Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hercules (1983)

I’ve said it before, but it needs repeating, the first half of the ‘80s were a glorious time for fantasy film buffs. Every studio was out there trying to cash in on the Dungeons and Dragons craze, and Conan the Barbarian sparked a huge influx of sword and sorcery films. But it was also a time of great joy for fans of bad movies – because this set of years was a gold mine of low budget/high hilarity films. I only mention this because… well… you’ll see.

Everyone knows of good ol’ Hercules (Lou Ferrigno in this version). He’s super strong and he fights monsters and evildoers. He wears a tiny skirt and flexes a lot too. Well in this version we get a “space age” twist. The gods are more like alien benefactors. Evil king Minos (William Berger) trusts in science over magic and uses robots to take out our hero. Yes, this version has chariots, swords and skimpy togas, but it also has laser beams, disco inspired costumes and space travel. Sure the basic story is mythical, but it is all given a new coat of 80s florescent paint. Your brain may melt but it’s hard to deny that this is Hercules like you’ve never seen him before (or since really).

Good Points:
  • Ferrigno and Berger give it their all and seem to be having a blast
  • Fans of beefcake and cheesecake will be in heaven
  • Pino Donaggio provides a full-bodied heroic musical score

Bad Points:
  • The lower budget shows its seams a few too many times
  • The clash between classic and futuristic is over the top and then some
  • This movie is a mess

This movie is pure gold for fans of cheesy fantasy flicks from the 1980s. Between the bizarre sci-fi/fantasy merging and the hilarious acting choices, you end up with something that can never be confused for “good” but is entertaining the whole time. Ferrigno is doing his best to play it straight, and isn’t too bad. But Berger takes the cake and scenery and chews threw it all. Much like Herc himself, it’s big, bold, kinda dumb and a lot of fun. Check it out at a bad movie night near you.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 2
Script: 2
Music: 2
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4

In Depth Review
Full confession time, I saw this in the theater. I’m pretty sure I suckered my grandmother into taking me because I loved Clash of the Titans so much. But I’m sure she got a kick out of it too. She loved over the top action movies and television series – and if anything this version of Hercules is over the top. The movie made an impression on me. Sure it was miles away from the mythic story I knew well, but it had robots shooting lasers at Hercules! How could that not be completely awesome!

Looking that film now, well it’s a whole different kind of awesome.

First of all this was brought to us by some of the kings of ‘80s schlock, the Golan Globus Production company (aka Cannon Group). They’ve blessed us with classics like: the American Ninja series, Over the Top, Firewalker, Cobra, King Solomon’s Mines (with Richard Chamberlain), and Masters of the Universe. I had the pleasure of reviewing one of their films that was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 offering: Outlaw. Oh yeah, they were that good a what they did. What did they do? Make some of the most amusing and bizarre films of the decade with just enough of a budget to grab some big names (like Stallone and Chuck Norris) and get a competent enough crew to put together something entertaining – but not necessarily good.

Visually the movie is all over the map. You’ve got typical ancient Greek visuals, with folks in togas, riding in chariots and even a colossus standing in front of the gates of Atlantis. But there are also some more fantasy style costumes, with Circe (Mirella D’Angelo) and Ariadne (Sybil Danning) looking more like Xena the warrior princess. Finally there are the futuristic elements. First there’s the Gods: Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli), Hera (Rossana Podesta) and Athena (Delia Boccardo). They all look like they combined some eccentric diso wear with glowing neon and some fantasy accessories. It’s so stunning goofy that you have to see it to believe it.

But this futuristic look crosses over into the visual effects, with the robotic monsters. Previous to this, most Hercules films used some bad costumes, puppets or stop motion to create their creatures. Well in this case we get some not so smooth stop motion for the robotic creatures, and it works fine in the end. Since these are robots, they don’t have to move smoothly like Harryhausen’s work in Clash of the Titans or Jason and the Argonauts. Plus you get a nifty looking robot version of the hydra and a giant metallic centaur with one eye (a nod to Golden Voyage of Sinbad perhaps?). You also get a giant metallic bug, not sure how he fits into mythology, but there you go.

The rest of the visual effects are all over the map, with some below average model work, to a glowing flame sword (nothing like a lightsaber at all!). You get a hilarious stop motion hand, followed by some water snakes that look like, well I’ll just come out and say it – animated turds with glowing eyes. The opening sequence goes over the creation of the universe and the gods and all kinds of stuff in a bizarre prologue. The visuals here are dreamlike and actually kind of effective. But then you have the hilarious scene of Hercules and Circe flying into space on Prometheus’ chariot. You’ll fall out of your sofa laughing, it looks so ridiculous and the reaction shots of our heroes are priceless.

God bless composer Pino Donaggio for doing his best to make the whole movie have some kind of heft. He creates a huge over the top theme for Hercules. It’s full bodied and orchestral and more than a little reminiscent of John Williams’ work on Superman and Star Wars. But I suspect that was a request from the producers who also asked Bill Conti to make his score for Masters of the Universe sound like Superman and Star Wars. The only downside is that there appear to be very few tracks. Because the same music keeps getting used over and over again. By the end of the film you’re just wishing for some variations on the whole thing.

Ferrigno certainly looks the part as Hercules. During most of the action scenes he holds his own, tossing stunt men around with verve and fighting with various weapons (Including a tree trunk against a guy in a bear suit) to save the day. He’s a bit wooden when it comes facing the stop motion creatures, but that kind of thing can be tough for seasoned actors. As far as his performance goes, well he’s not bad. A little stiff at times but he’s giving it a good try.

Brad Harris as King Minos is anything but stiff. He’s over the top evil to his core. His obsession with science and it destroying the power of the gods is played to the hilt. He’s sinister, cold, cruel and pompous. All of his scenes are classic hammy actor material and plays it with gusto. Bravo!

For our trio of lovely ladies, well there’s plenty skin of display. Sybil Danning is our villainess who spends most of the movie vamping it up and bursting out of her strategically cut dress. Near the end, she gets her best scenes as she threatens Herc with sex (don’t see how that is a bad thing) and even throws a spear or two. Ingrid Anderson plays the princess Cassiopea who is Herc’s main love interest. She appears to have been dubbed, so her performance is hard to judge. But she looks ravishing in all her cloths (what little there is). Her “outfit” for the sacrifice leaves very little to the imagination and is probably the reason she got the part. I’m not slamming her performance, but the part is severely underwritten. Much more interesting is the sorceress Circe played by Mirella D. Angelo. Her character has a personality (even if she is dubbed) and does more interacting with Herc than Cassiopea does. Yes she’s dressed in cleavage and leg enhancing outfits, but she has more dialogue than the rest of the females in the cast (and that includes the two goddesses).

Now most of the old Hercules flicks from the ‘60s didn’t skimp on the oily muscle men and the half naked girls. It was part of the deal. This movie keeps that fine tradition alive. But the older films seemed like they were targeted at an older audience than this film. There are moments in Hercules where it feels like this is a movie made for young boys. The simplistic dialogue, the repetition of plot points and the bright colors all seem targeted at boys around 9 or so. But all the skin on display just feels a bit odd. Maybe it was for the fathers who were taking their sons, or for the teens who were getting high in the back of the theater and tripping on all the neon, robots and cleavage.

 Do I need to say that the script is the real downfall here? Well it is. It makes some sense, but there is no real concept of cohesive structure. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens to Herc in his quest to save Cassiopea. King Minos wants to harness the power of the Phoenix and destroy the gods. Zeus picks Hercules as his champion, and helps him along the way. Hera is bitter and tries to stop throw a wrench in the works every once in a while. Some moments are lifted right from the classic myth. Baby Herc kills two snakes (glowing eyed turds) with his bare hands. He cleans the filthiest stables on earth by changing the course of a river. He travels to the underworld. But other moments, like where he and Circe cross a rainbow bridge to get to Atlantis come out of nowhere.

With all that said, the movie is a mess, but a glorious fun mess. It was great to revisit it, and see that it was a bigger slice of cheese than I remembered. 


  1. Soon after this movie began, I realized there was no sense to be made out it and, like you, just watched the show.

    I almost can hear the scriptwriter pitching his idea for a Hercules pic with a Star Wars angle.

    1. Exactly. There also appears to be a sequel, that sounds even more messy and bizarre than the original (but with a lower budget). I haven't seen it, but it sounds like something I should check out. :)