• Lethal Ladies 2

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: January 24, 2012.
    Director: Steve Carver/Cirio H. Santiago/ Cirio H. Santiago
    Cast: Pam Grier, Margaret Markhov, Rosalba Neri/Pat Anderson, Lenore Kasdorf,Lyllah Torena/Pat Anderson, Lindsay Bloom, Mary Woronov
    Year: 1974/1973/1975
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    The Movie:

    In their ongoing quest to release the best of Roger Corman's catalogue in spiffy editions with great transfer and solid extras the fine people over at Shout! Factory have unleashed upon an unsuspecting public the second Lethal Ladies Collection, a triple feature of Corman productions featuring a bevy of beauties as tough as they are sexy. Let's take a look!

    The Arena:

    The crown jewel in this three movie set is the first film, The Arena (also known under the more salacious title of Naked Warriors) was directed by Steve Carver, edited (technically re-edited, it was first edited in Rome, then sent to the US where Corman had Dante work on it further) by Joe Dante and shot/second unit directed by the late, great Aristide Massaccesi (who is rumored to have done a lot of the directing here as well) and stars three of the coolest ladies to ever hit the silver screen: Rosalba Neri, Margaret Markhov and the mighty Pam Grier.

    Set during the height of decadence during the reign of the Roman Empire, the film takes place in a society all too happy to pillage their way around the area. As such, there are all manner of slaves and gladiators around to serve their Roman masters. Two female slaves, Bodicia (Margaret Markhov) and Mamawi (Pam Grier), are forced to work on hand and foot for their terrible captors who decide, after the two get into a scratchtastic cat fight, that they should put hot chicks into the gladiatorial arena in place of big, burly men.

    As our two heroines are forced to learn the ways of the gladiators, they realize that the promises of freedom being made to the victors are empty and that there’s no way they’ll ever make it out of here alive. As such, they decide that the best course of action is to revolt and to take as many of their fellow captives along with them for the ride as they can.

    Kind of a Spartacus with boobs, The Arena shows considerably more impressive production values than many of the other films that Corman was bankrolling around the same time and every penny of the budget finds its way up there onto the screen. The European locations look great and the cast, made up primarily of Italians, all look the part as well (Neri’s cameo is a small but welcome one and she’s well cast as a bitchy Roman woman). The fight choreography is impressive in the film and the props and costumes all work nicely alongside the sets and backdrops used for the film. The crew definitely does a great job of getting the right tone and atmosphere on film here, and this turns out to be quite a lean film – no padding or slow spots, really, just great pacing in terms of storytelling and enough hefty dollops of sex and violence to keep the drive-in crowd’s satiated.

    In terms of the performances, Grier is awesome where. She dominates the screen and the camera loves her. She’s frequently nude but never in a submissive way and this stands as one of her toughest and strongest roles – she suits the part perfectly. Markhov is also good here but she doesn’t have the same sort of screen presence as Grier does. That said, they do make a great team here and obviously the promoters new it if the way they played up the ‘black slave, white slave’ angle in the marketing materials is anything to go by (and it is).

    Fly Me:

    A bizarre mix of sexploitation, bad kung fu, rape and awful comedy, prolific Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago’s 1973 stewardess film Fly Me begins when a pretty blonde flight attendant, late for work, changes her clothes in the back of a cab driven by Dick Miller. Distracted by her hooters, he drives off the road but manages to get her to the airport in time where she and two other foxy sky angels hop on a plane bound for Hong Kong.

    These three girls – Toby (Pat Anderson), Andrea (Lenore Kasdorf) and Sherry (Lyllah Torena) – will soon wind up in all sorts of trouble. The very non-Italian looking Toby soon finds out that her old Italian mother (Naomi Stevens) is on board, apparently she and dad sold the store so that she could accompany her on this trip. This means that when she hits it off with a doctor on board, dear old mom is going to be watching their every move. After all, she ‘put a virgin on the plane to Hong Kong and will get a virgin back to L.A.’ Andrea will wind up teaming up with some Asian guy and get into a kung fu battle or two, one in Hong Kong and then later on in Tokyo where a blind guy turns out not to be a blind guy but in fact a dude with a blowgun. Poor Sherry will wind up in the most trouble when she makes a wrong move and winds up getting abducted by white slave traders and raped by a rascally Canadian!

    The three stories intertwine as the movie plays out and it all sort of resolves itself by the time that the movie is over. Along the way a ten year old kid will try to get one of the stewardess to watch him get a hard-on, a coupe will join the mile high club, chicks will get bound and beaten and you’ll be witness to more stock footage of plans taking of and landing than you’ll ever want to see again. This is all done with the same erratic sense of pacing and complete lack of narrative logic that has made so many of Santiago’s movies the cult classics that they are.

    No one will ever accuse Fly Me of being a ‘good’ movie but when there’s this much wanton nudity, obvious stunt doubling, fake ass kung fu and bad comedy thrown into the movie you can’t help but be amused and entertained by it all. A fun way to kill seventy-two minutes without regret, and hey, Vic Diaz shows up here too.

    Cover Girl Models:

    Last but not least, our second Cirio H. Santiago feature once again finds him teaming up with Pat Anderson who plays a model named Barbara. She, along with two model friends – Claire (Lindsay Bloome) and Mandy (Tara Strohmeier) – hop a flight to that Hong Kong, the most favored destination in any globetrotting seventies exploitation movie. Once they get there, for reasons never fully explained in any sort of logical narrative sense, the trio wind up getting involved in an international spy ring. See, a roll of microfilm somehow fell into one of the girls’ dresses and now the nefarious bad guys want to get it back no matter the cost. Also, the girls do lots of fashion shows and get naked a few times, all of which leads up to a remarkably awful shoot out where Vic Diaz mows some poor slob down with a grease gun.

    Definitely the lesser of the three films in this collection, Cover Girl Models doesn’t always make a lot of sense and it rarely puts the three leading ladies directly in the action (as opposed to Fly Me or the mighty T.N.T. Jackson which Santiago made the same year and with some of the same people) but it clocks in at under seventy-five minutes so you can’t really fault its pacing. It plays just as well as a collection of weird seventies travelogue footage than as anything else and the camera seems to spend as much time showing off the exotic locations than following the girls around as they try to figure out just why the bad guys are after them, but you take what you can out of movies like this one.

    A little nudity, a few bloody shot outs with some nice squib effects, a gratuitous Vic Diaz cameo, some travelogue bits, a little more nudity… yeah you could do worse than this if you’re looking for some fun, disposable entertainment.


    The Arena is presented in a pretty slick looking 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer though in order to present the film in its complete version a bit of footage had to be spliced in from a fullframe master tape source (the screen caps show the difference). That said, it’s always best to have the longest version possible so it’s hard to be disappointed by this. In general the movie looks very good. Some scratches are to be found and some minor print damage pops up but colors look good, black levels are strong and skin tones look nice and lifelike.

    Fly Me doesn’t fare quite as well. It’s presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and while it’s perfectly watchable, it’s got considerably more obvious wear and tear on display throughout. Cover Girl Models, also presented in 1.78.1, falls somewhere in between the other two movies in terms of visual quality and it looks pretty decent despite nicks, scratches and what not.

    Each of the three films in the set is presented in English language Dolby Digital Mono, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Overall the mixes here sound fine. They're a little limited in range but that's not only understandable, it's to be expected. Dialogue is clean and well balanced and the scores always sound good. The good definitely outweighs the bad and allows us to overlook the occasional pop or instance of hiss here and there.

    As far as the extras go, Shout! have gone all out for The Arena which kicks off with a commentary track featuring director Steve Carver that is puzzlingly moderated by WWE Diva and Scorpion Releasing horror hostess, Katarina Leigh Waters. Carver talks about how he came on board to direct this, his first feature, for producer Corman and how he had to make this film under an alternate name to avoid problems with the Italian film industry laws, noting that he used Massaccesi’s pen name as his alias which is why that showed up on slates and paperwork for the movie. He talks about using stunt men and athletes as gladiators in the film, how real wine and liquor was used in the party scene which wound up getting everyone in the right mood, and how working with the Italians was considerably different than working with an American crew. He talks about working with the two female leads and expresses his admiration for them both but notes that Pam Grier got really rough with some of the manhandler characters who she has to deal with in the film, noting that some of those takes were real. He acknowledges the influence of Spartacus on the film (Waters asks him if he means the TV series – he does not) and the difficulties that arise when using props that are maybe a little bit more realistic than you might want them to be. All in all it’s a decent track, and if Waters isn’t an expert on this movie she does at least keep Carver talking pretty much throughout and he seems to be enjoying sharing his memories of making this picture. He notes that there wasn’t a single injury on set, points out the effective use of the zoom lens in a few key scenes, and if he occasionally lapses into silence now and again it’s never to the point where it ruins the discussion.

    If that weren’t enough, there’s a length making of featurette included here entitled Into The Arena (18:09) as well that compiles some interviews with Carver, producer Roger Corman, co-star Margaret Markhov and producer Mark Damon (who would meet Markhov on set and marry her shortly after). Corman talks about coming up with the idea, collaborating with Damon who was setting up production in Rome, how this film came at the tail end of the Spaghetti Western phase, and what it was like shooting in Italy and working with the various cast members in the movie. Corman also talks about the film’s underlying themes and what makes The Arena more than just a fun, entertaining drive-in film and who it’s actually a testament to the empowerment of women. Rounding out the extras for The Arena is the film’s original theatrical trailer.

    On the second disc, the only extra is a TV spot for Fly Me – there’s nothing included for Cover Girl Models, unfortunately. Both discs feature static menus and each film includes chapter selection. The two discs are housed inside a standard clear keepcase which features reversible cover art with some nice one sheet and lobby card art on the flipside.

    The Final Word:

    If you’ve been digging the Roger Corman Cult Classics line from Shout! Factory so far, there’s no reason you won’t want to add this one to your collection. The Arena is obviously the best film in the set and Shout! has done a great job bringing this one to DVD with a solid transfer and some interesting extras as well. The other two aren’t classics, but Fly Me is a fun and sexy action and sexploitation film and Cover Girl Models is dopey enough to work. All in all, this is a great set.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Jimmy Simard's Avatar
      Jimmy Simard -
      Sound good. I expected after reading what Cliff wrote previously on another forum that The Arena wouldn't look good at all, from your review it doesn't seem to be a big deal. Just too bad Margaret Markhov isn't on a commentary as Cliff said when I ask him that she was, but I can't complaint as Steve Carver is usually very interesting. Now if the end of january could happen faster...
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      I want to know why Katarina shows up on the commentary.
    1. Dave Starry's Avatar
      Dave Starry -
      Nice, comprehensive review. Having watched "Machete Maidens Unleashed" over the weekend, I'm looking forward to this set.
    1. Randy G's Avatar
      Randy G -
      I also expected The Arena to not look that great but it looks terrific to me. A must buy I think.
    1. Robin Bougie's Avatar
      Robin Bougie -
      A really strange error on LETHAL LADIES 2: Did anyone else notice that the plot synopsis on the back of the DVD for FLY ME is for an entirely different movie?

      Not that it's a big deal or anything, but it's an awfully odd error. Overall I quite enjoyed the set, and while I was expecting to like FLY ME more than COVERGIRL MODELS, it was the reverse that ended up happening. That movie is quite underrated!