Friday, March 19, 2010

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

I've seen only a few Hercules pictures and, until now, none from the Italian beefcake sub genre. I guess Hercules was some Greek wrestler back during the times of mythical beasts and performance enhancing magic. From what little I can remember Hercules was fathered by a grizzly bear. After Herc was born, the bear threw his mother into outer space after which, Herc grabbed papa bear by the tail, twirled him around, and launched him through the stratosphere where various god's and shit took his frayed hide and used it to make Orion's belt (also, his loafers). Later, Herc became a world champion wrestler and all around Grecian idol posing for various magazine covers like "Going Greek" and "Playgirl". This, I'm pretty sure, is all just a legend.

Anyway, that great maestro of Italian horror, Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Whip and The Body), decided to give a Hercules picture a shot. I got to say, this one isn't awful. We got plenty of signature Bava moments. Most notably, his use of color to enhance atmosphere. This is probably as cheap as movie's get so the guy had to navigate around these monetary limitations. For the most part, he did a good job. I liked the way the picture looked. The Hades (or "haunted world") scenes were obviously fake, but in such an over the top manner that they became interesting. Unfortunately, the story is pedestrian which isn't nearly good enough for a story about a half bear-half man oafish lout.

We got Hercules returning home from various adventures to learn that the woman he loves is under some kind of trance inducing spell. Christopher Lee plays the king of this particular realm. He plays it rather smarmily and, unfortunately, not with his own voice (Italian film = all voices dubbed). Apparently, Lee (King Minos or Lycos or something) has made a deal with the devil (or the Greek version of the devil) which grants him a kingdom and Herc's broad. Can't remember what the devil gets in return. Maybe Herc? So, Herc returns with his buddy and I think maybe an effeminate Moe from "The Three Stooges". They need to journey into the underworld to retrieve some golden apple. I think the golden apple assures that they can leave the underworld without having to give up their lives. Sounds like a moronic catch-22. Anyway, that's the task presented them.

Herc solves all problems by throwing rocks. His two buddies (after being separated from Herc) are attacked by some sort of rock monster who places them on torture devices and then has the most absurd stream of consciousness ranting I've yet heard come from a rock monster: "I am gonna stretch you out until you are as long as the table you lie on and then you will be dead as the rope which binds you and then I'm gonna tie you into a knot". Direct quote. Herc appears at the last minute and throws the rock monster against some other rocks. The rock monster costume was, shall we say, quaint?

Herc's favorite mode of transportation is tying a rope to a large rock (or boulder) and heaving it across a wide chasm so he and his buddies can shimmy across. He does this several times. So, anyway, I liked the gothic elements. The red and yellow haze in Hades effect, the narrow corridors, the copious amount of rocks. I enjoyed some of the hammy-ness. Only one scene really stuck out as anything original, however. It involved Herc standing atop a hill and heaving giant rocks at an advancing zombie army.

I got to say, I can't imagine that the humor came from Bava. Maybe I underestimate the guy. There is a scene at the end when the Moe character shows up with a new broad who seems to genuinely be interested in him. Until Herc's other buddy steps in and steals the broad away from him (I guess it's his wavy blond hair and "not-quite Herc sized" but still pretty good muscles). Moe threatens to drown himself in the ocean a fit of depression and struggles against the waves, is bashed by the surf, etc. Meanwhile, Herc and his own broad just laugh and then the movie ends. This picture is not pro-weakling is the message I suppose. Must be a product of the times. Regardless, I'm gonna go hit the gym.

I'm probably not gonna rush out to see any of the other Reg Park Hercules pictures. Apparently, he inspired Arnold Strong to get into bodybuilding. Strong later appeared in Hercules in New York ( might have to see that one) and later Conan The Barbarian where he was billed as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hercules in the Haunted World is probably for Bava completists or nerds only.

1 comment:

steve said...

From here, it's only a small step to the Machiste movies! "The Son of Hercules v.s. the Mole Men" will change your life. For the worse.