(Italy - 1961; US release 1964)
Directed by Mario Bava. Written by Alessandro Continenza, Mario Bava, Duccio Tessari and Franco Prosperi. Cast: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, Giorgio Ardisson, Marisa Belli, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini, Mino Doro, Ely Drago, Gaia Germani, Raf Baldassarre, Elisabetta Pavan, Aldo Pedinotti, Claudio Marzulli. (Unrated, 84 mins)
The global success of 1958's HERCULES, an Italian production starring American bodybuilder and former Mr. Universe Steve Reeves, led to countless peplum films coming out of Italy over the next several years. Stanley Kubrick's epic 1960 blockbuster SPARTACUS also had a hand in this exploding subgenre's immense popularity, and before long, muscle-bound guys like Reeves, former Tarzan Gordon Scott, Mark Forest, Brad Harris, Gordon Mitchell, Mickey Hargitay, "Alan Steel" (Sergio Ciani), "Kirk Morris" (Adriano Bellini), Dan Vadis, Ed Fury, and "Rock Stevens" (American actor Peter Lupus, who would later act under his real name when he was on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) were headlining dozens upon dozens of these things, playing heroes like Hercules, Samson, Ursus, Goliath, and Maciste (Reeves even played the son of Spartacus in 1962's THE SLAVE), though by the time many of these ended up dubbed in English and headed straight to syndicated TV, the hero could be a completely different character. British bodybuilder and three-time Mr. Universe Reg Park (1928-2007) had a very short-lived movie career courtesy of the post-HERCULES muscleman craze, starring in five films over a four-year period, starting with 1961's HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS, aka HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN.
BLACK SUNDAY (Bava's mentor Riccardo Freda let him direct large chunks of 1957's I VAMPIRI and 1959's CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER, though only Freda was credited). One of the most innovative stylists and special effects craftsman of his day and a guy who could work phantasmagorical wonders on tight budgets using matte paintings and colorgasmically garish lighting techniques, Bava would seem to be the only choice for a horror peplum that sends Hercules into the bowels of Hell, and the end result is one of the subgenre's strongest entries. As explained in verbosely muddled detail by Medea (Gaia Germani), oracle, sorceress, and mythical Basil Exposition, Hercules, son of Zeus, must venture into the depths of Hades on a quest to recover the Stone of Forgetfulness in order to break a spell cast upon his true love Princess Dianara (Leonora Ruffo) by her uncle, the diabolical King Lico (Christopher Lee!), who is conspiring with the forces of darkness to rule Italia for all eternity and have Dianara for himself. Hercules is joined by his friend Theseus (Giorgio Ardisson) and a bumbling comic relief sidekick in Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) as the trio embark on a journey to retrieve the Stone, save Dianara's soul, and defeat the treacherous Lico.
|Reg Park and Christopher Lee
goofing off on the set
with Leonora Ruffo