Four Flies on Grey Velvet/4 mosche di velluto grigio (1971)

‘My dear, I’d like you to meet Jerkoff.’

A young rock musician confronts a mysterious man who has been following him. During the confrontation, they struggle and the stalker is killed. The musician flees the scene and doesn’t tell the police, but a strange masked figure has witnessed the event…

The final part of young Italian director Dario Argento’s so-called ‘Animal’ trilogy that kickstarted the Giallo phenomenon of the early 1970s. ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’ (1969) had received international acclaim, and follow up ‘The Cat O’Nine Tails (1972) also enjoyed a positive critical and commercial reception. He gets a sole screenplay credit this time around, although fellow directors Luigi Cozzi and Mario Foglietti share an original story nod.

After a studio session pounding the drum kit with his progressive-rock combo, Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) is followed on the way home by a man in black wearing sunglasses. It’s not the first time, either; Brandon has been noticing this shadow for about a week and decides to put an end to the not-so-covert surveillance. Chasing the figure into an abandoned theatre, the two struggle, a knife flashes, and the man falls dead into the orchestra pit. What’s worse is that when Brandon looks up, he sees a masked figure in the gallery taking photographs.

Convinced he will be jailed for the killing, Brandon keeps his mouth shut. However, it’s soon clear that the eyewitness intends blackmail when one of the incriminating photographs turns up in the drummer’s record collection during a house party. He employs failed private eye, Arrosio (Jean-Pierre Marielle), to help unravel the mystery on the advice of his friend God(frey), played by Bud Spencer. After a break-in at their home, Brandon sends his wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer) out of town for her protection, and it’s not long before her cousin Dalia (Francine Racette) is sharing his bed instead. Unknown to everyone, family maid Amelia (Marisa Fabbri) has discovered Brandon’s secret and plans to blackmail the blackmailer.

After Argento’s unhappy experience with producers on ‘The Cat O’Nine Tails’ (1972), this project found the young filmmaker firmly in the driving seat and able to indulge his flair for experimental editing and filmmaking. These choices result in some truly outstanding set pieces that build extraordinary levels of fear and suspense. The sequence where Fabbri waits for her blackmail payoff in the park is a particular tour-de-force. Argento uses skilful edits that both convey the slow crawl of the hours and express how the boredom of the long wait lulls the maid into completely losing track of time until it’s too late.

The other murder setups are striking and memorable, with some stunning shots from the killer’s POV and there’s also a superbly orchestrated dream sequence. Argento also exhibits his usual flair for identifying interesting locations and using exterior and interior space in fresh and original ways. He also employs the highest-speed camera then available to capture the outstanding slow-motion of the film’s final moments.

If this sounds like a recipe for a true Giallo classic, it would be, if not for some major flaws. The first problem is with the flat performances of Brandon and Farmer, who fail to invoke any emotional investment from the audience. This could have been Argento’s intention, however. Italian cinema of the period was highly critical of the young and idle rich, and our golden couple here are living off an inheritance Farmer has received from a relative. Their house parties tend to be typically indolent, lacklustre affairs. The uncomfortable Brandon thumbs through his record collection, dodging glances from the lovelorn Maria (Laura Troschel) and trying to ignore the crass and mean anecdotes of smug boor Andrea (Stefano Satta Flores).

In contrast, Brandon’s interactions with his friends and bandmates are far more animated and natural. He grooves with keyboard player Mirko (Fabrizio Moroni) in the studio and jokes with the demonstrative Spencer and the Professor (Oreste Lionello), who share a shack down by the river. Apparently, the duo exist off Spencer’s fishing and sometimes eat the results raw! The contrast between their earthy existence and that of his wife’s arrogant smart set is hardly subtle, but it gets the point across. However, it’s rather a high price to pay if Brandon’s rather dour performance was the result.

The only character engaging audience empathy is useless private detective Marielle who cheerfully admits that he’s never solved a case. The character is saddled with some tiresome gay stereotyping, however. On arriving at the investigator’s office, Brandon finds him painting the walls, which is apparently enough to type him as gay and probably useless as a detective. Those facts may be true, but it seems a baffling conclusion to draw from a bit of home decorating. Pleasingly, Marielle proves a good deal sharper than his professional record would suggest.

Some Argento humour arrives in the person of Gildo Di Marco, who was so memorable as the stuttering pimp in ‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). However, his appearance this time is little more than a cameo as a harrassed mailman. There’s also a scene set at a trade show where coffin makers peddle their new models, which could have been very funny if developed further but would have been out of place in the overall story if allowed too much screen time.

Unfortunately, there are some fundamental issues with Argento’s screenplay. Although the resolution to the mystery doesn’t create any glaring plot holes, it’s still wildly implausible and takes a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. Additionally, there’s a significant problem with the way the killer is unmasked. This involves something called Optography, taking a photograph of a victim’s eye after death to capture the last image it saw from the retina. This outlandish idea originated with physiologist Wilhelm Kühne in the 1870s and was actually used to help convict a mass murderer in Germany as late as 1924, despite the lack of scientific evidence that the technique has any credibility whatsoever. The notion did become popular in fiction, if not in real life, and had been thoroughly debunked by the time of Argento’s film. The fact that a modern-day police force would employ it as an investigative tool in 1971 is plainly ridiculous, but what’s worse is that, in the film, it actually works!

One unfortunate outcome of the project was a falling out between Argento and famous composer Ennio Morricone. The great man’s music had graced both of the director’s previous films, but they violently disagreed over his contribution here. The argument led to Morricone walking out, and the two didn’t work together again until ‘The Stendahl Syndrome’ (1996), a quarter of a century later. The good news is that this led to Argento’s introduction to experimental rock group Goblin, who provided memorable scores for his films’ Deep Red’ (1975), ‘Phenomona’ (1985) and ‘Sleepless’ (2001). Sought out by other filmmakers, the band also provided the music for films such as George A Romero’s classic ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) and Lucio Fulci’s cult response ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979).

Brandon was overseas talent, an American actor a little short in screen experience, but one who had impressed in the Broadway show ‘Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? (1969), a production which is largely credited as launching the acting career of a certain Al Pacino. He is probably best remembered for the UK action series ‘Dempsey and Makepeace’ from the mid-1980s where he co-starred with wife-to-be Glynis Barber.

Farmer was also born in the United States and was of French extraction. Her career began in juvenile roles in the 1960s, including a featured supporting part in ‘Spencer’s Mountain’ (1963) with Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. Choosing to place school and travel before her screen career, her next significant role wasn’t until Barbet Schroeder’s ‘More’ (1969), which featured a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. She came to Argento’s attention when she relocated to Italy after becoming disillusioned with the political scene in America. Subsequent appearances included the lead in Francesco Barilli’s Giallo ‘The Perfume of the Lady in Black/Il Profumo della signora in nero’ (1974), Lucio Fulci’s ‘Black Cat/Gatto Nero (1981) and mercenary action flick ‘Code Name: Wild Geese’ (1984) with Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine and Klaus Kinski. She left acting behind in the early 1990s to pursue a career as a sculptor.

A flawed film in many ways, it’s still a must-see for fans of Argento and the Giallo. The shortfalls in acting and story are easily compensated by some notable examples of the director’s dazzling technique.

The Adventures of Hercules/Hercules II (1985)

The Adventures of Hercules (1985)‘The little people speak in the words of Zeus, and we must do what they say.’

Renegade gods have stolen the seven thunderbolts of Zeus, unleashing the forces of chaos on the universe. Hercules is tasked with recovering these objects of power, and his quest takes him to distant lands where he faces many dangers…

Sequel to the epic cheesefest that was ‘Hercules’ (1983) with ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno returning in the title role and Luigi Cozzi back in the writer-directors chair. It’s another production of Cannon Films and the partnership of cousins Golan and Globus, but there are even closer links to the first film than all that.

Like the previous story, this one starts with some gaudy 1980s SFX purporting to show us the creation of the universe. However, rather than it being the result of some old piece of pottery exploding, this time the stars, planets and moons come from the goddess Imperia and her ‘seed of fire and light.’ Nice to hear a different take on the big bang theory, I suppose. The opening credits follow, accompanied by clips of Ferrigno’s labours from the first film. Eight minutes in, we actually get some new footage.

Evil priests are sacrificing the maidens of Fajesta to the god Anteus. He looks kind of like the monster from the Id taking a holiday from the ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956) and doesn’t seem like good husband material. Concerned sisters Urania (Milly Carlucci) and Glaucia (Sonia Viviani) talk it over with some brilliant time-wasting exposition, courtesy of our writer-director. Carlucci decides they need some guidance from ‘the little people’ who ‘speak in the words of Zeus’. They turn out to be poorly-animated angels (played by Christina Basili) who float about in a fire. More exposition follows, and Carlucci collects Viviani and heads for ‘The Forbidden Forest’ where they will meet the Champion of Zeus.

🎵In the jungle, the mighty jungle…🎶

And, finally, with just over 17 minutes of the film gone, here’s Ferrigno in some new footage! He rides through a forest before being attacked by a stuntman in some kind of dog costume! Sadly, men in monster suits have replaced the stop-motion effects from the first film, and it’s no more evident than in this feeble fight scene.

Next, we meet the cabal of renegade gods, led by the evil Hera (Maria Rosario Omaggio). Her partners in crime are the lovely Flora (Laura Lenzi), Aphrodite (Margie Newton) and Poseidon (Ferdinando Poggi). Together they revive the villainous King Minos (William Berger) who you may remember as the best part of the previous film. Of course, he renews his partnership with the questionably clad Dedalos (Eva Robins), and together they unite to stop Ferrigno.

From then on, it’s the usual episodic story of quest after quest as Ferrigno seeks out the thunderbolts, but let’s stop here for some production information. You could be forgiven for thinking that this new adventure looks suspiciously like outtakes of Ferrigno, Berger and Robins from the first film cobbled together with footage of new actors standing around and providing exposition to link it all together. Sure, Claudio Cassinelli is back as Zeus, and he has a new Athena (played by Carlotta Green – actually, Lou Ferrigno’s real-life wife), but it all looks distinctly second-hand. But the truth turns out to be a little more complicated than that.

The Adventures of Hercules (1985)

Some days being Miley Cyrus’ stand-in was no fun…

The original ‘Hercules’ (1983) was shot back-to-back with ‘The Seven Magnificent Gladiators/I Sette Magnifici Gladiatori’ (1983) which also starred Ferrigno and was directed by Bruno Mattei. The story goes that, unhappy with that film, Golan and Globus hired Cozzi to shot some additional scenes. So impressed with the results were the cost-conscious cousins that they told Cozzi to carry on shooting, intending to use the new material to create a ‘Hercules’ sequel without telling Ferrigno what was going on! I don’t know why they kept it a secret from him, but I think it’s a safe bet that money might have been involved.

There are some guilty pleasures to be had in all this, of course. Ferrigno is attacked by slime people who seem to have worked harder on their gymnastics than their fighting ability. There’s a lousy recreation of Ray Harryhausen’s medusa sequence from ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1981). The monster from the Id is all-powerful but can’t stand up to a straight right delivered into the camera. Wacky sound effects blip and zap, and Berger and Robin’s double act is as entertaining as ever.

The Adventures of Hercules (1985)

Err…. probably best not to ask…

And then there’s that ending… Ferrigno and Berger fight, only for some reason they become animated, and I mean in the cartoon sense of the word. Berger becomes a T Rex, and Ferrigno eventually transforms into King Kong! It’s beyond cheap, beyond awful, and as hilarious as hell.

How composer Pino Donnagio must have laughed when he found out that his superb musical score from the first film was used again here. I wonder if he got paid.

By all reasonable notions of film criticism, this is truly an appalling picture. But it is a lot of fun.

Hercules (1983)

Hercules (1983)‘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.

Hercules (1983)

‘Blimey! Look at the Glutinous Maximus on that!’

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.

Hercules (1983)

‘Does my bum look big in this?’

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!

Hercules (1983)

‘I thought I told you to cancel our Netflix subscription.’

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.

Hercules (1983)

‘Have you ever seen a Valkyrie go down?’

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.

Il Tunnel Sotto il Mondo/Tunnel Under The World (1969)

Tunnel Under The World (1969)‘Sorry, you are nothing but a spirit in a mechanical envelope.’

An ordinary man seems to be living the same day over and over again. A spatial anomaly allows him to step outside of this time loop where he meets a man who claims that the world has ended and he is a visiting Martian who likes to drink human blood…

Fans of Cult Cinema familiar with the name of Luigi Cozzi (or ‘Lewis Coates’ as he was usually credited) would probably be best advised to avoid this adaptation of writer Frederik Pohl’s short story ‘The Tunnel Under The World’. Cozzi is usually associated with the cheesy delights of hilarious ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘Star Crash’ (1978) or Lou Ferrigno’s cheap and cheerful ‘Hercules’ (1983), but his debut feature is a very different beast indeed. How much of the weirdness on display is down to the constraints of an obviously non-existent budget or the director’s own arthouse sensibilities is open to debate, but it’s undeniable that the results are a long way from the mainstream crowd-pleasers of his later career.

Bruno Salviero is just an everyday guy living an everyday life, but that’s exactly his problem; every day is the same. The 32nd of July, as a matter of fact. He wakes up scared after dreaming about a marketplace and a sniper in a bell tower, is interviewed by someone on his way to work, spends the day at his desk and then finds himself in the marketplace on his way home. So far, so Groundhog Day. Sure, there’s a guy in a Santa suit being interrogated by someone off screen and, later on, the same voice is trying to sell a girl something called Antiflex but it’s still just another working day for our white collar hero. A plot seems to arrive at last when he interviews a young dark-haired woman for a job in his unnamed ‘enterprise’. Duties involve sleeping with the clients, but they run off together instead, only he’s suddenly attacked by a gang of pistol-packing Santas.

Tunnel Under The World (1969)

‘What do you fancy in the 2.30 at Market Rasen?’

All this is delivered in a bewildering mish-mash of techniques and styles; rapid cutting, massive close-ups, and apparent ‘guerilla filmmaking’ footage of non-actors going about their daily lives. These shots are tinted in various garish colours like green and purple. There are also pop culture references, inserts of nude drawings and lots of captions featuring a stopwatch. The audience also gets endless off-screen work by our old favourite VoiceOver Man and his partner in cinematic crime VoiceOver Woman.

This narration (if you can call it that) contains such profound insights as ‘Once upon a time, living among the star petals was a Chimera…’ and ‘like snow, time falls without noise in the dark forest’ as well as ‘the cave creatures look like boneless kites in the shape of lozenges…’ It does seem likely this overload of non-exposition was down to the fact that the production didn’t always have the facility to record synchronised sound. Some conversations are shot from such a long distance that we can only just about see that the characters are speaking at all, and one conversation is filmed from behind the actors so all we see are the backs of their heads.

By the time ‘space turns on itself’ (thank you, helpful caption) and Salviero starts discussing philosophy with the Martian vampire on a stretch of abandoned beach, it’s fair to say that the average viewer will be completely confused and probably more than a little irritated. However, it does help if you’ve read Pohl’s original short story, which goes some way to explaining what’s going on. Unfortunately, it’s fairly certain that Cozzi lacked the resources to shoot the parts of the story that would have provided some clarity, so we’re simply left with odd hints at the source material and a lot of stylistic flourishes that don’t make an awful lot of sense.

There’s a particularly odd scene towards the end of the film where Salviero is hanging around in the snowy woods with a bearded man in a bedsheet carrying a paint roller smeared with blood, and a dark brunette who he introduces as ‘The Prophetess’. Old beardy spends a good few minutes spouting vague philosophy before VoiceOver Woman takes over completely out of left field to explain the every day lives of the cave creatures of Mercury! Not only is this nothing to do with anything that’s gone on before, it’s obvious that the actors on screen are still speaking but we can no longer hear anything they say. But it’s all resolved when they get shot by a Nazi soldier who happens to be passing!

Tunnel Under The World (1969)

‘Friend?’

And let’s not forget the five minute stretch comprising shots of the mechanism of Calculator D10 while it discusses its search for God and proclaims its own sainthood. Or the sequence where some guys in old Universal Horror masks sit around in a wood and Frankenstein’s Monster runs off with a passing girl. Because those really help with the story.

About halfway through one of the film’s many passing characters is described with a phrase that might well be applied to the film itself: ‘Strange, incomprehensible and fascinating.’

Well, two out of three ain’t bad I guess…

Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989)

Sinbad of The Seven Seas (1989)‘Not Prince Ali, nor Sinbad, a man I hate more than hate itself, will stand in the way of me and my heart’s desire!’

Sinbad returns to the city of Basra, and finds his old friend the king enslaved by the evil court vizier Jafar. The wizard also has designs on the blushing bride of the sailor’s good friend, Prince Ali, and has scattered some magic crystals to the far corners of the kingdom. Sinbad must quest for the gems before he can return to Basra and put Jafar in his place. For some reason.

This movie started life as a 4-part TV mini-series with Luigi Cozzi (‘Starcrash’ (1979)‘Hercules’ (1983) with Lou Ferrigno) slated to direct. But he walked away for reasons unknown and the project fell into the hands of Enzo G Castellari, a low-budget filmmaker since championed by director Quentin Tartantino. What happened next isn’t confirmed but it seems highly probable that financing collapsed after production began. What is known is that the footage gathered dust on a shelf for a couple of years before Cozzi was rehired to try and salvage something out of it. Fortunately, he had both a beginning and an ending, both of which had been shot on the impressive palace sets. Also the principal actors had already looped a lot of their dialogue. Unfortunately, the middle section was fragmentary; completed scenes that made no narrative sense whatsoever.

So what was Cozzi to do? Bring in Voiceover Man of course! Or Voiceover Woman in this case: Daria Nicolodi, who Cozzi filmed in a wrap-around sequence where she tells the tale as a bedtime story to her young daughter. Unfortunately, the device is so over-used that it quickly becomes very annoying; Nicolodi often providing a running commentary on what we’re seeing on the screen. Sometimes she even talks over the actors, but that was probably because they had never looped those particular scenes. Cozzi also inserts some footage from a 1964 Hercules movie to help explain the plot and slaps a ‘based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe’ credit on the finished article. This isn’t actually as silly as it sounds, Poe did write a ‘Sinbad’ story (‘The Thousand-and-Second Tale’) – it just wasn’t this one. Rather brilliantly, Castellari knew about none of this, and only became aware that the film had been released at all when he found it in his local video rental store!

Obviously, these are all problems enough, but, even worse, is the inconsistency of tone. Is it supposed to be a comedy? It’s a hard question to answer. The main point in favour is the dialogue. The film was obviously shot in English and, although you expect some gags and banter in a Sinbad movie, what you don’t expect are modern American colloquialisms and phrases. ‘No dice, huh?’, ‘You missed one hell of a party’, ‘Have you taken your medication today?’ and ’Don’t you worry, I’ll give it a shot’ are just a selection of what we get here. It’s hard to believe this wasn’t deliberate, but it simply plays like a poor translation of something written by a non-English speaker. A translation that was done in a hell of a hurry and never rewritten. There’s also some head scratching non-sequiturs which give weight to this theory. Also coming down on the side of the comedy explanation is the performance of John Steiner. His Jafar is a glorious mixture of incredibly silly faces, and a ridiculously over emphasised delivery. He looks like he’s having the time of his life.

Sinbad of The Seven Seas (1989)

‘And the Oscar goes to…’

And thank god we have Steiner because the rest of the principals are a dull bunch. Sinbad is ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno who flexes his pecs and tries hard in poorly staged action scenes, including a fight with skeletons cribbed from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (1963). Unfortunately, he’s saddled with a silly 1980s mullet, cheap cartoon SFX, and a crew of the usual suspects;  handsome prince, Kung Fu Charlie Chan, cowardly brain box, and (supposed) comedy dwarf.

Wilting princess Alessandra Marrtines married famous French director Claude Lelouch, 26 years her senior, and had a successful acting career on the continent, taking the lead in ‘The Cave of the Golden Rose’ movie series and playing Elise opposite Jean-Claude Belmondo in ‘Les Miserables’ (1995). After her divorce from Lelouch, she settled down and had a second family with a man 20 years her junior.

A film that will puzzle you (what were they thinking?), bore you (shut up, woman!) but make you laugh out loud too, thanks to Steiner who is simply on fire. It’s a strange combination to be true but well worth a look for lovers of bad film.