THE LETHAL LADIES COLLECTION VOL. 2 DVD Review

Charlie Hobbs, Contributing Writer
Shout! Factory continue doing the Lord's work with their upcoming second Lethal Ladies Collection release. This time around, we take a look at two films from Lethal Ladies Vol. 1 veteran, Cirio Santiago, and the ever popular The Arena by Steve Carver.  Shout! has done a marvelous job revisiting these titles and giving them the attention they deserve. This two-disc set is no exception.  Each film is 80 minutes or less and there is no fat in sight, all killer, no filler, literally. I can easily recommend this set, read on to learn why...
Kidnapped by Roman soldiers, four beautiful women must battle for their lives in The Arena . . . while attempting to beat the Romans at their own game. Starring Pam Grier and Margaret Markov (The Hot Box and Black Mama, White Mam). Directed by Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama and Capone).
The Arena is definitely the best known of this trio of films, and for obvious reasons. The film stars Pam Grier and Margaret Markov, revisiting their partnership from the year before in Black Mama, White Mama, and once again playing enslaved/jailed women fighting for their freedom. This film marks the directorial debut of Steve Carver, who would go on to make such gems as Big Bad Mama with Angie Dickinson and Drum, the unofficial sequel to Mandingo starring Ken Norton, Warren Oates, Pam Grier, and Yaphet Kotto, along with Lone Wolf McQuade.

The major selling points of this film come in pairs. Production value in the 1970's was spelled T-I-T-S, and with such major attractions as the voluptuous Pam Grier, it was hard for the producers to go wrong, and they certainly didn't. There is plenty of nudity and cat-fighting to go around. The female stars a forced into the gladiatorial ring where they all fight rather pathetically, with the notable exception of Grier, in an attempt to entertain the plebs. The film doesn't typically make it more than three or four minutes without showing either a breast or some blood, proving that Carver knew his audience well.

Calling The Arena an exploitation classic is not a big leap to make, and this one certainly belong in any fan's collection. The print looks great and is anamorphic (apart from a couple of brief sections that were sourced from a full frame edition), and this is also the only film in the set with any extras, which is nice. There is a twenty minute set of retrospective interviews from Corman, Carver, and Markov (now Carver's wife), which is very interesting. There is also a commentary from Steve Carver that is enlightening about the production, but not terribly engaging.  The extras are notable for the absence of Grier in the interviews, which has been the case for all of Shout!'s releases. They've tried, but for some reason Pam doesn't want to be involved, it makes me a little bit sad to think that she may be turning her back on the films that made her famous.
They're fast. They're beautiful. They're deadly . . . they have to be. A fashion photography assignment teams three American models and inadvertently plunges them into the mystery and danger of international espionage in Cover Girl Models. When an invaluable roll of microfilm is sewed into one of the girls' fashion gowns, they are drawn into the violence and intrigue of a spy-vs.-counterspy conspiracy. Starring Tara Strohmeier (The Great Texas Dynamite Chase), Pat Anderson (TNT Jackson), Lindsay Bloom (H.O.T.S. ) and Vic Diaz.
Carrying on the tradition of Cirio Santiago films from the first Lethal Ladies collection, this set features a pair of Santiago films, starting with Cover Girl Models. Putting this film in the collection is a bit of a misnomer, because the ladies in Cover Girl Models don't do a whole lot of ass-kicking, unlike The Arena. That isn't to say that the film doesn't have its fair share of action, though, coming in at well under eighty minutes, it's a non-stop blast! Cover Girls Models is certainly the slightest of the three, but even still, with a set of stars like Strohmeier, Anderson, and Bloom, I can think of worse ways to spend 76 minutes.
In Fly Me, a group of martial arts assassins board a passenger plane. Once in the air, the group terrorizes the passengers and insists that the plane be rerouted to another destination. But they picked the wrong plane to hijack, as these stewardesses don't just serve meals and beverages:their hands and feet are lethal weapons! Starring Pat Anderson (Cover Girl Models), Lenore Kasdorf (Missing In Action) and Vic Diaz.
This may be blasphemy on my part, but I think Fly Me might be my overall favorite film in the set. FYI, the synopsis above comes directly from the DVD cover but it is 100% incorrect and that is not what the film is about at all. Fly Me features a trio of stewardesses on their way to Asia, one virgin and two veterans. When they hit the ground, they get thrown headlong into a series of obstacles, each more ridiculous than the last. The virginal character Toby, played by Pat Anderson, is accompanied, against her will, by her doting Italian mother, which provides a lot of comedy along the way.

Unlike Cover Girl Models, Fly Me does feature one ass-kicking karate mama in Andrea (Lenore Kasdorf), who takes on underground white slave traders with her new Asian lover man in order to rescue her fellow ladies of the sky from the brothel. The kung fu in this film is absolutely ludicrous and great for a laugh but not terribly convincing.  However, I found the rapid fire plot totally engaging and Santiago didn't waste a second getting to the good stuff. Yes, Santiago, too, knew the rules of creating production value, and we get to see it early and often.

The only thing a bit disappointing about Fly Me was the condition of the materials. I know that Shout!'s Cliff MacMillan has spent an enormous amount of energy seeking out the best possible materials for these releases, and this was the best he could come up with for Fly Me. Don't get me wrong, the transfer is completely watchable, and in it's widescreen OAR, but there is some significant print damage at several points during the film. Hell, I chalked it up to recreating the exploitation experience, and it settled just fine after a while. There is really no time or place for disappointment with Fly Me, it's got to be one of the most entertaining films I've seen in a long time. A definite winner.

Shout! Factory's Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection has yet to produce a stinker, and this won't be the set to break that streak. Even with the films that are less entertaining, they all have their redeeming values, and they are all compellingly watchable. This is another highly recommended set from Shout! Factory and I can't wait for their next one!

Special Features:
- Director Commentary on The Arena
- Making Of Featurette on The Arena featuring Roger Corman, producer Mark Damon, DIrector Steve Carver, and star Margaret Markov
- Trailers and TV Spots
- Poster Gallery
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