OK, so here's another Italian muscle-man Sword & Sandal Pelplum cheapie. It's a bit different in that it has an oriental setting and intrigue involving Gengis Kahn, the Mongols, a midget (err, little person) in a Harlequin costume -- very creepy -- and this weird story arc about a hero (called Maciste, Son of Hercules) who happens upon a wretched kingdom under the domination of Gengis Kahn, that is actually a group of warlords at each other's throat, under the domination of a very sinister & worldly Kahn who develops a sort of grudging respect for Maciste and allows him to fight fairly for his life against his finest warrior in some kind of gauntlet of knives, then locks Maciste up in a jail cell but allows the smoking red-hot Mongol babe to visit him with her secret ally the doctor, who plot to free Maciste so he can overthrow Kahn. Maciste runs around in a golden collared costume with a cape, there are sword fights galore, a Mongol princess with the hots for Maciste in addition to the Saracen queen whom Maciste falls in love with and is chosen by Kahn to be his wife, a renegade swordsman upstart challenging Kahn for the throne who is in cahoots with the foxy Mongol princess, lost of heroic jumps, back-flips and missions of derring-do, armies of thousands facing off on the battle plain to decide their fate, then turning heel on Kahn to try and wipe him out with Maciste as their star warrior, hoping to save the day and keep Kahn from marrying the sexy queen or killing her, whichever comes first.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, bingo: Mike Hodges and Dino DeLaurentis *PLUNDERED* this film for the script to their 1980 updating of FLASH GORDON, featuring music by Queen and Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon, Quarterback, New York Jets, and the gosh-darned nicest guy to ever save the universe. All we need is a Brian May guitar solo during the heroic cavalry charge and we are talking deja vu all over again. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, it's just that at about the scene where Flash -- I mean Maciste -- spares the Mongol warrior sentenced to kill him in the knife gauntlet or die himself and Kahn reacts with bemusement to his adviser ("Klytus I'm bored ...") I started saying to myself: "I've seen this somewhere before." Curious that the more familiar version of the form is the one that came after it.
But then again it makes sense, since FLASH GORDON is essentially a Peplum anyway, based on dime novella cartoons, made & produced by mostly Italians and essentially a fast paced, disposable little cartoon. FLASH GORDON even has a variation on the Veil Dance (here shown by oriental dancers spinning plates on sticks -- weird), the obligatory trial of strength whereby the hero shows his prowess by knocking down all the evil emperor's forces with little or no effort, the offbeat amusing friend/warrior whom Flash forms a sort of convenient alliance with, and of course the Standing Ovation ending where everyone gets to applaud Flash and thank him for saving the day. That scene is missing from the English version of HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS that I found, but all things being equal I think we can cut them some slack -- This is a fabulous, exciting, colorful, atypical and very rewarding little costumer, with a sort of unique agenda amongst the Peplum sub-genre in that it tells of a conflict which the hero gets caught up in rather than just providing set pieces for Gordon Mitchell to tear buildings apart using his bare hands. Again, nothing wrong with that mind you, but the sense of variety is refreshing, and the film has an interesting feel for using color, interior spaces and characterization beyond the muscle-man & his groupies that you don't see in a lot of these things.
8/10: Highly recommended.
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