Color, 1973, 82 mins.

Directed by Steve Carver and Joe D'Amato

Starring Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Lucretia Love, Paul Muller, Daniele Vargas, Marie Louise, Mary Count, Sara Bay / Produced by Don Boyd

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.99)

What's there not to love about an early '70s Roger Corman drive-in movie? Fashionable feminism, utterly gratuitous nudity, catfights, overdramatic dialogue... yes, indeed, it's all right here in The Arena, a lavish spectacle (by New World standards) in which the audience is treated to Caged Heat in gladiator drag. Of course, most DVD buyers will probably want to snag this one up for Pam Grier, doing by far the most explicit and unabashed nudity of her career. Luckily, it also happens to be quite a fun film.

Back in the olden days when the Roman Empire was at its height (and right after the Spartacus revolt, as one minor character is quick to point out), the Romans took delight in pillaging other cultures, slaughtering innocents, and taking the most beautiful women back with them as servants. Bodicia (Margaret Markhov) of Brittany is the token blonde goddess captive, while Mamawi (Grier) is a tribal woman; miraculously, both apparently know how to speak Latin. Along with two other women, Bodicia and Mamawi are subjected to such indignities as public hose-downs and handwaiting on Roman policital slobs. When the girls start a nasty catfight (the first of many over the top highlights), the nasty Romans, headed by the questionablyly named, token gay comic character Priscium (Sid Lawrence), decide that their new acquisitions might make for more entertainment in the gladiator arena. However, after the women witness the brutal treatment of the male gladiators, who are promised their freedom and summarily executed, they decide that perhaps this isn't the most efficient system of government and plan an escape. Not surprisingly, the last third of the film is devoted to the female "jailbreak," filled with plenty of sword clashing and spilled blood.

Markhov and Grier make a nice team after their previous stint on Corman's Black Mama, White Mama, and visually, the film looks terrific. Though credited to Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama, Lone Wolf McQuade), directorial chores were reportedly handled mostly by the film's cinematographer, Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi), who later found a profitable career helming horror films (The Grim Reaper) and a slew of highbrow Rocco Siffredi hard porn titles. And believe it or not, this was edited by Joe Dante, long before Corman gave him his big break as director of Piranha.

The good news first: while the box indicates that this is the same chopped-up 78 minute version released on video as Naked Warriors back in the '80s, this is actually the complete 82 minute original release edition. Finally! Now for the bad: The Arena was skillfully shot in Techniscope, and the opening and closing credits (as well as the great trailer) are presented letterboxed at 2.35:1... while the rest of the film is fullscreen. Aiigh! On the positive side, the transfer quality is amazingly good, with rich, vibrant colors and impeccable detail; coupled with the thoughtful recomposing of the image, you'd have a hard time guessing this was scope for a few minutes without deliberately looking for it. Still, shame on New Horizons for not presenting this film as it was meant to be seen. At least this remains the best way to see The Arena for the moment uncut and under its original title, and the price isn't too bad. For Grier and women in prison fans, the decision to pick this one up should be a no brainer.

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