Monday 20 October 2014

Ark of the Sun God [1984]

ARK OF THE SUN GOD is an Italian adventure film that was directed by Antonio Margheriti and originally released in 1984 under the title Sopravvissuti della città morta.  It stars David Warbeck, John Steiner, Ricardo Palacios and Luciano Pigozzi.  As you might imagine, it is a blatant rip off of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, a film which Margheriti had previously ripped off two years before in HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA.  In this later effort Warbeck plays Rick Spear, a suave cat burglar and safecracker who is engaged by an equally suave British aristocrat to recover a sceptre that is reputedly buried in Gilgamesh's tomb.

Italian genre movies traded on this sort of thing in the 1970s and 80s in much the same way as Asylum productions do now.  Somehow though the Italians seemed less cynical about their recycling; certainly in Margheriti's pictures there was a genuine attempt to make as good a job of it as possible. One gets the impression that Asylum are making their films to a rigid formula with little or no regard for artistry or even quality.

It helps of course that Margheriti was a decent director.  I've written about him before several times on this blog and it's always a pleasure to catch one of his films.  He retained an old-school fondness for model work in his films (see the review of Wild, Wild Planet) and could usually be relied upon for good set design and photography.  He also knew how to keep a film moving and the very least that can be said of his films is that they are rarely dull.

This is supposed to be a mountain, viewed from a helicopter.  Rather than a sand castle viewed by a small child.

A model car crash.
Obviously Margheriti was working on a fraction of Spielberg's budget so there are perforce things wrong with the film.  For a start a period setting was plainly beyond the budget so the film is set in the grubby yet garish 1980s and doesn't have the sumptuous exotic feel of RAIDERS.  It has to be said Aldo Tamborelli's score is terrible too; regardless of what you think of John Williams' work you have to admit he can write a good theme.  Neither does it have sufficient resources for either a top notch cast or spectacular set pieces.  Having said that, part of the reason why I admire Margheriti is that, not unlike Edward D. Wood Jr, he never let such things dampen his ambition.  So while Susie Sudlow is no Karen Allen and Ricardo Palacios is no John Rhys Davies, David Warbeck is just as charismatic as Harrison Ford and John Steiner is miles better than Paul Freeman.  Similarly, there is something endearing about having a millstone roll down a slope rather than a giant boulder, or having a close up of some snakes rather than an entire chamber full of them.

Rick Spear falls down a hole...

... into a pit full of snakes.  Three snakes to be exact.

And is then nearly crushed by a runaway wheel.
What I've never properly understood though is who these films were aimed at.  I mean, it's inconceivable surely that audiences even in non-English speaking parts of Europe were denied the opportunity to see RAIDERS and went to see this instead?  Assuming they had seen it, why then would they want to see a spunky but inferior rip off?  I suppose the answer lies in the video market which is after all how films such as this made it out of Italy in the first place.  It would also explain why the leads in these movies are often slumming Brits or Americans.  I would honourably except Warbeck and Steiner from such a description however; both made their careers in Italian genre movies and did so with a gusto that shamed much more feted performers.

David Warbeck as Rick Spear
David Warbeck was a good-looking New Zealander who came over to Britain in the late 1960s and initially found work as a rugged model but quickly made the leap into movies.  He was pretty much always a genre actor, starting out in British horror and then Italian horror.  What I like about him is that he genuinely seemed to love what he did for a living and never took it, or himself, too seriously. He never appeared to regret not having had a mainstream film career - he was considered for James Bond before Roger Moore go it - and warmly embraced the fan / convention circuit that his films appealed to.

John Steiner as Lord Dean
John Steiner had a similar career trajectory in many ways although his looks steered him towards character parts, often villainous, rather than the leads which Warbeck got.  His CV though is a delirious fan's dream; among others he worked with Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Tinto Brass, Ruggero Deodato and the aforementioned Antonio Margheriti.  That's as close to a full house as anyone's ever going to get.  Like Warbeck, Steiner's film career tailed off after the Italian genre movie industry petered out towards the end of the 1980s.  Warbeck started accepting smaller roles and made occasional appearances in very low budget British movies but Steiner quit acting altogether and became an estate agent in California.  Sadly, Warbeck succumbed to cancer in 1997 aged just 55.

Ricardo Palacios as Mohammed
Ricardo Palacios is a prolific Spanish character actor who has appeared in dozens of low budget European genre movies.  Besides working with Margheriti on several occasions over the years, he has appeared in several Jess Franco films and a number with Paul Naschy, as well as some of the less familiar names of exploitation cinema like Andrea Bianchi and Eugenio Martin.  Luciano Pigozzi, here going under his regular Anglicised pseudonym Alan Collins, is another familiar face in genre cinema not least because, at least in his younger days, he looked remarkably like Peter Lorre. Unsurprisingly that's the kind of part he usually plays; in this particular case he's the scrofulous treasure hunter Beetle.

Luciano Pigozzi (aka Alan Collins) as Beetle

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