Brilliant. Phenomenal. Amazing. These are words that describe Ruggero Deodato's Raiders of Atlantis (1983), and perhaps, I'm the only one who is using them. Mike (Christopher Connelly) and Washington (Tony King) are ex-soldiers turned mercenaries. At a Miami mansion, the two perform a flawless kidnapping by incapacitating their target and taking out all of the henchmen. They deliver their target to "The Colonel" and get paid a cool fifty grand. Time to disappear for a while, so Mike and Wash (or Mohammed, as he likes to be called, since he's been reborn) gas up the boat to head to Trinidad. Meanwhile, off the coast of Florida on a platform, a group of U.S. scientists and military are attempting to float a Russian submarine located on the ocean bottom loaded with nuclear missiles. An interesting artifact is found (an ancient tablet found near the submarine), and helicopter pilot Bill (Ivan Rassimov) flies in Professor Cathy Collins (Gioia Scola) to decipher the language on the tablet. She meets Professor Peter Saunders (George Hilton) and tells him that the language on the tablet might be the key to proving the existence of the city of Atlantis. Soon, the Russian sub is floated, the sky mysteriously darkens, and a large storm swirls up in the ocean. A glass-domed island appears from beneath the ocean, while back in south Florida, a group of marauders, the Interceptors, have been waiting for this day to come. The Interceptors are led by a man donning a crystal skull (Bruce Baron).
Ruggero Deodato is one of the most talented Italian film makers of his generation. I often find it difficult to prove my case with this theory, because his films, substantively, are often extremely violent, transgressive, or sexual. The material and themes within his cinema often detract from his very slick visual style and story-telling ability. His Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is masterfully shot and its story told in an equally powerful fashion. While I would never willingly subject anyone to a viewing of Cannibal Holocaust (a film for the seriously curious risk-taker who is advised to do extensive research on it before viewing), a film such as his Raiders of Atlantis is much more digestible; and its most extreme aspect is its entertainment value. In my opinion, Raiders is one of the best genre films that the Italians delivered in the 80s: extremely likable characters accompanied by enthusiastic performances; an odd and intriguing genre blend and atmosphere; exciting and over-the-top action sequences; and above all, fun.
American actor Christopher Connelly as Mike spent the bulk of his career acting in myriad American television programs. However, in the 80s, alongside his television work, Connelly would appear in a number of notable Italian films, such as Lucio Fulci's Manhattan Baby (1982); Antonio Margheriti's Jungle Raiders (1985); Nello Rossati's Django 2 (1987); and Tonino Ricci's Night of the Sharks (1988), for example, before dying before the age of fifty. Connelly would appear in some of the Italians' finest action films of the period: Enzo G. Castellari's 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982); Fabrizio De Angelis's Cobra Mission (1986); Bruno Mattei's sublime Strike Commando (1987); and of course, Raiders. While not an imposing figure physically, Connelly is charismatic, sweet and kind, and determined and persistent. He brings these qualities to his character, Mike, and despite his amoral mercenary nature, Mike is a hero to root for. Mike's romantic interest and a fantastic character all on her own is Gioia Scola's Cathy. Beyond her role here, the only other film in which I can recalling seeing her is in Gabriele Lavia's Evil Senses (1986), where she delivered a nude scene at the beginning and then seemingly disappeared. As Cathy, Scola is smart, sassy, sweet, and funny. Her inclusion brings an excellent balance to the testosterone-driven action, and her character is pivotal to the narrative. Tony King, prior to his role as Wash, would appear in three films from Antonio Margheriti: Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), The Last Hunter (1980), and Tiger Joe (1982). King is totally credible as an action star and delivers some of the best humorous lines within Raiders with an infectious enthusiasm. Last, but definitely not least, are Ivan Rassimov and George Hilton, two of the most well-known Italian genre actors and stalwarts. Their contributions to Italian genre cinema are too numerous to cite here, but both are absolutely perfect in their roles as Bill and Saunders, respectively.
Mike and Wash's opening kidnapping sequence is a well-executed action sequence and a fitting opening for Raiders. After the exposition curiously unfolds during the first act, the viewer is truly treated to bizarre fun. The leader of the Interceptors, Crystal Skull, is taking his band of marauders (who all look as if they walked off the set of George Miller's The Road Warrior (1981)) and killing everyone in south Florida. Mike and Wash survive the island rising and ocean storm in their boat. Cathy, Bill, Saunders, and a couple others are the only platform survivors and are rescued by Mike and Wash. The survivors have no idea what happened; although they get a hint when Manuel (John Vasallo), Mike and Wash's deckhand, begins threatening to kill everyone and kidnapping Cathy. Cathy is an essential figure who the Interceptors need for her specific knowledge of the ancient tablet. When the motley crew of survivors arrives back in South Florida, they are treated to a destroyed and desolate sight. In a brilliant and haunting sequence, the crew hears the skipping of a song. Inside a church (?), a bloody-sheeted corpse is dangling from the ceiling while its lifeless body is hitting the side of a jukebox: a truly odd and disorienting sight. The Interceptors arrive and the action starts.
The initial firefights between Mike and company and the Interceptors are straight out of the Rio Bravo/Assault on Precinct 13 school and traditionally and perfectly executed and exciting. Deodato adds his bizarre touches, such as the Interceptors burning one victim and sending a crossbow arrow through the mouth of another victim (shot in a close up with a prosthetic head (one of many used in Raiders, by the way)). During the battles, King's Wash gives his trademark satisfactory laugh, as Wash, Bill, and Mike take out foes with military precision. Cathy is eventually captured by the Interceptors, and Raiders follows with its action highlight set piece: Mike and crew taking out foes from their red school bus as the enemy helicopter flies overhead. The sequence is shot kinetically and all the stunts look dangerous and genuine. Deodato makes this cinema look easy. The final third on the island should remain hidden, here, as the sci-fi takes an even more bizarre turn, the humor becomes unintentionally hilarious, and the action remains continuously exciting.
Despite gushing over a thousand words about Raiders of Atlantis, I do not believe that I can adequately describe my love for this film. Once the score and theme song by Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis (as Oliver Onions) is heard, it will be forever stored in the mind of the viewer and is as unique as the film is. Raiders of Atlantis shows a talented director, who's never conservative, having fun and translating it to celluloid. See it multiple times.