Genre: Action, Exploitation
Director: Steve Carver
Stars: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Lucretia Love
Two thousand years ago, the people of Rome are so blasée, so used to violence, that entertaining them becomes a political problem. Someone suggests, after a hectic girl fight in a kitchen between a Nubian and a Viking slave, as a joke, that they should fight in the arena, instead of male gladiators. The idea is approved, though – and a female “Spartacus” theme follows
Yes, this totally qualifies as a Women in Prison film. It has women – and they are in prison. Sure, it’s ancient Rome, but women are women and prison is prison regardless of the time period. Spartacus with tits. Pam Grier and Margaret Markov teaming up again like in Black Mama, White Mama? Fun Corman produced cheesiness? What is there NOT to like about this movie? Historical accuracy be damned – I love this movie!
The film opens with Maragaret Markov as Bodicia, a priestess in Brittany. The Romans come surprise attack these barbarians and take Bodicia as a slave. Meanwhile, in Africa, Pam Grier as Mamawi is dancing around when the Romans surprise attack! It’s the same music cue, the same fight choreography, the same dialogue from the Romans. It’s almost as if the Romans are just like the Spanish Inquisition – you never expect them.
These two are grouped with some other female slaves and sold into service the man who runs the local gladiator arena. We get our standard exploitation and WiP fare – forced bathing, rape, badass dialogue. Well, dialogue as badass as ancient Rome could provide. It’s a rather loose and clumsy film for awhile and an abysmal portrayal of what life was like in ancient Rome. I can forgive the historical inaccuracies however because this is an exploitation film and NOT a dramatic period pieces. – Heh, “period piece,” a phrase that takes on a whole different meaning after too many Women in Prison films. The arena’s owner, eager to find the next big thing to draw in the crowds, decides to pit the woman against each other in mortal combat. We get some humor as the girls learn to train, stumbling around clumsily in heavy armor and what-not. Then we get our first match-up and the women realize that this will not end well.
This is when the movie turns into a blatant rip-off of Spartacus. Perhaps homage would be a better word for this as the film acknowledges that it is Spartacus, even references the fellow. The final match is, of course, the most anticipated of all – Bodicia Vs. Mamawi. I’m not going to let you know how this fight turns out or spoil the ending of the movie. It really is something to be enjoyed rather than just narrated. While I like and have the utmost respect for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, the overt homoeroticism gets on my nerves and it does NOT star Pam Grier and Margaret Markov! Ultimately, I will choose The Arena time and time again over Kubrick’s epic. The Arena is mindless fun with plenty of titillating eye candy. Yeah, I said “titillating” but that’s only because I almost wrote the word “bodacious” as if I was still living in the ’80s or something.
Bit of trivia. Remember how in an earlier review for one of these Corman produced WiP films I discussed how a lot of famous directors got their start working for Roger Corman? This film was edited by Joe Dante who would later direct Gremlins and The ‘Burbs. Also, has an added bonus, 2nd Unit direction on this flick was handled by the infamous Joe D’Amato.
That being said – if you love cheesy movies and adorable exploitation goddesses, definitely watch The Arena. Even the most discerning film critic or even the casual movie watcher who has no knowledge of the exploitation genre can still find something to enjoy about this movie. For me, this is a sad moment as I don’t get to see any more Margaret Markov this month. She only starred in about 12 movies during her whole, brief career. This is also the last time I get to see Pam Grier this month. For the most part the “fun” women in prison films are behind me. There are still a few gems to come, but for the most part I prepare myself to enter into the darkest depths of Women in Prison exploitation. Heck, the only reason I decided to include The Arena in women in prison month was to delay the inevitable. I certainly hope I’m prepared for what’s to come – Jesus Franco, Bad Italian dubs, Nazisploitation and more. Hell, even Ted V. Mikels did a women in prison flick and I sure as hell ain’t looking forward to that one. *sigh*