DVD Review: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Lethal Ladies 2 Collection

Contrary to the hype for Haywire, Steven Soderbergh didn’t invent the female action flick. It’s been around for awhile. Roger Corman understood the power of a woman kicking cinematic ass in the ‘70s. He didn’t limit his female stars to the formulaic role of CIA agents being double crossed. A Corman production could find a female fighter in a Roman slave, an international stewardess or fashion model. Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature: Lethal Ladies 2 Collection is a estrogen tinged beatdown that stretches from Rome to Hong Kong.

The Arena (1974 – 81 minutes) scores right off the bat by gearing up Pam Grier as a gladiator in ancient Rome. She’s captured by Roman soldiers in her African kingdom and brought into the Empire to be a slave. She’s reunited with her sister-in-chains Margaret Markov from Black Mama, White Mama. Even though Grier and Markov are both slaves working at a gladiator arena, they don’t get along. They’re still feisty. Their battle in the kitchen inspires the arena’s owner to get the crowd excited with girl-girl action. At first it’s fun for the girls to clumsily swing swords and tridents around, but the crowd isn’t happy with mere exhibition. They want blood in the sand. As much as Grier and Markov hate each other, they’re not ready to die for a bunch of lazy Roman spectators. The film was actually shot in Rome using the sets created for the numerous Sword and Sandal epics so it looks good on the screen. The sets aren’t paper mache contraptions in a park near Hollywood. The historical angle is a fine twist on the Women in Prison films Corman just had made in the Philippines featuring Pam. Even without the invention of indoor plumbing, they figured out a way to have a shower scene. Fans of Spartacus will enjoy the female angle of The Arena.

Fly Me (1973 – 72 minutes) combines the sexy stewardess epic with a touch of kung fu action. Pat Anderson, Leonare Kasdorf and Lyllah Torena are a trio of flight attendants ready for their Pan-Pacific flight from LAX to Hong Kong and other Asian cities. Each girl has a story to tell. Pat meets a nice guy on her flight. He’s interested in hooking up. Problem is that her form of birth control is an annoying Italian mother taking the flight. Pat isn’t that much of a prude since she ends up stripping down and into her uniform in the back of Dick Smith’s cab. Kasdorf can’t find her Hong Kong based boyfriend. She fears the worst for the guy since nobody knows where she went. Torena gets kidnapped. Turns out she’s been involved with a bad crowd. There’s such a strange tone change when the movie cuts between the romantic comedy of Pat to the rough underworld developments of Leonare and Lyllah. Their storylines intersect at an secret nightclub that entertains creepy businessmen. Filipino legend Vic Diaz plays a cop who shares his meal with Pat’s mom. The film is cinematically important since it features the talents of both Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and Joe Dante (Gremlins). Demme directed the American scenes needed by Corman to make the movie more watchable. He’s responsible for the kung fu action between Kasdorf and goons. Dante had to put together the English soundtrack. Both of these men brought a bit of freaky excitement to the movie that was directed by Cirio H. Santiago.

Cover Girl Models (1975 – 73 minutes) combines models posting around Asia with a spy thriller. Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000) sends John Kramer (Student Teachers) off to Hong Kong and Singapore with a trio models for a magazine pictorial. Pat Anderson (Fly Me), Lindsey Bloom (Summer School Teachers) and Tara Strohmeirer (Hollywood Boulevard) think it’s just another exotic locale shoot. They don’t know they’ve been drawn into an international smuggling plot using microfilm stitched into a dress. Everybody else seems to know including Vic Diaz (Fly Me). He’s ruthless making sure things go right on this operation. Cirio H. Santiago really cuts the budget on this production to give a few unintended laughs. Pay attention to a beheading scene that’s a little bit Styrofoamy. Woronov’s office contains the artwork for The Arena thus giving the triple feature a full circle feel.

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature: Lethal Ladies 2 Collection is a fine mix of actress oriented productions. The films feature more than enough action and nudity to earn their R ratings. The Arena is the top offering here. Pam Grier looks so good strapped up for the Roman showdown. Fly Me takes us back to a time when you could enjoy yourself on an airplane without being arrested for terrorist activities. Cover Girl Models almost plays like part two of Fly Me with three American women in Asian cities with Vic Diaz lurking in the background. This is much more exciting than watching Haywire.

The video for The Arena is 2.35:1 anamorphic and the others are 1.78:1 anamorphic. There are issues with the transfers. The Arena print was missing two short scenes. The DVD producer was able to get the scenes off a video master so for a few seconds the screen will snap to full frame. According to postings online by Shout’s Cliff MacMillan, they had located a better print of The Arena, but the owner wanted a steep price as a borrowing fee. The first reel of Fly Me is rather rough with platter scratches and a missing frame or two. This was the only print they could locate in the world. Fly Me hadn’t even been released on video during the VHS era so this is the only way to watch it. In both cases, any visual issues can just be excused as part of the grindhouse viewing experience. The audio on all three films is mono. The first reel of Fly Me has rough patches, but nothing that will ruin the viewing experience.

Audio Commentary with Director Steve Carver on The Arena gives a good sense of what it’s like to work on a Corman budget in the world of Federico Fellini. Turns out Fellini enjoyed hanging out on the set during the female gladiator action.

Into the Arena…The Making of The Arena (18:09) has Roger Corman discuss how this was his female Spartacus. Producer Mark Damon was an actor who started making films in Italy. He originally fought the casting of Margaret Markov, but it turned into the greatest moment of his life. Markov talks about her time in the arena fighting Pam Grier. Steve Carver remembers his time shooting a disrobed Pam Grier.

Theatrical Trailer (2:56) is the red band trailer of The Arena. That means you get to see an adult teaser with a bigger taste of the forgotten pagan rituals. The movie at this point was released as Gladiator Women.

Fly Me TV Spot (0:27) sells the sexy stewardess with Kung Fu skills to viewers.

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature: Lethal Ladies 2 Collection is a fine night of women that like to get physical. The Arena is the prime film of the collection. Pam Grier holds her own against the evil Romans. Hard to beat that for fine ‘70s cinema action. Fly Me and Cover Girl Models are two tales of three ladies in several Asian cities. These are chick flicks that the whole family can enjoy without fear of crying before the lights come up.

Shout! Factory presents Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Triple Feature: Lethal Ladies 2 Collection. Starring: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Pat Anderson, Dick Smith and Vic Diaz. Boxset Contents: 3 movies on 2 DVDs. Released on DVD: January 24, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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