Thursday, October 25, 2012

Featured Film: HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN

HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN


Original title: Maciste e la regina di Samar
Director: Giacomo Gentilomo
Writers: Arpad DeRiso, Nino Scolaro, more 
Music: Carlo Franci
Release Date: 27 June 1964 (Italy)



Cast:

Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani)...Hercules (Maciste)



Jany Clair...Queen Samara



Anna Maria Polani...Agar


Nando Tamberlani...Gladius



Delia D'Alberti...Billis/Selene


Jean-Pierre Honoré...Darix

Leader of the Moon Men...



A large asteroid falls on earth and from that emerges a group of aliens who try to take over the ancient world by bringing an evil Queen back to life. The people living in Samar sacrifice young people to the aliens, a la the Minotaur of Crete, who live in the Mountain of Death. But there's a bigger plan behind the sacrifices: the Moon Men want to resurrect their Queen Selene by sacrificing the Queen Samara's sister, Billis (a buxom Delia D'Alberti). The people of Samar are terrified and tired of the sacrifices and an old wise man, Gladius (Nando Tamberlani), seeks out the help of Hercules (Maciste in original Italian version) to help end these gruesome sacrifices. Queen Samara is informed by the leader of the Moon Men that Hercules is a threat to their plans and he needs to be killed at once.

Oh you're a girl!

Hercules, on a white horse, is heading towards Samar. On his way, he's ambushed by a group of ruffians but Hercules makes minced meat out of them. Hercules continues with his journey when he's stopped by a boy who happen to be a girl (cliché!) named Agar (!!!), daughter of Gladius. Agar brings Hercules to Gladius. Hercules says: "It was my father's friendship for you that brought me here."

(This raises a few questions: when Herc says father does he mean Zeus or his earthly father? And because Hercules in the italian version was actually Maciste, who, as far as I know, never had a father, this answer is a bit odd).

The old and wise in need of the new and strong!

Gladius tells Hercules about the circumstances haunting the region of Samar and Hercules agrees to help their cause. Gladius leads Hercules through a secret passage where the old man meets his fate and Hercules goes through several feats of strength, including drowning (pretty good), a bat/ape monster (fun), some bars of steel. A grief stricken Agar brings Hercules to a tavern where the rebels meet. 

Hercules meet the rebels at the tavern who all shout his name in relief

The following day, Hercules saves Darix (Jean-Pierre Honoré) from being assassinated by Queen Samara's soldiers. Hercules brings a wounded Darix to the tavern where they nurse him back to health. They also talk about the Queen and her supposed supernatural powers. People are rounded up to be sacrificed. Soldiers appear at the tavern seeking the daughter of the tavern-keeper but Hercules has something to say about this causing a big brawl in typical Alan Steel fashion. 

Hercules swings into action

Hercules tries to rescue the people who were rounded up for the sacrifice but in turn gets trapped himself, with a net thrown on him (the indestructible net cliché). Billis is brought to the Mountain of Death by Queen Samara, where they are both shown a "resting" Queen Selene (right) and the leader of the Moon Men tells them that the dormant Queen Selene needs Billix's blood to be revived. Billis is mortified that her own sister wants to kill her. Billis is eventually captured by the Moon Men. Hercules is in chains and will go through one of the best Feat of Strengths even conceived in a PEPLUM.

Hero in chains

During this Feat of Strength, in typical PEPLUM fashion, Queen Samara falls head over heels for the invincible Hercules, thinking he'd be more useful alive and working for her than killing such a powerful being so she decides not to kill him after all and plots to seduce him to her dark side.

Classic Feat of Strength!

Queen Samara finally meets Hercules and is enamoured by him, in a sadomasochistic way. She's positively ecstatic when she describes how Hercules could strangle her as easily as breaking the stem of of a flower. This scene is one of the best in this film but also one of the best in the PEPLUM genre. Really cool stuff for a kids film. And Jany Clair plays it to camp perfection.

Rough love!

Of course, Hercules understands what's going and plays along willingly, first pretending to be drugged up by the Queen's wine laced with a love potion (right) and he basically becomes her love slave. A few days later and with a new fancy tunic, which would serve him until the end of the film, Hercules reveals to Queen Samara that he's not really under spell and escapes, saves Darix and Agar and heads for the Mountain of Death, during which a sandstorm erupts violently, as the moon slowly moves in conjunction with Saturn, Mars and Uranus. 

The world is ending

Hercules ends up inside the Mountain of Death and battles the Moon Men in an explosive (if abrupt) climax filled with nonstop action.

The Moon Men

This film is in the public domain in North America. If you only saw the grubby and scratchy PD copy then you really haven't seen this film, which is colorful and beautifully shot in widescreen. There is a widescreen version available on DVD here this side of the Atlantic which is great except for the sound which a bit on the thin side. Buy it at Amazon.

I really enjoy this film. It was made squarely for kids but adults will enjoy it too, with the numerous "rock 'em sock 'em" action scenes, some of the slightly gruesome aspects of the story (a la BLACK SUNDAY) and the kinky play between Queen Samara and Hercules. The effects are actually pretty solid. The Moon Men look cool, in a 1960s pulp book kinda way. It's only their limited ability to move about that makes them appear not as threatening as they should be. The leader of the Moon Men looks cool too.

A lot has been written about this film and almost all of it is negative. The IMDb rating is at 2.4, which is ridiculously low, even if one should never take IMDb's ratings seriously. One of the reasons why it's often regarded badly by many Fan Boys is because of the MST3k broadcast of this film, which, btw, was shown with the crappy version. Fans of that show keep screaming "sandstorm" because of the long sandstorm seen in this film. The world is about to end, so what if the sandstorm is long? And the usual juvenile jokes about Uranus. It's a shame that few people will see it in a beautiful transfer. Oh well.

Needless to say HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN has everything in it. I could list it all but instead I'll show screenshots of those wonderful PEPLUM clichés:

Queen Samara eavesdrops in a conversation between Billis and Darix with the help of a special statue

Soon to be drowned...

 Battling bat/ape creature

Bending bars, the Alan Steel way!

Ultimate Feat of strength! 

Lifting stuff!

There's no need to write an in depth review of HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN because it doesn't pretend to be nothing else than an all out colorful action film. As I pointed out a few days ago about HERCULES and the "narratives within the main narrative" aspects of the Francisci screenplay (here), MOON MEN is fairly straight-forward story, moving from point A to point B to point C. For most cinephiles this is probably the Alan Steel film they remember and know and there's a good reason for that: he's in top shape, always looks game with all the on-going action and never seemed to have more fun in this than in any of his other PEPLUM projects. As for French actress Jany Clair, she's great in this. She plays Queen Samara to Evil Queen perfection. Anna Maria Polani is a good if unusual  love interest for Hercules with an even more unusual name: Agar. The remaining cast members do their job with total conviction amidst the comic book story, including Delia D'Alberti in twin roles, as Billis and Queen Selene.

The beefcake level is high throughout mainly due to the presence of a very buff Alan and the cheesecake level is equally high with the curvaceous Jany dressed in tight fitted dresses and Delia, who's as buxom as one could be in a kids film. 

This bring me to the few things which I find lacking about MOON MEN: the cast is really small. Nothing too earth shattering about this but most PEPLUM films usually have tons of bit players and such populating the story. Not this one. Also the lack of big crowds and such scenes give the film a low budget feel that was probably not intended in the first place. I'm guessing they were all sacrificed.

Where's everyone?

My other complaints: there's no original score. The soundtrack is made mainly of bits of music from previous films which robs the film from being even more unique. Because there's no original score, MOON MEN sometimes sounds pretty quiet for an action film. The action scenes during the secret passage moment scream for a robust score but instead there's silence. Just for the sake of comparison, if you look at HERCULES AGAINST ROME, also with Steel, the soundtrack is unforgettable and unique (I can hum it) and gives so much character to a film that many might consider average. One can only imagine how much greater HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN would have been with a real original score.

And the editing could have been a bit tighter in a few places. I have the official DVD transfer of this film and the public domain version as well. I'm not aware if this film was cut from the original Italian version, which I don't have.

HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN is just a fun, colorful action movie, which happens to have a vivid supernatural/science-fiction tone to it with some beefcake and cheesecake thrown in for good measure.

Pros:

- excellent cinematography
- fast paced
- action, action, action
- Alan Steel in top form
- Jany Clair as Evil Queen
- several Feats of Strength and clichés
- spooky imagery

Cons:

- lacks original score
- tiny cast
- action scene with Moon Men could have lasted a bit longer/ ends a bit too abruptly

8 out of 10

Uploaded to the Featured Film page



8 comments:

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I like this film quite a bit, though I've only seen the grainy version. Need to track down that Widescreen version soon!

Steve R. Orsulak said...

I would like to get my hands on the Widescreen version also. I had the VHS of this about 28 yrs. ago and along with the DVD both are very grainy, in fact the DVD was copied by some company from the VHS Tape !!

PEPLUM cinema said...

You can buy it at Amazon. I added a link of the DVD to the review or on the left hand side.

Patrick Walker said...

If I have one complaint about this film, it's that Hercules' chest wasn't exposed enough.

Foxman said...

If I have one complaint about this film, it's that Billis' chest wasn't exposed enough...

Steve R. Orsulak said...

Thanks I ordered the movie today.

Joe Jusko said...

That's a great poster!

Richard Svensson said...

I don't understand why this film gets the amount of flak it does! It's like someone somewhere started the bullying trend and others pitched in. I find it an excellently entertaining italian fantasy film, with well-constructed action, sets and effects, and with a charismatic star in the lead.