Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990)

Ator the Invincible was an Italian series 'inspired' by the success of Conan the Barbarian. Starring musclebound Yank Miles O'Keeffe, they've become somewhat (in)famous for their ultra-low production values, and ridiculous moments. It was Joe D'Amato who created the series, but lost interest when a third Conan entry wasn't immediately forthcoming, and one Alfonso Brescia picked up the slack and made the third entry himself, resulting in a strange arthouse-style picture. D'Amato hated this film, perhaps because it was someone else handling his 'baby', or maybe he just thought Brescia did a rubbish job at it. And so he decided to return to the series, to show everyone what was what...

The great king Ator is killed by vengeful gods, and his widow and child (also named Ator) flee for safety. They find refuge with a malicious goblin, who promises to take care of the child and his magical sword. Years later the matured prince Ator is the goblin's slave, and desperately seeks the sword so he may escape. Only then can he embrace his destiny and be a new hero...

Quest for the Mighty Sword is by far the worst entry in the Ator series. The first two are charming, while the third was odd and a little boring, but not bad. Quest however feels like a totally different beast. There is little in common with the first two, any previous continuity (in a series already known for spotty and footloose canon) is thrown out completely/with the dishwater.

The whole movie is a bit unpleasant, really! With no warning, the movie opens with Ator's violent death, then his wife intends to commit suicide because she's a widow (beg yer pardon?!), before being sold into prostitution, and young Ator has to grow up with an abusive goblin. The first act of this movie is an endurance test, and only when he escapes can you move on to the fun stuff.

Quest for the Mighty Sword is set in quite a misanthropic world, and a bit weird too. The movie opens with the gods demanding Ator give back his magic sword, and when he doesn't, they effortlessly murder him. It's strange that the deities of this world are so evil, and doubly strange that they're never really taken to task or punished. Everyone just collectively shrugs their shoulders, like 'What'cha gonna do'.

Quest for the Mighty Sword has leaden pacing. The first half hour has some very brief set up, then we're stuck in a cave with an asshole goblin. The next half hour consists of Ator running around, and getting in a single fight, before freeing his mother. Only in the last 30 minutes does he finally begin his quest properly, and take the battle to the villains. The film's chronology is a bit all over the place until a certain point, causing a fair amount of confusion.

The climax is a bit unsatisfying in that regard too. For all the talk of these villainous gods, the main baddie of the film is just a brief scuffle with some random dude, and anything grander is forgotten. The movie sets up so much, then culminates with such a big let-down. We coulda had Ator fight the gods themselves, but instead he fights a dumb old prince with no personal boundaries and a desperate need for skin cream. The movie then just peters out, and teases a sequel that mercifully never happened.

Ultimately this is all pretty frustrating when this is the fourth entry in the series (third if you listen to Joe D'Amato). We should be beyond the point of an origin story, especially when Ator has a different bloody origin in every movie!

The characters are bland. Ator is a pretty basic hero. Nothing special, but not terrible either. His main sidekick/girlfriend Dejamira is bland. A prisoner of the gods, she is freed by Ator, and is finally her own woman...Except she can't fight worth a damn (when she even fights at all), screams uselessly, and can't tell people anything. Comic relief Skiold is pretty decent, and makes for a good ally. Though his fate is a needless bummer, especially since it's so late in the game, and from such a weak opponent.

The villains are disappointingly weak. The so-called invincible robot is destroyed with one strike in under 30 seconds, the malevolent sorceress(?) just pouts and walks off, even though I thought she'd succeeded. Then the main baddie Gunther just decides to commit suicide at the end, meaning Ator didn't even have to lift a finger to defeat him. Probably the best villain by default is the mean goblin who dominates the first act.

The acting ranges from the competent to weak, with accents are all over the place too, with some English accents, and some distractingly modern U.S. ones. Eric Allan Kramer is one of the better performers, but as Ator he is no Miles O'Keeffe. I find him a much better actor in other things. Margaret Lenzey is amusingly bad here, decent there. Donald O'Brien is an over-the-top and grungy looking villain, while Laura Gemser is fine but sadly doesn't get to do a whole lot to do. Dina Morrone delivers an alright performance, and is a real trooper for what she has to do here (it has to be seen to be believed!). There's also Marissa Mell, in an unremarkable role.

The direction is fine, which is no surprise given D'Amato's experience, but the whole film looks unappealing. Not only are the visuals a mix of bland or unappealing brown, it often feels like there's been vaseline smeared all over the camera. The action is barely satisfactory, and consists of people being hit with a prop sword and falling down. No blood or grue, with few exceptions.

The effects are the best part of the film. They are cheesy and clunky, but fun and bizarre. There's a two-headed robot, and a Godzilla-esque dragon that kinda looks like it's melting. Lastly, the most distinctive thing about Quest for the Mighty Sword is its use of recycled props from the infamous Troll 2! Laura Gemser's now iconic goblin masks are designed well, if not convincingly, and they work quite well in this fantasy setting. Always nice seeing the Italians being enterprising.

The music here is mixed. Some tracks are great, suitably sweeping and heroic. Others come across more as goofy, and impossible to take seriously. It also spoils the ending, which I'm pretty sure is supposed to be an ominous cliffhanger, but plays an uninterrupted gentle melody the whole time.

Overall, there is nothing remarkable about Quest for the Mighty Sword. It's not terrible, not even entertainingly so for the most part. It's just all-round mediocre. It feels nothing like an Ator film, and is a sad conclusion for the series. It may not have been the best of franchises, and god knows the previous entry was weird enough, but this really signals a total and unflattering end. Maybe someday we'll get more Ator films, but only if we're lucky...

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