Occasionally a movie will find its way to my DVD player and leave me wondering how in the hell it hasn’t infiltrated greater cult circles. In Atlantis Interceptors’ case, I’m sure it has something to do with it landing between Cannibal Holocaust and Cut and Run in Ruggero Deodato’s career. The House on the Edge of the Park also falls into this area and I’ll tell you what, you don’t hear much about that one, either. In my opinion, Deodato blew his wad too early with Cannibal Holocaust and paid dearly for it. While his filmography is actually pretty freakin’ sweet, horror fans have a tendency to dwell on the one that shocks them.
Another contributing factor to Atlantis Interceptors’ obscurity is that it’s batshit insane. There are exploitation movies and there is Atlantis Interceptors. It sets out to be everything to everyone. In 1983 there were several waves of action movies that were popular to ape and this one tried to do them all. The effect is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing how much sticks. In the case of this overlooked freak, not much sticks but it still manages to be an entertaining movie, often for all the wrong reasons.
The movie begins as our protagonists, Mike and Washington (who spends a lot of the movie insisting that his name is Mohammad) stage a daring infiltration on a house to kidnap some guy for some reason for some other guy in a car who hides his face behind a newspaper. They’re paid handsomely for their efforts and then hit the high seas in a boat for the Carribean. Nearby, on an offshore platform, a team of scientists readies to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear sub with the assistance of an archaeologist who studies a mysterious tablet that hints of the existence of an actual Atlantis. Things get interesting, however, when the seas begin to boil and a domed city emerges from the ocean and topples the platform sending a handful of survivors to Davy Jones’ locker. Mike and Washington happen to be in the area to rescue them but things get complicated. As in trying to exploit too many movies at once complicated. The survivors wash up on a nearby island that looks as though it has been slaughtered. The place is trashed and what few bodies are still laying around have been brutalized. Before long, a motorcycle gang torn straight out of Bronx Warriors, headed up by a guy in a clear plastic skull mask drive Mike and company to a warehouse where they lay siege and a lot of people wind up shot. For a movie with such an ordinary runtime, an awful lot happens. It becomes a violent Road Warrior style highway chase, a jungle chase and some Indiana Jones weirdness.
You must understand. None of the above matters. The movie shifts gears so many times that everything becomes a blur. A fun blur, mind you, but it’s delirious and never stops to explain anything. I’ve seen some god awful shit out of Italy. I’m talking real low-end garbage, usually associated with Bruno Mattei that at least offers some weird-ass explanation for the typically strange motivations of good guys and bad guys throughout Italian cinema. Atlantis Interceptors has no idea what its doing or why its doing it. It quite clearly seems as though its making it up as it goes along. We’re offered a starting point of 1994 and a mission to kidnap and old man but it doesn’t matter. None of this shit comes back into play ever. We pick up some survivors in a warehouse who moments later serve as fodder for flame throwers, arrows and cheap special effects. Guns never run out of ammo, someone in the group luckily knows how to fly a helicopter, night becomes day becomes in night in what seems like the movie-time equivalent of fifteen minutes.
In many cases involving the production of Italian exploitation movies, a script is written to capitalize on a particularly popular idea from some big-budget Hollywood production but somewhere along the way things go wrong and the movie transforms on the fly into something else, entirely. I don’t actually know much about the production of this movie but several times throughout you get the distinct impression that this was supposed to be many movies before it hit post-production and the film’s destiny was left in the hands of an editor. It’s a confusing mishmash of ideas and themes from other popular movies but it moves so fast that each idea is often given no more than five minutes of running time before they sally forth to the next idea. About every fifteen minutes, it seems to be heading in a new direction. It’s a pulpy adventure movie. No! It’s a post-nuke movie. No! It’s a riff on Assault on Precinct 13. No! Let’s make it a post-nuke again. Whatever. Scrap it all. The jig is up. No matter how we cut this movie, we’re fucked. Just bring the girl back and let’s roll credits. Bellisimo!
The madness is often explained away in transitions on the way to the next setpiece that will surely change the course of the movie. The cast suddenly finds themselves hurtling toward a helicopter on the beach in a bus they found somewhere, armed with some real hardware. “It’s good thing the cops on this island had such good guns,” Mike exclaims. No shit. Later on, the low-tech presentation of the Atlanteans is explained away when the resident scientist who won’t shut up about his high school athletics program tells what’s left of the cast that a civil war on Atlantis was settled by a nuclear weapons which left the survivors in a certain deep-sea stone age.
I’m at a loss to accurately explain this movie. I’m also at a loss to explain the genuine appeal. I may have called it out for not having any direction, leaving gaping plot holes and switching up the pacing every few minutes but it’s not like it’s a total loss. As a matter of fact, there’s something to be said for a movie that has something going on at all times. It has a hard time finding a rhythm early on but once it became apparent to Deodato that he didn’t really have a movie so much as he had a dozen pieces of a dozen different movies and therefore had to find a way to tie them together, things pick up. It gets rolling. Atlantis Interceptors becomes an action movie at full throttle, hurtling out of control until it inevitably smashes into something and send the pieces flying in all directions. It won’t take you long to see how quickly it embraces its own absurdity and lets it ride.
The cast is nearly wasted, however. Most people stick around long enough to let you know that they will eventually die. The only mainstays are genre favorite Christopher Conelly who plays Mike and his sidekick, Tony King who plays Washington. Other genre favorite, Ivan Rassimov, plays Crystal Skull who starts out as if he has some kind of interesting background but later on becomes the shallowest imitation of Lord Humongous you’ve ever seen. His fate is so shitty that they even show his death scene in the movie’s trailer. There’s also a shocking lack of grue for a Deodato movie. Squibs were in short supply and while we’re left with a decent decapitation there’s also the worst arrow in the mouth scene you’re likely to ever see. Also, nobody ever reloads their guns. Ever.
Finding this movie on DVD short of bootlegs will be impossible so you have to ask yourself if this is really the sort of thing you want to direct some precious energy at. As an example of what happens when you blow your shooting budget on coke, hookers and South Beach discos, Atlantis Interceptors is interesting to watch. As an example of trying to watch a filmmaker squirm out of a bad situation, it’s also interesting to watch because for most of the movie Deodato clearly is trying to make something out of nothing until the final five minutes where he clearly threw in the towel and cut his losses. As a tourist destination for one of the weirdest entires into the post-nuke genre, you can’t go wrong, but you also can’t pigeonhole it. This is certainly a kitchen sink kind of movie. The only thing its missing is zombies.