Thursday, January 23, 2020

By the Gods!

Reg Park, as Hercules, in HERCULES - PRISONER OF EVIL (1964; Ursus il terrore dei Kirghisi)

Directed by Anthony Dawson, aka Antonio Margheriti (with an uncredited Ruggero Deodato).

Is this a Hercules movie or an Ursus one? The original title is URSUS & THE TERROR OF THE KIRGHIZ. Personally speaking, I prefer Ursus but the original title is not that interesting. Maybe URSUS - PRISONER OF EVIL? This is not a Hercules movie. The title was changed to HERCULES to accommodate the English cinema markets (US - Canada - UK - Australia - NZ - Hong Kong).

The story is simple enough: the sorceress Amiko (Granelli) uses a magic potion to turn men she seduces into monsters. There are two factions in this story (the good guys and the bad guys...duh!) and Amiko wants the possessed-men-turned-into-monster to create fear and terror between the groups to trigger a war. This includes big beefy Hercules. She's works with Zereteli (main bad guy) but he doesn't exactly know what she does.

The film is never boring but it plays more like a combo of the Werewolf / Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde / FRIDAY THE 13TH than a Hercules movie. Hercules in a backwoods slasher? That's basically it. Oh, and with some witchcraft. As it always is with these kind of stories, there are a lot of red herrings.

I like it. The cinematography is excellent, as witnessed in recent DVD release of it. It looks like it was shot yesterday. The cast is solid. The acting is actually pretty good, certainly from Mireille, Ettore, Furio and Claudio Scarchilli, who's unforgettable as a double faced baddie. And Reg Park doesn't look too bored, like in some of his other movies. For some reason, in this movie Reg reminds me of Mark Wahlberg. It's a very simple story and the bulk of the movie is made of scenes of the actors running around in the woods.

A side note, this movie is one of those rare PEPLUM movies that has no cuts to it for the English version: the runtime for the original is 90 minutes and the runtime for the US version is 90 minutes.

The main problem with HERCULES - PRISONER OF EVIL is that it utilizes big chunks of scenes from THE SEVEN REVENGES (1961). Those re-used scenes all have Furio Meniconi in them. Meniconi agreed to act in this movie and they were able to edit the old footage with the new footage. It's sorta seamless, even though the film stock between the two movies are obviously different. Now if one doesn't know this or hasn't seen THE SEVEN REVENGES, it might not be a big deal but since REVENGES is a great PEPLUM, it's sorta sad that this was done. REVENGES easily eclipses this movie.

To make things more odd, a porn version of this movie was released in the early 1970s, titled THE EROTIC LIFE OF URSUS. Inserts of sex scenes or presumably nude scenes were added to the mix. So, by that time that version had scenes from 3 different movies. That version seems to have been lost forever.

7.5 out of 10

Ettore Manni is Hercules' good friend. Manni is excellent as usual.

Mireille Granelli played a compelling villainess/sorceress/witch. Her career was short-lived though.

Furio Meniconi as Zereteli. Scenes from THE SEVEN REVENGES were re-used. Meniconi wore the same costumes in both films.

A wounded Hercules is nursed back to health by his love, played by Maria Teresa Orsin. Claudio Scarchilli, in the background, plays a memorable bad guy.

Who played the monster? Was it Reg Park? No one is credited for the monster.

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