Cannibal Holocaust instantly became a standard bearer for “can you take it” shock filmmaking when it was released, thus ensuring director Ruggero Deodato a permanent place in the history of horror. Unfortunately, its found-footage simulation of snuff filmmaking was so convincing that it also inspired outrage around the world. Deodato was charged with obscenity and murder in Italian court, forcing him to reveal his filmmaking techniques and produce his actors in the courtroom to stop the law from cannibalizing his freedom. This tidal wave of controversy nearly cost him his career.
Luckily, Deodato was more than just a shockmeister. Like most of the genre filmmakers of his era in Italy, he was a journeyman who could turn his hand to whatever trend was popular at a given moment. This gift came in handy when he emerged from a period of film-biz exile to direct Raiders Of Atlantis. The gig was a daunting one: the existing script was about 10 pages long and financing concerns required it to be shot largely in the Philippines with many inexperienced locals filling out the cast and crew. Deodato tackled these challenges with the verve of a pro and the result is perhaps the most purely entertaining production in his filmography.
The premise of Raiders Of Atlantis is wild even by Italian genre filmmaking standards. It all begins with a pair of slick Miami mercenaries, Mike (Christopher Connolly) and Washington (Tony King), pulling off a job and sailing away in a boat after collecting payment. They soon find themselves in stormy waters: the reason for this is a group of scientists were trying to unearth a sunken Russian nuclear sub and accidentally triggered a strange disaster. It destroys the oil rig said scientists working on with a tidal wave.
Mike and Washington rescue the survivors when the ocean settles down, a group that includes Professor Saunders (George Hilton), helicopter pilot Bill (Ivan Rassimov) and Dr. Rollins (Gioia Scola), an archaeologist who was called in to decode a strange artifact the scientists found. They soon wind up on an island that has been overrun by murdering lunatics, all of whom are dressed and made up like early ’80s rock video dancers. What follows is a string of wild battles as the heroes fight their way across the island to solve the mystery, which involves the lost continent of Atlantis.
If that sounds crazy to you, just wait until you see how it plays out. It’s loaded with all sorts of fantasy and sci-fi elements but it’s really an action film at heart, one that uses sci-fi and fantasy stuff as a way to add variation and visual excitement to its action scenario rather than fretting over narrative logic or order. Deodato puts it all together in a way that combines the snappy energy of an old-time movie serial with the bombast of ’80s action, pacing it with regular explosive setpieces (Schlockmania’s favorite: a battle between a bus and a helicopter). He also comes up with some impressive stylistic flourishes, like when the stuttering sound of music in a deserted building is revealed to be caused by the legs of a hanging victim bumping into an old jukebox.
It also helps that Deodato has populated his cast with a reliable array of Italian genre flick veterans. Connolly and King, both accustomed to Italian productions at this point, share a surprising rapport and dig into their roles with a devil-may-care charisma that makes them easy to watch. They both know they’re starring in a quickie but they have fun with it and never condescend to the work. Similarly, Rassimov enjoys himself playing a fellow tough guy mercenary and Hilton shows some sly wit, having fun playing against his usual ladies’ man type to essay a nerdy professor.
Finally, there is a just a sense of fun to Raiders Of Atlantis that appeals to those of us besotted with b-movies. The tight budget reveals itself in some threadbare miniature effects but it’s endearing how the movie is so gung-ho about punching above its budgetary weight class. Every reel throws some fun bit of action or special effects at you, reaching giddier heights with each passing reel. The last twenty minutes is just one big pileup of setpieces, including possession by ancient spirits and stone statues that shoot lasers from their eyes. Add in a fun rock score, including an addictive synth-disco theme called “Black Inferno,” and you’ve got a dynamite party movie.
In short, this is the kind of Italian potboiler than any fan of exploitation fare could have fun with – and if you only know Deodato for cannibal shocks, you’ll be impressed to see his range was broad enough to include popcorn fare like this.
Blu-Ray Notes: For years, this title was only available via grey market DVDs drawn from fuzzy standard-def video masters but Severin recently gave it the high-def treatment it has long deserved. They’ve also include a few nice extras, including an interview with Deodato that provides context about this phase of his career.