With women-in-prison movies like The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage proving to be nice little earners for New World Pictures the temptation was to just keep churning them out. But for The Arena in 1974 they decided to vary the formula a little. Instead of a women-in-prison movie, we have a women-slaves movie set in the Roman Empire. And with Pam Grier heading the cast, how could it lose?
The dynamics are very similar to the WiP genre (and somehow the producers even managed to work in the obligatory shower scene!) with the women initially fighting among themselves, then eventually having to learn to stand together in order to survive. The female slaves are intended as sex slaves for the male gladiators, but then their owner gets the bright idea of using them as women gladiators. So we not only get the standard female fight scenes, we get to see them fighting each other with swords and tridents as well. There’s also plenty of nudity and sex - in fact all the standard exploitation elements.
When one of the women has to kill one of her friends in the arena they decide enough is enough, and start making plans to escape. This leads to much mayhem an considerable action, and it’s done pretty well despite an obviously very limited budget. Pam Grier has a much more rewarding role in this one compared to The Big Doll House, and she makes the most of it. Margaret Markov is her chief rival who becomes her chief ally, and she’s pretty impressive as well. It’s all great fun, the gladiatorial scenes in the arena are splendid, and it’s really a must-see for exploitation fans, and of course for fans of Pam Grier.
It would be nice to be able to say something positive about the Region 4 DVD release, but I can’t. It’s just awful. It’s a grainy pan and scanned print and it looks fairly terrible. It sounds like it’s the same transfer as the Region 2 release. If you can pick it up cheaply though it’s a highly entertaining little movie.