Hercules Versus Everybody

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Italian peplum specialist Vittorio Cottafavi gets a sympathetic airing in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (which is an excellent book: pick up both volumes secondhand TODAY), considered along with Mario Bava and, as I recall, Riccardo Freda. But I’ve never managed to see anything by VC that matched up to the description of his work, all swirling mists and translucent veils. The stuff I’ve seen has been colourful but kind of flat and not very interesting. (In Luc Moullet’s LES SIEGES DE L’ALCAZAR, the film critic hero is held up to ridicule for being a Cottafavi completist.)

But LA VENDETTA DI ERCOLI (THE REVENGE OF HERCULES), a 1960 nonsense with he-man Mark Forest, is somewhat endearing, just because it’s so preposterous. It stands head and muscly shoulders above the average sword-and-sandal slugfest in stupidity, which is saying a very great deal. If you’re not interested in Cottafavi, you would be likeliest to have checked this movie out in order to appreciate the sight of Broderick Crawford in a skirt, since Larry Cohen ommitted that image from THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER, but I’m here to tell you, come for the skirt, stay for the animal punching.

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Hercules, a truly obnoxious character, kills everything he sees in this movie. In Scene One he stabs a dog to death. Admittedly, it’s Cerberus, the three-headed guard donkey dog of the Underworld. But it’s actually chained up, and seems incapable of movement being as he’s an unconvincing automaton. The stabbing goes on for a very long time indeed: maybe even longer than Willem Dafoe spends punching that poor crow in ANTICHRIST, and that’s a LOOONG time.

In his second scene, Hercules, who still hasn’t actually spoken, murders a… well, I’m not sure what it is. It’s a man on a wire, obviously, dressed in some kind of furry costume with bat wings. I was assuming it was one of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys, but when Cottafavi finally dares to grant it a post-mortem closeup, it has the face of a cat. The flying cat-monkey is my favourite character in the film, and I call him Alan.

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Later, Hercules wrestles a real elephant, and you’ll be glad to know the elephant probably quite enjoyed it and doesn’t seem to be harmed.

Then (or was it earlier?) he strangles a bear. The bear is definitely not real. He’s a man in a bear costume, and he’s so unconvincing I’m not even convinced he’s a REAL man. Not like Mark Forest, who, as Hercules the enemy of the entire animal kingdom, chokes the life out of him without hesitation.

There’s also a centaur/faun — in defiance of Greek mythological classification, the character is both goat-legged and horse-legged, depending on mood, I guess. Hercules apparently causes his death, in some mysterious magical way. I didn’t fully understand it. But if anything drops dead in this film, by this point I’m quite prepared to assume Hercules is responsible.

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“Hey, quit it!”

About the only animals not killed by our hero are the horses, and the snakes in the snake pit, though I don’t give great odds for their survival after Brod the Broad falls into the snakepit. I’m laying their deaths at Herc’s door too, unless further information comes to light.

The US release features a stop-motion dragon animated by the great Jim Danforth. I think it’s safe to assume Hercules kills it.

Oh hey, that whole version is online, in pan-and-scan, washed-out pinkoscope. Dragon at 1:07:56.

The vivid animation alternates with some goofy moronimatronic full-scale puppetry. I guess the big fellow is an advance on the dragon from Lang’s NIBELUNGEN because it doesn’t have its eyes in the front of its head like a person (fun fact: Debra Paget’s partner in the snake-dance in Lang’s much-much-later THE INDIAN TOMB *also* has stereoscopic vision, proving that these inaccurate reptiles are not a mistake but an authorial signature… Lang referred to himself as a dinosaur and had faulty vision, so we’re halfway to a theory already…) but we have to deduct points since it only exists from the neck up, like Benedict Cumberbatch. But it’s a long neck. Like Benedict Cumberbatch.

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6 Responses to “Hercules Versus Everybody”

  1. Cottafavi’s Hercules Conquers Atlantis (released by the Woolner Brothers stateside as Hercules and the Captive Women) is one of the greatest films ever made.

  2. OK, you got me, I will have to watch it…

  3. Be sure to read Raymond Durgnat about it, and of course Michel Mourlet. in “La Mise en Scene comme Langage”

  4. Reg Park, a little gay boy’s dream. I was besotted with Steve Reeves from the age of 8 when I first saw Hercules, a romance that was to continue with Herc Unchained (seen at a little fleapit near Margate on a soggy family holiday in 1959, followed by the other Reeves delights of the same year, Goliath & the Barbarians, White Warrior, Last Days of Pompeii – seen three times in a week – and Giant of Marathon); then one windswept rainy night in Southend my Dad succumbed to my pleading and took me to see Hercules at the Centre of the Earth AKA Hercules in the Haunted World, which is surely Mario Bava’s fever-dream masterpiece. It was running at the Ritz Cinema on a cheerless corner of Southend’s Pier Hill. (You might say that I covered the Essex and Kent waterfronts in my childhood.) As Southend’s “other” Rank circuit house, the Ritz received the more interesting movies disowned by the upmarket Odeon in the High Street (Powell’s They’re a Weird Mob, Midnight Cowboy, Othello, Watkins’s Privilege, Goodbye Gemini, the jaw-dropping Lost Missile…, Ulmer’s Amazing Transparent Man… ) Anyhoo, off we trooped, Dad and I, to see Bava’s hallucinatory epic, and there was Reg Park (and Christopher Lee!) and between Reeves and Park somehow I knew my (then) 11 year-old life had been irrevocably set on its romantic course, if not yet an understood erotic one. A journey of hero-identification (and more) not to be sneezed at.

  5. Didn’t Reg Park parlay his movie wealth into a career teaching opera? And wasn’t Lee an aspiring opera singer who couldn’t afford the lessons? What a dream partnership that might have been, and what a great, Wagnerian opus a musical Hercules in the Haunted World might be!

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