Goliath and the Masked Rider/Golia e il cavaliere mascheratio/Hercules and the Masked Rider (1963)

‘Could you prepare a love philtre for my fiancee? Make her change her stupid and arrogant behaviour.’

In 16th Century Spain, an evil Duke plans to take the lands of his wealthy neighbour by marriage or by force. A soldier in love with the prospective bride teams up with a gypsy bandit queen to thwart his evil scheme…

Pity poor Goliath! The strongman was only four movies into his screen career when he was relegated to a side character in this lacklustre swashbuckler. Director Piero Pierotti fails to inject any sense of dash or dynamism into this riff on the all-too-familiar exploits of one señor Zorro.

Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara) returns from the wars to find that things have taken a turn for the worse at the hacienda of his lady love, Dona Blanca (José Greci). Her father, Don Francisco (Renato Navarrini), has promised her hand to troublesome neighbour Don Ramiro (Arturo Dominici), who has threatened war. The young lovers can’t control their passion, and Palmara is banished while Dominici takes delight in torture and mayhem with his increasingly disillusioned right-hand man, Captain Belasco (Ettore Manni).

Palmara links up with red-haired bandit queen Estellla (Pilar Cansino) after fighting her henchman Goliath (Alan Steel) to a draw in hand to hand combat. She also has an axe to grind with Dominici, who was responsible for the death of her husband. Palmara dons a scarlet mask and cloak to become Zorro wannabee the Masked Rider, and events develop on entirely predictable lines. There’s even a scene where Palmara and the band intercept Dominici’s courier Don Ruiz (Tullio Altamura), when he’s bringing Greci gifts from the dastardly warlord. Unfortunately, Palmara is no Errol Flynn, and the woods north of Rome ain’t no Sherwood Forest. Yes, the film hits just about every story beat you expect in a way that lacks any significant interest.

So where does legendary muscleman Goliath fit into all this? Well, he is simply one of Cansino’s merry men. He takes part in the small scale battles with Dominici’s guards and has three or four short lines of unimportant dialogue. It’s pretty clear that the character’s been inserted for name value only, probably into a production conceived initially without him. What’s not surprising is that when the film was retitled for a stateside release, Goliath did his routine name change to Hercules.

Perhaps significantly, around the same time, Steel appeared as Maciste (the Italian version of Hercules) in Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Samson and the Slave Queen’ (1963), originally called ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ and was also set in 16th Century Spain! As the two films shared the same producer, Fortunato Misiano, and were shot around some of the same locations, it’s quite probable that Steel was asked to hang around after one film wrapped to appear in the other. Perhaps he was contracted for another couple of day’s work.

Steel, real name Sergio Ciani, had started his Peplum career with a couple of brief showings in films starring the original Hercules, Steve Reeves. His impressive physicality rewarded him with more prominent roles in ‘Samson’ (1960) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962), supporting American actor Brad Harris before he took up the reins of Maciste. After that, he went onto play Samson for real in ‘Sansone contro il corsaro nero’ (1964), Hercules for real in ‘Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma’ (1964), Maciste again, Samson again, Hercules again, and finally completed the full set as Ursus in ‘The Three Avengers/Gli invincibili tre (1964).

Dominici, who gives the best value here as the sneering villain, is probably familiar to most as the undead Igor in Mario Bava’s ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960) but had roles in many Peplum outings, including the original ‘Hercules’ (1957). Perhaps what’s most surprising is to see that director Pierrotti was on script duty with a couple of the mainstays of the Giallo thriller, which was to take Italian cinema by storm in the early 1970s. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi penned many of the best examples of that sub-genre, and Luciano Martino became well-known through his work as a producer with his brother Sergio usually in the director’s chair.

Little more than a lost footnote in the Peplum genre and the exploits of its musclebound heroes. Not worth your time unless you are a die-hard fan.

Goliath and the Rebel Slave/Goliath e la schiava ribelle/The Tyrant of Lydia Against the Son of Hercules/Arrow of the Avenger (1963)

‘I think you are the strongest and most unselfish man in the world.’

The opposing armies of Alexander the Great and his Persian enemies are camped on the frontiers of Lydia. The kingdom’s ruler plans to abscond with the contents of the royal treasury, so he sends emissaries to both camps as a distraction. The one chosen to visit Alexander is Lydian general and man of the people, the strongman Goliath…

More Peplum antics from Italy chasing the money wagon launched by Steve Reeves as ‘Hercules’ (1957). This film is the third in the short-lived ‘Goliath’ series, and here it’s former Tarzan Gordon Scott treading in the sandal prints of Reeves, who was in the first entry and Brad Harris, who’d appeared in the sequel.

The world is closing in on the city of Sardis. King Marcius (Massimo Serato) is already planning to jump ship while his generals and advisors have shouting matches in the throne room. Muscleman Goliath (Scott) is all for extending the olive branch to the noble Alexander (Gabriele Antonini), while his rival Artafernes (Mimmo Palmara) favours the Persians. It’s not a plot spoiler to reveal that Palmara, his Lady Macbeth, Zoé (Gloria Milland) and slimy politico Barbuk (Giuseppe Sortis) have already sold out everyone down the river to the Persians anyway.

Scott embarks on his quest while Serato busies himself rifling the royal coffers and placing the booty in a secret tunnel that leads out of the city. On the way to Alexander’s camp, Scott rescues blonde, blue-eyed Princess Corri (Ombretta Colli) by catching a team of runaway horses and stopping her stagecoach. OK, he actually fights off a gang of bandits that attack her caravan, but it’s the same difference—the two fall in love in the blink of a false eyelash and the twitch of a deltoid.

When he reaches the Macedonian tents, Scott finds that Antonini is indeed an honourable man and strikes a deal on behalf of his sovereign. However, he doesn’t know that Colli has reached Sardis in safety, and Serato likes what he sees, selling her on the idea of marriage to help protect the people. His wedding plans go south after a cup of poisoned wine, and Colli is accused of murder. It’s all a plot concocted by our villainous triumvirate, of course, and before you can shake a ceremonial spear, Palamara and Milland are firmly ensconced on neighbouring thrones, and Colli is on the execution list.

Director Mario Caiano’s film is a slightly unusual entry in the Peplum genre in that he chooses to emphasise character and plot over action in the first two acts of the film. This would be a welcome change of pace were it not for the fact that the audience is unlikely to care. All the story developments are signposted well in advance, and the characters are nothing more than the usual hero/villain archetypes. The love story between Scott and Corri is soppy and dull, and the entire cast struggles to make anything out of Gian Paolo Callegari and Albert Valentin’s lifeless script. Serato does seem to be having fun, but he’s gone too soon.

Scott usually infused his heroes with some humour and humanity, but here he just seems to be sleepwalking through his dialogue, although he perks up a bit for the action when it arrives. If you’re thinking that Scott had already tackled the role of Goliath twice before in ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ (1961) and ‘Goliath – King of the Slaves’ (1963), then that’s understandable but you’d be wrong. In the first film, he played legendary hero Maciste, and in the second, a character called Nippur, the original title of the film translating as ‘The Hero of Babylon’. In a similar free translation, the ‘Goliath’ in this film became a ‘Son of Hercules’ when the movie hit American shores.

Also appearing in the film are the Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls ticking off a gig at the Royal Court of Sardis in their never-ending tour and some long shots of big battles scenes, appearing courtesy of another movie. But perhaps this film’s finest moments occur after the escape of Corri and her handmaiden, played by Lea Lander. The two swap dresses to throw off the soldiers that pursue them, and the patrol duly picks up Lander and takes her back to the palace, leaving Corri free. This would be a plausible development if Corri were not a blonde in a white dress and Lander a jet-black brunette in blue, and the soldiers hadn’t had a clear view of them before they swapped outfits.

A sadly lacklustre Peplum adventure. Perhaps it’s not too much of a surprise that the next film in the series reduced Goliath to almost a bystander in his own movie.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)‘In all my life, I have never witnessed a more frightening spectacle.’

As he lays dying, a murdered king charges two of his subjects to find his old friend, Hercules. The kingdom and his daughter are now at the mercy of his unscrupulous nephew, and there is no-one else he trusts to safeguard their future. The legendary hero comes running, but he finds himself pitted against black magic and a group of mythical golden giants…

Dan Vadis returns after ‘Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l’invincibile (1964) to flex his considerable muscle and battle the forces of darkness for director Alberto de Martino and cinematographer-producer Pier Ludovico Pavoni. Pleasingly, the film retains the mythological aspects employed in Vadis’ first outing, and this helps make the viewing experience more enjoyable than some of the other films in the unofficial series.

The story begins in the thick of the action. Soldiers loyal to the King’s nephew, Milo (Pierre Cressoy) are busy raising a village to the ground, but their fun is short-lived when the monarch himself makes the scene. King Pandeone (Gaetano Quartararo) is not amused by Cressoy’s antics and exiles him from the kingdom, only to find himself at the business end of a spear, courtesy of a nod from his brother’s son. With his dying breath, Quartararo charges villager Erlone (Jacques Stany) to fetch Hercules. Stany finds Vadis on the banks of the Hellespont where he’s building a temple to Hera. The big man is happy to answer the villager’s call for help; after all, it doesn’t look like he’s getting very far with his construction project.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

‘These Olympic exhibition events just keep getting weirder…’

Meanwhile, like all naughty little boys, Cressoy has gone to ‘fess up to mum, Pasiphae, played by Moira Orfei. However, as she lives in a cave and is a mistress of the Black Arts, she’s not inclined to be too harsh on the poor lad. Instead, she helps him out with a present; a sacred knife that can summon the Seven Sons of Juno’s sister. These guys may not be sparkling conversationalists but they are handy in a scrap and are certainly trendsetters with their bald heads and all-over gold paint jobs. But first Cressoy has to keep up appearances, so he organises a tournament where the kingdom’s mightiest warriors can compete for the hand of the late King’s daughter, the Princess Ate (Marilù Tolo).

Things start well for Cressoy, with his lieutenant Gordio (Howard Ross) making the early running, but then he’s challenged by arrogant visiting Prince Abdur (Pietro Capanna). The two face-off and fight in a pretty unique chariot vs horse match-up within the small arena. This proves to be the most exciting sequence in the picture, and the action is still impressive by today’s standards. It’s especially remarkable, given that it’s clear that the two actors are doing the vast majority of the stunt work. Sure, doubles may have been employed for the long shots, but there’s little doubt that it’s Capanna and Ross who are displaying considerable skills of driving and horsemanship. It looks genuinely dangerous when you bear in mind that the health and safety precautions were probably somewhat less than stringent.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

🎵 Purple Haze in my brain… 

Despite this exciting exhibition, the mourning Tolo looks like she’d rather be anywhere else, but then Vadis turns up to fight the winner. A few words from our silver-tongued slab of muscle and she suddenly perks right up, particularly when he saves her life from an attack by deadly rubber spikes during their joint lap of honour. The subsequent drama revolves around possession of the sacred knife and the ability to unleash the golden giants. Naturally, Vadis goes up against them a couple of times, and the actor had to do his own stunts as there was apparently no-one large enough to double for him! Thankfully, he acquits himself very well, and the fights are surprisingly well designed and executed. Vadis also seems far more comfortable with dialogue than in his previous appearance in the role, and the clean-shaven face was a wise grooming choice.

The English dub seems typically confused about whether this is the Roman or Greek incarnation of the mythical muscleman; one minute he’s hanging out at the Hellespont (Greek), the next he’s the son of Jove (Roman). It also refers more than once to the seven golden warriors, although there only seems to be six of them. It’s fair to speculate that the film may have had a lower budget than previous entries in the series. The sets are on a smaller scale, and there are fewer extras to populate them. Still, director de Martino keeps things moving at a brisk pace and delivers a reasonable level of action and adventure.

The attempts to cure her insomnia were getting a little out of hand…

Unlike many of his type, Vadis managed a reasonable roll of credits after the craze for muscles had passed. Regular appearances in Spaghetti Westerns led to a supporting role in ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973) and further Clint Eastwood projects such as ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977) and ‘Any Which Way You Can’ (1980), among others. He even featured on an episode of hit network TV show ‘Starsky and Hutch.’ Most of Tolo’s first leading roles were in ‘sword and sandal’ flicks, possibly because of her passing resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor who starred in ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) around that time. More than Vadis, however, she went onto a varied and prolific film career. She took the female leads in Eurospy pictures ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965), ‘To Skin A Spy/Avec la peau des autres’ (1966) and ‘The Big Blackout’ (1966) and followed those with Giallo films such as ‘Trumpets of the Apocalypse/Murder By Music’ (1969), ‘Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast it’ (1970), and ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972). She also worked on one of horror maestro Mario Bava’s excursions into the Old West – ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) – and with Richard Burton on ‘Bluebeard’ (1972). She also starred in many other Italian movies of the period before retiring in the mid-1980s.

A slight cut above the usual muscleman antics and the last of the Italian Hercules cycle of any real quality.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l’invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)‘Who has thrown my soldier into the pit of slime?’

Out for a quiet afternoon stroll, Hercules saves an innocent young maiden from a rampaging lion. Local custom usually dictates that he can marry the girl in such circumstances, but she’s a Princess, and her father demands that he slay a dragon before he will consent to the match…

The twelfth entry in the Italian cycle featuring the legendary hero Hercules finds his labours handed to Dan Vadis, and producer-director duties given to cinematographer Alvaro Mancori billed as Al World. Although the heyday of the muscleman craze had obviously passed, the film still boasts decent production values and professional execution.

After carrying out some casual tree surgery, Vadis is wandering about the forest when he’s alerted to danger by the screams of the pretty young Teica (Spela Rozin). She’s nipped off for a quick skinny dip in a nearby river, only to find there’s a roaring lion on hand to break up the party. Quite why she’s so scared is a bit of a mystery (are lions good swimmers?), but Vadis weighs in anyway and strangles the beast to death with his bare hands. The action is quite neatly accomplished, although it does highlight the problem of Vadis’ hair colour. Sometimes it’s light and bleached; at other times it’s almost black. It was probably an attempt to match up with his fight double, but why not get the stuntman to change his hair? And the little blonde beard he sports was probably not the best idea.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘Take the first left past the temple and the second right past the Cyclops cave and you can’t miss it…’

Anyway, Vadis recuperates from his wounds in the local village and gets a visit from King Tedaeo (Ugo Sasso) and his entourage. Sasso explains the local custom and why Vadis doesn’t qualify as his son-in-law unless he takes care of that pesky dragon that’s been bringing down real estate values in the local neighbourhood. Vadis and Rozin are in love, of course, and the big man readily agrees. The original version of the film may have established a passage of time by this point, however, in the dubbed version it appears to be almost immediately afterwards. This makes the couple’s devotion to each other ridiculously sudden and unconvincing. To be fair, killing a lion with your bare hands and saving her life is quite probably a swift way to a young girl’s heart, but I can’t see it working for most men as a romantic technique.

So, after accepting the hand of Rozin as a bribe (you really do have to question Sasso’s parenting skills!), Vadis is off to see the local Prophetess (Olga Sobelli, billed as Sand Beanty!). She informs him where the dragon’s at, gives him a magic spear to kill it and mentions the powers of the beast’s tooth, which she wants for herself. Having already got the weapon, he blows her off and leaves with her curses ringing his ears. Vadis dispatches the beast and harvests the bicuspid in question, even though there is a distinct possibility that the creature is appearing courtesy of another film. After all, not many dragons have a golden fleece as part of their home furnishings.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘You must tell me the name of your hairdresser.’

But, as in most films of this kind, there’s more than one task on the hero’s job list. While he’s away killing the dragon, the village is raised to the ground by warlord Kebaol (Ken Clark), and Sasso and Rozin are taken to the kingdom of the evil Queen Etel (Carla Calò). Hooking up with sole survivor of the massacre, and cowardly comic relief, Barbar (Jon Simons), Vadis must journey there to save his beloved and bring about the end of Calò’s reign of terror.

Yes, this is just another reworking of very familiar story elements from films of this kind, but there are a few variations. Of course, there are a lot of slaves who need liberating, we see the ‘lost city’ dancing girls on their never-ending tour, and Calò has built her residence inside an active volcano (how did she get the necessary permits?).

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

The Javelin final had reached a crucial stage…

However, her only initial interest in our musclebound hero is having him torn apart by elephants in the arena (or in the throne room, actually; I guess it does double-duty). She does warm up to him after he saves her life though (guys, it always works!) but, just as predictably, he’s not interested. Why? Because she doesn’t ‘have eyes the colour of periwinkles’! (Kudos to the US dubbing crew for that one!). Everything ends in the predictable boiling cauldron of liquified strawberry jam (sorry, hot lava), but the audience is likely to experience more fun getting there than with most of the other entries in the series.

This certainly isn’t a very high-quality piece of storytelling, but it is more fun than a lot of its contemporaries. Vadis certainly looks the part and is decent in the action scenes, although he does look amiably bemused in a lot of the dialogue exchanges. I guess there could have been a language barrier with the Italian cast and crew? He signed on for ‘Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole’ (1964) nevertheless. The most interesting aspect of the story probably revolves around Simons’ comedy relief. Yes, he’s incredibly annoying in the early stages and remains clumsy and nervous throughout but, by the last act, he’s engaged with the action and performing an active part on the side of the angels. Not often the comic relief gets a character arc in any kind of film!

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘Blimey, I could just murder a pint right now…’

Vadis was of Greek descent; born in China under the name of Constantine Daniel Vafiadis. He’d served in the US Navy was a member of Mae West’s ‘Muscleman Revue’ in the late 1950s, before breaking into film with the assistance of fellow bodybuilder Gordon Mitchell. After the strongman films petered out, he transitioned into Spaghetti Westerns and later was a familiar face in small roles in some of Clint Eastwood’s big hits of the 1970s, including ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977), ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ (1978) and ‘Bronco Billy’ (1980). The work dried up after that, and he was found dead in his car in the desert in June 1987 after an accidental drug overdose.

There wasn’t a great deal of life left in the Italian muscleman genre by this point, but this is still an undemanding and vaguely enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

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, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)‘A man who is impassioned by a beauty like yours is a foolish one indeed.’

A monstrous sea beast is attacking boats and murdering the fishermen of Ithaca. Legendary strongman Hercules and a crew of brave warriors track down the creature during a storm and kill it but are shipwrecked on a strange shore. While attempting to reach the nearest seaport to obtain a new ship, the comrades are taken prisoner by the authorities when Hercules is mistaken for the rebel Samson, who has a price on his head…

More of the further adventures of the Greek muscleman and champion of justice. This series entry came courtesy of writer-director Pietro Francisci, who had helped to send the ‘sword and sandal’ movie global by unleashing Steve Reeves as ‘Hercules’ (1958). After that film became an international sensation, the Italian film industry went Peplum crazy, churning out more than 50 similar adventures over the next half dozen years featuring not only Hercules, but identikit heroes like Samson, Maciste, Goliath and Ursus. The same actors often played more than one of these characters and, to confuse things even more, nearly all the movies were rebranded with the ‘Hercules’ name when released in the United States. However, this one is the real deal.

Hercules (Kirk Morris, real name Adriano Bellini) is perfectly content hanging around at the court of the King of Ithaca. He spends his time chucking the discus about, hanging with young friend Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico) and making whoopee with his beautiful wife, Leria (Diletta D’Andrea). But there’s something rotten in the state of Ithaca, or at least offshore, and it’s not dodgy tax havens patronised by the greedy super-rich. No, this is a more tangible blot on the seascape. When the locals turn up at court with another tale of a murdered fisherman, Morris takes action, asking for a ship, a crew and a star to sail her by. D’Andrea is not pleased, believing that it’s just an excuse for Morris to go off on more of his tiresome adventures, but Morris adamant: Moby Dick is going down.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!’

Unfortunately, things go a bit pear-shaped when Morris and his merry men catch up with the creature. Morris manages to snag it with a harpoon, but it’s not the monster that’s the problem, it’s the weather. And it’s this scene which tells us what kind of ‘Hercules’ film we’re going to get. We don’t see anything of the monster but a shadow in the water and the raging storm is just a meteorological phenomenon, not the work of the Gods. Mythological elements are entirely absent from this story which ties in with the tale of the biblical strongman, Samson, instead. Of course, it’s the goofier aspects of these films which are their most entertaining aspect today, so this is not particularly good news.

The stranded Morris and his companions begin their cross-country trek with just one aim in mind: getting back home. Luckily, Cerusico managed to save the carrier pigeons they’d brought along as a precaution, so they can still send messages back home. This plot device leads to several scenes of D’Andrea and the court receiving these avian telegrams which, although they do allow for the Ithacans to make a last-minute appearance as the cavalry, are pretty much just there to pad out the running time. Meanwhile, Morris has strangled a lion and been misidentified as rebel Samson (Iloosh Khoshabe, billed here as Richard Lloyd). This means trouble with the local authorities, specifically King Seren of the Philistines (Aldo Giuffrè) whose men have burned a local village and killed the populace in an earlier scene. Although not graphic, that sequence is surprisingly nasty, with men and women crucified to the front of their houses before everything burns.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

‘I do think t’s time you had a haircut, dear…’

The real power behind the throne, though, is Giuffrè’s man-eating queen, Delilah (Liana Orfei). She persuades her king to send Morris after Khoshabe with his crew held behind as hostages, thus setting up the battle that we’ve all come to see. Of course, she goes along for the ride so that she can make a move on our hero, but he’s having none of it. After all, he’s a married man! The fight between Morris and Khoshabe does prove to be one of the high points of the film. The two go at it in the ruins of a deserted temple and, yes, the slabs and stones don’t look like they have all that much weight, but it’s still a fun sequence. Francisci choses to shoot from low angles as well; a clever idea as it emphasises the size and stature of the protagonists. In terms of action, it’s only rivalled by the climactic temple collapse during the big finish.

There is nothing particularly special about this entry into the Hercules catalogue. Morris has the looks and physicality for the title character but brings little to the role in terms of personality. This was a switch of roles for him as his previous filming assignment had been his second appearance as Samson in ‘Sansone contro i pirati/Samson Against the Pirates’ (1963). He’d also played Maciste three times by this point, once in another crossover movie ‘Hercules in the Valley of Woe’ (1961). But the acting honours here definitely belong to Orfei, who play seductive and sexy one minute and penitent and pleading the next when the tables have turned. We can certainly see why Khoshabe starts thinking with his trousers, rather than his head. Although it’s probably not a relationship with much of a future if the bible is an accurate record.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

‘We got shipwrecked killing a sea monster. Have you got a phone we could use?’

Everything here is workmanlike and professional enough, but, without the mythological elements, it’s nothing to write home about. The action is competently staged, there’s some scale to the battle scenes, and the landscape is appropriately barren and desolate. Look closely, however, and you can’t help but notice that the Philistine soldiers are wearing what appear to be German helmets from World War II. Khoshabe also throws a lot of spears, their flights accompanied by ever-weirder sound effects, which may have been added when the film was assembled for US release. Francisci only directed twice more, but one of those projects was the wonderfully silly ‘2+5: Missione Hydra’ (1968) which makes up for in giggles what it lacks in every other department.

All in all, a very standard sword and sandal adventure that’s unlikely to live long in the memory.

Fury of Hercules/La furia di Ercole (1962)

The Fury of Hercules (1962)‘Without violence, power gives no satisfaction.’

Hercules arrives at the city of Arpad to find that his old friend, the King, has passed away. His daughter now rules but she has become fixated on building a high wall around the city. Her chief advisor has indulged this obsession and enslaved the populace to complete the project while he strengthens his grip on power…

The ninth in the loose cycle of muscleman films featuring the demi-god that came out of Italy in the late 1950s and early 60s, riding the coat-tails of the international success of ‘Hercules’ (1958) starring Steve Reeves. This time around US actor Brad Harris sports a nifty beard and toga in the title role and brings the requisite physical presence. However, the results are tired and predictable with director Gianfranco Parolini bringing nothing new to the party.

After being waylaid by apparent bandits on the road, Hercules (Harris) rides his chariot into Arpad to visit the King. He’s immediately confronted by a hostile captain of the guard who needs some form of identification. Luckily, a couple of utility bills and a driving licence are not required as the big man averts an accident at the walls nearby when a building block almost falls on the men working there. As a guest at the court of Queen Cnidia (Mara Berni), he soon realises that all is not well in the city. The real power behind the throne is the silver-tongued chief advisor, Menistus (Serge Gainsbourg) who has levied the usual unreasonable taxes on the populace to fill his own pockets. He’s also put any dissenting voices to work on the building site under the whip.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘Do you come here often?’

The state of the union doesn’t sit well with Harris, particularly when the innocent Mila (Irena Prosen) is accused of treason and condemned to death. Mitigation of the sentence is only possible if a champion appears at her execution and undergoes three dangerous trials on her behalf. This is the big man’s bread and butter, of course, and he’s lowered into a pit to face a sleepy lion, followed by a man in a gorilla suit, who gives Harris a surprising amount of bother. Finally, he defeats a gladiator above ground in front of an appreciative crowd. It transpires that Prosen is the daughter of the local rebel leader, Eridione (Carlo Tamberlani), and, of course, it’s not long before Harris is allied with their cause.

Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that this film hits all the expected targets with such dull and lifeless precision. After all, besides vehicles starring Hercules, there had already been about another dozen features with identikit musclemen such as Maciste, Goliath, Ursus and Samson. So it was inevitable that a formula would arise pretty quickly in such circumstances to keep up with the pace of production. Unfortunately, Parolini’s effort sticks so close to established conventions that the results are drained of any real interest.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘You want another take?’

There are no mythological elements either, so all that remains are just the usual story beats. Queen Berni falls hard for Harris and/or his muscles, but he fancies handmaiden Daria (Luisella Boni, billed as Brigitte Corey) instead. She’s Tamberlani’s daughter, of course, which gives the big man a personal stake in the rebellion. The ‘in-court entertainment’ is provided by the usual troupe of dancing girls in gauzy costumes, although, on this occasion, they are played by the Zagreb Opera Ballet! Arpad’s unlikely to become a recurring list on their tour itinerary, though, what with their act ending with an assassination attempt. There’s also a scene where Harris turns back a herd of rampaging elephants in the best Johnny Weismuller tradition. Umgawa, indeed.

Harris shines brightest in the action and combat scenes, appearing appropriately daring and heroic as he cuts a swathe through Gainsbourg’s men. These include Sergio Ciani, who went onto play Hercules several times himself, under the name of Alan Steel. The climactic battle scene outside the palace is staged on a reasonably large scale; it’s just a shame that the film itself is so lacking in any personality. There is an effort made to show the rebel group as a happy, loving community as a contrast to the selfish, dour city dwellers, but it’s half-baked at best. Also, the attempts to interest us in the fates of various side characters come over as feeble when there’s been insufficient effort to establish their characters in the first place.

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

‘Those dancing girls can sure do the Mashed Potato.’

This was Harris’ sole appearance as the legendary demi-god, but he had already flexed his muscles in the title role of the suspiciously similar ‘Samson’ (1961). He re-teamed with director Parolini for the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy series opposite Tony Kendall and with both actor and director as one of ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). Those later roles provided him with far more opportunity as an actor, and he was able to bring a lighter touch to them, mostly as a foil for Kendall. They also allowed him to show off his martial arts skills in fight scenes that he often choreographed himself. Over two decades later, he appeared briefly in Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Hercules’ (1983) starring Lou Ferrigno. On the face of it, this might appear to be a clever cameo, but it was probably just as much a matter of convenience as anything else. Both actors had gone straight into that production from ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) in which Harris had a far more substantial role.

‘Sulk all you like, I’m not doing that record with you!’

And, yes, that is French singer-songwriter and hitmaker Serge Gainsbourg, the man behind the controversial hit ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’ which he released in 1969 as a duet with Jane Birkin. Although principally known as a musical artist outside his native country, he also had an acting career, one of his earliest roles being an appearance with Harris in ‘Samson’ (1961). Later credits were appropriately eclectic, considering his roles in multiple aspects of cultural media. There was unusual superhero satire ‘Mr Freedom’ (1968), a part in Jerry Lewis’ still unseen ‘The Day the Clown Cried’ (1972), and a role as a police inspector in Antonio Margheriti’s offbeat Giallo ‘Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye’ (1973), which reunited him with Birkin.

An uninvolving, desperately unoriginal Peplum which develops on well-travelled lines, but does deliver its action sequences efficiently enough.

Ulisse contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules (1962)

Ulisss contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules (1962)‘Tomorrow my subjects will tear you with their claws. After that, your bodies will be exposed on the branches of the sacred oak.’

Ulysses has offended the Gods by blinding the cyclops, Polyphemus. Hercules is tasked with bringing him to account, but the demi-god has his own issues. The love of his life is about to be forced into marriage with the despicable Prince Adrasto…

The eighth in the loose cycle of ‘Hercules’ films that emerged from Italy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This one comes courtesy of writer-director Mario Caiano. For a change, it (mostly) avoids the goofier aspects of the muscleman genre to deliver a straightforward adventure that’s crammed full of an unlikely amount of plot and lots, and lots, of action.

Hercules (Mike Lane) is not a happy demi-god. True love Princess Elena (Alessandra Pinaro) is about to be married off to Prince Adrasto (Raf Baldassarre) after his father helped save the kingdom of Ircano. Although that doesn’t sound so unreasonable in a way, it’s more like blackmail, and Pinaro only has eyes for Lane, rather than the nasty Baldassarre. To make matters worse, Lane is ordered by the Gods to take the adventurous Ulysses (Georges Marchal) back to serve the cyclops he blinded. A not unreasonable action on the sailor’s part when you consider that the monster was eating his crew!

Ulisss contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules (1962)

‘He’s not with me, you know.’

After some model boat action in a nearby bathtub, our two heroes are shipwrecked on a desolate shore and Lane captures Marchal. But our dynamic duo ends up at the mercy of the Queen of the Bird People (a stunning Dominique Boschero in a dress seemingly made entirely of feathers) who plans to sacrifice them to a giant vulture. But, of course, she can’t resist the charms of our gallant heroes, so decides to marry one of them instead. Only she can’t choose, so they have to fight to the death first!

Later on, Marchal escapes but ends up in the hands of the sadistic Lagos (Gianni Santuccio), King of the Cave Dwellers, a bunch of mutant misfits in cheap rubber masks. This makes for some excellent comedy as Santuccio’s potentate is quite a few lightning bolts short of a thunderstorm, and the actor looks to be having a lot of fun with his demented role. This reaches a high point when he demands Marchal make him a pair of wings so that he can fly and swoop down on his enemies. Predictably, the test flight is not an unbridled success.

Ulisss contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules (1962)

‘If she’s your kind of bird, go ahead, mate.’

All this is a decent amount of fun, with Caiano’s pacy script filled with interesting characters and incident. The swordplay is energetic, if bloodless, and the action scenes are laudably large-scale, even if the notion of battle tactics don’t seem to have reached the shores of Ancient Greece. The Cave Dwellers are mostly polite enough to attack Lane one at a time, though, so they were obviously conversant with basic filmmaking tradition and tropes.

What really adds to the entertainment value is the easy chemistry between our two male leads. Caiano is careful never to give one character priority over the other and has written them as distinct if not complicated personalities. Marchal is the thinker with the silver-tongue, Lane the more reserved and physical. This dynamic works particularly well in the film’s first half where Lane is permanently grouchy, unhappy at losing his chance at happiness with Pinaro while Marchal is far more upbeat. This plays well into the strengths of both actors, as Marchal was the one with the brighter presence and acting chops, while Lane was the one with the far more limited screen experience. The script offers them no great barbs of wit or exchanges of clever dialogue, but they still make for an appealing partnership.

Ulisss contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules (1962)

🎵 I believe I can fly…🎶

In the US this film was included in the TV package ‘The Sons of Hercules’ (complete with stirring theme song), and this is the mostly easily accessible version available for viewing today. There is one major cut; an approximately six minute sequence at the halfway point where Marchal is captured by the Cave Dwellers, but the only other significant change is a prologue that features VoiceOver Man. He solemnly explains that our musclebound hero is one of the ‘Sons of Hercules’ who fights for truth, justice and whatnot. What’s his name? Heracles. Which is actually the original Greek name for Hercules. There are also a few references in the dub mentioning that he is the son of Jupiter. Not Zeus. Which is interesting because Jupiter was a Roman God.

It’s no surprise than some of the fight scenes contain wrestling moves as the 6ft 8” Lane was a professional in the square ring in the 1950s, both as a grappler and with the boxing gloves. As an actor, he got his big break playing pugilist Toro Moreno in Humphrey Bogart’s final film The Harder They Fall’ (1956). He also played Boris Karloff’s creation in the wretched attempt to update Mary Shelley’s work that was Frankenstein ’70′ (1958). Marchal had a lengthy career in European cinema and often acted in the films directed by his friend, Luis Bunuel, including the famous Belle de Jour’ (1967). The more eagle-eyed viewer may also spot Raffaella Carrà in the cast. She became an Italian national institution over the following years as a TV host, singer and entertainer. She even had a UK hit single in 1976 with the Euro-tastic anthem ‘Do It, Do It Again.’ 

Ulisss contro Ercole/Ulysses vs Hercules/Ulysses Against Hercules (1962)

‘Do you know the Funky Chicken?’

Boschero appeared memorably as the self-appointed ‘Queen of the World’ in the ridiculously enjoyable The Fantastic Argoman/Incident In Paris’ (1967) and also in Eurospy shenanigans Secret Agent Fireball’ (1965) and Fury In Marrakesh’ (1966). In the following decade, parts in Giallo films included The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971), All The Colors of the Dark’ (1972) and a more substantial role in Who Saw Her Die?’ (1972). Writer-director Caiano’s future included directing muscleman Mark Forest as Maciste, gladiators di Sparta’ (1964), gothic horror Nightmare Castle’ (1965) with Barbara Steele, Eurospy ‘Spies Strike Silently’ (1966) and Giallo ‘Eye In The Labyrinth’ (1972), as well as numerous Spaghetti Westerns.

The lack of the cheesier elements of the Peplum genre makes this less of a giggle than many of its contemporaries. Instead, the film proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable, high-spirited adventure.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)‘Put on your show in a place like Gorgonzola. They won’t mind the smell.’

Two washed-up fight promoters overhear a scientist talking about his time machine. Seeing a chance to clean up by betting on future sports events, they use the device, only to end up in Ancient Greece where they tangle with sorcery and legendary heroes…

Silly, knockabout comedy which may not quite qualify as an outright spoof of the muscleman craze ignited by Steve Reeves’ ‘Hercules’ (1958) but certainly takes some affectionate jabs at the genre. It’s a measure of how popular these pictures
had become in such a short time that the Italian public was obviously prepared to accept their legendary heroes getting the same treatment that Abbott and Costello dished out to the iconic Universal Monsters in the post-war years.

Things are not going well for wheeler-dealers Rusteghin (Raimondo Vianello) and Comendatore (Mario Carotenuto). Local investors are more than a little unimpressed by their latest venture: an evening of midget wrestling. Facing mounting debts, and some angry dwarfs, the hapless team seem out of ideas until they overhear a conversation in the street about a time machine. A little housebreaking later and they’re going ‘back to the future’ to check out next week’s race results. Unfortunately, the resulting trip plunges then into the dim and distant mythological past. Oh, and it also sends them a few hundred miles from Milan to Mycenae in Greece!

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

‘I’m not sure about the flux capacitor on this…’

Landing outside the Imperial Palace, they are immediately arrested and taken before King Eurysteus (Gino Buzzanca). This monarch is more concerned with marrying Princess Dejanira (the lovely Liana Orfei) than anything so inconvenient as ruling the kingdom and fancies his chance now that her boyfriend Hercules (Frank Gordon) is missing in action. The legendary strongman is off dealing with a pesky cyclops who has been ravaging the countryside and has kidnapped two bumbling fishermen (Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia) to be a light snack before lunch. Thinking that the time travellers are friends of the legendary hero, Buzzanca orders them thrown in the alligator pit, but Orfei rescues them in the nick of time.

After a failed escape, our less than dynamic duo are set to be human torches but win the King’s favour by curing his toothache and teaching his prim and proper dancing girls the Cha-Cha-Cha! (One of the film’s few amusing moments). The downside to their sudden success is that our merry monarch wants a champion who can defeat the returning Gordon and thinks that they can deliver one. After failing in their efforts to train the local talent, Vianello and Carotenuto go on the lam where they run into the sulky Maciste (Kirk Morris) who is trying fight off the unwelcome attentions of bumbling sorceress Circe (Bice Valori). Our heroes hatch a cunning plan to match the two strongmen against each other in the ring and regain their time machine during the fight but, predictably enough, things don’t go according to plan.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

Don’t get too excited, there’s less than five minutes of the film left…

This knockabout farce is a harmless enough experience, but the negative aspects on display do outweigh the positives by quite a wide margin. There just aren’t many laughs in Marcello Marchesi and Vittorio Metz’s predictable script with few surprises and little invention. The central conceit of a battle between the two legendary heroes is barely realised at all. Morris is almost wholly sidelined, which is ironic considering that he’d just played the role in to box office success in ‘Il trionfo di Maciste/The Triumph of Maciste’ (1961). More outings in the part followed for Morris over the next couple of years, as well as starring appearances as both Samson and Hercules in other projects!

The film’s only real energy and fun comes from Valori’s turn as the amorous (but incompetent) sorceress who has a serious complex about being shorter than her slave girls. There are occasional other amusing moments, such as Vianello and Carotenuto re-inventing the wheel (the Greeks having favoured a ‘square’ design) and the occasional cut to a ‘newscaster’ (Riccardo Paladini) who keeps us up to date with the hot stories in the empire. It’s is a pleasantly surreal touch, if a little out of place.

Maciste Against Hercules In The Vale of Woe/Maciste contro Ercole nella valle dei guai/Hercules in the Valley of Woe (1961)

‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the tallest of them all?’

Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia went onto comedy superstardom as ‘Franco & Ciccio’ in their native Italy with the result that this film is often referred to as one of their comedy vehicles, but that’s not the case, despite their top billing when the film was reissued. This was only their fourth film together, and they are strictly supporting characters here, with their familiar schtick not quite perfected. In other words, Ciccio hadn’t watched quite enough Jerry Lewis movies yet. The duo went on to face off against Vincent Price in Mario Bava’s ‘Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs’ (1966) and a joint film career that stretched right the way until 1984 and eventually comprised over 100 features!

A weak attempt at mining comedy gold from the Italian muscleman genre that manages a couple of mildly amusing moments.

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)