The Arena (1974)

This an interesting mixture of two very different kinds of exploitation film. On one hand, it’s basically a Roger Corman women-in-prison film (complete with lots of showers, catfights, and a big bust-out at the end)featuring WIP regulars Pam Greir and Margaret Markhof. On the other hand, it is an Italian “peplum” that was reputedly largely directed by its Italian cinematographer Joe D’Amato and which also stars the luscious Italian actress Rosalba Neri (aka Sarah Bay) as the villianess making her return to the peplum dramas that had made her (semi)famous in the 1960’s.

As a Corman film it’s not too bad. It has his usual trademark of faux feminism and gratuitous female nudity (by Grier, Markhof, and some of the other slave/prisoners)and it’s very formulaic right down to the death of likable innocent(s) and the revenge plot at the end. Unfortunately, it’s also a little too tame–it’s certainly nowhere near as sleazy as what we’ve come to expect from the notorious Joe D. I was also personally disappointed at how much they wasted Neri. Not only does she not get naked (a lesbian scene with her and Grier or Markhof would certainly have been memorable), but as a villain she comes off kind of bland–not nearly what she showed she’s capable of in films like “Amuck”, “Top Sensation”, and “Lady Frankenstein”.

I guess whether you like this or not will depend on whether you’re more of a Corman and Grier fan (in which case it’s pretty OK) or whether you’re a D’Amato and Neri fan (in which case you’ll probably be a little disappointed).