Ator is a character featured in four European movies made in the 1980s. He was created by Italian director Joe D'Amato, under the pseudonym David Hills. d'Amato wrote and directed the first, second, and fourth films in the series, himself disregarding the existence of the third. Ator was played in the first three films by Miles O'Keeffe and Eric Allan Kramer in the fourth.
Ator is a musclebound Nordic warrior who does battle against bizarre monsters and fantasy villains while on a series of heroic quests. He is a master swordsman, alchemist, scientist, magician, scholar, and engineer, with the ability to sometimes produce objects out of thin air (see Ator 4). Unintentionally comic moments sometimes arise when writer/director Joe d'Amato has Ator use modern-day technology in the film's medieval setting. For example, in the second film of the series, Ator storms a castle using a 1980s style hangglider, and later destroys the "Geometric Nucleus" with what appears to be a nuclear bomb, complete with mushroom cloud, at the end of the film.
The character appears to be a parody (or direct copy) of the main character in the popular Conan movies (the first Conan film, Conan the Barbarian, was released March 15 1982; the first Ator movie was filmed shortly thereafter and came out later the same year, premiering October 7 1982). Both Conan and Ator are heavily muscled, scantily clad Western European men (Ator is meant to be Scandinavian, whereas Conan, portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, appears to be Germanic) who do battle against bizarre monsters and fantasy villains in unspecified time periods based on the Middle Ages. Controversy has existed for some time that d'Amato--who was repeatedly blacklisted in Europe-- created Ator as an attempt to make money from the success of the Conan films.
The first film in the series is 1982's Ator l'invincible, translated into English as Ator the Invincible. It was released in America as Ator, The Fighting Eagle. As the film opens Ator asks his father for permission to marry his sister. Ator's father tells Ator that he is adopted and so he can marry his sister if he likes. The rest of the film deals with Ator's sister being kidnapped by the high priest of the Spider Kingdom and Ator having to go on an epic quest to save her.
In this film, Ator and sidekick, Thong (a mute man of indeterminate Asian ancestry), travel to the mythic "ends of the Earth" to save Ator's mentor from an evil wizard. The film ends with Ator destroying an ancient object of power (the Geometric Nucleus) that his mentor was guarding to protect it from evil men (this scene used stock footage of a nuclear bomb.)
A number of composite archetypes (or stereotypes) masquerading as themes are woven together here: the 'intelligent he-man;' the 'triumph of science over magic;' the 'spiritual Asian warrior;' and the 'neutralized / eliminated hero.'
The film was a box office and home video failure. It was received so poorly that the director's cut The Cave Dwellers was featured on the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, causing it to become a cult sensation. The episode that it was featured on is routinely voted by fans as one of the ten best of the series. The American theatrical cut, The Blademaster, now enjoys modest success on home video and DVD as a cult favorite. It has remained in the top twenty of IMDB's Worst Films List ever since the website's creation.
Joe d'Amato dropped the Ator franchise in 1986, around the same time when it became public knowledge that there were no plans to make a third Conan movie. Instead, in 1987, a new director, Alfonso Brescia, wrote and directed the third Ator film, Iron Warrior, which follows the same loose plot as Ator l'invincible 2. The film abandons the continuity of the first two films (even so far as to completely contradict Ator's established back-story of having been adopted as a baby, instead opening with him playing as a child with a twin brother), and with writer/director d'Amato gone, the unintentional plot device of anachronisms disappears. Instead, Brescia turns the film into an art house picture, utilizing a variety of cinematic techniques and camera tricks to act as symbols or give deeper meaning to the film. Ator's character is also drastically changed: Here, he has black hair in a ponytail, and speaks roughly 50 words in the entire movie.
Unlike its predecessors, Iron Warrior does not use footage from other films to account for lapses in special effects scenes. The film does pay homage to a number of popular films from the time, including the first Superman film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Excalibur, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film's score is, as with the first of the series, provided by Carlo Maria Cordio - one of his themes for the film is a simple reworking of a very similar cue heard throughout Joe D'Amato's 1981 film Rosso Sangue (also scored by Cordio).
Joe d'Amato was reportedly displeased with Brescia's approach to his character, and so re-took control of the franchise in 1988. In 1990, d'Amato released the final Ator film, Ator l'invincible, a retooling of the first film in the series. It was released in Europe and the United States under a variety of titles including: Ator III: The Hobgoblin (indicating d'Amato's disregard for the previous film), Quest for the Mighty Sword, and Hobgoblin. Here, Eric Allan Kramer plays Ator; this is the only film in the series not to feature Miles O'Keeffe in the role.