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The origin story of the the mythical Greek hero. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom.
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Italian cinema had featured musclemen heroes as early as 1912's QUO VADIS (Ursus) and 1914's CABIRIA (Maciste) before making them truly their own and, by turns, seemingly invincible or buffoonish caricatures during the heyday of the peplum cycle around 1954-65. This, then, is yet a later variation clearly sparked by the recent spate of Hollywoodian mythological epics like CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981) but giving the old formula a new twist by sprinkling it with a dash of special effects wizardry a' la the STAR WARS saga! This shouldn't come as all that surprising when one realizes that its director is best-known for the infamous STAR WARS (1977) rip-off, STARCRASH (1979) although, to be fair to him, he is also responsible for one of the unsung gems in the giallo canon, THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (1975) and, at least, one other highly intriguing (and very rare) movie, TUNNEL UNDER THE WORLD (1969) which was also his directorial debut. Ironically, however, Cozzi only took over the assignment (from original director Bruno Mattei) when the producers were dissatisfied with the box office performance of the latter's previous film for them, THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS (1983)!
Anyway, although I clearly recall watching this version of HERCULES (and its sequel; see below) on Italian TV at Christmas time in the late 1980s, the details of it all were so hazy in my mind that I virtually remembered nothing of the narrative other than that Hercules gets to do battle with several mechanical monsters and that there was a lot of footage of stars and planets and the like. Indeed, the film starts with a lengthy, potentially heretical prologue about the start of creation which, apparently, had everything to do with Zeus and the rest of the Greek gods colonizing the moon eons before the Russians did (by way of ultracheesy visual and sound effects) and nothing at all to do with but this is not the right place to start debating the existence of God or otherwise lest this review gets confused with another anti-THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007) argument!
TV's THE INCREDIBLE HULK and former "Mr. Universe" Lou Ferrigno certainly looks the part of the mightiest man alive but, unfortunately, can't act a lick and rarely changes his facial expression throughout the generous 100 minutes of screen time! He is abetted by a lovely Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson whose first and only film this was before going briefly into TV and then quitting for good!) and sultry villainess Sybil Danning and the supporting cast features a decent roster of both veteran and nascent Euro-Cult figures like ex-peplum beefcake Brad Harris, William Berger (as Hercules' No. 1 nemesis, King Minos), Claudio Cassinelli (as Zeus, Hercules' creator here out of pure light, no less! rather than his natural father), former Helen Of Troy Rossana Podesta' (her penultimate film, playing the rebellious deity Hera), Gianni Garko and Eva Robbins (as Berger's enigmatic scientific acolyte, with an unbelievably campy costume to match).
Once one accepts the film's bizarre notion of setting the old Greek legends in outer space, this gets to be a veritable "so bad it's fun" show which possibly has few peers: an elaborately staged (relatively speaking), bloodthirsty coup d'etat early on comes to naught when the tyrant is never seen again in the rest of the movie!; Zeus's giant hand emerges from within a waterfall to catch Baby Hercules in his tiny boat inside which, however, are two snake-like creatures whom the infant soon squeezes the life right out of!; Hercules is adopted (in full-on Clark Kent fashion) by a family of simple folk and he is soon farming the fields single-handed via unwieldy contraptions but, when his putative father gets mauled by a grizzly bear, our Herculean hero gets so upset that he hurls the beast straight out into orbit and instant immortality as one of the stars in the constellation (I kid thee not)!; next up are a trio of mechanical assailants which, however, expire even before one gets to have a real good look at them (which is just as well, I guess as, otherwise, one starts to wonder why the weapon Hercules uses to dispatch one of the monsters looks suspiciously like a modern-day giant anchor)!; then Hercules tries his hand at a jousting tournament wherein he holds a dozen contestants simultaneously with their backs to the wall by means of a giant log which, once it serves its purpose in gaining him the championship title, also gets hurled into outer space!; later, Hercules sets his eyes on the veiled Cassiopeia and, to prove his worthiness, he cleans up the dilapidated stables (housing a thousand stallions we're told) with the aid of a nearby flowing river! I don't have time to go into all the other labyrinthine trials Hercules goes through before meeting up with King Minos for a hilarious confrontation with lightsabre-like swords but, in case you were wondering who was responsible for dividing Earth into the various continents, enquire no further! Oh, and he does get to ride a horseless chariot, too by roping a rock and throwing it as far as...well, 'tis Hercules we're talking about after all!
This Italian-made would-be epic which also features a suitably rousing Pino Donaggio score was a Cannon Group production (namely Israeli film-makers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus) and followed hot on the heels of the similar THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS (my memories of which are even more lost within my subconscious) which reunites Ferrigno, Danning and Harris from HERCULES; the latter must not have done too badly at the box office because other films of its ilk came in its wake: not just the sequel but also SWORD OF THE VALIANT (1984), THE BARBARIANS (1987), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) and the troubled SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1989; also with Ferrigno).
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