There are many aspects of the PEPLUM genre which appear to be entirely innate to it, aspects rarely seen in other genres. One of the them is the prevalence of overly muscular men wearing as little as possible (left, a muscular extra seen in QUEEN OF SHEBA). This trend started back in the silent era and came to complete fruition during the Golden Era of the genre, between 1949 and 1965. I explained this in great details during the past weeks, with HERCULES being the ultimate example of this trend.
Another aspect that is primarily seen in films of the PEPLUM genre is the kinky overtones. It's an odd aspect. Practically every PEPLUM film has a torture scene, or whippings, or some extremely elaborate test of strength our hero has to endure to overcome the obstacles set up by evil villains. They are so common that they are, imo, synonymous with PEPLUM cinema.
It would pointless to enumerate all the films which have some of these scenes. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the few films that don't have such scenes. Just a couple weeks ago I uploaded such a scene from THE MIGHTY URSUS (below). The scene perfectly encapsulates the overtly kinky tone of these types of scenes. As a note, when MIGHTY URSUS was released on DVD in Spain, most of the torture scenes were trimmed down or removed. Too much for today's audiences.
Like so many things, these torture scenes existed since the days of silent cinema. It was a way to get a reaction from audiences : torturing the main character as a test of wills. But during the Golden Era, these torture scenes took a whole another level. This is mostly thanks to Cecil B DeMille, who's film, SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932), became a template of sorts for all films made afterwards. SIGN OF THE CROSS at it all : whipping, beastiality, sex slaves, forced lesbianism, you name it, it was in it. But as kinky as SOTC was the stuff that would appear in film of the 1950s and 1960s would even make DeMille blush. For example, the torture scene in DUEL OF THE TITANS (above right, Steve Reeves) is totally gratuitous. We see a stripped down Reeves on a cross, being turned around and whipped mercilessly. It just comes out of nowhere and we never see any consequences of that moment afterwards. But then few people complained about that scene, if you know what I mean. It added very little to the film except for some naughty sexiness.
To put it bluntly, you rarely see ugly, overweight people getting whipped with their clothes off. The entertainment aspect was this : seeing evil, often ugly people doing bad things to beautiful people. It's pretty simple and universal.
The film with the most tortures and whippings and Feats of Strength is MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (above, with Wandisa Guida). I posted an image from it last Monday. It's a cornucopia of kinky torture scenes.
Here's just a short sample of examples :
Feats of Strength -
Probably the most popular form of torture. Anita Ekberg tortures a woman, with a whip (among other things) in THE MONGOLS
Torture wheel -
The Torture Wheel scene from SWORDS WITHOUT A COUNTRY. The film itself is very benign. Strictly rated PG but then bam, here comes a very effective torture scene, which almost puts it in the R rated category.
Elaborate and impractical torture devices -
Goliath (Brad Harris) tries to save his tied-up buddy from the spinning device with deadly claws, pulled by a bunch of slaves whipped into submission by a slave master (below). This is not a 'Feat of Strength' moment.
Mud wrestling -
Torture chamber -
The Torture chamber in COLOSSUS OF RHODES
The list goes on and on : tie-up, torture using fire (not branding), netting, torture with water, etc. I could write a whole book on this alone. In fact, someone did write a book of the subject of whipping, called LASH!, and it mostly featured PEPLUM films.
Again, like the casual disregard to male nudity, one has to wonder how these films got away with most of what they showed back in the day. If the torture scenes were to be set in contemporary times, they would take a whole different meaning and the films would have most likely been banned but since the stories took place in the distant past, these moments seemed more 'normal,' hence their acceptance. Today, many of these scenes would most likely get an R rating because of the excessive attention in drawing pain from people, but also because of the overt kinkiness to them.
These torture (aka kinky) moments were so common that when the more explicit films of the 1970s came along, people were already pretty much accustomed to seeing them in such films set in Antiquity and the next logical step was simply going even further, like what they did in CALIGULA (1979).
Next week, disrobing the female body.
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