Cave Dwellers (1984)
Written and Directed by Joe D'Amato
Run Time: 92 min
Other Titles: "Ator, the Blade Master"
Tagline: "Warrior, Magician, Hero, Thief. They called him...the Blade Master!"
"One thing still puzzles me...why did your daughter fly like an arrow straight towards the sun?"
- Zor the Mighty Metaphor Mixer
"It would be less repugnant to be strangled by a thousand serpents than to endure your smile!"
- Mila, about to be sacrificed to The God of the Tongue
The Italians are certainly a highly-regarded people. Italy is home to some of the greatest artists and inventors of all time. Furthermore, I love lasagna and pizza...Can you imagine life without those? However, Italy is maybe less well known for another trait: The ability to milk a movie genre far behind what would be regarded as humanly possible. Take the "Sword and Sandal" genre...(Please! <rimshot>). Long, long after anybody would think another "Conan" rip-off could be created, along came Ator...the new sword-slinging, sandal-stomping, loin-clothe wearing hero...out to battle the forces of evil yet again and again and again.
The 'Ator' films star none other than actor Miles O'Keeffe, who began his career in film as 'Tarzan', starring across from Bo Derek (!) in the popular 1981 film Tarzan, the Ape Man. Shortly after 'Tarzan', Miles traveled to Italy to star in the horrid Ator the Invincible(1982). Whether that film was successful or not, and what the definition of 'success' was, another film was made starring our beloved Ator, namely our feature presentation, Ator the Blade Master (1984). (The film was released in the US under the odd title of "The Cave Dwellers" since most Americans were unfamiliar with the Ator movies. Lucky them.) Sensing that there was probably a few more Lira to milk out of this cow, yet another Ator movie was made in 1987: Ator the Iron Warrior.
The Ator movies were directed by legendary Italian director Joe D'Amato. This prolific director, writer, and producer has nearly 200 films under his belt, and is probably best known for his gore-fests (his first entry in this genre was Buried Alive (1979)), low-budget horror (Death Smiles on a Murderer (1972)), and even an occasional zombie-porn gore-fest such as Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977), and Porno Holocaust (1980). Joe also dabbled in hard-core porn before passing away due to sudden heart attack in 1999. Basically, if you want some freakin' weird films, check out any of D'Amato's works from the 70's and 80's.
So, let's join Ator, his mute Oriental partner Thong (!), and the hot mini-skirt wearing Mila as they struggle against puppets, invisible monsters, and Zor and his army of idiots to save the medieval world from an atom bomb...This is going to be fun!
As you can see above, the opening credits take place in some weird sort of 'half-screen' format, while action scenes from the first film (?) are played for our entertainment. It might have been slightly more entertaining if we had known what the hell the scenes meant, but rest assured, they have no bearing what-so-ever regarding the current film. So just enjoy! It's all downhill from here.
Cut to a cave. Which seems appropriate enough given the title of the film. Inside are a bunch of, well, cavemen / barbarians preparing food and what not. By the way, these 'cave dwellers' look like normal modern people who have soot rubbed on their faces and those goofy black-hair "rocker" wigs on their heads. Yeah, there's even a couple cave-women complete with perms and strategically short-cut fur mini-skirts, if you get my drift.
As the cave people sit around eating what is obviously uncooked T-bone steaks, an aggressive neighboring tribe of cave-people rush in and make a surprise attack.
The attack proceeds with a lot of bonking each other with styrofoam 'rocks' and cardboard 'spears'. Oh joy, the editor even spliced in a one scene several times in order to pad the running time of this fight sequence. Like 90 minutes of Cave Dwellers wouldn't be long enough.
An abrupt cut reveals an establishing shot of a large castle perched atop a wooded hill somewhere in Italy. Why these people live in grandiose castles while the others eat raw meet in caves is not clear. Wait a minute. An Ever-Present-Narrator (EPN) mentioned something about how certain groups of people were more "gifted" than others. Hmmm, yeah, I guess you could say the castle-builders are "gifted". Better than eating raw meat in a hole.
Inside a different cave, gifted 'scientist', Akronos, is talking with his hot daughter, Mila. Yes, there are beakers filled with colored fluids and 'bubbling' dry ice. Even better. One thing that immediately grabs your attention with Mila (besides her legs), is the goofy chest-protection thingee she wears around her neck. Closer inspection reveals that this prop is in fact a hub cap from a car. Good lord.
Mila notes that her father looks worried about something. (Probably his career after this film.) It turns out that he had a dream last night.
"Human knowledge, even in it's must exulted form," Akronos says while gesturing towards the bubbling colored-water filled beakers, "is nothing against...<dramatic pause>...fate." Akronos takes Mila to an adjoining chamber where he reveals his latest, and most important, discovery:
"It is everything...and nothing. Life...and death," he explains, "Goodness, richness, poverty, and evil." It's hard to see what this "thing" is because it's basically a mirror with a bright light reflected directly into the camera lens so it looks like it's some sort of 'energy source'. Or at least something really bright. Either way, it's annoying as hell, just like the rest of the movie. Well, anyway, the Bright Thing could be used as a weapon if it falls into The Wrong Hands.
Through some awkward exposition, we learn that Zor, the local Evil Dude (and obviously The Wrong Hands), is making his way "South", and if he discovers this Bright Thing, well, I guess it's lights out for all the cave dwellers. (Is that such a tragic loss?) Ah, we now move to the crux of the film. Who can be entrusted to guard the Bright Thing from Zor? Why, none other than Ator, I tell you!
In case the viewer missed the first Ator film, Akronos proceeds to spew out the whole story from the first film accompanied by various film clips. What is so comical, besides the fact that film clips rarely match anything being said in the narration, is that none of this plays any role whatsoever for the rest of the film. Maybe the film makers thought the viewer really gave a crap about Ator's beginnings. Maybe they wanted to pad the running time. I mean, it's like the narrator's reading a multi-page summary of the first film. Incredible! Who can follow all this?! This back story last for over 3 and a half minutes!
We do learn that Ator moved to the "East Lands" where he now resides with a mute "Oriental warrior and sage" named Thong. (!) By the way, they live in a cave too. I guess the prop department really got their money's worth from that set. The fun continues while we watch Ator and Thong practice their sword-fighting skills. 'Fun' as in getting-a-root-canal 'fun'.
Back in cave #1, Mila and her father have a little cuddle time as we cut to see a gaggle of Zor's Evil Henchmen riding up towards the same castle we saw earlier. Look. I don't know who the hell that castle belongs to. I'm just describing the film as best I can. No wait. They are not riding to the castle, they are riding from the castle. I think. Talk about crappy editing. Ed Wood, take note!
OK, now I get it. The Evil Henchmen ride through some caves and somehow end up inside the castle where a huge (sort of) sword fight breaks out. So I guess Akronos and Mila do live in the castle, but he just likes to work in a dank cave. Go figure. Realizing that time is short, Akronos sends Mila to "the Ends of the Earth" to find Ator and convince him to return with her. Mila reluctantly complies, as Akronos hides the Bright Thing in case the castle should fall.
Enter Zor, the supposed leader of the Evil Dudes. Zor stomps into the cave and dismisses the soldiers who were happily beating the crap out of Akronos. Despite being in a combat situation, Zor wears an absolutely gigantic helmet in the shape of duck (!!). This ludicrous adornment is easily twice the size of Zor's head and in fact appears to nearly topple from its perch whenever Zor moves his head too quickly.
We'll just go ahead and skip over the inane conversation between Zor and Akronos. Basically, Zor is going to hold Akronos prisoner until he reveals the whereabouts of the Bright Thing. I'm not sure how Zor knew about it, but there you go. Oh yeah, Mila is cowering in a corner and watches the whole thing, instead of, say, rushing up and shoving her sword in Zor's back when he's not looking.
As Mila makes her way East towards The Ends of the Earth (TEOTE), she is accosted by a few Evil Henchmen (EH). Unconvincing swordplay ensues, Evil Henchmen topple over dead at the slightest touch. You know the kind. After dispatching the nogoodnicks, Mila continues her quest to TEOTE by following a well established path through the forest. (In fact, you can see that this path is in fact a dirt road! I suspect this was filmed in some sort of camping area.) Anyway, two more EH appear out of nowhere and shoot an arrow into Mila's shoulder. (Yeah, a lot of good having that hub cap hanging on your neck has done, eh Mila?) After being shot in the shoulder Mila limps (?!) away. With Mila's huge head start of about 40 feet, the EH are unable to track her through the scattered underbrush and stop giving chase.
Back at the castle, Zor explains to Akronos that using torture would be too simple (?). (And too fast: we still have about an hour (!) of this film left.)
OK, cut to TEOTE where Ator and Thong are busy heating a sword for some reason. No, not forging a sword...but heating a finished sword in a fire. Ahhh...the mystical ways of the Orient. Suddenly, in staggers Mila, grievously wounded from the arrow she took.
Time out. Mila left on her quest immediately after her father was captured. We next see her wounded in the forest, then we cut to see Zor talking to Akronos in the castle. Now we cut to Mila arriving in Ator's cave that same day. This sequence of events can only mean that The Ends of the Earth are about a 2 hour stroll from Akronos's castle. How convenient.
Ator and Thong place Mila on a cow-skin (!) covered bed and cover her face with big leaves. Thong removes the leaves as Ator pulls out the arrow, then puts the leaves back on her face. (Huh? What the hell?) After a brief rest, Mila awakens to discover that the wound is completely healed. Out in the larger cave room, Ator and Thong are busily puttering around with beakers of colored water. Wait a minute, those look familiar. Ator scribbles something down in a large book. Hey! That's Akronos's book! Those cheap bastards! That's the exact same cave from the opening scene!!!
Before agreeing to help her free her father from Zor's clutches, Ator wants Mila to prove that she really is the daughter of the Wise One, and insists on giving her a little test. Having no choice, Mila agrees.
The test consists of placing Mila in a caged off section of the cave and seeing if she can get out. Wow. I can tell right now that this will be an exciting scene. Not. Mila chips off a bit of rock from the cave wall and mixes it with dirt from the floor. Somehow mixing rocks and dirt makes an explosive that she uses to blast open the bars of the cage. Huh. I never knew that rocks and dirt were so dangerous when mixed together. Note to self: get rid of my kid's sandbox first thing tomorrow.
Ator admits that he knew a messenger would come to him if ever the "Geometric Nucleus" (!) were in danger of falling into The Wrong Hands. (Ahhh...so the Bright Thing is called the 'Geometric Nucleus'. Really guys, did they just pick two words at random from a high-school science text book?)
Meanwhile, back at the castle, Zor introduces Akronos to a bearded old man named Sandor, who, as Zor puts it, "is the opposite of Ator." (?) After some excruciating dialog, Sandor casts some sort of spell which inevitably climaxes in a huge burst of flash powder....<swwoOOSH!>
Anyhoo, back at TEOTE, Ator, Thong, and Mila are jogging through the woods which for some reason are now filled with fog. Not as much fog as The Pod People, but not too far off. Despite being a mere 5 feet behind Ator and Thong, Mila manages to get separated from them and straggles off through the fog.
Cut to Ator and Thong entering, yes, a cave. "Something is following us," Ator hisses, warning Thong to keep on his toes. Next comes truly most of the absolutely eye-rollingly-bad scenes I've ever had the displeasure to endure. It turns out that Ator and Thong get attacked by invisible monsters. The film makers were so freakin' cheap that they simply had Ator and Thong jerk around like they were being punched and kicked. Well done, my friends, well done! A Lira saved is a Lira earned, eh? This grimace-inducing combat sequence continues for quite awhile until we....
Cut to see Mila wandering into, once again, a cave. (I think it's the same cave that Ator is in, but the editing in this film is so atrocious you never really know where anybody is in relation to anything else.)
Oh no, wait, cut back to Ator and Thong. These two Einsteins take off their capes and toss them onto the heads of the invisible monsters. I guess the special effects department was finally forced to cough up enough dough to hire a couple of extras to put black capes over their heads and flail their arms around. For some reason, the monsters don't have enough sense to, you know, remove the capes from their heads, and simply stumble around until Ator hacks them down with his sword.
Yes, back to Mila who has apparently found a cave full of sooty-faced cave dwellers. (Hey! That's the title of the movie! Cool!) Despite her, <ahem>, superior sword skills, Mila is quickly overwhelmed by the grunting neanderthals. Oh, and a trio of Evil Henchmen who pursued Mila into the cave are also captured. (You know, for The Ends of the Earth, there sure are a hell of a lot of people hanging around ...)
Meanwhile, Ator has made his way through the cave complex and discovers the sacrificial chamber where Mila is being kept. As Mila watches in horror, one of the Evil Henchmen is placed onto an altar and quickly has his heart cut out with a large knife. (If the cave people have knives, then why do they fight with old bones and sticks?) As the EH's lifeless body is removed, Mila is hauled into position to be the next sacrifice. Just as things are looking pretty grim for Mila, Ator throws something onto the ground which explodes in a big flash of light. The spectacle scares away the cave men, Mila hops down from the altar, and flees with Ator. Wow. That's about as exciting as it can get.
Back in the castle, Zor chews out Sandor for failing. Huh? What did he do? Did I doze off for a minute? Oh well. Zor calls in the guards to have Sandor "flogged". Akronos still standing around for some reason, instead of being tortured to death for information on the "Geometric Nucleus", intercedes on Sandor's behalf.
"After all this time," Akronos mumbles to Zor, "Sandor has been worthy of your esteem...and you are as guilty of having failed as he is."
Gleaning some sort of insight from the turgid statement above, Zor changes his mind and orders Sandor to be imprisoned. "You can use your time to come up with something new and it better be good," Zor warns Sandor as he is led away, "if you want to regain my esteem. And I think you know how important for you is my esteem." (Lovely, lovely sentence there.)
Returning to the forest, Ator and the others are attacked by some sort of bandits. It's hard to describe what they look like, but imagine a cross between John Cleese's Black Knight from The Holy Grail, a mime, and a guy in a cheap Samurai costume.
The sword fight sequence itself is also pretty lame. It's the kind of battle scene where even though the bad guys out number the good guys 5-to-1, they still only attack one at a time, thus allowing the good guys to mow them down one by one. Of course, the favored mode of attack is a high, slow, overhead swing which Ator (Mila, Thong...) easily blocks and then slices the baddy across the gut. Over, and over, and over, again. In fact, the scene is so poorly choreographed that several times Ator holds his sword up to block before the bad guy swings...of course, seeing that Ator is waiting to block his stroke, the bad guy obliges and kindly brings his sword up, over, and down, exposing his mid-section so Ator can easily slice it open.
Later, as Thong catches fish from a river with his bare hands, Mila and Ator have a little chat. Ator admits that he knew the Samurai-mimes, "They are the last survivors of the noble tribe of Hun, who worship the God of War: Soko." (Who? What?) The two continue with a mind-numbingly witless exchange of pseudo-Zen goobledy-goop, for example,
Mila: "Why did you go and live so far away?"
Ator: "Your father taught me the path I must follow, it is for this, I live the way I do."
Mila: "But shouldn't a man's destiny coincide with the desires of his heart?"
Ator: "A man's destiny is always predetermined by the true desires of his heart."
Oh brother! Blah blah blah blah blah-bidee-blah!
Later that "night", Thong captures two young people sneaking up on the camp, and quickly brings them to Ator. Even though it's obviously the middle of the day, we know that it's "night" by the clever folaying of cricket chirping onto the audio track. Cinema Magic!
One of the intruders, a young woman, says that they are from Soluga.
"Soluga!?" Ator responds in a stunned voice.
Maybe I too would have been shocked by this information if the movie makers would have been kind enough to tell me what the hell Soluga is!!! Oh yes, now I see. Ator helpfully explains that his parents are from Soluga. Oh oh! I smell a sub-plot coming. No!!!!
<Sigh> The two kids explain that their village has been taking over by "Tongues", the evil followers of "The Serpent God." Every month, at the full moon, a villager is tossed down to a giant snake. Ator decides to accompany the kids back to the village and try to put an end to this evil. (I would have "silliness".)
At the village of Soluga, filmed in an unused quarry, the village elders are calling for volunteers to be turned over to the "Tongues" (!) for sacrifice. Four people reluctantly step forward in order to spare the others from this vile fate. Suddenly Ator appears, once again pretty much out of nowhere, raises his hand and shouts, "Stop!"
Ator does his best to whip the people into a fightin' mood. He even eagerly volunteers to lead the villagers in a battle against the Tongues. In fact, with the help of "several sharp stakes, ropes, and three men to help," Ator pretty much figures he can whip the Tongue's asses...so to speak.
For no other reason except to draw out this stupid film even longer, the villagers decide to double-cross Ator. Thong uncovers the foul plot, but not in time to stop Ator from drinking a glass of drugged wine. Thong, unnoticed by the villagers, sneaks off to try and devise a way to rescue Ator and Mila.
Later that day (night? Who knows.), we see Ator and Mila have been tied to stakes. Ator, once again proving that he's one smart cookie, remarks to Mila that, "We've been betrayed, but we're still alive." (I guess Ator wanted to fill Mila in on the details of their situation in case she didn't realize that they were in fact alive and tied to stakes awaiting sacrifice after being betrayed.) Once again, why the hell did the villagers betray Ator? What the hell is going on here?
Ahh, yes, now it's explained. Another prisoner, tied to a third stake for some reason, exposits that the Tongues agreed to stop demanding monthly sacrifices if the villagers would capture Ator and turn him over to them. Yeah, a bunch of guys who call themselves "Tongues" and toss people down to giant snakes are probably to be trusted to keep their end of a bargain.
We now see the Tongues come charging into the village on horseback. What is hilarious about this scene is that earlier, when Ator was explaining how they could defend the village against the Tongues in a battle, he pointed towards that very same direction as being "impassable for horses"! Way to go Ator! Idiot.
Oh gee. Big surprise. When the village leader shows the Tongues where Ator is being help prisoner, the Tongue leader immediately chops him with his sword. Wow. Talk about a plot twist. Never saw that coming. Nosirree. Anyway, the Tongues set fire to the village and generally act like a bunch of asses as Ator and Mila vainly struggle to free themselves.
Try not to notice one of the "villagers" is wearing a pair of sunglasses!!!
OK, let's see what's happening here. Ator and Mila are brought to the Tongue's sacrificial chamber, yes, very well. In strolls Zor, duck helmet under his arm, with a box of treasure which he gives to the Tongue leader (TL) as "promised." Um, what? In an additional token of appreciation, Zor also brought along 5 scantily-clad women that TL can have to sacrifice to the God of the Tongue. (I wish I was making this up but I'm not.)
Zor strolls over to Ator and spews yet more nonsensical dialog: "You have defeated my magician. You have defeated my warriors. But all your science has proved helpless against the powers of imagination...and cunning."
Yeah, OK. If you say so, Zor.
"The dividing line between goodness and stupidity", Zor adds before leaving Ator and Mila to the Tongues, "is very, very fine."
As the TL begins a ridiculous incantation to begin the sacrifice, we see that Thong has snuck into the Tongue stronghold and into an adjoining room. A couple of Zor's women are tossed down into a pit where 5 or 6 medium sized boa constrictors lie placidly amongst a scattering of rubber skulls. In order to convince the viewers that these sleepy serpents are in fact "scary", growling noises have been added to the scene.
As the third girl is tossed into the hole, Ator notices Thong hiding, sort of, in front of huge window. As the rest of the girls are cast to their doom, Thong ever-so-slowly creeps around the perimeter of the room in an effort to position himself behind Ator so he can cut the ropes binding his hands. (I guess the Worshippers of the Mighty Tongue suffer from a lack of peripheral vision, because 2 guards standing to the side and behind Ator don't see Thong creep up and cut him loose.)
Blah. Ator and Thong surprise the guards as the TL tosses Mila into the pit. As with every other fight scene so far, Ator and Thong quickly dispatch the evil minions with a minimum of effort (and skill). Hearing Mila's screams, our hero jumps into the pit to do battle with the God of the Tongue.
Bet you're expecting to see some really cool special effects, eh?
The giant snake is a huge brown puppet with a ridiculous flappy mouth complete with huge fangs and a floppy tongue that hangs out. Well, you don't ever really get to see this monster because of the shadows used to disguise the prop's utter lameness. Since there was no money used to build in any type of mechanics to animate the snake, it's up to Ator to coil the snake around himself and do his best to make the thing look "alive". (Think of the giant octopus in Bride of the Monster, only that prop was pretty good compared to this one.) After a few moments of "suspense", Ator manages to break off a huge spike sticking out from the wall (?) and kill the snake.
After wasting twenty minutes of my life dealing with the Tongues and the giant snake in a totally pointless subplot, Ator, Thong, and Mila now finally (finally!!!) reach the castle itself. But how to get in? Oh deary me. There are so many scary, mean guards with big swords. Ator tells Mila and Thong to enter the castle via, yes, a secret entrance (sigh), while he will create a diversion outside. (Uh, if the entrance is secret, why do you have to create a diversion?)
Now, I want to prepare you for possibly the most far-fetched scene you may ever see in your life. If you like beer get one now. If you don't like beer, get one now.
Ator's diversionary plan?
Build a hang glider and drop bombs on the castle guards.
Build a hang glider!!!!!
Well, there you go folks. You can now say you've seen the stupidest movie in the world.
Back on the ground, in a slightly more realistic scene, Thong and Mila make their way into the castle and are immediately spotted by guards. Boy, that's sure a great secret passage.
Oh gee, as Ator circles in the sky we see some stock footage of an entirely different castle then the one that we've been shown before. In fact, it's none other than then the world famous Bavarian castle called Neuschwanstein. Tip to future movie makers: if you're going to save money and use somebody else's stock footage, try to make sure you don't use footage showing a world famous landmark.
When the castle guards see the "man in the sky", Zor is alerted. Realizing that if anybody could make a hang glider in 10 minutes using medieval materials it would probably be Ator, Zor brings Akronos outside to take a look. For some reason, instead of making Zor burst out laughing, seeing Ator in a hang glider infuriates him, and Zor begins to smack Akronos around a bit.
Ator begins his aerial assault by dropping little bombs onto the guards below. A couple of the bombs are so powerful that they transform the guards into dummies before the explosion hurls them from the tops of the walls.
After what seems like an eternity of Bavarian stock footage, Ator finally lands on one of the castle walls, kills a couple of idiot guards, and makes his way inside the castle itself in order to battle Zor and free Akronos.
Deep below, Zor demands that Akronos tell him where the Geometric Nucleus is hidden. Hey, Zor, maybe if you stopped choking him, he could tell you! Moron.
Ator arrives Just In Time and a climatic sword fight ensues. Wait. Did I say "climatic"? I meant boring. Sorry.
Just as Ator finally disarms Zor and is about to kill him, Akronos cries out, "No Ator, don't! He is unarmed! If you kill him now you'll be guilty of murder!"
What in the flying freakin' high hell is he talking about?!!
He'd be guilty of murder!??????
Ayyeieieieeeiiiii! What a stupid stupid stupid stupid movie.
Instead of killing Zor, Akronos suggests that he be tried in the "High Court of the League of Peaceful Lands".
Gee whiz. Surprise. As soon as Ator turns his back, Zor tries to stab him and is quickly killed.
On cue, in runs Mila and a tearful reunion takes place. Ack.
Later, Ator takes his leave to return to the Eastern Lands. Oh, yes, and Akronos has given Ator the Geometric Nucleus for safe keeping. I'll spare you the awful dialog exchanged between Ator and Mila. Thong stays behind in order to "watch over them". Whatever, dude.
As Mila looks on, Ator walks off towards home.
Cut to stock footage of an atomic bomb explosion as a narrator explains that Ator destroyed the Nucleus because man wasn't wise enough.
As triumphant music blares out of my laptop's speakers, we see Ator riding a horse across a medieval wilderness. Try not to notice the dirt road in the background. C'mon guys! Can't you care just a little bit?! Sheesh!!!
I'm outta here.
Dennis Grisbeck (Nov 2005)