Thursday, November 02, 2006

XXX. LA VENDETTA DI ERCOLE (GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON) 1960



La Vendetta di Ercole

Year;
1960

Director ; Vittorio Cottafavi
Country; Italy and France

Duration; 98 minutes (Original film aspect ratio; 2.35:1)
Available; DVD Region 1 Something Weird DVD
Colour * Original aspect ratio * English Dub * Superb Transfer*

Alternative;
Goliath and the Dragon (USA) Hercules' Revenge (USA) Vengeance d'Hercule, La (France) Vengeance of Hercules (USA)


The Players;

Gaby André (Alcinoe) Mark Forest (Goliath) Sandro Maretti (Ismene) Federica Ranchi (Thea) Broderick Crawford (King Eurystheus) Philippe Hersent (Illus) Leonora Ruffo ( Dejanara)


Mark Forest, he of cuprinol stage school ability appears as Goliath in this decent slice of sword and sandal fantasy and is rewardingly animate this time around.

Goliath and the Dragon is quintessentially myth enriched and beautifully lavish but is annoyingly confusing in plot.

So much underlying intrigue and mismatched affairs of the heart that only viewing for a second time did things eventually slot in place foe me.

Some elements of the plot still remained unfathomable though and genning up on the movie I did find a plausible explanation that explains why, at times, it lacks narrative and chronology.

Goliath and the Dragon started out as another promising Italian sword and sandal outing to appeal to the masses. Unfortunately the production ran out of money and American International Pictures bailed out.

A.I.P decided to film additional material with the co-operation of the Italians. Although Goliath and the Dragon does make sense it definitely lacks fine tuning in plot and somewhere something does initially get lost in translation which is more than likely due to the demands of the new kids on the block, as A.I.P were getting the producers et al out of a pickle it is understandable.

Another let down is the villain of the peace. Broderick Crawford barks the odd order and growls the odd command but all this is dragged down by his shitty ‘I’m-only-in-this-for-the-money’ attitude.

At times Crawford comes across as being clearly unimpressed by the proceedings, the thought no doubt more on the pay cheque than on he character potential.

Every cloud has a silver lining, allegedly, and these let downs are superseded by spectacle once again. Delightfully rich sets with swish interiors and idyllic exteriors pushes the interest factor up a further couple of notches.

The pace rolls along amicably so, throwing in the odd thrill where necessary but is hampered by the narrative flaw which occasionally just freezes.

In the original Italian version the hero was none other than Hercules. Instead of sticking with this due to legal nitpicking A.I.P wanted a change so the character became Emilius.

It was going to be Hercules after the original Ercole and the film was to be originally titled ‘Hercules’ Revenge’, unfortunately for A.I.P Universal held the rights and Goliath it had to be.

Emilius due to his strength is known as Goliath, which sticks throughout the movie and proved highly marketable.

We also get to see a bit of variety on the creature feature front but due to the budget and basics are hilarious at the same time.

The hilarity isn’t made from a superiority main ingredient should we be dumb enough to compare something conceived in the late 50's, early 60's to effects commonplace in the now.

It is more from more from a charm and admiration by what they could make do with, as most peplum thought has been applied bringing us some smashing vignettes of ancient action and nostalgic adventure.

The visual feast starts with Goliaths ascension to the underworld. In order for his super strength capacity he is laboured now and again by the tasks of the gods. He arrives into a surreal kaleidoscopic underworld.

Purple fogs and e-number lava spews forth across ragged infernal landscapes a surprisingly psychedelic touch considering the movies date.

Goliaths’ aim is to obtain a sacred gem for the Olympians. He first encounters a giant carnivorous dog and then stumbles in the flight path of a humanoid bat creature before he finally obtains his goal.

Goliath is finally rewarded his much earned break and yearns for a bit of tranquillity and stability with his wife Dejanara.

This idyll in the country is broken when Goliaths’ brother Illus brings some bother to the household. Illus has fallen for Thea; she is the fiancée of King Eurystheus who is a bit of a bastard.

Eurystheus is also a heavy duty egomaniac who also has his sights on Phoebes, Goliath stands in his way and despite the inconvenience there has been little opportunity and reason to reason an attack.

This gives enough reasoning for Eurystheus, with the assistance of Alcinoe the slave and his loyal legion commander Ismene, to conquer Phoebes and enslave the people.

When Goliaths' brother is eventually kidnapped he is enraged and we learn that Eurystheus instigated something similar before involving Goliaths parents,which resulted in their death.

For fear of fatal reprisals like before Goliath decides to act and use his godlike strength to defeat the enemy.

Time is of the essence as not only does he need to save his brother from being trampled to death by a herd of elephants but his beloved wife has also been kidnapped by his nemesis and is in bondage, at the mercy of a fire breathing scaly behemoth !

There is a wealth of fantasy going on and let’s face it you can’t get more peplum than the iconic ‘super’man versus a dragon can you.

So the dog demon looks like he has the mange, the bat beast even shows us the wires he uses to fly and the dragon is about to overdose on valium with his heavy head, but these are so memorable due to their comic book boldness.

So rich, so different but a style of filmmaking sadly, so forgotten.

The direction is rightly bombastic and sweeping; sporting a decent rhythm despite a confusing narrative, luridly fun cinematography courtesy of Mario Montuori.

Something Weird Videos region 1 nets us an immaculate print to view and through my research into this genre is really the only best way to view this ambitious type of flick.

Striking in it’s palette of colour, rich in it’s ability to please but sadly marred in other ways, Goliath and the Dragon still has the propensity to delight and is above your average film of this ilk.


XXIX. VULCANO, FIGLIO DI GIOVE (VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER) 1961


Vulcano, figlio di giove

Year; 1961

Director ; Emimmo Salvi
Country; Italy
Duration; 76 minutes
Available; DVD-R Region 1 Sinister Cinema
Colour * Panned and Scanned * mono
Original Ratio; 2:35:1

Alternative; Vulcan, God of Fire /Vulcan, Son of Giove (USA) /Vulcan, Son of Jupiter

The Players; Richard Lloyd (Vulcan) (as Rod Flash) Gordon Mitchell (Pluto) Bella Cortez (Etna) Roger Browne (Mars) Annie Gorassini (Venus) with; Edda Ferronao / Omero Gargano / Furio Meniconi


Usually in peplum the gods and goddesses are pushed into the background and are no more than ‘crop ups’ when they are seen to be summoned, enraged or playing games of ‘fate’ with the lives of their mortals.

Vulcan Son of Jupiter is a total exception to the rule. The main characters are gods and goddesses, this time of Roman naming, and are the pivotal protagonists in the films kitsch proceedings.

Vulcan lays somewhere between Hamateur dramatics and theatrical farce. Relying on a shoestring and promising far more than it ever could deliver Vulcan seems nothing more than the filming of a huge stage production.

Even the backdrops are painted. Not as in the fabulous ‘glass’ technique used in quite a few peplum epics that, depending on how good the artist is, really works but as in blue emulsion sky and motionless matt clouds associated with nativity, should you ever have had to endure such torture.

The actors, a varied selection of European wannabees cavort and prance on the stage whilst trying their hardest to leave an impression on the viewer as they become their character.

It’s a bit hit and miss. Gordon Mitchell romps home first with his portrayal of Pluto but his outbursts of false hysterical laughter is totally unwarranted in some places. Mercury is an effeminate little chap moaning and pouting whilst stretching his legs in almost every scene he’s in.

Venus is played by Annie Gorsani that brings uber dumb blonde sex appeal to her role as she teases her beefcake suitors in nothing more than a yard of chiffon and heavy mascara.

I personally don’t think she’s anything too hot, she has a funny mouth, and her o.t.t sexy seductivity makes me laugh more than admire beauty. She eventually went on to appear in some Italian Bond-esque cash-ins and an appearance in Fellinis 8 ½.

But what about Vulcan? , he is played by Rod Flash (Richard Lloyd) and has all the charisma and persona of a county council worker; dull, drab and uninteresting. Though his facial features could be arguably considered purely ‘Herculean’, the sort you’d see on a jar in a museum.

He adds the brawn to the ‘action’ sequences but does it with little flair and stone cold panache.

Despite the meagre budget this little oddity brings us lizard men, a couple of creatures and the odd special effect. All are absolute crap mind you; check out Jupiter’s thunder bolt!

A bit of sincerity can be defined with what Emimmo Salvi is trying to achieve despite the minimum amount available to spend and the cast seem to be having a good time of it; for the intended viewer this rubs off in a way.

I am not saying Vulcan is amazing by any standards as it is cheesy and tacky but it is very likeable and worth the purchase.

The print I obtained from Sinister Cinema is of a smashing calibre when you consider its rarity and vintage. Although a little faded in colour the vividness and vibrancy still pushed its way outwards enhancing even further this unusual Roman pantomime.

Mars and Vulcan are sons of Jupiter and are both trying to win the purest affection from Venus.

Venus delights in teasing her male admirers which gives her the opportunity for much attentive flattery and them the opportunity to fight and argue.

Such displays of disharmony towards each other begin to annoy the residents of Olympus.

At one stage it reaches such a crescendo that Jupiter casts out both sons to Earth without their special powers.

Amongst the mortals their battles continue, Mars retaliates against his father by instigating an uprising and Vulcan battles varied menaces to protect his people and their mortality.

Vulcan eventually begins to fall in love for a mortal peasant woman. This makes Venus bitter with envy and together with Mars they turn on Vulcan aiming to bring about his utter demise and the enslavement of his beloved people.

It all culminates in a head on clash between the two brothers and a surprisingly well staged whip fight between the two female leads.

Another bonus is the cosiness as Vulcan, the peasant girl and a dwarf (comic relief) form an alliance and has a separate series of adventures throughout the duration. This trio is highly watchable and despite the wood there is a gentile chemistry between the cast members.

Vulcan Son of Jupiter is a slightly off-beat watchable piece of escapism that manages to cross the borderline into obscurity by the standards of sword and sandal, and is worth seeing because of this fact alone.

A cosy view for the long winter nights ahead……..



Wednesday, November 01, 2006

XXVIII. MACISTE ALL'INFERNO (THE WITCH'S CURSE) 1962



Maciste all'Inferno (The Witch's Curse)

Year;
1962

Director: Riccardo Freda

Music; Carlo Franci

Country; Italy

Duration; 88 minutes

The Players;

Kirk Morris (Maciste) Hélène Chanel (Fania) Vira Silenti (Young Martha Gaunt) Andrea Bosic (Judge Parrish) Remo De Angelis (Prometheus) Angelo Zanolli (Charley Law) Charles Fawcett (Doctor)

Alternatives;

Maciste in Hell

The Witch's Curse

Available;Something Weird Region 1 DVD or Alpha Video DVD
Original Ratio;
2:35:1
DVD Ratio; Pan and Scanned 75 minute edit.
Colour * English Language* Dubbed*


Already realising The Argonauts to the silver screen for the first time ever, Riccardo Freda brought the cinemagoer an updated version of ‘Maciste all’ Inferno’ with this 1962 outing.

Anyone expecting a re-appraisal of the 1925 film with a 60’s slant will be sorely disappointed. Although the film is worth a look it has none of the epic flair of it’s’ predecessor.

Freda’s interpretation of Hell results in a more ‘earthy’ affair. It’s craggy, eerie and on the depressing side more than the fantasy gothic approach. Instead of beasts of fantasy we have more humble tooth and claw with the obligatory lion combat, a ferociously taloned eagle and a pissed off gargantuan in a loin cloth.


Although realism is favoured it really adds little value to the vehicle and due to the drab (this may be the DVD versions’ fault and perhaps may look different in a pristine edition) environment and sluggishness already part of the mix it is something Freda could’ve done without in my opinion.


Morris is a dumb, characterless and potentially mute (he doesn’t speak for the first 30 minutes) version of he-man Maciste. Usually flaws can be swept aside if the supporting cast is half decent but this is also a no go.

What does compel you to keep watching is that the plot, quite frankly, is a law unto itself. The setting is a puritan community in 16th century Scotland. In breezes Maciste with no explanation as to his arrival.

Oddly despite the fact that most yokels would think a brighter shade of grey is tantamount to advertising you’re a whore none of them seem to bat an eyelid that there is a scantily clad young man wandering around the area; chucking the odd puritan over his shoulder for good measure.

But this is fantasy and in the realm of such versatility anything can and usually does happen. We’d better surmise as in Hercules vs. the Sons of the Son that one of his crew pissed a god off and blew the lot through time. Or that Maciste is a time lord, which explains his changing face and the fact he can turn up at the time of the Incas and that of 15th century China in his previous outings. Fancy that !!

The film opens with the burning of Martha Gaunt; we understand through her catawhallin that she is being burned at the stake (which in this case is a tree), that she is soon to be incinerated as she wouldn’t shag Judge Parrish and for her cavorting with old horny. Before the first match is lit she manages to curse the village and states in 100 years time the retribution will manifest.

100 years later and the villagers begin to weird out. Young females attempt to hang themselves from the ‘burning tree’ and when successful new blossoms appear on the bough.

Also two new arrivals make matters worse as their coachman dumbly informs the whole of the inn that they are Sir Charles and his newlywed honey Martha Gaunt!

Any rational human being would realise by now that the lineage must have been coincidental at some stage!

The villagers don’t see the odd side and with pitchforks and ‘oooo…arrrrrs’ aplenty begin to siege the castle.

Charles tries to prevent the villagers from going loco in his new abode but one against several hundred is never too successful unless the one is a uranium bomb. All of a sudden Maciste turns up and begins bashing people about and gets Charles, Martha and a kindly Doctor to safety.

The three take refuge in the doctors’ house where they agree the best solution would be to seek the advice of the Burgomaster. Martha feels confident about confronting any jury as she is convinced of her innocence.

The Burgomaster incarcerates her and places her on trial to prove her innocence. Out comes the trusty book of fables, you know the one about the hippy that is so favoured by the old, and she is asked to touch it. There is a cackle of laughter and the book bursts into flames.

This doesn’t go down too well in 17th century Scotland and does naff all to calm the populace of the thatched roof dwellings. In true Christian fairness the poor girl is put too death.

Maciste intervenes and learns from the Doctor that unless Martha Hag isn’t destroyed the curse will never be lifted. Maciste is lead to the burning tree where he breaks it up from the roots and descends to Hell to save souls and the entire villager.

Some of the hellish sequences are o.k. but one can see the lack of funds on show and unfortunately nothing lifts us away from the paper over the cracks. Maciste conveniently loses his memory too and sees’ into a time pool and witnesses clips of previously and totally unrelated adventures featuring other actors in the role.

Just like the film as a whole some sequences are cobbled together so we sit through 75 minutes of visual Hodge podge and hokum.

The version which I saw as a ‘bonus feature’ along with ‘Hercules versus the Moon Men’ is a truncated 75 minute American repackage under the title ‘The Witchs’ Curse’.

Unfortunately another down side is the pasty, projector worn print that is used and if any film was in need of a colourful elevation it’s this movie at times.

One plus point is the atmospheric music which bumps up the Goth it swirls amongst the stalactites with high pitched shrills and choral wailing. It would be such a treat to see the original length version as such instances do demonstrate something decent trying to clamour out of something low key.

Another decent piece of direction to note are the flames lighting the steps as Maciste walks down them and despite there dilution the sequence of the inhabitants torment in Hell is gruesomely fashionable.

Whether such truncation hampered the original narrative and potential impact, I don’t know until I stumble upon a fuller version. Its’ a shame I can’t compare it to how it was and how it should be. If the movie made a little more sense then it could make something unfathomable into something of fascination maybe.

A below average feature film in its production, direction and in its revival and at times is an unfortunate cobbled mess; Freda’s testimony that gothic and gladiator is a most unsuitable marriage despite flashes of inspiration.