the sexy Dr. Sarah to lose sight off all professionalism and jump into bed with the hunky Peter. Which might not be such a great idea, because Peter continues to have disturbing nightmares. He also continues to get headaches, attack people and then black out – only to have the people he attacked show up dead shortly afterwards. Is Peter a deranged killer? Or is someone or something taking control over his mind and using him as a killing machine? Or is someone else doing all the killing?

This strange potpourri of giallo and supernatural horror is a real head-scratcher. It’s not the first giallo to employ supernatural elements, of course, as this had already been tried and tested by Emilio G. Miraglia in both The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972), as well as in Armando Crispino’s The Etruscan Kills Again (1972), but in all these examples a naturalistic force is revealed to be at work. As such, Evil Eye is – along with Giuseppe Bennato’s underrated The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) – one of the very few gialli to uphold its supernatural angle throughout the entire running time. And that’s a fresh spin that actually works – at least for a while.

In one of the film’s most intriguing plot twists, it’s implied that all of the victims may at one time have gotten away with murder, and that the people they murdered are now channeling Peter from beyond the grave – taking control of his mind and using him as a vessel to exact vengeance on their murderers. Unfortunately, this plot point is rather clumsily handled and is never fully elaborated on, which is a great shame.

The revenge of the dead?

Sadly, the squandering of the above plot point is just one out of many serious flaws the script is saddled with. Several plot elements are never explained and the narrative is often fairly confusing – resulting in a viewing experience that is at times incoherent and frustrating. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambiguity if that is the intention but I have a lingering suspicion that the indecipherable nature of the plot is a result of sloppy and careless screenwriting rather than artistic ambitions. To be fair, neither writer-director Mario Siciliano nor Spanish co-writers Julio Buchs and Federico De Urrutia had any prior experience working within the horror or thriller format, so one should perhaps not judge them too harshly. That’s easier said than done, however, since they foolishly chose to cap the whole thing off with a truly pathetic ending that completely undermines the rest of the film.

But in spite of these serious flaws, Evil Eye also offers a load of redeeming qualities. The film is very well-shot by Vicente Minaya, who in great 1970s tradition employs a lot of stylish shots and odd camera angles, as well as frequent use of Lucio Fulci-style close-ups of the actors’ eyes. Even better is the marvelous Stelvio Cipriani score, which is both catchy and eerie – channeling just the right mood for a supernatural chiller and lending a lot of atmosphere to the proceedings. And Mario Siciliano proves that he has a certain eye for memorable horror movie imagery, with some of the stand-out moments including an opening black mass with a sinister red monk, Peter’s creepy nightmares featuring pale, naked Satanists, and a freakish scene where Eduardo Fajardo vomits up a toad. Plus the kitschy décor, Peter’s funky disco-style wardrobe, the obligatory product placement of J&B bottles, and the impressive roundup of sultry Euro-beauties certainly don’t hurt the proceedings either.

The red monk

Peter's freaky nightmares


Being a co-production between Italy, Spain and Mexico, the film boasts a highly interesting assembly of actors. Mexican muscle hunk Jorge Rivero – whose interesting career includes everything from the Hollywood western Rio Lobo (1970) with John Wayne, to Lucio Fulci’s brainless sword and sorcery flick Conquest (1983) – is a slightly odd choice for the leading role of Peter but he makes a pretty convincing playboy and is quite quick to take his shirt off. Rivero looks really good here and he also does a good job of portraying the character’s bewildered confusion, although it’s hard to say whether or not this is due to great acting skills or because Rivero himself was downright confused by the screenplay.

Jorge Rivero freaking out - and looking like he's about to transform into the incredible Hulk

Richard Conte – best known from The Godfather (1972) – acts completely on autopilot as Peter’s psychiatrist. He no doubt signed on only to earn a quick paycheck but at least he doesn’t look as embarrassed here as he did in Cries and Shadows (1975). In the role of the police inspector, stone-faced Anthony Steffen is fairly inexpressive – just like he was in most of the spaghetti westerns he starred in. The great Eduardo Fajardo, however, puts in some real effort and is quite fun as Peter’s polite majordomo.

But the real stars of the show are the delectable female cast members, of which there are many. Spanish spitfire Pilar Velazquez looks absolutely ravishing as Peter’s seductive psychiatrist (she is perhaps too hot be convincing as a shrink but never mind), Maria Pia Giancaro drops her clothes at frequent intervals, and the elegant Lone Fleming (best known as the heroine in the Spanish horror classic Tombs of the Blind Dead) really makes the most of her limited part as the mysterious Yvonne. Only Daniela Giordano (who is almost unrecognizable in an unflattering, short wig) seems wasted in a small role as a woman who insists she has met Peter before. Another interesting actress in the cast is Spanish actress Terele Pavez, who plays the wife of Eduardo Fajardo’s character. Two decades later, Pavez would became a favorite of Spanish cult director Alex de la Iglesia, who cast her in several of his films – including the much celebrated horror film The Day of the Beast (1995).

There's certainly no shortage of babes trying to use their charm on Mr. Rivero

Dubbing fans may want to take note of the fact that dubbing hero Ted Rusoff (whose voice will be familiar to most fans of Italian genre cinema) was in charge of translating and dubbing the film’s dialogue into English, and he also receives an onscreen credit for “additional dialogue”. Rusoff also performs the task of dubbing Jorge Rivero, and, as expected, his real-life wife Carolynn De Fonseca is also onboard – lending her breathy, feminine voice to the sexy Pilar Velazquez (a perfect match). You’ll probably also recognize most of the other dubbing voices (which include Edmund Purdom, Edward Mannix, Christopher Cruise and Silvia Faver), and that may be a good or a bad thing – depending on your point of view. Personally, I've grown very fond of the familiar English dubbing voices that recur in all these great films, and their amazing voice acting is an integral part of this whole 'Euro cult' experience.

Bottom line: There’s some really good stuff and great actors in Evil Eye but, unfortunately, the film isn’t as good as it could have been. Had the script been stronger and more emphasis been put on the plot point about Peter being used as a vessel for revenge by the dead, then it could have been a real winner. As it is, Evil Eye only gets a partial recommendation but it can still be a lot of fun if you're in the right frame of mind.

© 2010 Johan Melle

The cast:

Jorge Rivero as Peter Crane

Pilar Velazquez as Dr. Sarah Turner

Anthony Steffen as The Police Inspector

Richard Conte as Dr. Stone

Maria Pia Giancaro as Tanya

Eduardo Fajardo as Walter, the majordomo

Luis La Torre as Robert Gifford

Lone Fleming as Yvonne Chevrel

Daniela Giordano as Elizabeth Stevens

Luciano Pigozzi as Derek Stevens

Terele Pavez as Walter's wife

??? as Martha, the inspector's wife

Eva Vanicek as Robert's girlfriend

fredag 10. september 2010

Grand Hotel gallery #1: Erika Blanc

Famed Italian weekly magazine Grand Hotel (published since 1946 and still going strong) is most famous for containing photo-novels starring famous movie stars and articles on various celebrities, but back in the day, each issue also used to feature the so-called 'Grand Hotel gallery' - full-page, autographed color pictures of popular stars (both famous and not quite so famous ones). They're really cool, and I've decided they'd make a nice weekly feature on this blog.

So to kick it off, here's a lovely autographed photo of Erika Blanc - scanned from Grand Hotel issue No. 1123 (published December 30, 1967):

Erika Blanc doesn't really need much of an introduction. She was born on July 23, 1942 in Brescia, Lombardy. Since making her film debut in 1965 she's been a very important and prolific actress in Italian genre movies, and she's still a successfully working actress.

Erika is well-remembered for her many roles in Spaghetti westerns and Eurospy adventures, but she is probably even better known for her many memorable and sexy performances in a long line of gialli and horror films, including Massimo Pupillo's The Vengeance of Lady Morgan (1965), Mario Bava's Kill Baby, Kill! (1966), Mino Guerrini's The Third Eye (1966), Umberto Lenzi's So Sweet... So Pervese (1969), Jean Brimsée's The Devil's Nightmare (1971) and of course her small but unforgettable part as a stripper who performs a kinky coffin-striptease in Emilio G. Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971). Quite an impressive track record, and the versatile, talented and very beautiful Erika is always a great pleasure to see on the screen.

And finally a little look at some of the many different faces of Erika Blanc:

A blonde and innocent-looking Erika in the remarkable The Third Eye

A creepily made-up Erika as a succubus in The Devil's Nightmare

A seductive Erika in top form in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

Stay tuned - another Grand Hotel portrait will be posted next Friday!

mandag 6. september 2010

Tor - Mighty Warrior/Taur, re della forza bruta

Italy, 1963

Directed by Antonio Leonviola

Joe Robinson, Harry Baird, Bella Cortez, Alberto Cevenini, Antonio Leonviola, Carla Foscari, Thea Fleming, Janine Hendy, Claudia Capone, José Torres, Erminio Spalla

Having been positively surprised by the very enjoyable Thor and the Amazon Women, I felt strongly compelled to seek out its companion piece, Tor - Mighty Warrior, which was apparently made by director Antonio Leonviola at the same time with much of the same cast. Now, as it turns out, I've gone about watching the films in the wrong order as Tor - Mighty Warrior was actually the first one to be released (in late June 1963), while Thor and the Amazon Women came out shortly afterwards (in early August 1963). However, I don't think it matters much as the two films aren't directly related other than the fact that they both feature muscleman Thor (though this time the 'h' in his name is omitted from the English title) and his bumbling black sidekick Ubaratutu.

Thor and Ubaratutu are back for more!

The film kicks off with two pretty girls running joyfully through a meadow - picking flowers. They are attacked by a couple of bad guys in what looks like birdman costumes but, luckily, the girls are saved by the heroic intervention of a handsome young lad named Syros (Alberto Cevenini). The two girls, Illa (Thea Fleming) and Tuja (Claudia Capone), are revealed to be the daughters of the king of a village named Surapak. Syros is instantly smitten by the blonde and lovely Illa and because of his bravery, the king allows them to marry.

The brave Syros

The king's daughters

Ubaratutu (Harry Baird), Thor's big, muscular and very goofy black pal from Thor and the Amazon Women apparently lives in this village and he is given the task of fetching Thor (still played by Joe Robinson), so he can come and partake in the celebration of Syros and Illa's wedding. It just so happens that Thor already knows Syros, who was put out in the woods as an infant but was rescued and taken care of by none other than Thor. In any case, Thor and Ubaratutu head back to Surapak to attend the wedding but by the time they arrive, tragedy has struck. The king has been murdered and the others have been taken prisoner by a bloodthirsty, Inca-like enemy tribe named Kixos. Not surprisingly, Thor and Ubaratutu take it upon themselves to retrieve both Syros and the king's daughters.

Ubaratutu finds the king slaughtered

They manage to sneak unseen into Kixos territory and free Syros, who is kept in a huge cave along with hundreds of other captives. While exploring the giant cave, Thor and Syros discover a black woman named Afer, who is chained to the wall. Afer is played by Janine Hendy, who played the very sexy and wicked queen in Thor and the Amazon Women, but anyone hoping to see her play a similar role here is in for a huge disappointment because she looks far less attractive here - with grey hair and old-age make-up! Afer tells the men that 18 years ago, the king of Kixos died in battle and the evil grand priest El Kab (played by the film's director, Antonio Leonviola) had the queen murdered and the baby prince substituted with a baby girl named Akiba. After putting Akiba on the throne, El Kab hypnotized the girl and made her his will-less slave - thus tyrannically ruling the kingdom through her. Afer herself was given the task of murdering the baby prince but was unable to do such a horrible thing and instead left the child in the woods. For this insubordination she has been chained up in the cave ever since! No wonder she's looking old and haggard!

Anyway, Afer is stunned when she discovers a peculiar scar on Syros' chest. It just so happens that she carved a mark just like this into the baby prince's chest in order for him to be identified later on. So Syros is actually the old king's son and hence the rightful heir to the kingdom of Kixos! My my, what a nifty coincidence! Can you believe it? So now it's up to Thor to get Syros on the throne and put an end to the tyrannical rule of El Kab and Akiba.

Poor, old Afer!

Syros' rather peculiar scar

Now, about Akiba... She has now grown into quite a sexy woman - played by the pouty-lipped Cuban peplum star Bella Cortez. She's not a particularly nice girl, though. Just like the evil El Kab, she is very bloodthirsty and forces the female prisoners (including Illa and Tuja) to participate in gladiator training so they can fight each other to the death while the people of Kixos enjoy the spectacle. As you can probably tell, this part of the plot is pretty similar to Thor and the Amazon Women but the gladiator angle is featured less prominently this time around.

El Kab and Akiba

In the meantime, Thor and Syros hide among the other male prisoners while trying to plot a revolt. They are approached by the gorgeous Ararut (Carla Foscari), who is the trusted confidante of El Kab. Ararut is very attracted to Syros and tells him she sympathizes with their cause and wants to help them put an end to El Kab and Akiba's reign. That sounds fine and dandy now, doesn't it? But since the role of Ararut is played by the sexy and alluring Carla Foscari, who played the delightfully cruel Ghebelgor in Thor and the Amazon Women, it goes without saying that this chick isn't as nice as she seems. But, unfortunately, the alarm bells fail to go off for poor Syros, who obviously hasn't seen enough pepla to be able to separate the cunning bad girls from the fair-haired heroines. Hence, he foolishly tells Ararut that his great love Illa is one of the girls being trained for gladiator fighting. Wanting Syros for herself so she can become queen of Kixos, Ararut then schemes to make sure Illa is forced to partake in a fight to the death in the gladiator arena - against her sister Tuja!

Do not trust this babe!

All of this actually sounds pretty enjoyable but somehow Tor - Mighty Warrior never really becomes quite as entertaining as it ought to. In spite of some obvious similarities, the film has a very different feel from Thor and the Amazon Women. One of the most notable differences is that this time Thor has a much more prominent role and he actually gets to play the part of the hero instead of spending his screen-time recuperating in bed like he did in Amazon Women. Now, it's good that he actually serves a purpose, but at the same time it's problematic too. The main reason Amazon Women was so enjoyable was precisely because of its intriguing female gladiator plot and the focus on the strong female characters instead of the boring Thor. Now, Thor is admittedly more likeable this time around but, as played by Joe Robinson, he's still rather stiff and not a terribly engaging hero.

There's also the unfortunate matter of Thor's black sidekick Ubaratutu, who, just like in Amazon Women, is portrayed as unintelligent and clearly inferior to his white friend Thor, whom he repeatedly addresses as "master". But this time Ubaratutu isn't portrayed merely as a dim-witted fool but also as an easily scared coward. This, of course, gives way to a series of strained and unsuccessful attempts at comic relief - the worst instance being a scene where Thor and Ubaratutu are hiding from the evil guards and the sound of the frightened Ubaratutu's chattering teeth almost gives away their hiding place!

Ubaratutu's teeth chatter from fear

However, the real problem with Tor - Mighty Warrior is that it's a fairly generic entry in the peplum genre. Antonio Leonviola's direction feels workmanlike, which is surprising considering that his earlier peplum adventures, Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules and Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops (both 1961), are both engaging efforts. One of the main strengths of those films is that they are very unusual peplum entries with strong individual stamps that help them stand out among the endless crowd of similar flicks being churned out in the 1960s. Mighty Warrior, however, suffers under the lack of the distinctively bizarre details found in Leonviola's other films, and as a result, it remains the least of his peplum adventures. That said, the film still has its moments and it perks up as it goes along. It really gets enjoyable by the last third, when Leonviola throws in lots of cool action, such as a bound Thor fighting to stay alive on a conveyor belt heading towards a nasty rock crushing machine, sisters Illa and Tuja battling to the death while gagged and blind-folded so they don't recognize each other, a big revolt and a volcanic eruption. It's too bad the rest of the film isn't of the same caliber but the final 30 minutes are well worth sticking around for.

Highlight 1: Thor vs. the rock crusher

Highlight 2: Gagged and blind-folded gladiator battle

Another really nifty part that I thought was terrific is when El Kab and Akiba select a couple of strong men to fight to the death. The losers are obviously killed by their opponents, but the really great twist here is that instead of getting a nice reward, the victors end up suffering a far more horrible fate: they are boiled to death in cauldrons looking like giant beer mugs! Yikes! Didn't see that one coming!

Crappiest reward for winning ever!

Just like Thor and the Amazon Women, many scenes were shot on location in the Postojna caves in Slovenia but this time more money seems to have gone into the making of the film - as evidenced by higher production values, lots and lots of extras and some nifty miniature effects. All of which work to the film's advantage, of course.

Some quite nice-looking production values

As for the actors, not all of them are put to good use. Joe Robinson is too stiff as Thor, while Harry Baird simply embarrasses himself as Ubaratutu - again! Janine Hendy is completely wasted as she spends most of her short screen-time chained up and in old-age make-up, and Alberto Cevenini, though not bad, is given little to do in the role of Syros. I like the fact that director Antonio Leonviola cast himself as the evil El Kab, and while he's somewhat of an over-actor, he seems to have had a lot of fun.

Why pay a professional actor to play the villain when you can have a great time doing it yourself?

The only ones given any real opportunity to shine, however, are the villainesses. The voluptuous Bella Cortez (dubbed into English by Carolynn De Fonseca - in typically bitchy fashion) is stunning to look at and she nails the part of the wicked queen Akiba. However, Akiba isn't technically one of the bad guys. She's not really to blame for any of her wrongdoings since she's been turned into a will-less slave by El Kab's magical powers. But in a rather hilarious twist, the good guys completely fail to take this into account when they enact their revenge upon her! Or maybe they just forgot? Oops! Poor Akiba! Oh well...

In any case, the true standout is - like in Thor and the Amazon Women - the mesmerizing Carla Foscari, who steals every scene she's in as the cunniving and sexy Ararut. She reminds me of Rosalba Neri in many ways and really ought to have enjoyed a longer-running movie career than she did!

Overall, Tor - Mighty Warrior does not compare favorably to Thor and the Amazon Women but if you liked the latter, you'll probably want to check this one out as well. It does have some cool moments - particularly in its last third - and a couple of very appealing actresses, so give it a chance.

© 2010 Johan Melle

The cast:

Joe Robinson as Thor

Harry Baird as Ubaratutu

Bella Cortez as Akiba

Alberto Cevenini as Syros

Antonio Leonviola as El Kab

Carla Foscari as Ararut

Thea Fleming as Illa

Janine Hendy as Afer

Claudia Capone as Tuja

José Torres as Thorak

Erminio Spalla as King of Surapak