Hercules (1983)

Hercules (1983)‘lt spits cosmic rays of deadly fire! Do you know what that means?’

Zeus bestows superhuman strength and intelligence on the infant Hercules. When he reaches manhood, he finds himself being used as a pawn in the power games of the goddess Hera and her mortal follower, King Minos, who ordered his parents slain when he was still a child…

An enjoyable retelling of the legend of Heracles (Hercules to you and me) directed by Italian Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates). Television’s ‘Incredible Hulk’, Lou Ferrigno takes the title role, and the movie was a product of Cannon Films, who were owned by cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They invested heavily in the home video market of the 1980s, and the shelves of many a high street rental store were packed with tapes of their often less than stellar productions.

This film begins (as all films should) with the creation of the universe, which was apparently caused by pieces of Pandora’s exploding jar. The gods have taken up residence on the moon (roomier than Mount Olympus, I guess) where Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli) holds court with the scheming Hera (Rossana Podestà) and goody-two-shoes Athena (the wide-eyed Delia Boccardo). By ‘holding court’ I mean they stand around and talk about the fate of humanity. Apparently, the race is facing its ‘hour of decision’ between good and evil, and Boccardo is concerned that the struggle is an uneven one. At her suggestion, Cassinelli attempts to redress the balance by bestowing an infant prince with the power of light which will give him a body ‘forged in the furnace of a thousand suns’ when he grows up.

Hercules (1983)

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

And it’s not a moment too soon! A few seconds later, the youngster’s royal parents are butchered in a palace coup by the forces of the evil Minos (William Berger) and his sexy daughter Adriana (Sybil Danning). Thanks to a loyal servant, the child escapes the bloodshed but is cast adrift in an open boat. Cassinelli lends a helping hand (literally, thanks to some ropey SFX) and that doesn’t sit well with Podestà. She uses her animated finger lightning to set a sea creature on the child, but he tears it apart (with his strangely adult hands!)

Fast forward via an hourglass spinning in space and the little brat has grown into the massively muscular Hercules (Ferrigno) while Berger has somehow aligned himself with Podestà. Ferrigno knows nothing of his past, but Berger is fully clued up and summons Daedalus (Eva Robins) from Chaos (which is somewhere beyond time and space apparently) to help out. I’ve no idea who she is, but she certainly rocks a golden headpiece with bat-wing ears. Robins probably should have had a word with the wardrobe department about the rest of her ensemble, though. Anyway, she sends stop motion mechanical toys after Ferrigno which grow to giant size in Earth’s atmosphere (because of …science), and one of them kills his adoptive mother before he can chuck a pole at it.

Hercules (1983)

‘Does my bum look big in this?’

Searching for answers, Ferrigno enters a contest of strength to select a champion for King Augeias (third-billed Brad Harris in a one-scene cameo). The prize? To escort the lovely Princess Cassiopeia (Ingrid Anderson) to Athens. Of course, Ferrigno wins and completes a couple of tasks, or labours if you will, along the way. Just as predictably, Ferrigno and Anderson spar for a couple of minutes and then fall in love. But Ferrigno is betrayed by royal lackey Dorcon (Yehuda Efroni) and thrown into the sea wrapped in chains. When he breaks free, he runs into sorceress Circe (Mirella D’Angelo) whose youth and beauty he inadvertently revives by providing her with ten drops of his blood. In return, she answers a lot of his questions, and the two set out to defeat Berger and his minions via the gates of hell and Atlantis.

Yes, this is the sort of movie that barely stops to take a breath, Cozzi throwing everything at the screen that his limited budget can muster without any trace of apology. Atlantis appears courtesy of terrible model work that’s tinted bright green, a mechanical Hyrda shoots scarlet laser bolts from its eyes, and Ferrigno and D’Angelo visit Hades by walking across a rainbow. Almost everything that happens is accompanied by an endless selection of wacky electronic sound effects, and Cozzi’s script is full of frequently laughable dialogue with characters making important declarations and pompous speeches. Our old friend, Voiceover Man, tries his best to give proceedings some gravitas, but his constant repetition of things that the audience already knows isn’t really the best way to go about it.

Not surprisingly, the story isn’t all that accurate to the original mythology. There’s no mention of Hercules’ killing his sons or his inclination to general murder and mayhem. The legend as we know it today is an assembly of bits and pieces from several different sources, so, if you want to give the movie a break, I guess you could say it was written in the same spirit!

Hercules (1983)

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

The chief joy here are the villains, of course, and Berger in particular, who plays everything with a knowing twinkle in his eye. His King Minos is laughably vague and idiotic, building a city on a live volcano and forcing the legendary phoenix to make its nest inside. A sound piece of town planning, I must say, although probably in contravention of several applicable health and safety regulations. Still, he does offer the bird a virgin bride from time to time to keep it happy. The underemployed Danning is also delightfully wicked and deserves props for managing to remain inside her costume for the entire run time when a wardrobe malfunction looks imminent at any moment. And Ferrigno? Well, his physique is certainly very impressive and, if his acting isn’t in the same league, he shows an easy charisma at times which could have been developed if he’d been given more opportunities. Sadly, such possibilities were limited due to a speech impediment resulting from his impaired hearing, meaning that he’s dubbed by a voice actor here.

If Harris’ appearance seems odd in its brevity, then this film was shot back-to-back with ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) where he also appeared with Ferrigno. Director Cozzi is chiefly remembered for triumphantly silly ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘Starcrash’ (1978) starring Caroline Munro, a young David Hasselhoff and Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. Cozzi began his career with bizarre science-fiction piece ‘Tunnel Under The World’ (1969), and further projects included Giallo ‘L’ assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora’ (1975) and tatty ‘Alien’ (1979) copycat ‘Contamination’ (1980). Most infamously, he was involved with the hideous, colourised version of ‘Godzilla’ (1954), which was released in 1977.

Hercules (1983)

‘Have you ever seen a Valkyrie go down?’

Podestà first came to prominence in the title role of Robert Wise’s ‘Helen of Troy’ (1955), which also starred Stanley Baker and Brigitte Bardot. Working steadily until the mid-1960s, she finally hit paydirt with popular caper ‘Seven Golden Men’ (1965) and its sequel. Stardom (on the continent, at least) must have been within her grasp after those performances, but she only appeared sporadically afterwards. Danning has long been a cult cinema favourite. Her career began in Europe with sex comedies before she started getting supporting roles in bigger-budgeted Hollywood films like Richard Lester’s star-studded ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973), and the hilariously inept ‘The Concorde… Airport ‘79 (1979).  A prominent role in Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) proved pivotal and she went onto alternate between guest slots on hit Network TV shows and exploitation titles like ‘Chained Heat’ (1983), ‘Reform School Girls (1986) and ‘Young Lady Chatterley II’ (1985) with Adam West. She also starred in the title role of ‘Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch’ (1985), a film which almost has to be seen to be believed. 

If you’re looking for high-quality entertainment, then this is not the place to look, although it’s only fair to point out that Pino Donnagio’s rousing orchestral soundtrack belongs in a far better film. However, there is much to enjoy here; from the cheerfully ridiculous moment when Ferrigno flies a chariot through space to the scene-stealing Berger who plans to eliminate the gods for ‘Science! For the sake of science!’

Apparently, Cozzi and the producers originally intended the film to be far more adult in content, but Ferrigno violently objected after reading the script, insisting on a more family-friendly approach. It’s interesting to speculate on what Cozzi’s original vision for the project was like, especially considering the sheer number of beautiful women in the picture!

1980s video store cheese at its finest.

Outlaw of Gor/Gor ll (1988)

Outlaw of Gor (1988)‘I was cleaning and polishing the vibrations of the home stone.’

A college Professor is drawn back to the alien world of Gor, where he once fought the tyranny of a warlord. The kingdom is now at peace, but its future is under threat from the machinations of the new Queen and her high priest…

Visitors to bookshops in the 1980s couldn’t fail to be familiar with the name of author John Norman, even if they had never picked up one of his titles. The ‘Gor’ series was a minor publishing phenomenon of its time; a series of adventures set on a medieval alien world very much in the manner of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Only with added sex. Although popular, they proved controversial; mainly due to some questionable philosophy and dodgy gender politics that suggested women would enjoy a subservient role to men. Not surprisingly, when it came to the movie adaptations, all this subtext was excluded in favour of a more homogenous, commercial approach.

The first of these was ‘Gor’ (1987), a dreary, by the numbers mixture of bare-chested heroes, inept swordplay, Oliver Reed in a silly helmet and a generous assortment of tired and well-worn genre clichés. It was generic at best, and completely without any personality of its own. Not surprisingly, it was both a critical and commercial flop, barely registering at the box office at all. So why on earth release a sequel? Well, mainly because it was already in the can. Cannon Films had the two films shot concurrently to save money.

So, apart from Reed, all our old friends from the first film are back. There’s anonymous hero Tarl Cabot (Urbano Barbierini), his big-haired lover Princess Talena (Rebecca Ferrati), King Marlenus (Larry Taylor), Queen Lara (Donna Denton) and high priest Xenos (Hollywood legend Jack Palance!) The megaphone’s been handed over to John ‘Bud’ Cardos, who once did bit parts in Al Adamson films such as ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970) and replaced Tobe Hooper as director on ‘The Dark’ (1979) when the producers decided at the last minute to make the psychotic villain into an extra-terrestrial who could shoot laser beams out of his eyes.

We begin with (the somewhat unlikely) Professor Barbierini hanging out at a bar and looking down in the dumps, obviously having realised that marking term papers is a bit of a comedown after saving a kingdom by swinging a plastic sword. What makes things far worse is that he’s been saddled with motormouth ‘comedy’ sidekick Whatney (Russell Savadier). Within a minute, the audience is praying that he won’t be along for the ride on Barbierini’s inevitable return to Gor. Unfortunately, he is. On the plus side, he pretty much vanishes after the first 20 minutes of the film, which actually proves to be the best thing about the entire project!

From there, we’re treated to the usual run of captures, escapes, unconvincing fights, even less convincing swordplay and a climax so rushed and lame that it relegates our hero to the role of a pointless spectator. Palance was only in the last couple of minutes of the first film (presumably to get his name on it) and does little more here than wear a very silly hat and hang about a bit at the back looking pissed off. Sure, he gets to mix a few liquids in test tubes (very medieval) and snarl a few lines of dialogue, but he’s just playing second banana to Denton’s evil queen. There’s little sign of the enthusiasm that he brought to his similar role in seminal sword and sorcery crapfest ‘Hawk The Slayer’ (1980). It’s Denton who is chewing the scenery here, but her truly heroic efforts to liven things up are killed stone dead by the snail’s pace and predictable plot development.

Outlaw of Gor (1988)

‘Mark my words, I’ll win that Oscar one day…’

lt’s amazing to think that Palance picked up an Academy Award just three years after this, for his performance in ‘City Slickers’ (1991). Even that did little to revive his moribund career; his only other project of note being ‘City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold’ (1994) before his death in 2006. It’s a real shame as he was an actor with real power and proven screen presence who deserved much better.

But I actually feel sorrier for the palace guards here. They seem to have a very full job description. Duties include ‘Take Him Away’, ‘Seize Him’, ‘Bring Him’ and ‘Take Him To The Cells’. And they get shouted at an awful lot. Which is not very nice.

A wretched, feeble enterprise. ls it worse than the first film? Yes, it is. It really is. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

Quest For The Mighty Sword (1990)

Quest For The Mighty Sword (1990)‘In the hands of a hero, it has the power to save the world. In the hands of evil, it has the power to destroy it.’

Ator, son of Ator, goes looking for a mighty sword. He finds it in 20 minutes. Some other stuff happens afterwards.

Ator, the Fighting Eagle first appeared in a movie of that name in 1982 in the person of muscular Miles O’Keefe, who had first come to the public’s attention in the title role of Bo Derek’s less than stellar ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’ (1981). O’Keefe played the role 3 times; battling giant rubber spiders, ugly snake creatures and smarmy villains. All on a very tight budget. It’s fair to say these films were awful. But when original director David Hills (better known as Joe D’Amato, real name Aristide Massaccesi) went for a 4th film, he’d either lost O’Keefe’s phone number or he’d decided that a reboot was in order. And, in a remarkable feat of filmmaking prowess, he delivered the unthinkable: a film that was actually even worse than the 3 that had preceded it.

Part of the problem is Eric Allan Kramer in the title role. Now, he is undoubtedly a more expressive actor than O’Keefe and quite a large chap, but he simply doesn’t have the physical presence required. He’s also saddled with a silly blonde wig and far too much dialogue. It’s not that he delivers the dialogue badly; just that it’s inane at best and diminishes any remaining mystique that the character has. There’s barely any real story; some silliness about his mother being cursed to wander the kingdom forever in the guise of a good time girl whose only allowed to get it on with ugly blokes (really!), an evil king who wants to turn Ator’s girlfriend into a statue, an evil dwarf badly in need of a dental intervention and a barely glimpsed evil bloke who offed our hero’s father. There’s some silly mumbo-jumbo about the ‘gods’ and the heroine spends some of her time as a bird (I think).

Quest For The Mighty Sword (1990)

It’s not for us to judge.

Ok, so a lot of these ‘sword and sorcery’ epics don’t have much of a storyline, do they? They’re not about the acting, either. No, these ‘epics’ stand or fall on the combat and the action, the monsters and the SFX. So, how does all that stack up here? Well, to be blunt, it doesn’t. Kramer wields the ‘mighty sword’ like it’s a piece of plastic (maybe it is?!) and the monsters wouldn’t scare a toddler.

The tagline (given above) makes absolutely no sense at all, as the sword doesn’t seem to have any special powers and no one really seems bothered about it once Ator’s got his meaty paws on it. Or maybe I’d fallen asleep by that point. This is a tatty, slapdash production that looks like it was knocked off in a couple of days when everyone involved was thinking about something else. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could get an iota of enjoyment from such a creatively barren enterprise.

Ator did not return afterwards. He probably fell on his plastic sword.

Conquest (1983)


‘Isn’t this an animal you’re eating?’

A young warrior travels through a mystic land encountering monsters and the forces of an evil sorceress. But can he avoid the frequent attacks of deadly ‘sword and sorcery’ clichés, a low budget and an out of control smoke machine?

Italian director Lucio Fulci is best remembered these days for censor-bothering gore classics such as ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) and ‘The Beyond’ (1981). His films didn’t tend to make a lot of sense but boy did they have some moments that it’s hard to forget: the woman throwing up her own intestines in ‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980), the eyeball and splinter incident from ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979) and many others. But, long before he helped stoke the fires of the media-created ‘Video Nasty’ debate, Fulci had made westerns, Giallo thrillers, even comedies and musicals.

So, perhaps it’s not too surprising that he tried to shake off the horror tag in the early 1980s by venturing into the sword and sorcery arena, and following it with a stab at dystopian science fiction: ‘Rome 2072: The New Centurions (1984). Sadly, the budgets for these ventures wouldn’t have paid for one day’s catering on a Hollywood blockbuster.

Our hero here is Mace (Jorge Rivero), a young warrior who travels the kingdom to ‘face the darkness’ after believing in a load of vague twaddle spouted by the local wise man. The darkness turns out to be a young woman in a gold mask (Sabrina Siani) who spends rather a lot of time writhing around naked on a cave floor with a snake. Apparently, she’s an evil sorceress. She doesn’t seem to have any real plans or long term goals – I guess she’s happy with her snake – but crosses swords with our hero anyway.

Rivero teams up with Ilias (Andrea Occhipinti), a kind of roguish, Han Solo-type. They bond over lots of fisticuffs, banter and serious life lessons. Solo turns out to be a kind of ‘Beastmaster’ and is able to communicate with poorly animated seagulls. Being Fulci there’s some nice gore, of course, but the special effects aren’t very special and everything is clouded in a misty haze. Apparently, cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa intended his use of soft-focus lenses and a fog machine to conjure an ethereal atmosphere, but instead it just obscures much of the action.

Conquest (1983)

Luke who?

There’s also a smattering of the usual 1980’s clichés; a pounding synthesiser score, extras who stand on top of cliffs so they can be shot and fall off in spectacular fashion, the hero’s enchanted weapon (which is definitely not anything like a lightsaber) and the local native tribe who are covered in mud but never bother to wash.

We’ve seen it all before, and the plot development is almost non-existent; our heroes wandering about aimlessly getting into scrape after unrelated scrape between trite passages of dialogue about the conflict between responsibility and self-interest.

Some have championed this picture because of the photography and score, alleging that it has a unique atmosphere and feel. I can’t agree. Perhaps it’s true, but I kind of like to know what’s going on.