Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (1961)

Known elsewhere as Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis, this is the film debut of Reg Park as Hercules, or Ercole as he’s referred to in the Italian title (Ercole alla Conquista di Atlantide).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi, this had a complete retitle, re-edit and rescore* — as well as a title design by Filmation — before playing in America.

Strange things are happening in Greece, but Hercules — now married to Deianira with a son named Hylas — is content and comfortable with his family life. However, his son feels the call to adventure that his father once did.

That means that Androcles must take matters into his own hands, drug Hercules and take him on his ship as Hylas stows away. After refusing to take part in heroics, Hercules finally consents and battles a god named Proteus and rescues a princess of Atlantis.

But man, Atlantis is messed up. They plan on murdering the princess to keep the fog that hides them from the rest of the world. They also have this weird ritual where children are taken from their parents and forced to touch a stone made from the blood of Uranus that either transforms them into blonde-haired superhumans or makes them mutants that are cast into the pit. With an army of these Aryan-looking demigods, Queen Antinea (Fay Spain, who somehow has shown up in both this movie and William Gréfe’s The Naked Zoo) plans on conquering the universe.

The only way to stop all of this? Hercules has to tear the top of a cave off and blow up Atlantis real good. Of course, none of this has anything to do with the real myth of Hercules, but such is Italian cinema.

I read that Hercules exemplifies the characteristics of sprezzatura, or studied carelessness, or even the ability to do something extremely well without showing that it took any effort. That’s an intriguing way to look at him, especially as until midway through this, he really wants nothing to do with anything, but by the end, he’s willing to die for the men he has journeyed with and his son, who has found his way to the pit filled with the castoffs of Atlantis’ Faustian bargain with the gods.

You can download this from the Internet Archive or watch it on YouTube. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 version is also available on Tubi.

*There is a noticeable steal from Creature of the Black Lagoon in the American music.

 

Jack and the Beanstalk (1970)

Barry Mahon was shot down over Germany and escaped — and was recaptured — at Stalag Luft III before being freed by Patton’s 3rd Army. Once he got back to the U.S., he became the personal pilot and later the manager for Errol Flynn. Then, he learned how to use computers to predict the future box office for films, which does not explain how he made movies like Cuban Rebel GirlsFanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico, The Wonderful Land of Oz and Santa’s Christmas Elf (Named Calvin).

Have you ever gone to an amusement park and they put on plays for the kids that are too worn out or too young for the rides? Yeah, this is like watching one of those for over an hour, with special effects that live up to neither of those two words. This is what I do with my free time. I sit and watch these movies and laugh like a maniac, then tell an uncaring and oh so cold world why they should be as passionate about total junk as I am.

Depending on how lucky — or unlucky — you were, you would have seen either Thumbelina or this movie within perhaps the most maniacal film ever made, 1972’s Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny. Why? What does Jack or Thumbelina have to do with the holidays? More to the point, what does a bunny? Perhaps even more pressing is this question: What is an ice cream bunny?

This was a movie for kids, which leads to so many more questions. Why does it have hip 1970’s slang? Why is it set in the present instead of the past, like every other version of this story? Why is Jack’s family more like Cinderella’s? Why does the giant sing the same song at least three — or a billion, it seems — times?

They used to let kids go to all day matinees of movies exactly like this, which some parents must have thought was some kind of reward. Imagine working hard all week at school and being gifted the magical wonder of this movie, which probably made no sense fifty years ago and even less today.

That said, I’ve thought about this movie way more than I will any film that will be released in 2020. Barry Mahon is kind of that way, equally fraught with wonder and madness, pain and pleasure. I’m brave enough to attempt to watch everything he ever made, so if you’re stupid as well, I hope you’ll join me.

The Barbarians (1987)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally wrote about this movie on January 30, 2019. However, with a new blu ray coming from Kino Lorber, we felt it’d be a good idea to bring this movie back to our readers’ attention.

Ruggero Deodato has been celebrated on this site, not just for Cannibal Holocaust, but for movies like Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManConcorde Affaire ’79House On the End of the ParkRaiders of AtlantisCut and RunBody CountThe Washing Machine and Dial Help. From those movies, you can tell that Deodato has hit nearly every genre. Now, with this one, he returns to his peblum roots — Hercules, Prisoner of Evil was the first movie he directed — and enters the post-Arnold Italian barbarian boom with not one but two American swordsmen who look like living and breathing He-Man toys, David and Peter Paul, better known as The Barbarian Brothers.

I honestly can’t be impartial about this movie, as it’s packed with so much that I love. I mean, just from the voiced over credits, when the names Golan, Globus and Deodato come up, I can’t help but cheer. This is the kind of feel good junk food movie that I love, a film that completely rips off Conan the Barbarian in all the best of ways — times two.

Instead of reciting the script over again — the old review does a decent enough job of that — let me extol the reasons why I love this movie so much.

It’s got an amazing cast. And the Barbarian Brothers. Perhaps realizing that the Brothers may look like a 1983 first wave Masters of the Universe figure but have the acting skills of, well, a 1983 first wave Masters of the Universe figure, Deodato wisely fills the film with all manner of amazing people. There’s Michael Berryman as the Dirtmaster, the henchman tasked with running The Pit, or the place where slaves do manual labor. George Eastman shows up for a few seconds to arm wrestle in a cantina scene. Eva LaRue — who somehow is both of the third installments of RoboCop and Ghoulies — as the long-lost adopted sister of the brothers. And perhaps, most importantly, Richard Lynch, who as always turns in a game performance despite the absolute silliness of the proceedings. I mean, the dude has hair extensions and fake fingers after the young brothers bite his fingers off.

It’s got the Barbarian Brothers. For two guys who look like they should be serious warriors — or barbarians, if the title has anything to say about it — they spend much of the movie making fun of one another. They seem to screw up everything they touch and mostly only escape from situations by being bulls in a proverbial China shop. You have to love that despite the movie being set in what seems to be the distant past — unless Deodato is pulling a Yor Hunter from the Future fakeout on us — they speak as if it were 1987, calling one another bonehead repeatedly.

It’s got a great score. Pino Donaggio has written music for everything from Don’t Look Now and Tourist Trap to Dressed to KillThe Howling and Body Double (and yes, Giallo In Venice and Gor II), so you know that when you hear his music, it’s going to elevate anything it plays behind.

It’s got fun effects and sets. One of the craziest thing about the new blu ray of this is that it’s so crystal clear that you can see the strings moving a dragon’s mouth up and down, which is rather disconcerting. That said, the swamp set — where most of the film takes place — looks awesome otherwise. This is also a movie with magical belly button jewelry, which is a sentence I’ve never written before.

It’s got Mad Max wrapped up in its sword and sorcery. Despite — again — being set in the past, most of Kadar’s warriors look like they should be in the employ of Immorten Joe. Also, Kutchek and Gore — our heroes — live with a band of traveling circus performers who use their skills to throw knives and blow fire at their attackers. It’s like the hard-driving armanda of — again! — Immorten Joe, but only 28 years earlier.

If you ever want to sit down and have me talk over a movie and extol its virtues — of which many would say there are none — then let it be this movie. I even have the great new blu ray from Kino Lorber, so it looks fabulous!

You can get a copy of your own right here. This has my highest recommendation.

Red Sonja (1985)

I am sorry, Red Sonja. For years, I have doubted you. Surely you cannot be as good as Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. You have to be a weaker sister, I always thought, so I avoided you.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Today, dear reader, I am here to tell you that while this film is not as good as the first two Conan romps, it’s still an astounding sword and sorcery adventure filled with plenty of great effects, well-shot battles and a cast of some of my favorite actors.

Oddly enough, Red Sonja may be owned by the Robert E. Howard estate, but the character itself was really created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, who used Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino as inspiration. But man, those 70’s Conan comics were monsters and people fell in love with the idea that Sonja could be as tough as Conan and had promised the goddess Scáthach that in exchange for heightened strength, stamina, agility and fighting skills that she would never lie with a man until he could defeat her in fair combat.

Let’s not debate how the survivor of sexual assault must pretty much get beat up to enjoy lovemaking, because that’s the kind of complex argument that won’t be solved inside a movie that’s really about stabbing people. I’m not saying it’s an important discussion to have, but I’m an expert in exploitation movies, not humanity.

Directed by Richard Fleischer, whose career goes from the heights of Soylent Green and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to the depths of The Jazz Singer and Amityville 3-D — not to mention Mandingo — this moves quick, looks good and is just plain fun.

After surviving the death of her family and being attacked by the soldiers of Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman*, who seems to relish the opportunity to play a villain instead of the female sidekick), Sonja trains to become a legendary warrior.

Meanwhile, her sister Varna (Janet Agren, Hands of SteelCity of the Living Dead) has become a priestess in an order of women who plan on banishing the Talisman, which created the world but could now destroy it. If any man touches it, he disappears, so of course Gedren wants to use it for her own ends. Led by Ikol (Ronald Lacey, Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark), her army kills the priestesses and takes the Talisman for their queen.

Lord Kalidor** (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds Varna and brings Sonja to her, where she learns of the Talisman and how she can kill two birds with one stone by destroying it and Gedren. Her adventures take her to meet Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.), a young king of a land destroyed by Gedren, and his bodyguard Falkon (Paul L. Smith, who the handyman in Pieces and Bluto in Popeye). She also defeats the ominous Lord Brytag (Pat Roach, the former pro wrestler who shows up as a major bad guy in so many movies, from the mechanic that Indiana Jones knocks into a Flying Wing in Raiders of the Lost Ark to Hephaestus in Clash of the Titans, Toth-Amon in Conan the Destroyer and General Kael in Willow) before an awesome duel with Kalidor for the right to aardvark*** and then another battle against Gedren as her castle explodes with lava flowing everywhere.

Speaking of that great cast, this also has a third Indiana Jones alumni, Terry Richards, who played the Arabian swordsman that Indy so memorable shot after a long flourish of sword swinging. Plus, Tutte Lemkow, best known as the Fiddler on the Roof is a wizard and The Swordmaster that trains Sonja is Tad Horino, who was also Confucius in Bill and Red’s Bogus Journey. Erik Holmey, who played the soldier who asked “What is best in life?”, and replied, “The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair!” is in this. And of course, Arnold’s buddy Sven-Ole Thorsen shows up.

Plus, how can you be let down by an Ennio Morricone score?

Again, I’m sorry, Red Sonja. You’re actually pretty darn good.

*Bergman was offered the role of Red Sonja, but turned it down, choosing instead to play Queen Gedren. Producer Dino De Laurentiis met with actress Laurene Landon and was set to offer her the role until he learned that she had pretty much already played the same part in Hundra. He spent a year looking for an actress who looked like an Amazon, almost picking Eileen Davidson (The House On Sorority Row) before discovering Brigitte Nielsen on the cover of a magazine.

**There’s a fan theory that Kalidor is really Conan, as some heroes would use “adventuring names” while they were in other counties, like how Gandalf was also known as Mithrandir. De Laurentiis didn’t have the rights to use Conan again, which explains this financially. Speaking of money, Arnold signed up for a cameo as a favor to the producer, but one week turned into four and when he saw a rough cut of the movie, he realized that he was really a co-star. This is why he terminated his 10-year deal with De Laurentiis.

***They totally did, for real, according to Arnold in his book Total Recall – My Unbelievably True Life Story. Neilsen confirmed this in her book You Only Get One Life, saying that they had “no restrictions” in their lovemaking. You know, while some of us debated whether Stallone or Schwarzenegger was the best action hero, Neisen had Biblical knowledge.

Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

Nathan Juran made some interesting movies. Everything from being. the art director for Kiss the Blood Off My Hands to writing Doctor Blood’s Coffin and directing 20 Million Miles to EarthAttack of the 50 Foot WomanThe 7th Voyage of Sinbad, episodes of Lost In SpaceVoyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel, and finally The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.

Producer Eddie Small wanted another movie just like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. So he hired the star (Kerwin Mathews), the director (Juran) and the villain (Torin Thatcher), which ended up getting him sued and having to re-edit and re-release the film as a musical. Thirty years later,original non-musical adventure version was finally permitted to be released.

Thatcher plays Pendragon, a wizard ruler of the witches, giants, hobgoblins and monsters of a faraway kingdom. He’s defeated by another wizard named Herla, but when the old man dies, there is no defense left when he captures Princess Elaine (Judie Meredith, Queen of Blood) with one of his giants named Cormoran, who is in turn stopped by a farmer named Jack (Matthews).

Pendragon is evil incarnate, turning ladies in waiting (Anna Lee from Picture Mommy Dead) and even Elaine into witches and sending a warlock to wreck the ship Jack is on.

Man, this movie has everything. A viking (that gets turned into a dog). Leprechauns. Two-headed giants battling sea monsters. Pendragon turning himself into a dragon with a wolf’s head, a snake’s tail and huge wings. And, thanks to the lawsuit, musical numbers in one version of the film.

There were even toys made of the film, all the way back in 1962.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. There are also two Rifftrax versions, one in studio and another that was done live.

Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964)

I love when a film series sticks around long enough to battle aliens. Hercules is no different, as now he must battle the evil Queen Samara (Jany Clair, Planets Against Us)  and her army of Moon Men, who demand that children be sacrificed to bring back their dead leader.

Hercules is played by Sergio Ciani, who used the stage name Alan Steel. He got his start doubling for Steve Reeves in Hercules Unchained and The Giant of Marathon. His run of seven Hercules films is filled with crazy situations to keep the peblu genre alive, such as Hercules and the Masked Rider, which had a Zorro theme, and Hercules and the Treasure of the Incas, which started as a sword and sandal movie and became a western after A Fistful of Dollars became a major hit during filming.

If you’re expecting this movie to be true to its mythological origins, you should know that it borrows from Roman, Greek, Ancient Egyptian and Cretan stories, as well as even soem Edgar Rice Burroughs. In Italy, Steel really playing Maciste, who was a star of silent Italian cinema, but American distributors changed him to Hercules.

Look, it’s Hercules against moon men with giant heads. You should be so lucky.

Watch this on Amazon Prime or download it from the Internet Archive.

Thirst (2019)

Known in its native Iceland as Þorsti, this is one bloody take on the vampire film. How bloody? At least 200 litres (528 gallons) of fake blood were used in the film.

It starts with a drug addict named Hulda, who is charged with murdering her brother. After the police let her go due to insufficient evidence, she meets Hjörtur, a thousand-year-old gay vampire. He sees something in her, so he decides to show her the ways of vampirism, which starts with him replacing the weiner in a hot dog with, well, a weiner of another kind.

If you can get past that scene, then you’re going to love this movie.

It’s directed by Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson and Gaukur Úlfarsson from a script by Björn Leó Brynjarsson. They’ve crafted a world where the good guys are vampires and the bad guys are a mix of Christian leaders and the police, who have created an apocalyptic cult behind the scenes.

This is perhaps the most over the top horror comedy I’ve seen in a long time, filled with inventive moments of pure mayhem. It’s not for everyone, but Hjörtur — who is played by Hjörtur Sævar Steinason — is an absolute delight, if a genital decimating bloodsucker can be described in such a way.

You can find this on demand and on DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment.

Hercules Unchained (1959)

In Italy, this movie is known as Ercole e la Regina di Lidia (Hercules and the Queen of Lydia) and it’s loosely based upon various Greek myths and the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, as envisioned by co-writers Ennio De Concini and Pietro Francisci, who also directed. It’s also the second — and last — Hercules movie with Steve Reeves in the lead.

Hercules has been brought in to settle the battle over who should rule Thebes between brothers Eteocles and Polynices. However, a magic spring looks so refreshing and Hercules is hypnotized by a harem girl and becomes the kept man of Queen Omphale of Lydia (Sylvia Lopez, who sadly died the same year this movie was made), who plans on sleeping with our hero until she gets bored and turns him into a statue.

Luckily, Ulysses is on hand to help him get his memory back, just in time to decimate three wild tigers in order to rescue his wife beloved Iole (Sylvia Koscina). Then, our hero realizes that he should just let the two brothers kill one another.

Wrestling fans will be happy to see Primo Carnera (he was also a boxer and known as the Ambling Alp) show up as Antaeus.

Mario Bava served as special effects supervisor on this film (he was the cinematographer for Hercules and Hercules Conquers Atlantis; he would then direct the incredible Hercules In the Haunted World), which you can definitely see in the foggy dream sequences.

While Reeves would leave the series to Reg Park, the two Hercules files he was in would be successful all over the world.

You can watch this on Tubi with Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing or check out the original on YouTube.

Hercules (1958)

Joseph E. Levine was a genius. At the time of his death, he’s produced nearly 500 films. He did some pretty amazing things, like introduce the U.S. to Sophia Loren and Godzilla, while bringing foreign movies like Jack the Ripper and Attila: Scourge of God to America, renaming The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World to Licensed to Kill and producing and executive producing everything from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and The Graduate to Mad Monster PartyThey Call Me TrinityMagicThe Carpetbaggers and The Producers. He started the Embassy in AVCO Embassy.

But for the purposes of this story, he was the man who spent $1 million dollars* to make Steve Reeves a star all over the world with this movie. And by the time he did it, Reeves had already made four more movies ready to follow this one.

Unlike many actors who go to Italy to make a film, the former chiropractor and Mr. America of 1947, Mr. World of 1948 and Mr. Universe of 1950 became a huge deal over in Italy, ending his career on his own terms in 1968 after the western A Long Ride from Hell, which has the incredible alternate title I Live For Your Death!**

Funny enough, this is more the story of Jason and the Argonauts, yet with Hercules taking center stage. And from this movie, an entire industry of peblum movies was born.

Hercules joins the crew of Jason, along with Ulysses and his father Laertes, Argos, the twins Castor and Pollux, Orpheus and Aesculapius when Pelias, the King of Iolcus, sends Jason on a fool’s errand to take the Golden Fleece. That’s because Pelias has been warned that someday, Jason would take his throne. Meanwhile, Hercules is in love with the king’s daughter Princess Iole. Who can blame him? She’s played by Sylvia Koscina, who is also in Deadlier Than the Male and So Sweet, So Dead***.

Hercules battles ape men and Amazons when he isn’t fulfilling his labors, like fighting the Nemean Lion and the Cretan Bull. There’s even a dragon with the voice of Godzilla, which makes sense, as Levine owned the rights to that sound effect.

By the mid-60’s, 10% of all Italian films were sword and sandal movies. That’s how influential this one is. And speaking of importance to Italian film, the cinematographer for this movie suggested that Reeves grow a beard. His name? Mario Bava.

*Levine spent more money promoting this movie than it cost to make. He was ahead of his time, if today’s movies are any indication. He also introduced the concept of saturation booking by using over 600 prints of this film, which at the time was a huge number of prints to be struck, as most theaters only had one screen.

**Reeves had turned down A Fistful of Dollars because he felt that Italians couldn’t make a western out of a Japanese samurai film. He also turned down Dr. No — this could be apocryphal — because they could not afford his salary demands.

***Her maid is played by Luciana Paluzzi, who was Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, as well as appearing in The Green Slime, Jess Franco’s 99 Women and A Black Veil for Lisa.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (1988)

The third of four Deathstalker movies, following Rick Hill as the hero in Deathstalker* and John Terlesky taking over in Deathstalker II, this installment finds John Allen Nelson (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) taking over as the Deathstalker.

Deathstalker once saved the wizard Nicias (Mexican telenovella actor Aarón Hernán) and as such, they now travel to villages where the old man tells the future. At one such place, a hooded woman reveals herself to be the Princess Carissa (Carla Sands, who was appointed the U.S. Ambrassador to Denmark in 2017), who knows of a magical stone that can combine with the one Nicias alrady has to reveal the secret city of Arandor. All they have to do is battle the evil sorcerer Troxartes (Thom Christopher, Hawk from Buck Rogers) to get it. That shouldn’t be so bad, right?

That’s when Makut and his men attack. Nicias teleports to safety while Deathstalker must battle his way out. Carissa? Yeah, she doesn’t make it. If you haven’t seen the other films, Deathstalker screws up spectacularly quite often, unlike Conan, whose movies he’s cashing in on. He heads off to the home country of Troxartes, meeting with Carissa’s twin Princess Elizena and being chased by Makut, who has brought back all of Deathstalker’s deceased enemies from beyond the grave.

Oh yeah — he also meets a local girl named Marinda who he beds in less time than it will take for you to read this review. There’s also an undead warrior named Gragas who remembers that he died honorably against Deathstalker (they can’t mean Oghris from the first movie, right? Why do I remember Deathstalker cannon better than the people who made these movies?) and reveals that all the dead souls are trapped doing the bidding of their master.

Of course, there are three stones needed, not just one. And yes, there’s no way Marinda or any of the bad guys are going to survive. You know who is? Deathstalker. He just gets on his horse and rides away after decimating the lives of everyone around him, like the Hyborian Jessica Fletcher.

It’s worth mentioning that unlike all of the other films in this series, this does not use stock footage of the other Deathstalker films. It does, however, take liberally from Corman’s The Raven. It also takes the soundtrack** from Battle Beyond the Stars, just like so many Corman productions. There’s even an IMDB list that has taken stock of all the movies Corman made that reuse bits and pieces of that film, so I guess he was a green filmmaker back before that was a thing.

This is the kind of junk food film that goes well on a cold and rainy Saturday. It was written by Howard R. Cohen, who also brought us The Unholy RollersSaturday the 14thSaturday the 14th Strikes BackStrykerBarbarian Queen II and episodes of both Rainbow Brite and The Care Bears.

You can watch the MST3K verson of this on Tubi or the unriffed version on YouTube.

*Hill would come back for the fourth movie, 1991’s Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans. It is my job to know these things.

**It also outright rips off Brian Eno’s prophecy theme from Dune.