Naked Girl Murdered in the Park/Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco (1972)

‘I couldn’t find my smoking dentures.’

A businessman is murdered at an amusement park in the afternoon. The police think it’s a robbery gone wrong, but the insurance company aren’t so convinced, especially considering the victim took out an expensive policy earlier the same day…

Rather curious Giallo from director Alfonso Brescia that often has the feel of an old-fashioned Agatha Christie murder-mystery. Austrian actor Robert Hoffmann leads the action with the reliable support of the ubiquitous Adolfo Cell.

Berlin 1945: in the retreat from the Allies, a Nazi officer flees with a teenage girl, leaving her mother and young brother to die. Twenty-seven years later, in Madrid, respected businessman Johannes Wallenberger is found dead in the ‘Tunnel of Horrors’, a fairground ride at a popular amusement park. Inspector Huber (Celi) favours the theory that it’s a robbery gone south. However, the dead man was carrying a considerable sum of money, and his visit to Luna Park in the middle of the day was out of character.

Insurance Company supremo Losel (Tomás Blanco) is even less inclined to believe a random robbery, given that the man had taken out a multi-million dollar life insurance policy a few hours earlier. He assigns his top investigator Chris Buyer (Hoffmann), to get close to the family over the objections of antagonistic colleague Martin (Philippe Leroy). Going undercover to romance pretty daughter Catherine (Pilar Velázquez), Hoffmann eventually gets invited to spend the weekend at the family mansion.

Brescia’s thriller begins promisingly with a pre-credit sequence set during the fall of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. A young mother and son watch helplessly as a Nazi soldier sets a bomb in their home and absconds with the family’s teenage daughter. This dialogue-free scene is shot in black and white and mixed with relevant stock footage, and it’s an intriguing way to kick things off. Some sources credit Giallo veteran Rosalba Neri playing the uncredited role of the mother, but although there is a physical resemblance, it’s likely to be a misidentification. The opening credits follow, scored with an impressive piano-based theme by Carlo Savina.

Flashing forward to Madrid in 1972, Brescia presents some surreal images of skeletons floating in darkness inside the ‘Tunnel of Horrors’ before the old man’s corpse emerges into the daylight, lying across one of the cars. All this is quite a striking way to open proceedings. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, with neither the cast nor director able to strike any sparks from the rather listless, undeveloped story.

Hoffmann’s insurance agent is a big part of the problem. His fencing with old sparring partner Celi is half-heated at best, and the character is resolutely unsympathetic. He dallies with amusement park waitress Ursy (Teresa Gimpera) and even beds Velázquez’s promiscuous sister, Barbara (Patrizia Adiutori). At one stage, it even looks like he’s set his sights on her mother, Magda (Irina Demick). It’s all in the cause of his mission, of course, and his behaviour makes sense in the story’s broader context. However, the actor gives too bland a performance to sell the drama in an effective way.

Pacing is also an issue, with matter slowing to a crawl once Hoffmann joins the family for the weekend. The household has the usual roster of suspicious servants; sinister butler Bruno (Franco Ressel), curt maid Sybil (María Vico) and strapping stablehand Günther (Howard Ross), who’s lusting after Adiutori. Here, the film drifts into ‘Old Dark House’ territory, with such well-worn cliches as the ‘family portrait’, the ‘locked room’ and a sudden ‘lights out’ that prompts an unfortunate trip to the fusebox.

These shortcomings are mitigated somewhat by the big reveal of the killer’s identity. It’s a genuine surprise, even if it creates some plot holes better left unexamined. Unfortunately, Bresica also muffs it, tagging on an action climax featuring characters largely peripheral to that point. It clarifies some plot points, but it’s an odd choice, to say the least, and one that makes for an unsatisfying finish. It’s also a very flat visual experience, and Bresica fails to inject the drama with any real urgency. Savina also opts for the easy way out, favouring the kind of wordless girlie chorus that has graced many a sub-Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

The brightest elements are the performances of Demick and Adiutori. Neither character is precisely nuanced, but there’s some fun to be had from both, with Adiutori’s endless flirting and sarcasm providing the breezier moments that the film so desperately needs. Demick is also entertaining as the semi-unhinged Magda, whose odd behaviour seems initially triggered by grief until it becomes clear that she’s probably always been a few sandwiches short of a buffet.

Hoffmann was born in Salzburg and studied acting in Paris, getting his big break in the title role of the TV show ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’ in 1964. Filmed in French, it was dubbed into English and became a staple of children’s programming in the UK over the next ten years, usually shown in the mornings during holidays. Some leads in adventure and crime films followed before he starred alongside Edward G Robinson, Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski in the multi-national caper movie ‘Grand Slam’ (1967). His first brush with Giallo was the excellent ‘A Black Veil For Lisa/La Morte Non Ha Sesso’ (1968), followed by the considerably less impressive ‘The Insatiables/Femmine insaziabili/Carnal Circuit’ (1969). Later, he starred in ‘Spasmo’ (1974) for director Umberto Lenzi and appeared in science-fiction disappointment ‘Eyes Behind the Stars/Occhi dalle stelle’ (1978). His workmate dropped off in the mid-1980s, but there was still time for a couple of appearances on US Network TV soap opera juggernaut ‘Dallas’. His last screen appearance was in 2004, and he passed away in 2022.

A somewhat sluggish and disappointing entry.

Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena (1972)

‘I usually give my old clothes to the servants and husbands to friends.’

A teenage girl comes home unannounced from boarding school after her mother’s supposed suicide. She finds her stepfather apparently sharing the family home with a woman photographer. The relationships between the trio take some surprising turns as the days pass…

This small-scale Giallo from director Silvio Amadio rejects an escalating body count to focus on the suspicious intentions of a small group of characters. Some familiar faces appear in front of the camera in another example of the murder mystery thriller that took Italian cinema by storm in the early 1970s and laid the groundwork for the American slasher craze that followed.

When middle-aged swinger Dorothy Emerson (Zora Gheorgieva) is found dead in her bathroom with her throat cut, the police chalk it up as a suicide. Although she was sleeping with young stud Paolo (Hiram Keller), her husband Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) had a rock-solid alibi for the time she died, and the two had been in an open marriage for years. However, the circumstances don’t sit well with daughter Nancy (Jenny Tamburi). When she comes home from boarding school, she finds photographer Gianna (Rosalba Neri) already with one foot in the door of her stepfather’s luxury home.

Tranquilli and Neri welcome the girl, however, and Neri, in particular, makes a special effort, giving the teenager a makeover and some lessons in modelling. Despite the red carpet treatment, Tamburi still questions her mother’s suicide, and her suspicions are shared by housekeeper Dana Magda (Dana Ghia). The younger girl’s fresh-faced innocence starts to attract Tranquilli as they spend more time together, and she seems to return his growing interest while Neri struggles with jealousy on the sidelines. After almost being electrocuted in her studio, the photographer suspects that one of them is out to kill her.

This film reached Italian theatres barely two months after director Amadio’s previous project ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), and the two share much in common. Both are twisted tales of lust and murder centred around a small group of characters and their hidden motivations and shifting relationships. This second effort is even smaller in scale, with only the three principals receiving significant screen time and Neri returning in a similar role. Once again, she’s the lover of an older, dissolute man; in ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), it was Farley Granger’s washed-up writer, here it’s Tranquilli’s idle nobleman, who’s sponging off the estate of his wealthy wife. Barbara Bouchet, who starred in the former film, even appears here in an uncredited bit as a party guest.

If both projects were being developed concurrently, Amadio’s primary focus was likely ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972), as this feels very much like a ‘second-hand’, minor project. Judged on its own merits, the film does not have any glaring flaws, far from it, but the plot is a little thin and underdeveloped, and the direction that the story takes is unlikely to surprise anyone experienced with such thrillers. The final twist also pushes credibility a little, and it isn’t particularly well-executed either, but it is nicely ironic and ties up all the threads very neatly. It’s the film’s most noteworthy element.

Thankfully, the performances of the small cast keep the audience invested, with Tamburi (appearing as Luciana Della Robbia) handed the film’s most interesting role. Her Lolita-like temptress is the catalyst for the unfolding drama and provides a good opportunity to present an ambiguous, off-centre character, and she rises to the challenge admirably. Neri is excellent as ever, but Tranquilli doesn’t make much of an impression as the third side of the triangle. Unfortunately, neither character is given much depth in the script by Amadio and his writing team, Francesco Di Dio and Francesco Villa. These collaborators have only two other credits between them, so it’s tempting to say that their lack of experience shows. However, it should be acknowledged that, in the early 1970s, the Italian film industry was turning out product at a rate comparable with the major studios during Hollywood’s Golden Age, so there may have been time constraints.

There are a few other issues which detract a little from the viewing experience as well. The extended flashback sequences are fine in themselves, but they are not well-integrated into the narrative, and it can take a few moments for an audience to catch up, which was probably not intended. There’s also very little here for Giallo fans on the lookout for striking visual compositions or unsettling atmosphere, elements which Amadio delivered with apparent ease in ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972). The nudity and touch of sleaze have little impact, and the limited number of murders are staged in a very underwhelming fashion. The worst offender, though, is the jolly musical theme by Roberto Pregadio. It’s obviously intended as an ironic counterpoint to the grim drama, and it works well initially, but it’s over-used to such an extent that it becomes distracting and, eventually, quite annoying.

This was only Tamburi’s third role and her first of significance. However, despite the promise she displays here, she was soon back on ‘Lolita’ duty for ‘Seduction/La seduzione’ (1973). Although ‘The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine/Le communicate di San Valentino’ (1974) is not nearly as trashy as the title would suggest, she was typed in projects of a similar stamp. ‘Sins Within the Family/Peccati in famiglia’ (1975) was followed by ’Sins Without Intentions/Peccato senza malizia’ (1975) and the horror sex comedy ‘Frankenstein: Italian Style/Frankenstein all’italiana’ (1975). She returned to the Giallo with Sergio Martino’s ‘The Suspicious Death of a Minor/Morte sospetta di una minorenne’ (1975) and Lucio Fulci’s ‘The Psychic, Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes/Sette note in nero’ (1977), but only in supporting roles. During the 1980s, she appeared more on television, retiring from the screen at the end of the decade. She went on to work as a casting director and opened a drama school before passing away in 2006 at the age of 53.

A minor, efficient Giallo but unlikely to linger too long in the memory.

Samson Against the Black Pirate/Sansone contro il corsaro nero/Hercules and the Black Pirate (1964)

‘Your compliments are even more persuasive than your muscles.’

Samson distinguishes himself in battle against the Black Pirate and receives the gratitude of the Governor of San Sebastion. However, the nobleman’s Chief Consul has been working secretly with the evil buccaneer. He isn’t about to let the muscleman interfere with his plans to loot the colony of its fabulous treasure…

Ho-hum Peplum patterned more on a Hollywood swashbuckler than the usual muscleman antics. Sergio Ciani, under his screen name of Alan Steel, is back on leading man duties, working here for director Luigi Capuano.

The Black Pirate (Andrea Aureli) and his ships have long been the scourge of the oceans around the island of San Sebastian. However, an engagement with forces led by Samson (Ciani) proves to be a disaster, with only his flagship escaping to the open sea. The action brings Ciani honours from Governor Don Alonso (Nerio Bernardi), but not the hand of his beautiful daughter Rosira (Rosalba Neri). After all, Ciani is just a fisherman by birth. Disillusioned, he heads for home.

However, all is not well at the Governor’s mansion. Chief Consul Rodrigo Sanchez (Piero Lulli) is Aureli’s silent partner, feeding the buccaneer the secret information that has enabled his reign of terror on the high seas. Together, they plan to kill Bernardi and make Lulli the interim Governor. Once in place, he can loot the treasury and get his greedy paws on Bernadi’s wife, his old love Carmelita (Elisa Mainardi). But when things do not go according to plan, he kidnaps their seven-year-old daughter Alma (Cinzia Bruno) and frames Ciani for the crime.

By 1964, the Peplum craze was running on fumes. The sheer quantity of muscleman features produced in the decade’s early years had drained all ideas and creativity from the concept and left a stale, familiar formula. Although it could be argued that Capuano’s film is attempting something different by co-opting the locale and story from an old Hollywood swashbuckler, it’s far more likely that this was simply an old script retooled for current box office requirements. It wasn’t even a new idea, really, with previous vehicle ‘Samson Against the Pirates/Sansone contro i pirati/Samson and the Sea Beast’ (1963) treading a similar path. Even less effort is made to impose the familiar Peplum tropes here, with very few scenes that involve the character’s superhuman strength, other than an escape from the flooding hold of Aureli’s ship. Mostly, he’s just a heroic chap who’s handy with a sword and good at wrestling.

The film opens with the sea battle between Ciani’s army and the pirate fleet. It’s unclear if our hero is leading the fight or earns Bernardi’s gratitude just because he’s an outstanding soldier, but no one else gets any thanks, so I guess he was in charge. Perhaps the lack of any other credit is down to the fact that the battle seems to be mostly appearing courtesy of another film with a grinning Ciani superimposed over the top waving his sword about. Thankfully, there are better combat scenes as the film progresses, although the fight choreography and swordplay aren’t particularly inspired.

Unfortunately, with events entirely predictable from beginning to end, Capuano needs to deliver spectacle and action rather than plot mechanics, and it’s obvious he didn’t have the resources available to mount much of either. Producers were never going to throw money at a project like this, with the box office beginning to run dry. Indeed, this film was Samson’s last stand-alone adventure, with his only subsequent appearance in the cycle being as part of the tag team in ‘Hercules, Samson, Maciste and Ursus: The Invincibles/Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincible/Samson and the Mighty Challenge’ (1964). Almost inevitably, when it was picked up for stateside distribution by American International Pictures, Samson became Hercules and a lacklustre dub track was provided to paper over the substitution.

On the plus side, Ciani does his best Errol Flynn impression when the script permits. The film would have benefited no end from adopting more of a humorous, devil-may-care approach to the material and with more screen personality than most of his muscleman rivals, Ciani might have been equal to the task. Instead, a few moments of lame comedy relief are centred on a henpecked villager and his domineering wife. It is a novelty to see Neri early in her career as a passive Peplum princess, though, and contrast it with the far more assertive roles she played in Italian genre cinema over the next decade. The eagle-eyed may also spot an uncredited Giovanni Cianfriglia, marking time before taking the lead as costumed crimefighter ‘Superargo’ under the somewhat less Italian name of Ken Wood.

Capuano began his screenwriting and directorial career in post-war Italy, racking up a couple of dozen titles before his first, much better, Peplum feature ‘The Revenge of Ursus/The Vengeance of Ursus/La vendetta di Ursus/The Mighty Warrior (1961). It’s clear, however, that he specialised in romantic costume adventures, including ‘Zorro and the Three Musketeers/Zorro e i tre moschettieri’ (1963) and two other features starring the masked rider created by Johnston McCulley. A smattering of American stars graced these projects, such as Guy Madison, ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott, Mickey Hargitay, Ray Danton and another ex-Tarzan, Lex Barker. Toward the end of his career, he made a couple of Spaghetti Westerns and anonymous Eurospy ‘The Big Blackout/Agent Perry Grant/Perry Grant Agente Di Fermo (1966).

There are a few crumbs of interest here and there, but this is one for die-hard Peplum buffs only.

The French Sex Murders/Casa d’appuntamento (1972)

‘It must have been difficult getting permission to have the head.’

A prostitute at an exclusive brothel is brutally murdered. The police arrest her last client, and he is found guilty of the crime. The young man dies trying to escape custody, but the killings have only just begun…

Rather awkward Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Ferdinando Merighi that attempts to blend several mismatched elements without a good deal of success. Poor execution and a bizarre casting decision create further issues.

Small-time criminal Antoine Gottvalles (Peter Martell) may be a good-looking guy, but his life is coming apart. Problems with alcohol and increasingly erratic behaviour have made him persona non grata at the high-class brothel operated by Madame Colette (Anita Ekberg). Reluctantly, she agrees that he can visit his favourite girl Francine Boulert (Barbara Bouchet), one last time. However, later on, he’s seen running from the house, and a few minutes later, Bouchet is found beaten to death. Martell runs to his ex-wife Marianne (Rosalba Neri), but she’s busy entertaining nightclub manager Pepi (Rolf Eden) and sends him away. Soon afterwards, he’s snared in a police dragnet, arrested and sent to trial.

The case looks open and shut, and Martell’s found guilty and condemned to death by Judge George Teschi (William Alexander). However, he tries to cheat the guillotine with an attempted escape, only to be decapitated in a horrific motorbike accident instead. Case closed. But then Ekberg is murdered in much the same way as Bouchet, without an apparent motive. Meanwhile, scientist Professor Theodore Waldemar (Howard Vernon) has obtained Martell’s severed head for research purposes, trading on his friendship with Judge Alexander to obtain the grisly specimen. In light of the Ekberg killing, the dogged Inspector Fontaine (Robert Sacchi) is looking at the Bouchet case again and soon has more murders on his hands.

There are many issues with Merighi’s film, and these only become more and more apparent as the runtime passes. The opening scenes feature groups of police chasing a half-seen figure up the Eiffel Tower, a pursuit which concludes with a suicide plunge, courtesy of some very shoddy SFX. The rest of the story unfolds in an extended flashback, and, to be fair, the flaws are not immediately evident. Merighi does a competent job assembling all his suspects and suggesting their possible guilt via a series of apparently unrelated subplots.

While Neri sings in the club, her lover Eden is apparently playing away with hostess Tina (Piera Viotti). Professor Vernon’s beautiful daughter Eleonora (Evelyne Kraft) seems strangely reluctant to pursue a relationship with her father’s assistant Roger Delluc (Franco Borelli), and he’s becoming confused and frustrated. Middle-aged writer Randall (Renato Romano) is also spending many evenings at the brothel (for ‘research purposes!) and having a fling with Bouchet’s ex-colleague Alice (Flavia Keyt). Saachi is also interested in the activities of Martin (Alessandro Perrella), the bed partner of Doris (Ada Pometti), who works as the Judge’s maid. To Merighi’s credit, he keeps all these characters successfully in play, and their surface relationships with each other and to the story are perfectly clear.

However, the film has much bigger problems. The decision to cast Saachi as the detective is particularly baffling. He was a professional Humphrey Bogart impersonator, and yes, that’s exactly what he’s doing here. Slicked back hair, mannerisms, voice (courtesy of an offhand English dub track), trenchcoat and all. Obviously, it’s incredibly distracting every time he appears on the screen. The French have an evident love for Film Noir (they coined the phrase, after all) and crossing Noir with Giallo had been attempted before by director Tinto Brass with ‘Col Chore ln Gola/Deadly Sweet/I Am What l Am’ (1967). This film was an international co-production between France, Italy and West Germany, so an eye on the French box office might explain its inclusion. But, apart from Saachi’s Bogart impression, there are no other Noirish elements here whatsoever. So it’s an isolated and somewhat confusing creative choice, to say the least.

The story also falls apart in the final third. It’s not that the conclusion doesn’t make sense; it’s just absurd and rather stupid. Merighi also shows the killings with brief, repeated shots through different coloured filters. It doesn’t work on any level and looks terribly dated to a modern audience. It heightens the impression this was a project put together very swiftly with the sole intention of taking advantage of a booming box office trend. Producer Dick Randall had plenty of experience in the exploitation field, initially with documentaries such as ‘The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield’ (1968) cobbled together and in theatres less than a year after her death. When he moved into features, it was with projects such as sex comedies ‘Let It All Hang Out/Der Mann mit dem goldenen Pinsel’ (1969) and ‘Playgirl 70’ (1969). Later projects included ‘Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks/Terror! Il castello delle donne maledette’ (1974), ‘The Daughter of Emanuelle’ (1975), ‘Crocodile Fangs/Agowa gongpo’ (1978) and ‘The Clones of Bruce Lee/Shen wei san meng long’ (1980). Here, he also plays a small role in front of the camera and makes an uncredited contribution to the script. The latter may have led to the character of the brothel-creeping writer being named after him.

The biggest shame is the waste of a particularly strong cast, most of whom were probably hired due to their involvement in previous, far better, Giallo projects. Both Bouchet and Neri had starred in Silvio Amadio’s ‘Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere’ (1972) and ‘Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena’ (1972), even if Bouchet’s role in the latter had been as an uncredited cameo. Neri has also done ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and ‘Slaughter Hotel/Cold Blooded Beast/La bestia uccide a sangue freddo’ (1971). Bouchet had starred in ‘The Man with Icy Eyes/L’uomo dagli occhi di ghiaccio’ (1971), ‘Black Belly of the Tarantula/La tarantola dal ventre nero’ (1971) and Lucio Fulci’s ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling/Non si sevizia un paperino’ (1972). Vernon had been playing oddball scientists since taking the title role in ‘The Awful Dr Orloff/Gritos en la noche’ (1962) for director Jesús Franco. This historical role may explain why his character carries out strange experiments with Martell’s decapitated head in this film (just what is the Professor supposed to be researching exactly?!)

Merighi mainly worked as an Assistant Director on Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s. He also did the job on a couple of war pictures and low-budget Gialli ‘In the Folds of the Flesh/Nelle pieghe della carne’ (1970) and the obscure ‘Questa libertà di avere… le Ali bagnate’ (1971). In marked contrast, actor Vernon had a career that stretched for 50 years and included minor roles in ‘The Train’ (1964) starring Burt Lancaster, Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Alphaville’ (1965), and Woody Allen’s star-studded ‘What’s New, Pussycat’ (1965). By the 1970s, however, he was firmly entrenched in low-budget European horror, working countless times with writer-director Jesús Franco and reprising his most famous role as Dr Orloff several times. Kraft had a short screen career but did appear as jungle girl Samantha in the much-celebrated cult item ‘The Mighty Peking Man/Xing xing wang’ (1977), in which she provides the definitive artistic depiction of a crashing aeroplane.

A tatty and rather slipshod Giallo that wastes a good cast.

The Three Avengers/Gli invincibili tre/The Invincible Three (1964)

‘Who forced us to go and live in the rocks?’

Legendary strongman Ursus is not pleased when he discovers that the Tunisian city of Atra is under the rule of a man who has taken his name. Accompanied by two thieves, he vows to unseat the usurper and bring the war with a neighbouring tribe to a peaceful end…

It was the seventh and last time out for Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz’s strongman, who he had created for his 1895 novel ‘Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero.’ The Italian Pepium craze that followed the international success of ‘Hercules’ (1958) saw film producers hijack the character for a series of similar escapades. Here, he’s incarnated in the athletic form of veteran muscleman Sergio Ciani, billed as Alan Steel.

The city of Atra and the surrounding kingdom seem to be under the rule of elderly King Igos (Carlo Tamberlani). However, decisions of state are taken by legendary strongman Ursus (Mimmo Palmara) and his partner, slimy official Teomoco (Gianni Rizzo). Unfortunately for the populace, Palmara is an imposter – ‘False Ursus’ – who has used his fighting prowess to perform a bit of identity theft and hoodwink the King. He plans to seize the throne, of course, and liquidate the neighbouring Hanussa tribe, led by Samur (Nello Pazzafini). However, he receives word that the real Ursus (Ciani) is in town, accompanied by light-fingered rapscallions, Pico (Arnaldo Dell’Acqua) and Manina (Enzo Maggio).

Palmara suggests that the youthful Prince Dario (Vassili Karis) track down our three heroes, branding them as Hanussa spies and promising to renounce command of the city and return to his homeland. The callow Prince agrees, but his inexperience leads to capture by the Hanussa. Things look bleak, but he has an advocate in Pazzafini’s sister, Demora (Rosalba Neri), who he had taken prisoner on the latter part of his trip. Karis had been the perfect gentleman during her incarceration, and it’s obviously not going to be too long before the two pick out curtains and start spending Sunday mornings at the Garden Centre. Meanwhile, Ciani has challenged his namesake, and it’s not long before the question of who’s who will be settled by some personal combat.

Writer-director Gianfranco Parolini’s film is a curious mix of knockabout comedy and serious adventure. Proceedings open in the former vein with the acrobatic Dell’Acqua and stammering Maggio involved in a knockabout brawl with traders in the Atran marketplace after lifting some apples and a couple of knick-knacks. Dell’Acqua establishes his impressive tumbling credentials while we discover that Maggio’s voice problem is so severe that often he remains mute. After the duo escapes, Ciani turns up like an indulgent uncle to scold the pair and get them to return what they’ve stolen. The trio’s dynamics are almost certainly a nod to Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat’s partnership in Hollywood swashbucklers ‘The Flame and the Arrow’ (1950) and ‘The Crimson Pirate’ (1952). The pair had worked together as circus acrobats before Lancaster turned to acting, and Cravat played both roles mute to conceal a thick Brooklyn accent.

These comedy shenanigans are entertaining and well-played by the principals but sit strangely at odds with the more serious story developing alongside at court. Everyone there is playing it completely straight, with Palmara and Rizzo playing it straight and resisting any inclination to chew the scenery. It takes time for the two sets of characters to interact, so, at times, it feels like two separate films. The comedy takes more of a backseat when things come together, although Ciani remains a good-natured presence throughout. He also shows up well in the action scenes, particularly in the arena fight, where he goes up against Palmara on a platform raised above spikes. He’s getting the best of it, too, until he’s struck blind by a potion concealed in his helmet by the nefarious Rizzo.

Elsewhere in the cast, the women make the best of it, with the gorgeous Neri a passionate presence and Lisa Gastoni effectively conflicted as the disloyal Queen Alina. There’s also the mysterious Orchidea De Santis, who hangs around a little in the background, offering Ciani water on one occasion and providing the ointment to cure his blindness on another. It may be that she’s a helpful goddess, but she seems curiously timid for that, and the English version never addresses her identity, helpfully billing her merely as ‘Blonde Girl’. Something lost in translation, in all probability.

By 1964, it’s fair to say that Peplum was on life support with dwindling box office returns and audiences about to get far more interested in cowboys and spies. So, it’s pleasing to report that this film has little of the threadbare quality of some contemporary productions, the budget probably boosted by Tunisian money. However, some moments, particularly at the climax, seem to suggest a lack of resources. Rather than a pitched battle between the two tribes, one side just runs away (!), and the final showdown between Ciani and Palmara is ridiculously brief, particularly compared to their earlier combat in the arena.

Parolini already had experience with muscleman capers, having delivered entries like ‘Samson/Sansone’ (1961) and ‘Fury of Hercules/La furia di Ercole’ (1962) but really hit paydirt with the Kommissar X Eurospy series. The adventures of Agent Joe Walker, played by Tony Kendall, ran for seven films, and he was behind the camera in some capacity on all but the final entry. He often worked as sole director, such as on opening salvo ‘Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill/Kommissar X – Jagd auf Unbekannt’ (1966). In later years, he directed a trio of Spaghetti Westerns showcasing the fictional gunfighter Sabata and attempted to cash in on the hype surrounding Dino De Laurentiis’ remake of ‘King Kong’ (1976) by unleashing ‘Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century/Yeti – Il gigante del 20° secolo’ (1977). He passed away in 2018 after a film career spanning almost 60 years.

As a character, Ursus always struggled to establish a coherent identity in the world of Italian Peplum but closes out his account here with a likeable enough romp.

Amuck!/Alla ricerca del piacere (1972)

‘What is the monkey to man, contemptuous mirth or painful truth?’

A beautiful woman goes to work for a famous writer living on a small island on the outskirts of Venice. However, she’s investigating the disappearance of his previous secretary, who was her best friend. As she spends time in the household, she’s inexorably drawn into the author’s sleazy world of drugs, decadence and casual sex…

Handsome looking mystery thriller from writer-director Silvio Amadio that attracted a cast as impressive as its Venetian locations. The filmmaker already had previous experience with the Giallo, and this entry easily eclipses his previous efforts.

Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) is a girl on a mission. She’s following in the footsteps of her best friend, Sally Reece (Patrizia Viotti), who worked for the same New York publishing house. This involves getting the gig as new secretary to celebrated author Richard Stuart (Farley Granger) and living at his luxury home on the water outside Venice. Viotti disappeared there without a trace the previous winter, and local policeman, Commissario Antonelli (Nino Segurini), hasn’t been able to make any headway in the case.

On arrival, Bouchet meets the household; Granger’s sexy and uninhibited wife Eleanora (Rosalba Neri), taciturn butler Giovanni (Umberto Raho) and frequent visitor Sandro (Dino Mele). It’s not long before Bouchet’s duties expand from typing and dictation to attending Granger and Neri’s informal soirees, which come with recreational substances and stag films. By then, she’s already been seduced by Neri, who uses the sudden, frightening appearance of slow-witted local Rocco (Petar Martinovitch) to slip something a little spicier than the usual sedative into Bouchet’s medicine glass.

Initially, Amadio’s story is intriguing and has several interesting possibilities. It’s not long before Bouchet becomes a willing participant in the household’s extra-curricular activities. It’s all to aid her investigations, of course, but pill-popping, cuddling up to young stud muffin Mele and falling for the suave Granger is a risky strategy at best. It’s unusual to see such an apparently intelligent heroine exhibit such poor decision making. However, it’s a credit to Bouchet’s well-rounded performance that she never loses the audience’s sympathy and that her actions only seem rather dumb in hindsight.

Amadio was fortunate to have Bouchet, as the dramatic weight of his story falls mainly on her shoulders. Granger and Neri are both excellent as the corrupt, amoral sophisticates, but there is a nagging feeling that they aren’t given enough to do, despite some standout moments. Raho is often surplus to plot requirements, too, although it is nice to see the actor play something other than a cop for a change. It’s the third act and the solution to the mystery that ultimately pulls the film down. It’s not that the resolution is illogical or doesn’t make sense; just the opposite, as a matter of fact. Instead, it’s an entirely predictable and underwhelming conclusion to a second-half in which suspense and intrigue have been allowed to drain away slowly.

The Venetian locations are an asset to the production, though, even if Amadio doesn’t see the unique possibilities that director Nicolas Roeg was able to exploit to such incredible effect in his horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973). Of course, he may have wanted to avoid a ‘tourist board showcase’ of the famous canalled city, and he does exhibit such restraint in a couple of other key areas. Teo Usuelli’s music is distinctly overdone, so Amadio employs it only sparingly. The baroque choral stylings would be more at home with the extravagant flourishes of a director like Dario Argento than accompanying a grounded story like this. Also, the lesbian sex scene between Neri and Bouchet is frank but not exploitative, with slow-motion employed to highlight the participants’ beauty rather than dwell crudely on the act itself.

The film does display quite a few strong elements. Besides the excellent cast, Amadio and veteran cinematographer Aldo Giordani deliver a sensational-looking movie with some very striking visual moments. Bouchet transcribing Granger’s new novel, which seems to be both a description of how her best friend died and a warning of what will happen to her if she keeps on with her investigations, is a fresh idea and executed with some panache. The duck hunt that turns deadly is very well-staged, and the sequence where our heroine is inadvertently locked in the cellar is an excellent example of a minimalist sound design which is present throughout. Unfortunately, all these undoubted virtues need to be allied to a compelling mystery, and that’s the one crucial element that’s missing in action.

Amadio first dabbled in Giallo with the underwhelming ‘Assassination in Rome/Il segreto del vestito rosso’ (1965), a venture probably most memorable for the completely disinterested performance of its star, Cyd Charisse. Four years later, he tried again with the low-budget ‘No Man’s Island/Twisted Girls/Island of the Swedish Girls/L’isola delle svedesi’ (1969), an undistinguished piece most likely hampered by limited resources. After this step up in class, he continued along the same lines with ‘Smile Before Death/Il sorriso della iena’ (1973), which again starred Neri and featured an uncredited Bouchet in a tiny cameo. After detours into comedy, crime and romantic drama, he returned to the Giallo one last time for ‘So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious…/Peccati di gioventù’ (1975).

Considerably less than the sum of its parts, although undeniably a quality production.

Top Sensation (1969)

Top Sensation (1969)‘You can’t think, you don’t have the equipment for that.’

A rich businesswoman with a son who has the mind of a child takes him for a trip on her private yacht. She has employed two beautiful women to join them in the hope that if they can awaken his sexual desires, he will become a normal adult. But when they run aground on the coast of a remote island, events take a very dark turn…

Sleazy Giallo drama that combines plenty of sea and sun with an unapologetic obsession with sex. Writer-director Ottavio Alessi’s film may be taking the usual potshots at the lifestyles of the international jet set, but it’s fair to say that he seems just as interested in the considerable charms of his, often naked, leading ladies.

What is business tycoon Mudy (Maud Belleroche) to do with her ‘problem’ child, Tony (Ruggero Miti)? At his age, he should be a man, but he still acts like a child, playing with toys and refusing to speak. Even the expensive clinics in Switzerland have failed to cure him. Belleroche’s latest scheme involves taking him for a trip on her private yacht. Along for the ride are two of her employees; ruthless husband and wife Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri) who are both only too happy to warm Belleroche’s bed as and when required.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘It’s ok, I saw it on a YouTube tutorial.’

The grand plan was to have Neri seduce Miti, thus making him a man and curing all his problems. It seems unlikely that this is approved clinical procedure, but it doesn’t matter because he has refused her advances anyway (he certainly does have issues!) Hired prostitute Ulla (Edwige Fenech) has also struck out, and the quartet is at a loss to know what to do next. It’s a particularly trying situation for Neri and Bonuglia as they are ‘on the promise’ of an ‘oil concession’ from Belleroche if they can succeed.

Just when all seems lost, the yacht runs aground on a sandbank. Bonuglia was supposed to be steering, but he wasn’t looking where he was going because he and Fenech were too busy having sex on the cabin floor. And, yes, there’s no need to worry about the complexities of the group’s interpersonal relationships. Apart from Miti, everyone is having sex with everyone else, and most probably in all the combinations that you can imagine.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘What do you mean, you want to talk about your motivation?’

While they are stranded, Miti makes his escape to the bleak island off the port bow and meets lonely young goatherd Beba (Eva Thulin). The others should be in hot pursuit, but Neri takes the opportunity to shoot some goats with her rifle instead (no reason, really, just a bit of harmless fun) and Belleroche has to offer to pay off disgruntled farmer Andro (Salvatore Puntillo). Meanwhile, Fenech is having intimate relations with one of the goats while Bonuglia takes some photographs of their romantic tryst. It’s hard to see why the British Board of Film Classification refused to give the film a certificate for 36 years, isn’t it?

When they finally catch up with Muti, they find him talking with the innocent Thulin and seemingly interested in her. Forming a new strategy, they invite her back to the boat where the clueless Fenech and Neri give her a ‘glamorous’ makeover, completely missing the point of why Muti was attracted to her in the first place. However, the session does provide an excuse to trap the young girl into a lesbian threesome, and that was far more important. However, there is another problem. Thulin is Puntillo’s child bride, so Neri and Fenech must provide a distraction when he comes on board. Drink proves the answer rather than sex as they can’t have it off with him obviously; he’s loud, sweaty and belongs to the lower orders. Meantime, Thulin and Muti get the chance to spend some quality time below decks.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘These split ends are a disgrace.’

It’s not hard to see why this film has quite the reputation in certain circles. It’s not pornographic by any means, but it certainly pushes the envelope, with our central foursome taking almost every opportunity to indulge their physical desires. And no, Fenech’s intimate liaison with the goat is not shown explicitly, although the naked actress and the animal seem to get fairly friendly! (I can’t help but wonder if she spent the rest of her life getting asked about that scene at respectable parties).

The subtext of the amoral rich living with no regard to societal or behavioural limits isn’t exactly subtle, and Alessi’s lingering camerawork somewhat undercuts any attempt on his part to take the moral high ground. On the one hand, he seems to be asking the audience to condemn these characters but, at the same time, revel in their excesses. But, before you dismiss the entire thing as tasteless exploitation, it’s worth noting that Neri has gone on record in recent years to praise the collaborative process on location. In fact, Alessi was so impressed with her suggestions, that he insisted she received an ‘Assistant Director’ credit.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘I know he’s your husband but he’s a bit of a dick.’

And this is a drama where the women are very much in charge. Maybe Thulin and Fenech are a little passive, but it’s Belleroche and Neri who lead the action and call the shots. The handsome but dim Bonuglia just takes orders, and Puntillo is portrayed as an ineffectual and stupid drunk. Of course, Muti remains the loose cannon on the male side of the equation with his limits never defined and the history of his ‘troubles’ left mostly ambiguous. It’s this uncertainty that provides the story’s element of suspense, although those expecting a more traditional Giallo are likely to find this a little half-hearted.

Alessi was primarily a writer who worked in both comedy and drama and was one of a half a dozen scribes who contributed to the Peter Ustinov family fantasy ‘The Man Who Wagged His Tail’ (1957). He also worked on the historical drama ‘The Mongols’ (1961), a US-Italian co-production which starred Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg and on the screenplay for jokey Eurospy ‘Dick Smart 2.007’ (1967). His only other assignment in the canvas chair was as writer-director of uneven Giallo comedy ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), a showcase for the Italian comedy legend of the same name.

Top Sensation (1969)

‘All ahead full.’

Listing Neri and Fenech’s genre credits would take a whole separate post, but, suffice to say, both women appeared in numerous Gialli, sex comedies and horrors throughout the 1970s and Neri’s career went back to the Peplum craze of the early 1960s. Bonuglia virtually reprised his role here in ‘Yellow: The Cousins/Yellow: le cugine’ (1969) and later played the male lead in notable Giallo ‘The Perfume of the Lady In Black/Il Profumo della signora in nero’ (1974). Despite a decent showing in this, her screen debut, Thulin’s career never went anywhere, and this is Belleroche’s only screen credit. Her participation is a bit of a puzzle as she was already an award-winning, best selling novelist!

A different kind of Giallo that’s a little short on darkness until the final act but has a good pace and delivers a decent level of entertainment. And admirers of its leading ladies will need no other reason to check it out.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)‘My mother is dying. A big rock fell on her.’

The legendary hero Hercules is shipwrecked on a strange shore after a terrific storm out at sea. His crew are all dead, and he’s met by a guard of hostile soldiers. Assistance arrives from a group of Inca warriors, and he learns that their land has fallen under the rule of a usurper whose followers practice human sacrifice…

In a sense, this was the last of the ‘stand-alone’ official Hercules series that had been kicked off by the international success of the 1958 film of the same name starring Steve Reeves. Yes, there were three subsequent films, but the first found the demi-god sharing the spotlight with fellow musclemen Samson, Maciste and Ursus. The next was primarily a re-edit of two previous films in the series starring Reg Park and the last was produced initially as a pilot for a television show. And, yes, this project does betray the telltale signs of a dwindling budget and dipping production values.

We join Hercules (Mark Forest) on the coast of South America, washed ashore after an apparent storm out at sea. All his men have drowned, but the bad news doesn’t end there. He’s barely had time to catch his breath before he’s under attack. Some Inca warriors come to his aid (I guess everyone was just hanging at the beach that day) and the bad guys are quickly dispatched. Getting the lowdown on local politics doesn’t take long and, within minutes, Forest has pledged his allegiance to his rescuer: Prince Maytha (Giuliano Gemma), son of the deposed King Houscar (José Riesgo).

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Stop slacking you lazy bastards!’

First on the agenda is preventing the sacrifice of Gemma’s sister, the Princess Hamara (Anna-Marie Pace). She’s due to go under the knife of the High Priest (Giulio Donnini) of villainous despot King Atah Ualpa (Franco Fantasia). Gemma is happy to entrust the task to Forest because he’s known him for an hour or two. By the time Forest and his warrior crew arrive in the city of Tiahuanaca, the shindig is in full swing. For once, the dancing girls on their endless tour of the world’s lost civilisations haven’t got the gig. Instead, there’s a troupe of male dancers in blue feathers and skull masks shaking their thing.

Luckily for Forest, high priest Donnini loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice and takes so long about the ceremony that Forest has plenty of time to snatch Pace from her pink feathered table and make a clean getaway. He covers their escape by bringing down a column in the secret tunnel. This could have backfired and buried everyone, of course, but I guess the big man understands all about load-bearing walls and architectural stuff.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Tell you what. I’ll be Doug McClure if you’ll be Caroline Munro.’

Back at the rebel village, Forest gets nearly all the credit for the rescue (I guess the other guys fighting were pretty superfluous) but, despite this victory, Gemma isn’t keen on taking the fight to Fantasia. His forces are badly outnumbered, even with some of Fantasia’s army fighting in another part of the kingdom. This isn’t good enough for Forest, however, who completely undermines the Prince’s authority in front of the whole village by suggesting an attack. Intelligence will make their warriors worth five of Fantasia’s men, he promises. He doesn’t explain how, but he does invent the wheel, so that’s ok. It’s possible that this was an in-joke by the scriptwriters, who may have been referencing earlier series entry ‘Hercules In The Vale of Woe’ (1961), which was a time-travelling spoof that used the same plot device for comic effect.

Forest has the villagers building siege towers, but his contribution to the work consists of offering the odd bit of helpful advice and hanging around with Pace instead. She’s looking after a shoulder injury he’s sustained, but it’s clear that she’d rather be looking after another part of his anatomy. The drippy romance between Forest and Pace may get consummated offscreen as director and co-writer Osvaldo Civirani cuts from their first kiss to a herd of stampeding llamas. Well, it makes a change from a burning fireplace, I suppose.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Can you hear the llamas starting to gallop?’

But it’s at this point that we start to get a hint of trouble. Financial trouble. The villagers hold a party to celebrate the upcoming battle. The entertainment is a solo dance performed by a woman with a few men as her back-up. What’s wrong with that, you may ask. Well, for a start, it lasts for about six and a half minutes, and the cutaways to Gemme and Pace are tight close-ups. Forest attends courtesy of what looks like shaky b-roll footage, and he seems to be looking the wrong way! There have been a few strange editing choices up to this point, but many European films are recut for American release and sometimes with little care or attention. It’s worth mentioning the English language dub, as well. Quite obviously, no-one was in possession of the original script as the dialogue is often clunky and has characters repeating the same information to the extent that sometimes verges on the comic.

There’s also a strange subplot concerning a young boy that’s adopted by the tribe after Hercules lifts a big rock from where it has fallen on the lad’s dying mother. At the time, this seems important, and later we see him following Forest around the village as if they’re joined that the hip. But he never appears again, furthering the impression that some scenes are missing or were never filmed. Events culminate with the storming of the city, of course, and it’s pleasing to report that this is carried out on quite an impressive scale with plenty of extras and action. Unfortunately, the stunt work is uninspired, and some of the combat looks more than a little lethargic.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

The Mardi Gras was in full swing.

Where the film really scores, though, is with the costume design by Mario Giorsi. Fantasia and his Queen (Angela Rhu) wear magnificent, tall headdresses with a skull motif and lots of colourful feathers, and even the despot’s guards are decked out with feathered helmets that reach for the ceiling. The sacrificial ceremony is a riot of bright, vibrant colours thanks to Giorsi’s work, lending the scene a real style and echoing the work of horror maestro Mario Bava on ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). Perhaps it’s a condemnation of the rest of the film’s technicians to highlight this one area to such an extent, but the work is head and shoulders above what else is on offer. Literally!

The film was producer, director and co-writer Osvaldo Civirani’s debut in those roles and, given that, he delivers a respectable picture. There are problems and signs of possible budgetary issues, but it’s still serviceable enough. He teamed with Forest again on ‘Kindar The Invulnerable’ (1965) and delivered acceptable Eurospys ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) with Roger Browne and ‘The Beckett Affair’ (1966). Later projects included several Spaghetti Westerns, a series of comedies with popular double act Franco and Ciccio and crime thriller ‘The Devil with Seven Faces’ (1971) with Giallo mainstays Carrol Baker and George Hilton.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Sorry, kid, who are you again?’

Incidentally, Italian cult favourite Rosalba Neri is listed by some sources with an uncredited appearance as ‘The Queen.’ Well, there’s only one role that fits that description in the finished film and that most assuredly is played by Rhu and not Neri. It’s possible she may have been initially on the picture and left for some reason and still appears in long shots but that’s unconfirmed. However, her list of credits is always going to be open to some interpretation. Reportedly, sometimes she would send her cousin along to play small roles she had been contracted to do when she couldn’t be bothered!

An acceptable enough muscleman outing that leaves the viewer with the impression that some of its flaws were probably down to adverse production circumstances.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)‘You have inherited a king’s throne because your father has passed on. I killed himself myself in battle.’

The kingdom is in the grip of a horrendous drought, and the Queen of Mycenae demands ever-increasing levels of tribute from her subjects, including pretty young virgins to be sacrificed to the god Moloch. Is there no-one who can lead the people in rebellion against her tyrannical rule?

The Hercules movie that isn’t. Of course, 1960s American audiences were used to the exploits of every Italian muscle man being relabelled with the big man’s name on stateside release, be they Goliath, Samson, Ursus or Maciste. However, this one is an even bigger confidence trick. All we have here is a hero who casually adopts the ‘Hercules’ name when on an undercover mission in the enemy camp. Sure, he’s strong and heroic, but he’s not even pretending to be the legendary Greek demi-god. What a complete swizz.

The city of Mycenae has risen from the ashes after perishing in a fiery inferno. On that day of destruction, the young, pregnant Queen Demeter (Rosalba Neri) promises the dying King to turn the people back to the worship of the Earth Goddess. Fast forward a couple of decades, however, and she’s still got them sacrificing young virgins to the evil deity Moloch, who lives in the caves underneath the city. This so-called god is really her grown up son (Pietro Marascalchi) who is so hideous that he needs to hide in the shadows and wear a metal wolf mask to hide his ugliness! He wiles away the long hours strangling the sacrificial girls or using them as live targets when he fancies a bit of practice with bow and arrow. Everyone has to have a hobby, I suppose.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hello, girls!’

The neighbouring cities are planning to get together in open rebellion, but the leaders of one fo them tips their hand too early and bring down the wrath of Neri’s army. Their King is killed, and the Princess Deianira (Jany Clair) is taken prisoner. Fortunately, Mycenean good guy, lieutenant Euneos (Michel Lemoine) takes more than a passing interest in her welfare. Meanwhile, forces from nearby Tiryns are riding to their rescue, led by the heroic Prince Glauco (Gordon Scott). But they arrive too late so Scott formulates a plan to attack Mycenae from both inside and out, taking the role of one of the slaves offered in tribute to Neri so that he can infiltrate the city.

On arrival, he catches the eye of the imperious monarch immediately, probably because he’s calling himself Hercules and every evil queen in history can’t resist falling for the muscles of the big man. She offers him a job as captain of part of her royal guard with probable fringe benefits to follow. Unfortunately, things go awry almost immediately when he stops chief lackey General Penthius (Arturo Dominici) having his way with Neri’s goody-two-shoes stepdaughter, the Princess Medea (Alessandro Panaro). Thrown into the dungeon and the inevitable gig at gladiator school, it’s up to Scott form and alliance with Lemoine, foment a rebellion among the populace and find a way to get the city gates open to let in the cavalry.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘I’ve had enough of this wowdy webel sniggewing behaviour.’

This is very much an undistinguished ‘sword and sandal’ picture that has only a few points of interest to note. At first glance, it appears there is some budget here, which gives a decent scale to the climactic battle scenes. However, most of this footage is taken from director Giorgio Ferroni’s previous film ‘The Trojan War/La guerra di Troia’ (1961). The swordplay involving the principals is energetic and well-choreographed, though, with Scott convincing in both the action scenes and the quieter moments. Neri also makes for a deliciously evil queen, both as a young woman in the opening scenes and as a more mature version two decades later, which, considering she was only in her mid-twenties at the time of filming, indicates her talent as an actress. But both the leading roles are one-dimensional, and the script doesn’t give either performer much material to work with.

What’s most curious, though, is the last twenty minutes of the film. Up until then, things have been pretty grounded. Yes, there’s been talk of the Earth Goddess on the one hand, and Marascalchi being the embodiment of Moloch on the other, but no real indication that it’s any more than talk or local superstition. Then the Goddess seems to take a hand, sending a lightning bolt down to strike the sacrificial knife of high priest Asterion (Nerio Bernardi) that he’s about to use on Panaro in the public square. Maybe that could be written off as an amazingly lucky coincidence, but, then again, there’s what happens in the final act in the dusty catacombs beneath the city when Scott goes to confront Marascalchi.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hit it, baby!’

Despite hating feminine beauty because of his deformity, the living god does keep a harem of young lovelies in his man cave. They seem to be under a spell of some sort, and their job is apparently just to play the drums! Anyway, when the forces of good invade their domain in the final scenes, these beauties revealed to be supernatural creatures of some sort, bringing down the roof by running about a bit and making coloured smoke appear. Weird. Especially as we never see them again afterwards. Marascalchi seems to have powers as well, making the floor collapse beneath some soldiers that are threatening him with spears. However, he seems to forget all about these abilities when he fights with Scott. The two clash with conventional weapons and then take part in an extended wrestling match. Scott even manages to hit him over the head with a table. Twice! It’s all a bit confusing really…

Scott made his film debut in ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955) as the replacement for Lex Barker in the long-running series about the exploits of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Lord Greystoke. Five more appearances in the part followed, including ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959), which remains one of the best of the Ape Man’s outings and also included a young Sean Connery in a significant supporting role. When his time in the jungle was up, Scott moved straight into Italian muscleman pictures with ‘Maciste contro il vampiro’ (1961) which was also known as ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ or ‘Samson vs the Vampires’ – take your pick. He’d starred in almost a dozen similar projects before he made it to Neri’s basement to face off against Marascalchi. Toward the end of his career, he finally got to play Hercules for real in the pilot for an aborted TV series that was later released to theatres as ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965).

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Your monstrous ugliness breeds monstrous hatred. Good! I can use your hate.’

Neri became a mainstay of cult cinema in the 1960s and beyond, with starring roles in many horror pictures and Giallo films after several featured supporting roles in the Eurospy genre. She’s probably best remembered as ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1972) or for Silvio Amadio’s ‘Amuck!’ (1972), but she always brought a quality of performance and natural screen presence to her roles, even if many of them were not deserving of her talents. Director Ferroni made some feature films in the 1940s but did a lot of documentary filmmaking before making a comeback with the visually impressive and strangely fascinating ‘Mill of the Stone Women’ (1960). Unfortunately, it seems that he never fulfiled the promise he displayed with that film, and it’s disappointing to see his name attached to a product like this.

The film was picked up for American distribution by Walter Manley productions but placing the blame for the cheating title at their door would be a mistake. The film’s original, Italian release title was ‘Ercole contro Moloc’ which literally translates as ‘Hercules Against Moloch’. The American print at least has the decency to place that in brackets after ‘The Conquest of Mycenae’ title, which, although it could be regarded as a bit of a spoiler, is far more accurate at least. However, little care was taken with the English dubbing; dialogue doesn’t match mouth movements in any respect and the voice acting is of a very poor quality. Panaro’s lines are delivered in a frightfully posh English accent that makes it sound like she’s been to a very exclusive finishing school and spends her days at garden parties thrashing the servants. It’s hilarious, of course, but it doesn’t help with serious investment in the story.

A minor footnote in the history of the Peplum film and precious little to do with Hercules.

Hercules in the Haunted World/Ercole al centro della Terra (1961)

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)‘Perhaps he is in his room far underground, which even a servant is not allowed to enter.’

Hercules returns home from his labours to claim a princess for his bride. However, he finds that she has been bewitched and the kingdom under threat from dark forces. The throne has been assumed by her uncle, who explains that he must travel to Hades to obtain a cure for her and undo the curse that afflicts the land…

Despite being a fairly terrible film, ‘Hercules’ (1957) had been a world-wide smash and kick-started a whole wave of Italian muscleman movies that were dubbed and shown in American theatres over the next decade. Some stuck pretty near to the formula of the first film; a grab-bag of mythological bits and pieces glued together by tatty SFX, terrible dubbing and a lead actor with the charisma of a fence post. Others just left out the mythology entirely and kept everything else. But there’s always one exception to the rule. In this case: ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961).

Director Mario Bava was a cinematographer and visual stylist, who had worked previously in the ‘sword and sandal’ genre and was coming off his first solo directorial gig; gothic horror classic ‘Black Sunday’ (1960) with Barbara Steele. He also had a family connection to the character and the story: his father, Eugenio, had worked on the design of Guido Brignone’s ‘Maciste In Hell’ (1925), the silent classic that featured the original Italian ‘Hercules’ character taking a trip to the land of the dead. Itno surprise, then, that Bava gets a joint story and screenplay credit with three other writers. Also taking further duty as his own cinematographer, this gave Bava considerable creative control of the film, and he was able to tailor it to his particular strengths and sensibilities.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

‘What kind of party did you say this was?’

Hercules (Reg Park) and Theseus (George Ardisson) are enjoying a little rest and relaxation after running their latest errand for the Gods. For Ardisson this means a tumble in an outdoor hayloft with dark-haired beauty Jocasta (Ely Drago), but Park isn’t playing around; he’s on his way back to home to wed the gorgeous Princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo). But all is not well in the kingdom. Without warning, they are attacked by a group of assassins. Park shrugs them off by throwing a wagon at them, and they run for the hills when they realise how they’re messing with. This opening scene helps to establish two important things. Firstly, there’s a healthy dose of humour in the film, something often lacking in the big man’s exploits on the big screen. Secondly, that Park’s default method of solving a problem is to throw something big at it. A wagon here, but it’s usually a rock.

When Park reaches the city, he finds that his old friend the King has passed away, but Ruffo has not assumed the throne. That position is in the hands of her uncle, Lico (Christopher Lee). He’s reluctantly assumed the responsibility because she is confused and bewildered, seemingly bewitched. Lee convinces Park that the only way he can sort things out is travel to the underworld and obtain a magic stone which will undo the spell. Unfortunately, the big lummox falls for it, even though the audience knows only too well that Lee is the bad guy here. After all, we saw him in his underground lair earlier when he summoned Ruffo from where she had been sleeping in what looks suspiciously like a coffin! She rises as if on a hinge in what was almost certainly a nod to Max Schreck’s appearance in the hold of the ship in F W Murnau’s iconic ‘Nosferatu’ (1922).

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

🎵 Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter…🎶

Park and Ardisson depart on their journey, getting saddled with comedy relief Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) on the way. Before they can enter Hades, though, they need to grab the golden apple of the Hesperides and tangle with the rock monster, Procrustes. And this is where Bava’s imagination and visual mastery really take over. Working with production designer Franco Lolli, he conjures up a striking vision of the underworld with a painter’s eye for detail and blending colour. Also, there’s a real sense of solidity to the sets which helps the atmosphere no end and is such a welcome change from the smooth fakery of CGI. Sure, some of the SFX have dated poorly (particularly the rock monster!) but, on the other hand, scenes where the dead rise from their tombs and battle Park are still striking and impressive today.

It’s all the more remarkable when you discover the budgetary constraints that Bava was working under. The palace set was a small stage with the director creating a sense of scale with just four pillars that he regularly moved around and sometimes resprayed. Occasionally, he was able to add a fifth with camera trickery! Similarly, one door stands in for every entrance that you see, Bava shooting with multiple angles and setups to create the illusion of a vast complex of rooms and chambers. Unless it’s pointed out, you would never notice. Bava also manages to evoke a sense of dread with these gloomy interiors that a lesser director would probably have neglected.

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)

‘Yo, she-bitch! Let’s go! ‘

On the other side of the scale is the story, which is nothing special and bears some evidence of late rewrites and revisions. While in the underworld, Ardisson falls in love with the goddess Persephone (Meiazotide in the original Italian cut). She’s played by Evelyn Stewart, billed under her real name of Ida Galli, and it’s interesting to speculate whether her character was a late addition to the film, or whether the part originally had far more screentime. As it is, her presence in certain scenes (or lack of it) doesn’t quite dovetail with the rest of the story’s events. But it’s a minor quibble when you consider the many delicious nods to Lee’s ‘Dracula’ persona. In one memorable moment, his face appears reflected in a pool of blood on the floor; in another, he leans over the unconscious Ruffo and directly into the camera. It’s a lot of fun to see the vampire iconography in a mythological setting and, of course, Lee is as charismatic as ever. Unfortunately, and despite reports to the contrary, he was not invited back to loop any of his dialogue so we are left with voice actors delivering his lines and, although they do a decent job, they can’t compete with his imperious tones.

The film was released in alternate versions in different territories, although the changes were not as significant as made to some of Bava’s other projects, such as ‘Black Sunday’ (1960) and ‘Black Sabbath’ (1960). The UK version was almost identical to the Italian version, although it was released under the title ‘Hercules In the Centre of the Earth’. Stateside, a corny and over-explanatory prologue was added featuring VoiceOver Woman and some repeated footage of the masked Oracle Medea (Gaia Germani) who appears later on. Thankfully, no other significant changes were made. Curiously, cult movie legend Rosalba Neri is credited with appearing in the film, although you’d be hard pressed to spot her! She certainly isn’t playing Helene, Ruffo’s companion, as is often credited. Apparently, in her early career, Neri sometimes sent one of her cousins along to fulfil her contracted acting obligations, so that may have been the case here!

Hercules In The Haunted World (1961)


This was Park’s second outing as the Greek Demi-god after ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis/Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide’ (1961) and it’s interesting to note the changes that Bava chose to make to the character. It’s almost as if this acts as a kind of prequel. In the earlier film, the big man was already married to the Princess Deianira (played by a different actress), and the two had an impetuous young man for a son. The character was also far more laidback and a little world-weary in his attitudes. Bava’s version is more of a young blade; quick to arms and action, although retaining the good-natured charisma that made Park probably the screen’s finest Hercules. Off the screen, he was a natural athlete and sportsman who, in later years, became a mentor to the young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ruffo had already played the Princess Deianira in an earlier version of the legend; the hopeless (but hilarious) ‘La vendetta di Ercole/Goliath and the Dragon’ (1960) with Mark Forest. She also went onto appear in another bad movie gem, the space opera trash fire of ‘2+5: Missione Hydra’ (1968). Ardisson signed on with Bava again for Viking adventure ‘Erik The Conquerer’ (1961). Patched-up horror ‘Katarsis’ (1963) with Lee followed, before a leading role in the far more effective chiller ‘The Long Hair of Death’ (1964). He returned to the mythological arena in the TV film ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965) and went onto grace several Eurospy and Giallo films as well as ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) cash-in ‘The Eyes Behind the Stars’ (1978).

A visual feast from a master filmmaker that has a few hokey aspects when viewed today, but otherwise remains a remarkably entertaining experience and a classic of its kind.

(This is a revised and expanded version of a post originally published on 15th January, 2015)