“A magical power was destined to fight at his side.”
Dakkar (Played by a guy named Dakkar; how convenient is that?), the evil high priest of the mythic Spider King, rules the land with an iron fist, but an ancient (and refreshingly specific) prophecy warns him of the birth of Ator, son of Torin, who will one day topple his empire. To prevent the high priest from killing the infant, the mysterious Griba secrets Ator away to a remote village to live with a family of farmers. Years pass and the prophecy seems forgotten until the priest’s troops disrupt the marriage of Ator to his sister Sunya (wait for it), massacring the entire village and taking Sunya as a concubine for Dakkar. Embarking on a heroic journey to rescue his beloved sister/fiance (I said wait for it) and avenge the death of his people, Ator and his bear cub Keog team up with the money-hungry Amazon Roon to battle witches, zombies, a squad of blind warriors who fight by sense of smell, and even Ator’s own shadow. But just when the high priest Dakkar has finally been dispatched and all seems well, Ator discovers the Spider King is far from a myth. Is the prophecy to remain unfulfilled or can Ator manage one final triumph and run off into the sunset with… his sister?
May God have mercy on director Joe D’Amato aka Aristide Massaccesi (aka Sarah Asproon aka Donna Aubert aka Stephen Benson aka Steve Benson aka Anna Bergman aka John Bird aka Alexandre Borski aka Alexandre Borsky aka James Burke aka Lee Castle aka Lynn Clark aka O.J. Clarke aka Hugo Clevers aka Joe De Mato aka Michael Di Caprio aka Dario Donati aka Raf Donato aka Romano Gastaldi aka Robert Hall aka Richard Haller aka aka Igor Horwess aka George Hudson aka Gerry Lively aka Kevin Mancuso aka A. Massaccesi aka Aristice Massaccesi aka Aristide Massaccesi aka Arizona Massachuset aka Andrea Massai aka J. Metheus aka Peter Newton aka Una Pierre aka Zak Roberts aka Tom Salima aka John Shadow aka Federico Slonisco aka Frederick Slonisco aka Fédérico Slonisco aka Dan Slonisko aka Frederick Slonisko aka Frederico Slonisko aka Frederic Slonisko aka Frederiko Slonisko aka Fred Slonisko aka Chana Lee Sun aka Chang Lee Sun aka Michael Wotruba aka only the Lord knows who else.) because he’s got his share of things to answer for.
Although the exact number of aliases used by the infamous Italian producer/director/cinematographer/etc remains unknown, those we do know of have been responsible in whole or in part for literally hundreds of films over the decades, only about half of them pornographic, but almost all of them excruciatingly bad. I’m talking Troll 2 bad. In fact, D’Amato (aka David Hills) produced Troll 2, an act which all by itself would guarantee most people time in purgatory. Not content with that, however, he actually snuck off with one of the monster suits from Troll 2 (considered by most as some of the worst special effects ever created) and used it when he directed Quest for the Mighty Sword, the fourth Ator movie. You read that right, the FOURTH Ator movie. How’s that possible, you ask, when the second movie in the series was so awful that it even taxed the endurance of Joel and the Bots on MST3K? (Servo: Yes ladies and gentlemen, thirty-five minutes into the film and we FINALLY have our first plot point!) Just what is it that makes Ator so special that he rates three sequels?
Heck if I know. I guess because anytime someone dresses a muscle-bound goof in a loincloth and has him fight some paper-maché monsters with his (ahem) mighty sword, dummies like me are gonna come running to buy a ticket. What, I didn’t mention the paper-maché monster already? Oh yeah, the all-powerful terrifying Spider King; it turns out to be an immobile lump of vaguely spider-shaped cardboard standing in front of a web made from clothesline with its front legs moving up and down via perfectly visible wires. It’s defeated when Ator shines a light in its face, a light reflected from the shield he won after fighting a shadow. Not a CGI created shadow, not an animated shadow, not even a guy in a black suit trying to pass as a shadow, but an honest to goodness shadow on the wall obviously made by some schmoe standing in front of a flood light just off camera. Of course, to get to the shadow, Ator and Roon must first pass the blind master warriors who fight their opponents using their sense of smell. That’s no problem, however, as our heroes cleverly manage to slip by the masters by rubbing flowers all over themselves to disguise their scent. Apparently the masters can smell human beings well enough, but can’t seem to catch a whiff of the walking shrubbery wandering through their heretofore plantless smithy. Look, I know I’m going through the film backwards here, but I thought I would give it a shot since it didn’t make any more sense when I started from the beginning.
Ah yes, the beginning. (Sigh) Alright, let’s just get it over with. The sister thing… yeah. After an extended prologue, the movie proper opens with Ator in turmoil over his feelings for his sister. What was D’Amato thinking when he came up with that? (Did I forget to mention he wrote this too?) Okay, it is true that Ator and Sunya aren’t blood relatives, but when we first meet them as young adults declaring their love for one another, THEY don’t know that. And when Ator approaches his father to discuss the possibility of marrying his sister the way some of their ancient ancestors used too, he still doesn’t know. And upon hearing of Ator’s unrequited desires, rather than express shock or at least immediately blurt out the truth, the father’s first response is to declare that Ator has made him the happiest parent in the world. Now, seeing as how this is a PG rated film, I’d like to give the movie some credit here and write these opening scenes off as nothing more than a dash of classical Greek dramatic irony in which the audience knows something about the circumstances that the main character does not. But since we’re dealing with D’Amato (aka the guy who made Porno Holocaust)there’s just something about all of this that feels a little slimy.
Hey, it’s a natural reaction. “When incest occurs, it is not only violating a cultural taboo, it is crossing ancient neurological wiring for avoidance," says Jonathan Turner, professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside in an interview with ABC News. In fact, in his book “Face to Face: Toward a Sociological Theory of Interpersonal Behavior," Turner claims that this "neurological wiring" against incest is an evolutionary imperative that has existed for tens of thousands of years, that on some subconscious level we’re all hardwired to find incest repulsive. (Almost as if it were part of some, oh, I don’t know, natural law or something.) But even if the professor is right and this gut reaction is inherent, it shouldn’t kick in over this situation should it? After all, since Ator is adopted, his and Sunya’s relationship isn’t really incest is it?
Biologically speaking, no, because there’s no consanguinity involved, no relationship based on descent from a common ancestor. (So while Ator and Sunya might eventually churn out some freakishly big-haired children, it won't be because of the genetic consequences of inbreeding.) But most jurisdictional bodies don't rely on just chromosomes when drafting laws against incest, they also usually include provisions regarding familial relationships based on affinity, kinship by marriage. And it's here that our pair might run into some road blocks, especially if they choose to settle down in a country which has been exposed to the book of Leviticus (aka the tedious book of Jewish ritual laws most people stall out on during their attempts to read through the whole Bible.) As Calum M. Carmichael explains in his book Law, Legend, and Incest and in the Bible, “The Levitical rules, with the addition of rules from Roman law in some instances, became the law governing incestuous relations in those countries where the church's writ ran large. For centuries not only were the rules of Leviticus 18 and 20 in force but also a great many others that were derived from them. One reason for the expansion was that later authorities judged the Levitical lists to be only a limited set of examples of the marital and sexual relationships that should be banned.”
And I’ll give you one guess as to which “authority” happens to have some of the most expanded rules around regarding incest. Right the first time. But to find out just how restrictive the Church is in this matter we have to dig a little deeper than the Catechism, which does condemn incest, but doesn’t get too overly detailed on what exactly constitutes the act. No, for that, I'm afraid we have to delve into The Code of Canon Law. (aka the tedious book of Catholic ecclesiastical law most people stall out on during their attempts to explore Church doctrine.) And it's amongst the various rulings on sexual no-nos that we find Canon 1094 which states that "those who are related in the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line by a legal relationship arising from adoption cannot contract marriage together validly." So, while the marriage of Ator and Sunya seemingly gets a free pass in the heathen paper-maché spider worshipping kingdom they live in, from a Catholic standpoint it definitely COULD be considered incest.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be, not in every single instance. And this is where even good Catholics get tripped up sometime, because it comes down to understanding what can and can’t be changed in Catholic teaching. In brief, and with a big hat tip to author David Currie, it goes like this. (1) The Deposit of Faith –These are the teachings the Apostles handed down in Scripture and oral teachings. Change this and God will hammer you. (2) Dogma – Those concepts developed from the Deposit which the Church has declared to be absolutely true. These can be further understood and developed as time goes on, but never changed. The Nicene Creed would fall into this category. (3) Doctrine – All of the teachings of the Church (including Dogma). Catholics are expected to believe in all doctrines while they are propagated, but those doctrines which are not dogma can actually change over time as understanding increases. Limbo is (arguably) a non-dogmatic doctrine. (4) Disciplines – These are rules of conduct which faithful Catholics are expected to follow in their everyday lives. They are designed, as John Paul II put it, to “create such an order in the Church that, while giving primacy to love, grace, and charisms, it at the same time renders their entire development easier.” Disciplines can be altered, excepted, or even dismissed by the Church if she finds it appropriate. Surprisingly to most people, the celibate priesthood goes here. (5) Devotions – Non-mandatory actions carried out by individual Catholics to enhance their faith. Saying the rosary is a good example of this.
Fortunately for Ator and Sunya, the code in Canon Law which affects their situation falls into the area of Discipline, and as such, could possibly be appealed. In fact, Ator is actually a good role model for Catholics in this situation. He doesn’t just say, “I want to marry my sister so to heck with the rules I’m gonna do what I want!” Instead, he goes to the proper authority and makes his case for an exception and it’s granted. Good for him. But since this code, and many others, are malleable, it does raise the question of why not just get rid of them. Well, in the case of Canon 1094, it’s because the world still needs it. You see, while there are still plenty of governmental incest laws in place, the social taboo against the act is slowly losing its hold in popular culture. For the last few decades we’ve had people like Wardell Pomeroy, co-author of the original Kinsey reports, saying things in public like "It is time to admit that incest need not be a perversion or a symptom of mental illness. Incest between children and adults can sometimes be beneficial." And those kinds of pronouncements are having an affect. A 2001 special study by the House of Representatives showed “incest” to be the 30th most popular search term on file sharing networks frequented by teens. That’s still lagging behind the typical porn people search for on the Internet, but it’s far enough up the list to be disturbing. It’s all part of a growing movement to weaken and abolish laws governing consensual incest.
Unfortunately, as National Review Online columnist Jonah Goldberg (a good Jewish boy probably quite familiar with Leviticus) suggests, “the "wholesale" problem with lifting the legal and social censure against incest is that it would sexualize family relationships and hasten the transformation of our children into sexual beings, robbing them what few years of innocent childhood kids get today… In today's society, where sex pours in from the popular culture like rain through a poorly thatched hut, the last thing kids need is to see their siblings as sexual creatures.” Lessening the taboos against incest right now would effectively be another step towards allowing families to slip away from being “the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society” which God intended them to be, and into being just another training ground for today’s hook-up culture. There may come a day when the Disciplines regarding affinity-based incest are reduced or removed altogether, but now seems like the wrong time. Who knows, maybe even director/writer D’Amato reached this conclusion too. When Ator Part 2 (aka Ator The Invincible aka Ator The Blade Master aka Cave Dwellers; man, even his movies have aliases) rolled around two years later, the character of Sunya was nowhere to be found.
I’m gone for a couple of weeks and return with an extra long diatribe on the necessity of Canon Law. If I have any readers left after this it’ll be a miracle.