Enough with the cowboys. THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS is the sword and sorcery version of the SEVEN SAMURAI story. Obviously.
An evil Ming-the-Merciless-Halloween-costume-looking-motherfucker named Nicerote (Dan Vadis from EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN) who apparently has some kind of magic sorcerer powers threatens his own mother (Barbara Pesante) that he’s gonna come back and attack the village after the harvest. What a brat. So she sends Pandora (Carla Ferrigno [BLACK ROSES] in her movie debut) and three other women into town with “the mystical Sword of Achilles,” which can only be held by the worthy. Find somebody worthy and get him to come protect the village.
They find Han (Lou Ferrigno, also in his first movie, though he’d already done six seasons of The Incredible Hulk), a gladiator who is said to be immortal, but it’s not really explained very well. I guess he’s not strong or immortal enough to do it on his own, so he has to put together a team which includes some gladiator friends and a badass cynical mercenary lady named Julia (Sybil Danning, who had already been in the space version of SEVEN SAMURAI, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS).
As in both SEVEN SAMURAI and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN they find one guy while he’s chopping wood. In this version he’s doing it with a battle ax until some kids egg him on to do it with his bare hands. Lou tests him by taunting him into a fight and feeling out his strength and wrestling skills. When he turns on a dime and asks for him to go on a quest the guy immediately agrees, explaining that he’ll do anything to protect children and old people.
Unfortunately the part of the movie that takes the least from Kurosawa is the meat: the preparing for, waiting for and then waging the battle. There’s not much attention paid to training or strategy. It’s just building to a visually bland stretch of sword clanking and arrows shooting in some barren place with a bunch of brick walls and archways.
The ending is partly faithful. As in both SEVEN SAMURAI and MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, only three survive (they even have burial mounds), one being the young student, who decides to stay with a woman he met. But in a strong contrast to samurai leader Kambei, Han is very satisfied with his lifestyle and place in the world. He says (maybe jokingly?), “Think of what life in a village like this must be like, among frightened, defenseless farmers sweating in a field from morning ’til night. Compared to the life we lead, living off the land, going where we want when we want, answering to no one, free!”
This is a crappy, low budget quickie produced by Cannon and directed by Bruno Mattei (WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE) and Claudio Fragasso (TROLL 2). The production values are low and the actors are all dubbed with what sounds like other people’s voices. After one of the dudes and Julia fend off a bunch of attackers the dude says “Y’know something? I knew you’d come back,” and starts to kiss Sybil, but she’s immediately stabbed in the back, it cuts away and she’s not seen or mentioned again, not even as a dead body. I suspect something happened and they lost or didn’t complete her footage, had to fake this in post-production.
It’s not a good movie or adaptation of the Kurosawa classic, but it is pretty fun to look at as a completist because it does follow alot of the original story. But actually my favorite thing in the movie is a fantastical embellishment: the magical sword. Before the four village recruiters are rescued from a mob of lepers by Han and his friend, they’re being hit on by some sleaze, and they get rid of him by humoring him that maybe he’d be worthy and letting him hold the sword. It lights up but then makes him scream in agony and drop either dead or unconscious. It’s not clear which one it is and the women don’t seem to give a shit. Pandora barely even looks at him, casually sheaths the sword and says, “We must go on.”
Something similar happens to the shitty Emperor (Yehuda Efroni, THE DELTA FORCE, AMERICAN NINJA 3) because he figures he’ll be worthy and tries to hold it. It lights up and causes him to scream in agony but he tries to hold onto it and play it off. Like if you horribly injure yourself but you’re too macho to admit it and try to stay casual. But he collapses and the sword goes to Han who has no problem holding it at all. Better work on your worthiness there, your highness.
Honestly, this movie is not worthy of holding the magic sword that is the plot from SEVEN SAMURAI. But that’s the one thing that makes it watchable.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.