‘lt spits cosmic rays of deadly ﬁre! Do you know what that means?’
Zeus bestows superhuman strength and intelligence on the infant Hercules. When he reaches manhood, he finds himself being used as a pawn in the power games of the goddess Hera and her mortal follower, King Minos, who ordered his parents slain when he was still a child…
An enjoyable retelling of the legend of Heracles (Hercules to you and me) directed by Italian Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates). Television’s ‘Incredible Hulk’, Lou Ferrigno takes the title role, and the movie was a product of Cannon Films, who were owned by cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They invested heavily in the home video market of the 1980s, and the shelves of many a high street rental store were packed with tapes of their often less than stellar productions.
This film begins (as all films should) with the creation of the universe, which was apparently caused by pieces of Pandora’s exploding jar. The gods have taken up residence on the moon (roomier than Mount Olympus, I guess) where Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli) holds court with the scheming Hera (Rossana Podestà) and goody-two-shoes Athena (the wide-eyed Delia Boccardo). By ‘holding court’ I mean they stand around and talk about the fate of humanity. Apparently, the race is facing its ‘hour of decision’ between good and evil, and Boccardo is concerned that the struggle is an uneven one. At her suggestion, Cassinelli attempts to redress the balance by bestowing an infant prince with the power of light which will give him a body ‘forged in the furnace of a thousand suns’ when he grows up.
And it’s not a moment too soon! A few seconds later, the youngster’s royal parents are butchered in a palace coup by the forces of the evil Minos (William Berger) and his sexy daughter Adriana (Sybil Danning). Thanks to a loyal servant, the child escapes the bloodshed but is cast adrift in an open boat. Cassinelli lends a helping hand (literally, thanks to some ropey SFX) and that doesn’t sit well with Podestà. She uses her animated finger lightning to set a sea creature on the child, but he tears it apart (with his strangely adult hands!)
Fast forward via an hourglass spinning in space and the little brat has grown into the massively muscular Hercules (Ferrigno) while Berger has somehow aligned himself with Podestà. Ferrigno knows nothing of his past, but Berger is fully clued up and summons Daedalus (Eva Robins) from Chaos (which is somewhere beyond time and space apparently) to help out. I’ve no idea who she is, but she certainly rocks a golden headpiece with bat-wing ears. Robins probably should have had a word with the wardrobe department about the rest of her ensemble, though. Anyway, she sends stop motion mechanical toys after Ferrigno which grow to giant size in Earth’s atmosphere (because of …science), and one of them kills his adoptive mother before he can chuck a pole at it.
Searching for answers, Ferrigno enters a contest of strength to select a champion for King Augeias (third-billed Brad Harris in a one-scene cameo). The prize? To escort the lovely Princess Cassiopeia (Ingrid Anderson) to Athens. Of course, Ferrigno wins and completes a couple of tasks, or labours if you will, along the way. Just as predictably, Ferrigno and Anderson spar for a couple of minutes and then fall in love. But Ferrigno is betrayed by royal lackey Dorcon (Yehuda Efroni) and thrown into the sea wrapped in chains. When he breaks free, he runs into sorceress Circe (Mirella D’Angelo) whose youth and beauty he inadvertently revives by providing her with ten drops of his blood. In return, she answers a lot of his questions, and the two set out to defeat Berger and his minions via the gates of hell and Atlantis.
Yes, this is the sort of movie that barely stops to take a breath, Cozzi throwing everything at the screen that his limited budget can muster without any trace of apology. Atlantis appears courtesy of terrible model work that’s tinted bright green, a mechanical Hyrda shoots scarlet laser bolts from its eyes, and Ferrigno and D’Angelo visit Hades by walking across a rainbow. Almost everything that happens is accompanied by an endless selection of wacky electronic sound effects, and Cozzi’s script is full of frequently laughable dialogue with characters making important declarations and pompous speeches. Our old friend, Voiceover Man, tries his best to give proceedings some gravitas, but his constant repetition of things that the audience already knows isn’t really the best way to go about it.
Not surprisingly, the story isn’t all that accurate to the original mythology. There’s no mention of Hercules’ killing his sons or his inclination to general murder and mayhem. The legend as we know it today is an assembly of bits and pieces from several different sources, so, if you want to give the movie a break, I guess you could say it was written in the same spirit!
The chief joy here are the villains, of course, and Berger in particular, who plays everything with a knowing twinkle in his eye. His King Minos is laughably vague and idiotic, building a city on a live volcano and forcing the legendary phoenix to make its nest inside. A sound piece of town planning, I must say, although probably in contravention of several applicable health and safety regulations. Still, he does offer the bird a virgin bride from time to time to keep it happy. The underemployed Danning is also delightfully wicked and deserves props for managing to remain inside her costume for the entire run time when a wardrobe malfunction looks imminent at any moment. And Ferrigno? Well, his physique is certainly very impressive and, if his acting isn’t in the same league, he shows an easy charisma at times which could have been developed if he’d been given more opportunities. Sadly, such possibilities were limited due to a speech impediment resulting from his impaired hearing, meaning that he’s dubbed by a voice actor here.
If Harris’ appearance seems odd in its brevity, then this film was shot back-to-back with ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) where he also appeared with Ferrigno. Director Cozzi is chiefly remembered for triumphantly silly ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘Starcrash’ (1978) starring Caroline Munro, a young David Hasselhoff and Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. Cozzi began his career with bizarre science-fiction piece ‘Tunnel Under The World’ (1969), and further projects included Giallo ‘L’ assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora’ (1975) and tatty ‘Alien’ (1979) copycat ‘Contamination’ (1980). Most infamously, he was involved with the hideous, colourised version of ‘Godzilla’ (1954), which was released in 1977.
Podestà first came to prominence in the title role of Robert Wise’s ‘Helen of Troy’ (1955), which also starred Stanley Baker and Brigitte Bardot. Working steadily until the mid-1960s, she finally hit paydirt with popular caper ‘Seven Golden Men’ (1965) and its sequel. Stardom (on the continent, at least) must have been within her grasp after those performances, but she only appeared sporadically afterwards. Danning has long been a cult cinema favourite. Her career began in Europe with sex comedies before she started getting supporting roles in bigger-budgeted Hollywood films like Richard Lester’s star-studded ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973), and the hilariously inept ‘The Concorde… Airport ‘79 (1979). A prominent role in Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) proved pivotal and she went onto alternate between guest slots on hit Network TV shows and exploitation titles like ‘Chained Heat’ (1983), ‘Reform School Girls (1986) and ‘Young Lady Chatterley II’ (1985) with Adam West. She also starred in the title role of ‘Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch’ (1985), a film which almost has to be seen to be believed.
If you’re looking for high-quality entertainment, then this is not the place to look, although it’s only fair to point out that Pino Donnagio’s rousing orchestral soundtrack belongs in a far better film. However, there is much to enjoy here; from the cheerfully ridiculous moment when Ferrigno flies a chariot through space to the scene-stealing Berger who plans to eliminate the gods for ‘Science! For the sake of science!’
Apparently, Cozzi and the producers originally intended the film to be far more adult in content, but Ferrigno violently objected after reading the script, insisting on a more family-friendly approach. It’s interesting to speculate on what Cozzi’s original vision for the project was like, especially considering the sheer number of beautiful women in the picture!
1980s video store cheese at its finest.