RUNNING TIME: 98 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Evil has spread amongst mankind. Zeus, king of the Gods, decides to give man a hero; Hercules, summoning up a spirit of light and ordering it to enter a human child. The child is the son of King Augius, but his kingdom is usurped by the evil Minos, the captain of his guards, and his daughter Ariadne. Augius’ wife flees with Hercules and is also killed, but not before she’s placed him on a boat. When Zeus intervenes to save Hercules from drowning, his wife Hera decides to try and kill Hercules, though the child slays the snakes sent to kill him and is found and raised by another couple. Hercules grows into an adult, but wonders why he has super strength, strength which is a curse as well as a blessing as everyone around him seems to die. Meanwhile Minos realises that Hercules stands in his plans for world domination….
I had a feeling that Hercules would be supremely entertaining and a laugh riot considering that it comes from the director of one of my favourite bad movies ever; the Star Wars-inspired Starcrash, and I was not disappointed. It’s an often mind bogglingly ridiculous exercise in bad cinema [did Luigi Cozzi genuinely think he was making a good movie?], chock full of stupid scenes, dumb dialogue, hilarious special effects and sheer ineptitude of filmmaking. However, it’s also so much fun that I unreservedly recommend it to….well….pretty much anyone who wants a good time. Perhaps some booze….or something stronger….may help, though I’d had nothing more than a cup of tea while I watched it, yet wondered if someone had spiked my brew and I was watching Clash Of The Titans on a hallucinogenic substance. Honestly, this movie is often jaw-dropping in its badness, but it’s impossible to actually dislike and I know that I will watch it again shortly. In fact, I want to have the Blu-ray of this movie sitting right beside the downstairs TV in my house, because I know that if I come home from a stressful day at workjust a few minutes of it will cheer me up.
Hercules seems to be often regarded as a remake of the 1957 Hercules, the film that started off the Italian boom for cheap and cheerful historical/mythological outings usually featuring body builders in the lead roles. In fact, the two films are quite different, the earlier film being a version of the Jason And The Argonauts story which was later immortalised in the classic Ray Harryhausen movie of the same title, while the 1983 picture traces the story of Hercules from birth, sometimes referencing the original myths. Made in collaboration with Cannon Films, it was originally planned as a more ‘adult’ production, and this was what actress Sybil Danning signed on to make, but star Lou Ferrigno, familiar to TV audiences as The Incredible Hulk, walked into Menahem Golan’s office, told him that the script was a “piece of shit” and threw it into the bin. Cozzi subsequently rewrote his screenplay as a more family orientated picture. Hercules was filmed back to back with The Seven Magnificent Gladiators [I sette magnifici gladiatori], a sword and sandal version of The Seven Samurai, and also starring Ferrigno, Danning and Brad Harris, during the summer of 1982. The budget meant that Cozzi couldn’t properly realise [no kidding] many of the special effects scenes that he had planned. Hercules, even though it got a cinema release in the UK and the US, was a commercial failure in Italy and elsewhere.
After an opening psychedelic light show supposedly showing the creation of the Universe, replete with portentous narration, we get our opening titles and then meet the Gods. Now in this film the Gods live on the Moon, and one of the oddest things about this movie is that, while supposedly set in the time of Ancient Greece, it mingles in elements of science fiction, from simple flashes of light and laser sound effects [usually when Hercules hits someone] to a bad guy who lives in a futuristic city, wants to conquer the world with science, and sends mechanical monsters to kill Hercules. Cozzi’s script does have a few elements of the Hercules story [which I still feel will make a fantastic Lord Of The Rings-style epic one day if they just stick to the source material], such as the infant Hercules killing a pair of snakes [though it’s obvious that adult hands are doing the work] sent to kill him by Hera, but it also pinches from various other Greek myths and switches characters around at will, such as combining the monsters Cerberus and the Hydra into one mechanical three headed dragon. There’s even a sword in a stone. Even if you’re not aware of all this, the screenplay is often very random and makes little sense. Zeus decides to create Hercules when another god says the line: “If you don’t want to increase the power of all men, then why not increase the power of one”?, while the climax has the main bad guy go on about resurrecting a phoenix that we never actually see. By the way, that scene has a hilarious bit where Minos rambles on and on, and in the middle of his rambling says:“Wait, where was I?” and pauses. I don’t know if the script is so bad that Cozzi actually put that line in, or if they forgot to edit it out. My favourite line though is: “This sword consecrated to Zeus fears nothing”.
The film kills off both of Hercules’ sets of parents in about twenty minutes and sends him off to seek his fortune. He falls in love with the beautiful Cassiopeia, but she gets kidnapped, and Hercules is used by the sorceress Circe [yes, the one from The Odyssey] for her own ends while promising she’ll aid him in his quest if he does what she wants. At the same time Zeus and Hera either help or hinder him with little consistency, while of course Minos and his seductive daughter are out to get him. The confused plot is little more than an excuse for Hercules to fight a bunch of people, a monster, or do some amazing feat every ten minutes. He even seperates two of the continents. Of course there’s also some love interest, with most of the women in the film wanting our hero, women who are usually dressed like cheap hookers from a masquerade parade, but it really is all about the action, and there’s a hell of a lot of it, though Cozzi’s lack of money and lack of talent prohibit him from allowing many of the scenes to reach their potential, at least if you try to take the film seriously….and I have a feeling that Cozzi was indeed trying to make at least a semi-serious film. Saying all this, there are a few special effects moments that aren’t badly pulled off considering the budget, such as the sinking of Atlantis [yep, that’s in there too], and the simple sets are often strikingly designed, though why many of them seem to have the Moon looming huge besides them is anybody’s guess. A mechanical version of the Colossus of Rhodes is a nice touch.
The film is full of sheer lunacy, whether small – Minos asks to see a mechanical dragon: “Grow just a little bit because it would mean a lot to me” – or large – most of the action scenes end with Hercules throwing something in space [God it must really be a junkyard up there]. Hercules diverts a river to clean some stables, but in the next scene, which clearly takes place just after Hercules has completed his task, the stables are not just dry but nice and shiny. Hercules leaps fifteen feet into the air to dodge the blades on the wheels of the chariots attacking him [why he felt the need to leap fifteen feet high is beyond me], but on the second pass he just stands there and they break off upon hitting his legs, making one wonder what the point of him leaping in the first place was if he knew they wouldn’t hurt him. This though isn’t as funny as the bit where Hercules hurls a chariot into space with the aid of a rope [nearly missing knocking the heroine’s head off] and it’s propelled, with him and Cassiopeia in it, through the cosmos, the shoddy special effects, which would have looked poor in 1973 let alone in 1983 after Star Wars, just making the scene funnier. Monty Python couldn’t have made this film more chucklesome.
I don’t remember much about The Incredible Hulk, but judging from this movie Ferrigno [whose hearing aid can sometimes be seen], even though he certainly looks the part, is an actor of embarrassing quality….which of course just adds to this particular film’s appeal. The role of Hercules in this movie doesn’t really require a performer of range, but Ferrigno’s line delivery is often incredibly poor [look out for his agitation when, instead of being transported to Atlantis, he finds himself in ‘Africa’, even meeting Africa’s ‘king’!?]. For male viewers, the women are extremely delectable, with cult favourite Sybil Danning’s boobs almost popping out of her costume [in fact I swear that I actually saw a nipple at one point], and Rosanna Podesta having not really changed a bit from 1956’s Helen Of Troy. Composer Pino Donaggio supplies a highly bombastic score which is almost at odds with the absurd goings-ons, though this makes things even funnier. Cozzi is a very poor filmmaker, and a very poor screenwriter, but in a way it takes a weird kind of genius to make a film like this. In fact, maybe I’m wrong. Hercules is so ridiculously entertaining that maybe, actually, one needs to reassess one’s perception of what is a ‘good’ and what is a ‘bad’ movie. Maybe Hercules is one of the greatest films ever. After all, I loved every minute of it. Buy it.
This is a hard film to rate. It’s both brilliant and terrible. I suppose half way between 1 and 10 is about right.