Archive for the Peplum Category

COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN/1960

Posted in Adventure-Action, Camp-Cheese, Peplum, Rod Taylor on July 18, 2011 by Bill Courtney

A brief mention here about this remarkably odd movie called Colossus and the Amazon Queen (La Regina delle Amazzoni) directed by Vittorio Sala who also co-wrote the script with six other writers. If you brave this piece of cheese you may wonder why it took a total of seven men to scramble this story up. The gist of the story is about a couple heroes named Pirro (Rod Taylor from The Birds) and Glauco (body builder Ed Fury) who wind up being tricked to becoming house boys  on the island of the Amazons. The woman of the island is populated  by the said Amazon Queen herself (Gianna Maria Canale) and her bevy of beauties (Dorian Gray and Daniela Rocca among them) who are supplied by rogues with unwitting men who become effeminate acting house slaves. Clashes develop between some of the gals over who will be queen and who get what man, especially hunky Glauco whose presence has set the cold Amazon hearts all a flutter. The usually macho acting Rod Taylor has one the strangest roles of his careers here as he plays the prissy acting brains of the duo. His voice is dubbed by another English speaking actor who makes him sound like a real sissy boy.

Now this movie is really so bad it took me three settings to finish it. I was watching the much better peplum film The Minotaur at the same time. While some of the cheese is fun I just had to take a break from it eventually. I am assuming the film is a deliberate comedy and in that respect is an oddity among pepla. The Amazons are sexy enough in that robust Italian fashion. The film has certainly one of the strangest dance sequences ever to grace a pepla. The choreography and music almost seem like they belong in a West Side Story inspired juvenile delinquent film. A couple Amazons even engage in a Medieval style jousting match. Strange since the story is suppose to take place at the time of the Battle of Troy and over a thousand years separate the film’s bout and the earliest recorded jousting matches in Western Europe. Well, if you are curious the film is available on all over the net. I think if you just give the credits a go and the first few minutes of the film you will that this is one odd ball of a film. Not for any one with discerning taste. But if you had discerning taste in the first place why the heck would you be here right?
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HERCULES UNCHAINED/1959/MARIO BAVA STEEVE REEVES

Posted in Adventure-Action, Mario Bava, Peplum, Steve Reeves on July 4, 2011 by Bill Courtney
HERCULES UNCHAINED (Ercole e la regina di Lidia)
1959/Director: Pietro Francisci/Writer: Ennio De Concini
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Sylvia Lopez, Gabriele Antonini, Primo Carnera
ALSO KNOWN AS: Hercule et la reine de Lydie,  Hercules e a Ranha, Hercules and the Queen of Lydia,
Hercules and the Queen of Sheba, Herkules und die Knigin der Amazonen    
   
Sometimes called peplum by the cognoscenti, the sword and sandal genre is one of the most ridiculed and maligned in the whole world of cult cinema. The overly harsh criticisms range from everything like worst movies of all time, inept and amateurish to downright being “homoerotic” as if a film being homoerotic means it will be a bad film. I have seen plenty of great homoerotic films but maybe we can go into that another day. Well, who knows, maybe all these criticisms are true to some degree or another but I have found these films to be some of the most entertaining low budget B-films, long with old serial westerns, I have ever sat down to watch and I have seen quite few. Lately I have been able to locate scores of these online and have around a dozen or so queued up for viewing. I actually began watching these as a wee lad in the late 60’s on Saturday afternoons, at abut the time the movement was losing its steam to new genres like Spaghetti Westerns and spy films. They were shown on a afternoon show that was called The Mighty Sons of Hercules and I can still hear the macho theme music in my head as I type this. We had a crappy b/w TV with “rabbit ears’ back then and I never saw any of these films until only recently in color.

Hercules Unchained is considered one of the best peplum films ever made and I am sure that the involvement of Maestro Mario Bava the project had no small influence on that opinion. Hercules Unchained takes up where Hercules (aka The Labors of Hecules) left off and we will get around to that one here eventually. What Hercules and Hercules Unchained have in common is that both star Montana born body builder Steve Reeves in the role of the son of Zeus. Reeves is rightfully considered the definitive Hercules in the same way Sean Connery is the ultimate 007 or Johnny Weissmuller is the best Tarzan (at least in his early roles), but what is amazing is that Reeves actually only played in the above mentioned two Hercules films.

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.

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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.

HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD/1961/ /MARIO BAVA/REG PARK/WOOLNER BROTHERS

Posted in Adventure-Action, Christopher Lee, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, Woolner Brothers on July 4, 2011 by Bill Courtney
HERCULES IN THYE HAUNTED WORLD (Ercole al Centro Della Terra)
1961/ Directors: Mario Bava/Franco Prosperi/Writer: Mario Bava
Cast: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardisson, Marisa Belli, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini   
  
ALSO KNOWN AS: Hercules at the Center of the Earth, Hercules in the Center of the Earth, Hercules in the Haunted World, Hercules vs. the Vampires, The Vampires vs. Hercules, With Hercules to the Center of the Earth
I was lucky enough to see Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted world at the small Sanctuary Theater at Seattle’s legendary Scarecrow Video. I had seen the film before as a kid in b/w and it just did not compare to seeing a nice print of the film on a big screen. At that time I roughly knew about Bava from Black Sunday and Black Sabbath and that was about it. It would only be until this last year that I got a copy of the film on DVD and watched again and feel safe saying it is one of the best Peplum films ever made and certainly the most gorgeous, thanks to not only Bava’s direction but his work as art director and cinematographer as well. The film is a Woolner Brothers release -who helped to bring many Mario Bava films to the US-and does not star iconic Steve Reeves as the Son of Zeus but this time, in his 2nd Hercules, starred British body builder Reg Park. Reg Park was a pretty good Hercules and if Reeves was to Hercules what Sean Connery was to James Bond then we could think of Reg Park as Roger Moore. Park was stockier and more muscle bound in appearance than Reeves and not as commanding in presence (in my opinion) but he does just fine as the good hearted but often slow witted and easily angered demi-god. Park had played Hercules in the same year’s Hercules and the Captive Women and it is not a bad entry into the Sword and Sorcery genre and will probably get reviewed here eventually.

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 vs THE HYDRA w/ MICKEY HARGITAY, JANE MANSFIELD/1960

Posted in Adventure-Action, Audio Samples, Camp-Cheese, Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay, Peplum on June 9, 2011 by Bill Courtney
HERCULES vs THE HYDRA
1960/Director: Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia/Writers: Sandro Continenza, Luciano Doria
Cast: Mickey Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield, Massimo Serato, Rene Dary, Moira Orfei, Gil Vidal   
AKA: Gli Amori di Ercole (Italian), Hercules and the Hydra, Les amours d’Hercule (France), The Loves of Hercules (USA)
This film has the dubious honor of having remained in my draft folder the longest of any post draft ever. I would have to double check the date but I am sure it goes back to June or July. In fact the post was the last post I had made before my site was hacked back then and a three week nightmare began. I still have the PDFs and pics in a folder on my hard drive and tried to put the post back together and after I had finished this and a couple other posts lost during the hacker period I sort of forgot about them. The others have been completed and this is the last of the old posts that have been locked up in my draft folder since summer time. Another problem here is that I cannot find the movie file. It is burned on a DVD disc somewhere but I have so many I gave up looking for it for now. Typically I would prefer to fast forward through a film I have not seen in a while to refresh my memory before reviewing but in this case that will not happen. I will refer to the PDF files I made of reviews and my memory of the film, since it did leave and impression. In fact, I want to see it again as it is a fine camp classic and Mickey Hargitay’s beardless Hercules is one of the more unique peplum/sword and sandal performances in the history of the genre.
Hargitay did not make too many films and by far his most famous role was in Bloody Pit Horror (1965) where he hammed it up supremely as the Crimson Executioner. Mansfield was in Italy filming, I believe, Primitive Love (L’amore Primitivo) where Pit was also shot. In fact Italy is where most of Hargitay’s films, many of them peplum, were shot between the period of 1960 to 1967. He and Mansfield shot Loves of Hercules (Gli Amore di Ercule) in 1960 and certainly as the Son of Zeus Hargitay does not have the command of Steve Reeves or Reg Park but as far as peplum fare goes this is one of the better offerings. The original Italian 1962 title of the film is Gli Amori di Ercule and translates as The Loves of Hercules. The film was purchased in 1966 my Walter Manley Enterprises (who had something to do with the production of The Green Slime as well) and the title was changed to Hercules vs. the Hydra. There is not really a hydra in the film but rather a huge three headed dragon. I am not an expert on Greek mythology by any stretch. In fact my education in these matters probably comes from watching these sorts of films. But usually the underworld of Hades, where Hercules descends to in order to clear his name in a murder rap, is guarded by a three dog called Cerberus or something like that. The Hydra was killed by Hercules as one of his twelve labors but the Hydra had nine heads. Anyway after you see this ‘Hydra’ and how cheesy it looks just moving its three heads around, looking as though they are being hoisted around by strings or moved by guys inside the costume with sticks, then you will only be able to imagine how whacky it would have looked with another six heads. But that would have been great in my book. The cheesier the better for a film like this.
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Before a little synopsis of the film I will state here that I will avoid all the jokes about males in peplum films having bigger boobs than the female leads or that the women look like drag queens. I love the way Italian women look and the more eyeliner and mascara they wear and the bigger their hair the better. And I like body building and the way the guys look. I once told a acquaintance that I had found the Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary Pumping Iron on DVD here in China and he went into something about how body building films are the most homo-erotic things in the world. What? This is another weird line of ridicule peplum films receive as if there is something wrong with something being homo-erotic, whatever that is. Sounds like a criticism made by someone who cannot do five pushups. I like the way body builders look and Mickey Hargitay, Mr. Universe of 1955, looks chiseled and tough as Hercules though hardly as imposing as Steve Reeves. Also is the ‘controversial’ issue of the beardless Hercules. I never thought it about really until reading reviews of the film online but I will agree that Hercules does look more like how I imagine him to look with a beard and I think Hargitay would have looked better sporting some face fuzz for the role but their may have been issues with all that. Maybe his beard simply looks crappy or the shooting schedule did not have enough time to allow a guy grow a real Hercules type of beard. We may never know the real reasons why Hargitay was a beardless Hercules. It is one of those mysteries of life that only an oracle can answer.
The story finds Hercules off somewhere completing the labors imposed upon him by the gods. While away his humble village is attacked by the army of the evil king Eurytus who orders Hercules’s wife Megara (Sandrine) killed in the attack. Big mistake of course. I mean of all the women to order to bump off right why choose the wife of a demi-god who is off completing labors that no mortal man could even consider attempting. Eurytus is soon assassinated himself by the leader of the army Licos (Massimo Serato) who has plans to ascend to the thone of the kingdom of Oechalia which is now being run by Eurytus’s daughter Dianira (Jayne Mansfield). Hercules receives word of the destruction of his village and the murder of his wife but looks more like he found out some neighborhood teenager scratched his chariot. He is to a man to show his sensitive side I guess and he soon storms off to Oechalia and beats down the gates of the city and demands justice. He learns from Dianira that her father himself is dead and that she has inherited his sins and must pay for them with her life. Hercules will not kill a hapless woman but settles, instead, for hurling huge axes at her while she is all tied up to a huge wooden board. The idea is for Hercules to sever her bonds and not plant an axe in her pretty skull. If he does not kill her it means she has been cleansed of her inherited crimes. Of course Hercules does not kill her and she melts in his arms and in no time he has forgotten why he came to Oechalia, to avenage his murdered wife Megara. His grieving period is over and he is falling in love with buxom Dianira. She is having the same warm feeling for Hercules but she is betrothed in one of those pesky arranged marriages to her cousin Achillos (Gil Vidal). Not sure if he is a first cousin or what. Later Hercules’s and Dianira’s love for each is cemented when he saves her from a stampede of cattle and a Quaalude sedated bull. This bull puts up no resistance at all but Hercules insists on killing it with his recognizable dagger which for some reason he leaves at the scene. Bad move since later Achillos and Hercules have a heated argument about Dianira and who gets to love her (Megara is out of the script altogether now). Dianira stops the men from fighting (which would have resulted in hercules tearing the other guy’s spinal cord from his body probably) and Hercules can’t take it all anymore and decieds to leave Oechalia. Later Achillos is murdered and guess whose dagger is surprisingly found in his back: Hercules’s!
Needless to say the real villain here is Licos and he wants to frame Hercules for Achillos’s murder. I am not sure what this supposed to accomplish other than making the citizens of Oechalia have a bad opinion of Hercules. Hercules does not seem to be the guy of guy who will turn himself over to the authorities to be tried and convicted of thrumped up charges. Hell, I doubt id Herucles actually did murder someone you could slap the cuffs on him and drag him away with your larynx still in your throat. Well what it does accomplish is that Hercules set of on a mission to prove his innocence. Seems there is a witness to Hercules being seen after the cow caper without his dagger. Hercules set off to the Underworld to retrieve the witness who will clear up his name and in the course of things encounters numerous monsters and perilous situations. First there is the three headed hydra that loses a head to Hercules’s hacking sword, but it still manages to knock Hercules with one it’s remaining heads and sends Mickey Hargitay into some of his the best acting of his career as his wobbles to and fro like a blind drunk in a tavern staggering to get to the pisser. He is stunned and is whisked off to the underworld’s  Land of the Amazons led by Queen Hoppolyta. Hypolyta is given a magis potion by her sorceress advisor Magah that makes the queen resemble Dianira, except she has red hair now instead of black, and soon Hercules is swooning all over the place for the evil queen. The drawback to this romantic situation for Hercules is that the queens lover’s eventually wind up as trees in her orchard of ex-lovers. Back in Oechalia Dianira spurns Lico’s advances and winds up in the dungeon which causes all sorts of political intrigue. Well, causes some anyway. Hercules of course avoid becoming a talking tree but they get their just revenge on Hypolyta and grope her to death. Hercules teams up with a band of Dianira’s supporters and seize back power after he has a struggle with an ape man to rescue Dianira. Of curse everyone lives happily ever after and the name of Hercule’s murdered wife Megara, for whom this entire adventure began, is never spoken again.
I am a huge fan of peplum and I personally liked this film. I grew up on the stuff and I do not mind the corny dubbed dialog and the fact that English speaking Mickey Hargitay’s voice is not even his own here. Some people blast the film of course and it is not for every one’s taste to be sure. The version I have looks nice as far as the colors go and the sets are not too bad. I like the huge hydra puppet and the Gumbyesque tree men and it is cool to see Mansfield and Hargitay ham it all together in this enjoyable little camp classic. Included at the bottom are a couple audio samples I lifted from the film as I am testing out some new audio options for the Café. Great bad acting, Mansfield’s cleavage, Hargitay’s cleavage (okay, so I made one male boob joke), fakey monsters and names impossible to remember from one scene to next. A totally uranium charged feature for fine cheese connoisseurs only.

http://www.google.com/reader/ui/3523697345-audio-player.swf
HERCULES AND THE ORACLE
http://www.google.com/reader/ui/3523697345-audio-player.swf
HERCULES vs THE HYDRA: OVERTURE