• Robert Saucedo

How is ARENA not a bigger cult film?

Produced and released at the tail end of Charles Band's Empire Pictures, ARENA is directed by Peter Manoogian (ELIMINATORS) and written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (ZONE TROOPERS, TRANCERS, and THE ROCKETER).

Super-tall drink-of-water Paul Satterfield (who looks eerily like a blond Christopher Reeve) stars as Steve Armstrong, an intergalactic short-order cook who dreams of competing in space boxing. Imagine ROCKY, but starring the aliens from the STAR WARS Cantina scene and you're on the right track.

The movie is, like most films from the Bilson and De Meo team, earnest to the point of goofiness. It feels like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon, but I say that in the best way possible. The thing that really makes this movie worth a watch, though, is its ambition. This movie really swung for the fences in trying to create a sci-fi spectacle with John Carl Buechler creating over 100 creature designs for the film, many of the aliens far from humanoid in appearance.

In addition to the work from the great Buechler, who was a Charles Band mainstay with work on GHOULIES and TROLL, this production also used the great Screaming Mad George, who created a truly outstanding creature named Sloth. Sloth is a twelve-foot tall alien that looks like the Cloverfield monster and fights like Clubber Lang.

The supporting cast of ARENA features a lot of great sci-fi staples in early work, including Armin Shimerman (STAR TREK) as a rat-faced mob enforcer named Weezil and Claudia Christian (BABYLON FIVE) as Quinn, a fight trainer who speaks in a Mae West impression.

It's a crime that ARENA isn't available on Blu-ray or streaming anywhere. To my knowledge, the only DVD available is a 4:3 aspect ratio presentation on a Shout Factory multi-pack.

If you like practical monster effects and the thought of a live-action KILLER INSTINCT movie makes your inner child smile, seek out ARENA. It's a ton of fun.

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