Archive for the Peplum Category
Hercules Unchained is a sequel, as I mentioned, to Hercules and takes right up where that film ends with Hercules, his wife Lole (played again by the super sexy Sylva Kocina) and his close friend Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) bid farewell to the Argonauts and begin the journey to Hercules’s home in Thebes. Hercules takes a much needed nap in the back of the wagon while Lole sings a poorly dubbed (half the fun of these films is the poor dubbing and atrocious dialog) song with her lyre. They are stopped by the giant Anteo (Italian wrestler Primo Canera) who decides he wants Lelo, along with all their provisions and horses, as his own and then makes the mistake of waking up Hercules from his nap. The fight that follows seems pretty silly now but as an impressionable boy of about seven I was totally stressed out by the fact Hercules could not seem to keep Anteo down. Every time Hercules would body slam the giant to the ground he would rise back up laughing and stronger than before. It is Ulysses who figures out that Anteo draws his strength from the earth and Hercules next tosses the brute over a cliff into the ocean. They continue on their journey and once in Thebes find the city in a state of civil unrest. The sons of blind King Oedipus are contending for control of the city. The city is left in the charge of each son for one year but this year Eteocles (played in hammy Peplum fashion by Sergio Fantoni) has decided to stay in power and his brother Polinices (Mimmo Palmara) has gathered a small army or mercenaries to attack the city and take the title of King that is rightfully his. Hercules seeks to stop a bloody civil war and offers to act as a mediator between Eteoles and Polinices and soon he and Ulysses set off to talk to Polinices.
As in any quest or journey type film the adventures happen along the way and it is not long before Hercules and Ulysses run into trouble. Stopping for a rest Hercules drinks from a well that contains the waters of forgetfulness and soon cannot remember who he is or who Ulysses is or why he is where he is at. He seems to loose some of his power, or maybe forgets he has powers, and a small band of soldiers subdue him and Ulysses and sail them off to the island of Lydia. The queen of Lydia, Omphale, is played by the attractive in a she-male kinda’ way Sylvia Lopez. Queen Omphale really likes hunky guys and is soon drooling all over Hercules and seducing him with the allures of a life of good food, wine and loving. Hercules ahs forgotten who he is and is pulled into her trap. The Queen keeps a sort of museum of all her former lovers, where they stand as statues after having a spell cast over them from the quickly bored Omphale. Ulysses spends his time working as Hercules’s servant and trying to restore his memory. And of course while all of this is going on Eteocles has gained more power in Thebes and has placed all of Hercules’s friends and family under arrest. A lot of the film’s time is spent (some people may say wasted but I disagree) with Hercules on the island of Lydia under Queen Lydia’s spell. There is not much Peplum action until, with the help of Ulysses, Hercules regains his memory. The time in the underground palace is where we get to see the lush and even lurid lighting work of cinematographer and art director Mario Bava. There is an obligatory dancing girl sequence that is a notch above what we usually are treated to in Peplum films and the eventual conflict between Hercules and the queen’s guards is standard Styrofoam boulders and statues being hurled at huddled together guards.
The film climaxes of course with a battle for Thebes that the good guys win. The way it should always be. Director Pietro Fransisci also directed the first Hercules film, which I have slated for a rewatch soon, and there is much in common with the pacing and general feel between the two films. The acting is not that bad if you are the type who likes films like this. If you’re going to compare it to Gladiator or Titanic probably best to not waste your time. Reeves does a good job for the part and it is simply sad that he did not go on to do a half dozen or so Hercules films, though he would do some other Peplum styled films such as Romulus and Remus, the Theif of Bagdad and The Giant of Marathon, to name a few. But what really sets Hercules Unchained apart is the atmosphere created by Bava. His sense of the gothic and mysterious is conveyed perfectly in Queen Omphale’s underground world and in our next film he works as director and creates what might be the best Hercules film ever, even if Steve Reeves was not the heroic demi-god.
The title Hercules at the Center of the Earth is probably closer to the actual Italian title but the titles Haunted world and Hercules vs. the Vampires conjures up more of a Bavaesque world. The story opens up with Hercules and his friend Theseus (George Ardisson) traveling to the kingdom of Ecalia. His true love Princess Dianira (Leonora Ruffo) is waiting longingly for him. He makes quick work of a band of apparent cutthroats who attack him and Theseus along the way even hurling a huge wagon a few of them. Unbeknownst to Hercules the highway robbers are actually assassins that were sent by the evil Lico played by the always reliable Christopher Lee. To my understanding another British actor dubbed Lee’s voice for the film though it really sounds like him most of the time. When Hercules arrives at Ecalia he discovers that not only has his old friend the king has died and his brother Lico has assumed control of the kingdom but that Dianira has been stricken some strange ailment that has left her in a confused, dreamy state all of the time. Of course we can quickly figure out that it is Lico who has put some spell over Dianira to prevent her from ascending to the throne that is rightfully hers.
Hercules is told by the Oracle Sybil that Dianira’s mind can only be restored by the powers found in the Stone of Forgetfulness located in Pluto’s underworld of Hades, and so Hercules sets off on the quest with Theseus and the less than reliable Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) who plays the obligatory goofy sidekick. Before entering Hades Hercules has a quest he must perform first and that is to retrieve the fabled Golden Apple of the Hesperides. The three set off on a ship and soon find themselves on the mythic island and it strange inhabitants of women who dwell in eternal darkness and Procustes the stone monster. To get at the apple Hercules must climb a huge tree surrounded by raging fires and lightening. All of this world is made the more intriguing by Bava’s often extreme lighting effects and elaborate, though low budget, sets. Hercules retrieves the apple and is soon in Hades where the sets get even more grand and visually stunning. While in Hades Hercules does not do battle with monsters or soldiers so much as with the dangerous elements of Hell itself. In one scene he and Theseus must cross, hand over hand, a rope suspended over a lake of fire to reach the stone of Forgetfulness. There a set backs but the magic stone and Hercules returns to Ecalia to rescue Dianira and confront the evil Lico and his legion of zombies who are all taken care of rather easily by Hercules and the huge pillars he hurls at them. Ultimately that seems to be Hercules’s solution to any major threat. Picking up a huge pillar or boulder above his head and hurling at his adversary or adversaries. I sort of wish he had grabbed a sword and chopped up a few of these zombie creatures. The sets here are done in a fine, classic horror style but the actual action is wanting for the most part. That is not a major issue in my book however. The underground worlds, the palace’s and Oracle’s temple are splendid to behold.
As I said at the beginning sword and sandal/peplum films are not everybody’s cup of coffee. There is most definitely a high level of cheese involved in these projects and some of the films made in this genre are deserving of the designation “bad film.” If you like bad cinema you will not find the genre wanting. Last night I watched a little of a peplum called Colossus and the queen and was literally dumbstruck at how terrible the film was. Of course I can’t wait to get back and finish it when I have the free time. However Hercules Unchained and Hercules in the Haunted World would not fall in this ultra-bad category by any stretch though there are some pretty corny moments. These Greek and Roman were usually treated by there European creators with all the sanctity that Biblical epics were treated by their American counterparts. They suffer however from nearly non-existent budgets and casts of mediocre to poor actors. But they are still lots of fun and I find myself being pulled into the myths and legends the films are trying to retell.
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HERCULES AND THE ORACLE
HERCULES vs THE HYDRA: OVERTURE