Tuesday, August 2, 2011


(this review contains spoilers)


Gordon Scott as Glaucus/Hercules

Rosalba Neri as Queen Demeter

Alessandra Panaro as Medea

Arturo Dominici as Penthius

Jany Clair as Deianira

Michel Lemoine as Euneos
Nello and Michel
Nello Pazzafini as Archepolos

Nerio Bernardi as High Priest Asterion


with appearances from Geneviève Grad, Fortunato Arena and Jeff Cameron

Directed by Giorgio Ferroni

Music by Carlo Rustichelli

Alternate title: The Conquest of Mycenae

During the Peplum explosion of the late 1950s and early 1960s, tons of films were made in a conveyor-belt/mass production manner, one film after another or two films made at the same time, sometimes sharing the same sets with the same cast. This was a way to produce as many films as possible in order to flood movie screens with pulpy historical epics to capitalize on the trend while people were still interested in it. Gordon Scott made a dozen or so Peplum films, some ranging from excellent to good while a bunch range from good to serviceable. HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH is one of those films Scott shot one right after the other and it's a definitive stand-out, in more ways than one, and for better or for worse.

I admit that I personally enjoy HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH a lot even for all its many faults. The film sorta epitomizes the PEPLUM genre, dashing muscular Hero battling bad guys, including a monster of equal strength and size as our Hero in the form of Moloch, surrounded by beautiful women who are either on his side, trying to help him or are conniving witches trying to kill him. 

The story, like most of these films, is not complex: after a bloody battle, people of old Mycenae are exiled from their homeland and head for some distant land to start all over. Their statue of the God Moloch was destroyed in the process and their new Queen, a pregnant Demeter (Rosalba Neri), promises to her dying husband, the King of Mycenae, that sacrifices to Moloch would stop in New Mycenae. The dying King also asks of the Queen to love her step-daughter, Medea, as her own flesh and blood. A voice-over then tells us that a boy was born and that Queen Demeter and the High Priest (Nerio Bernardi) decided to rear the new born as a living image of Moloch.

Fast forward 20 years and we see the New Mycenae (footage of temple and buildings from THE TROJAN HORSE). Demeter is still beautiful but has some grey streaks in her hair and the High Priest has gone completely grey. The New Mycenae is now the strongest city in the land and its army regularly pillage and plunder other cities, provinces, for gold, resources and, of course, beautiful women to be sacrificed to Moloch.

Because of some recent pillaging that hit too  close to home, Glaucus (Gordon Scott) decides to infiltrate the city of Mycenae by letting himself be captured as a slave. He's picked out from the group of slaves (which includes Jany Clair) and becomes a star gladiator. Queen Demeter notices him and befriends him, flirts with him and  she starts trusting him. He introduce himself as Hercules, not Glaucus (so the movie is really not an actual Hercules story). Glaucus/Hercules freely walks around the secluded inner sanctum of the Temple; at one point he tries to rescue a grown-up Medea (Alessandra Panaro) from the amorous advances of General Penthius (Peplum regular Arturo Dominici, playing a role usually reserved for Mimmo Palmara). Hercules reveals his true self to Medea and his purpose for being in Mycenae. Knowing that Demeter fancies Hercules, a miffed General Penthius tells Demeter that he found both Hercules and Medea in an embrace; in retribution, the livid Queen tells Medea that she has to marry Penthius or end up as a sacrifice to Moloch. Medea refuses to marry a man she despises so she will be sacrificed. Hercules, in chains, is set to be part of some life and death gladiator event in honour to Moloch, who witnesses the spectacle. Though Hercules wins the gladiatorial challenge he ends up in a deep and narrow prison cell after the High Priest found out Hercules' true identity. Herc tries to escape just as Medea is about to be sacrificed in tribute to Moloch but also to end the current drought that's crippling the region. Hercules manages to escape. At the same time, the sacrificial ceremony goes all wrong, as it starts to rain just as the High Priest was about to kill Medea (he, in turn, is killed by a bolt of lighting that starts the rain!). In the outskirts, we see a massive army from Hercules' city marching toward Mycenae. Hercules escapes Mycenae after a sudden uprising from the populace, during which Medea is kidnapped again. Hercules, safe at the camp of his army, plots an attack against Mycenae. The two armies battle, with the Mycenaen army defeated; Hercules and his men quietly storm Mycenae while in the catacombs, Medea is chained, awaiting to be sacrificed to Moloch. Hercules to the rescue.

Medea (Alessandra Panaro) confronted by the blood-lusting Moloch.
"My, you have big teeth!"

As in many Italian PEPLUM films, the story is a series of set-ups to entrap our Hero so he can perform a few feats of strength and heroism. Even though, technically speaking, Gordon is not actually playing Hercules he's still strong enough to break free from shackles and do stuff most normal humans wouldn't be able to do, including vertically walking up walls in a cramped jail cell (a cool scene) and single-handedly battling a bunch of soldiers with ease.

Impressive scene!

The main thing that sets this film apart from the rest of Gordon Scott's films or any other PEP films is Moloch himself. Played by an uncredited actor (some say it's Mario Novalli but I doubt it as his body shape doesn't match Mario's), the evil Moloch, with his mask to hide a face disfigured since birth, is one of those rare things in Italian Sword & Sandal films: a worthy adversary to our Hero. Muscular (but not overly so) and tall, Moloch is simply a cool looking character. You either despise him, or feel sorry for him or are in terror/awe of him, or all three at the same time. His fate seems unusually cruel and it's almost understandable what he does to beautiful young things. Though the victims are mostly shown as girls, in one scene we see that Moloch also enjoys ritualistically killing young men, sorta reflecting on the myth of the Minotaur.

Not all of Moloch's victims are female, as these scenes show

The film also succeeds in several other departments, including the wonderful use of Peplum clichés, which are all well executed here and the many fight scenes are always believable, exciting and violent. Gordon Scott is his usual stolid self. Rosalba is regal and menacing. The entire cast have chemistry and they seemed to have had fun making this film.

There are several scenes with Roman litters

Bathing beauty cliché

Breaking free from shackles and chains cliché

As I've already said I like this film a lot but with reservations. The thing that sorta hampers my enjoyment is the fact that in its final state this is mostly a patched up job: except for several key scenes, at least a good 25 to 30 percent of this film is recycled from other films. Also, the entire score by Carlo Rustichelli is lifted from other films, including the brilliant one from THE GIANTS OF THESSALY. All the big war scenes are from THE TROJAN HORSE or THE AVENGER (War of the Trojans). Several other big scenes are entirely lifted from the seldom seen THE BACCHANTES: the sacrificial of Medea in the exterior court is cleverly edited with new scenes. The crazy/colourful tam-tam women in the grotto/catacombs are also taken from THE BACCHANTES. When I saw HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH for the first time my initial suspicion that some scenes were taken from other films started with the sight of the tam-tam girls because the film stock and the colour looked totally different than the new scenes. After this, I subsequently started noticing other scenes lifted from previous films.

Nerio Bernardi and Alessandra Panero in a scene from THE BACCHANTES. Both actors 
were hired for HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH and this borrowed scene blended 
almost seamlessly with the new scenes. Both films were directed by Giorgio Ferroni.

One could even say that because the bulk of borrowed scenes are from the director's previous films that it's not so bad but this practice was one of the reasons why the genre died a quick death so I'm not a big fan of this. Then again, if your knowledge of Peplum films is limited,  these borrowed scenes won't be an issue. Though sometimes haphazardly edited together and you might wonder why none of the main actors appear in many of these scenes, most of them, certainly the big external sacrificial moment, blend well with the new stuff.

With so many elements borrowed from other films, HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH doesn't feel as whole or solid as other Peplums which are entirely new from beginning to end. If you look at another Gordon Scott film, the action-packed HERO OF BABYLON (Beast of Babylon), that film, which seems to have a smaller budget than HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH, feels more integral as it contains almost no sequences taken from other films, which in the PEPLUM genre is, sadly, more rare than commonplace. Unlike HERO OF BABYLON though, HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH feels more cinematic with the great use of exteriors. HERO OF BABYLON somewhat feels like a studio-bound TV movie.

Great use of wide spaces and sets give this film an epic cinematic touch

Even with all of these negatives I still enjoy watching it. It's one of those films that I can watch over and over again. The mood and tone of HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH perfectly encapsulate what a Peplum is supposed to be: big brawny action with a sexy cast combined with some elements of horror and over-the-top paganisms all in the service of entertainment. 

I have this film in two versions: one "official" release from the U.S. that was included in a HERCULES DVD package, which is currently OOP and very pricey. The aspect ratio for the U.S. DVD is 4:3 but the image is pretty clear. The other version I have is a dupe and it's in widescreen (not the actual Euroscope ratio though). The image from that version is a bit soft and blurry but there's so much more information than the U.S. DVD. The screengrabs here were all taken from this version.

Borrowed scenes:

Uprising scene from THE AVENGER (War of the Trojans)

Drought scene from THE BACCHANTES

The crazy "tam-tam" girls from THE BACCHANTES

Another ceremony scene taken from THE BACCHANTES with Alessandra and Nerio

The exterior sets are scenes from THE TROJAN HORSE

The bulk of the battle scenes are from THE TROJAN HORSE

Yet another scene from THE TROJAN HORSE. The man in white is
supposed to be Steve Reeves as Aeneas. Oops! 

Rating: 8 out of 10 (would be higher if not for the stock footage)

- Great cast that click together
- Great atmosphere and lighting
- Tight fights and action scenes
- Excellent use of space/exteriors
- Clichés well executed
- Cool nemesis
- Sets and costumes are colourful
- Great repeat viewing

- The unusually extensive amount of footage from other films
- A Franken-film: stitched together from other films and doesn't feel whole
- Music score from other films
- Underdeveloped sub-plots
- Script is a bit on the facile side


Kike said...

Great review!!

S.R.Orsulak said...

I agree with you 100 percent. Too much stock footage really prevents this movie from being a very good PEPLUM. Must of taken them only a couple of weeks to film this movie. Though it has many faults I enjoy watching it, and I would recommend it to those people who are interested in the PEPLUM genre but don't have much knowledge of it. There are some really good PEPLUMS out there that are totally new from start to finish.

PEPLUM cinema said...

Thanks Kike and SR Orsulak.

billbull said...

Yes, great review. This is one peplum where I thought the hero might actually be defeated! I always hope for that, but it never happens...