Thursday, 26 May 2016

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

I had seen I Walked With a Zombie before, and even reviewed it, but that was the best part of a decade ago so I think I can be forgiven for revisiting what is after all considered to be one of the great horror classics.

This 1943 release was a product of the celebrated Val Lewton B-movie unit at RKO and was directed by Jacques Tourneur, the best of the directors who worked for Lewton.

Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) has been employed as a nurse to care for the wife of sugar planter Paul Holland (Tom Conway) on an island in the West Indies. Holland’s wife Jessica  has been in a state of near-catatonia for several years. She can walk but she cannot communicate and appears to have no mental connection with the world at all.

This partly accounts for the slightly brooding atmosphere at the plantation but there is more to it than that. There was apparently a romantic triangle involving Mrs Holland and the two brothers and shortly before she was stricken by her illness there had been a particularly unpleasant scene.

Betsy is in something of a quandary. She realises immediately that she is falling in love with Paul Holland. She is convinced that he still loves his wife and Betsy is driven by a combination of guilt and compassion to conceive the idea that perhaps Jessica Holland can somehow be restored to normality. Dr Maxwell (James Bell) has been willing to do all he can but nothing has had any effect. Betsy is informed that there are in fact better doctors who can cure Mrs Holland - voodoo doctors. We would imagine Betsy as the kind of person with little time for such notions but her zeal (or her guilt) overwhelms her judgment and she decides to give the voodoo doctors their chance. Of course she does not inform Paul Holland of her decision.

As the audience will have already gathered most of the characters have very conflicted emotions. They are not always entirely honest about their emotions and in some cases they may well be willfully deceiving themselves. Whatever the immediate outcome of Betsy’s visit to the voodoo priests might be the longer term consequences for herself, for Paul and for his brother are likely to be unpredictable.

This is certainly a horror movie that is more character-driven than most and the relationships between the characters are crucial. The motivations of the characters are also quite complex. Betsy’s guilt is not entirely unwarranted. She knew from the start that Paul was a married man and she made no attempts to discourage his interest in her, and he is a very wealthy man while she’s a more or less penniless nurse. It’s understandable she might feel that her behaviour could be interpreted as conniving. In fact it may even be conniving, perhaps without ever admitting it to herself.

Tom Conway was always somewhat overshadowed by his more famous brother George Sanders. To be honest Conway was the less talented of the brothers but he was a competent actor in the right role and he did some of his very best work in the Lewton pictures. His performance in this one can’t really be faulted. Paul Holland is a man who is repressing some very strong emotions and Conway conveys this effectively. James Ellison is quite adequate as Paul’s half-brother. Frances Dee is a satisfactory heroine, a confident self-assured woman who discovers she doesn’t know quite as much about life as she thought she did.

This movie breaks most of the rules for horror films. There’s very little overt horror, and until fairly close to the end there’s none at all. Tourneur knows what he’s doing however. The sense of unease and subtle menace builds gradually but inexorably. 

As a cinematographer J. Roy Hunt does not have the glittering reputation of Nicholas Musuraca for photographed Cat People for Tourneur but based on his work on this film perhaps he should. There are shadows. Lots of shadows! In fact some of the best use of shadows you’ll ever see. This is a movie that is heavily reliant on atmosphere and the visuals serve the purpose admirably. Since it’s so similar in visual style to other Tourneur movies one can’t help assuming that Tourneur’s influence was very much the dominant one although Hunt deserves credit for giving Tourneur the look he was after.

The sets are quite impressive also, especially by B-movie standards. The island setting is surprisingly convincing.

This movie was inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and if made today would doubtless be titled Jane Eyre with Zombies. Given that Jane Eyre is one of the masterpieces of gothic fiction the idea of turning it into a horror movie actually is not outrageous at all. The movie preserves at least a fair proportion of the spirit of Brontë’s novel.

One thing I found interesting was the way voodoo was portrayed. It wasn’t demonised in the way you’d expect in a 1943 movie, not was it depicted as being merely ridiculous. 

The Warner Home Video DVD release pairs I Walked With a Zombie with another Lewton movie, The Body Snatcher. I Walked With a Zombie gets a good transfer plus a very worthwhile audio commentary from Kim Newman and Steve Jones.

There are those who say this is the best of all the Lewton RKO films, but personally I think this one, Cat People and The Seventh Victim are all so good I wouldn’t like to even try to pick a favourite.  And they have aged very well indeed. This is magnificent subtle horror. Very highly recommended.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939)

There are those who claim that Zorro’s Fighting Legion is the best of all movie adventure serials. I don’t agree but this 1939 Republic serial is still worth a watch.

Zorro was created by pulp writer Johnston McCulley and made his debut in print in the novel The Curse of Capistrano, serialised in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly in 1919. It was published in book form under the title The Mark of Zorro after the immense success of  the 1920 feature film with that title starring Douglas Fairbanks. McCulley went on to write another sixty or so Zorro stories.

The serial makes several quite significant changes to McCulley’s original creation, most of these changes being (in my opinion) ill-advised. One of the most refreshing and original  things about the Zorro stories is their setting - California in the 1820s during the period when it was a territory under Mexican rule. The serial is set, less interestingly, in Mexico itself. Zorro is in reality nobleman Don Diego Vega. Don Diego pretends to be a rather ridiculous figure - excessively bookish, extremely foppish and thoroughly indolent. He is such an absurd figure that no-one takes him seriously, which is of course his intention. In reality he is a master swordsman, a fine shot with a pistol and a magnificent horseman. As depicted in the serial Don Diego is still rather foppish but at times he comes across as being a bit too sensible and serious - he’s not quite ridiculous enough to convince us that no-one would see through his deception.

The other major change is that the Indians are on the side of the bad guys in the serial (although arguably they’re being manipulated by the real bad guys and so are not actual bad guys) whereas in McCulley’s stories Zorro is very sympathetic indeed to the Indians. In fact Zorro is very much the champion of the poor and the oppressed, regardless of race. This crucial aspect of the Zorro character is much weakened in Zorro’s Fighting Legion - Zorro is certainly portrayed as being a good guy but he is fighting for the Mexican government rather than directly for the oppressed.

These changes dilute the unique flavour of Zorro and turn the serial into more of a straightforward western. 

Having said all this there’s still a great deal to enjoy here.

William Witney and John English directed and the appearance of their names on the credits of a Republic serial was always a good sign. You knew the action scenes would be plentiful, imaginative and skillfully executed and that the cliffhanger endings would be top-notch and the hero’s narrow escapes at least reasonably plausible. All these virtues are very much in evidence here.

The story is reasonably interesting. A faction is plotting to overthrow the Mexican government and part of their strategy is to disrupt the shipment of gold from the mines in San Bendolito province, shipments on which the government is absolutely dependent. To further this nefarious scheme the conspirators are making use of the Yaqui Indians, convincing them that the legendary Don Del Oro, a kind of god/superman, will lead them to victory and freedom.

The oddest element in the story is that Zorro is no longer a solitary masked crusader - he is now the leader of the Legion, a large band of loyal well-armed followers.

Production values are adequate by serial standards. One gets the impression that most of the money was spent on making the action sequences convincing. This was certainly a sensible approach - any serial stands or falls on the quality of its action scenes.

Don Del Oro himself is fun, being a man inside a kind of golden suit of armour and looking rather robotic.

Reed Hadley’s performance as Zorro/Don Diego is a highlight. Even if he doesn’t always quite manage to make Don Diego sufficiently indolent and foolish he is certainly entertaining and he does have the charisma to make him an excellent Zorro.

This serial has had quite a few DVD releases. Unfortunately, as is the case with most serials, no-one has ever thought it worth the expense of doing a proper restoration so picture quality tends to be a little dubious. My copy is the Alpha Video release and picture quality is most definitely dubious although admittedly that’s compensated for to some extent by the very low price. 

Zorro’s Fighting Legion is not quite up to the standards of the very best Republic serials like Spy Smasher but it is consistently entertaining and exciting. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Dr Cyclops (1940)

Dr Cyclops is yet another mad scientist movie. Which is fine by me - I happen to love mad scientist movies. This 1940 Paramount release is a fairly worthy example of the breed and it looks better than most.

Dr Thorkel (Albert Dekker) has been conducting some very secretive research deep in the jungles of the Amazon. Now he has asked a number of fellow scientists to join him in his jungle laboratory to assist him in his experiments. Dr Bullfinch (Charles Halton), Dr Mary Robinson (Janice Logan) and mineralogist Bill Stockton set out for the Amazon. Along the way they are joined by mining engineer Steve Baker (Victor Kilian) who has more or less invited himself along - they need to hire his mules and where his mules go he goes.

Dr Thorkel has long had a reputation for being irascible and temperamental. His new colleagues soon come to the conclusion that he is now quite mad. Perhaps he is, but he has certainly achieved something startling. It turns out he only wanted his new collaborators for a few minutes’ work after which he intends to pack them back off to civilisation. They are however reluctant to leave, having figured out some of what Thorkel has been doing, and having figured out that there might be money and fame in it. They might have been wiser to have simply left.

They should have had a clearer idea of what was going on when Dr Bullfinch discovered the bones of a native pig. A very small native pig. A very very small native pig!

Of course what Dr Thorkel has been working on is miniaturising animals. Since his now unwelcome guests refuse to leave he decides he might as well find out if his technique works on people. It turns out that being shrunk to twelve inches in height isn’t much fun when you’ve fallen into the clutches of an insane megalomaniac scientist. There’s one piece of information that might have made survival an easier proposition for our heroes but unfortunately that’s one item of information they don’t have.

Mad scientists are occasionally purely evil from the start but more often they start out as idealists who are then seduced by the lure of forbidden knowledge, and the power that such knowledge can bring. We get the impression that Dr Thorkel was probably somewhat unhinged right from the outset and that it was never going to take much to push him over the edge into full-blown mad scientist mode.

When one thinks of movie mad scientists of this era one thinks of Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill or George Zucco, or perhaps at a pinch Basil Rathbone. While Albert Dekker might not be so well known for such roles he does a pretty fair job. A Lionel Atwill might have gone further over the top but Dekker does the dangerous obsessive scientist blinded by ambition very effectively.

The supporting players are very much in Dekker’s shadow but they’re all more than adequate. Charles Halton is good as the kindly responsible but pompous scientist who is also susceptible to the lure of ambition. Janice Logan is mostly there because without her the movie would not have a beautiful glamorous female cast member although she is perfectly adequate. Thomas Coley might seem destined to play the conventional hero role, being young and good-looking (very important attributes in a hero), but he is at least a reasonably interesting character. He’s incurably lazy and selfish and is not the sort of fellow who has ever seriously considered doing anything noble or heroic.

In 1940 it was pretty unusual for a movie of this type, a movie that would normally have been regarded merely as another B-picture, to be made in Technicolor. Warner Brothers had made a couple of horror films using the two-strip Technicolor process in the early 1930s (Dr X and Mystery of the Wax Museum) but Dr Cyclops must surely be one of the earliest B-pictures to be made using the three-strip Technicolor process. Given that this is a cross between a science fiction and a jungle adventure movie it proves to be more than just a gimmick - this really is quite a visually arresting film. The special effects are mostly quite impressive and there’s some cool mad scientist gadgetry. The subject matter required the use of a lot of process shots and in 1939 when the movie was filmed using such techniques on a large scale in colour was still something fairly new. Some work extremely well while others suffer from the perennial problem associated with such techniques - the rear projected image looks much too flat. On the whole though the effects are bold and fairly successful.

The big problem is the tone. The early part of the movie builds up an effective atmosphere of menace and terror but then the film seems to switch gears and becomes whimsical fantasy. An even bigger problem is the music, which would have been perfect for a Disney cartoon but is much too bright and cheerful and playful. Scenes that should have been effectively scary are ruined by the music. It’s fairly obvious that Paramount had no clear idea of the kind of audience they were aiming for. Were they trying to make a kids fantasy movie or a science fiction/horror movie? 

Ernest B. Schoedsack’s main claim to fame as a director is King King, and he was therefore well qualified to helm a science fiction adventure movie with a jungle setting. Merrian C. Cooper, producer of King Kong, was also involved in this production. 

Universal have done a splendid job with the transfer - it’s quite stunning.

I’ve now seen all five movies in Universal’s Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection: Volume 2 DVD boxed set. The Cult of the Cobra is great fun, The Land Unknown is a terrific sci-fi adventure romp complete with dinosaurs and The Leech Woman is creepy in a camp sort of way. They're all well worth seeing. It has to be said that this has to be one of the best cult movie sets ever released, and it’s so cheap that it represents fabulous value for money. An absolute must-buy.

Dr Cyclops is a bit of an oddity. Being shot in Technicolor would of necessity have made it an A-picture rather than a B-picture but it was the sort of movie that was unlikely to attract a large enough audience to justify the expense. It has some nicely sinister moments early on (the opening sequences are wonderfully atmospheric) but then becomes a lightweight fantasy. It’s not a complete success but it’s not without interest. Recommended, with reservations.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Fall of the Roman Empire/Woman in Green

My review of Anthony Mann’s historical epic The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) might perhaps be of interest. It's a train wreck of a movie but it's so visually glorious it's still worth seeing. Here's the LINK to my review.

Also possibly of interest, my write-up on one of the later (and one of the better) Universal Sherlock Holmes B-movies, The Woman in Green (1945). Here's the LINK to my review of that movie.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

In the early 1970s Hammer Films turned out a series of remarkably interesting horror films, including Hands of the Ripper, directed by Peter Sasdy. It’s a fascinatingly original reworking of a clichéd idea, this time Jack the Ripper.  It benefits from a strong cast, headed by Eric Porter as a turn-of-the-century medico who is an early disciple of Freud and wants to use Freud’s ideas to cure violent criminals.  

Jack the Ripper is not actually the subject of the film although he certainly plays a crucial part indirectly. The movie opens with one of the Ripper murders, witnessed by a small girl. We then jump forward fifteen years in time.

Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter) is attending a séance. Pritchard is very much a sceptic. He considers himself to be as man of science. Whether Freudian psychoanalysis is actually more scientific than gazing into a crystal ball can of course be debated and in fact the movie does in its own way debate that very point. 

The séance has a tragic sequel. The medium (a rather nasty piece of work as we have already discovered) is brutally murdered. The police are baffled but Dr Pritchard knows there are two possible suspects. One is a Member of Parliament named Dysart; the other is the medium’s assistant, a timid young woman named Anna.

Dr Pritchard is extremely interested in murder. He believes that he can uncover the sequence of events that lead a person to become a murderer and he believes he can cure that person. He takes Anna into his home so that he can study her, whilst also keeping a close eye on the Member of Parliament.

More murders follow. Dr Pritchard is confident he is making progress but how many more people are going to die before he finds the answers he is seeking? And exactly what is it that he is likely to uncover? We already know part of the answer, which was revealed in the opening scene, but that opening scene left some vital details obscure.

Dr Pritchard has no patience with the paranormal or the supernatural. The MP, Dysart, on the other hand is a believer and wants Pritchard to pursue the truth through occult means by consulting a psychic. This sets up an intriguing contest between science and the occult since both the psychic and Pritchard are able to unlock vital secrets from Anna’s mind.

This is a film with, by Hammer standards, a fair amount of gore. Fortunately it isn’t really overdone. 

Dr Pritchard is a kindly sensitive man whose thirst for scientific knowledge leads him to take absurd risks. He believes that no price is too high to pay to advance knowledge. His scientific zeal proves to be irresponsible and dangerous. In some senses this film could be seen as a mad scientist movie, of the sub-type in which the mad scientist is not evil but is led into disaster by misguided zeal. It’s certainly a very unconventional but exceptionally interesting example of the sub-type.

Eric Porter is superb as Dr Pritchard, giving a subtle performance as a man who is both sympathetic and reprehensible in his irresponsibility. Derek Godfrey is very good as the slightly sinister Member of Parliament who may or may not have some involvement in at least one of the violent murders. Angharad Rees does well as Anna, a rather difficult role given that she spends much of the movie in a kind of trance state.

This one is apparently director Peter Sasdy’s personal favourite among his films. He has the benefit of an intelligent screenplay by Lewis Davidson and while the budget was naturally limited he also had the advantage of being able to use the Victorian streetscapes built at Pinewood Studios for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes giving the movie a surprisingly lavish look. Sasdy had already made two good gothic horror films for Hammer, Taste the Blood of Dracula and Countess Dracula. He understood horror and he also understood how to work within the genre whilst adding some original touches.

Synapse Films have released this movie in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, and with some worthwhile extras. The Blu-Ray transfer is excellent.

Hands of the Ripper has a plot that is intelligent and complex in both a psychological and a moral sense. The story moves along at a good pace, the acting is good, and there’s some excellent cinematography which towards the end even gets a bit arty and gets away with it.  This is a clever and original horror movie. Highly recommended.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Cult of the Cobra (1955)

Cult of the Cobra certainly has a promising title. Does this 1955 Universal horror shocker live up to that title? We shall see.

The movie opens somewhere in Asia in 1945. Six American GIs who will be returning to the States shortly after four years of war are doing a little sight-seeing. An old snake charmer named Daru attracts their attention but the story he has to tell interests them even more. Daru claims that a man can be changed into a snake and a snake can be changed into a man. Or even a woman. Sergeant Paul Able (Richard Long) is already inclined to believe such legends. Although he’s a scientist he also believes in werewolves and vampires as well as shape-shifters. When Daru offers to smuggle the GIs into the temple of the Lamians so that they can see such marvels for themselves he’s anxious to take up the offer. His buddies figure it could be fun so they’re willing to go along.

Everything might have been fine if only Nick (James Dobson) hadn’t tried snapping a few photographs of the ritual. A fine old fight erupts and the six American soldiers are informed that they are now cursed and that the snake goddess will kill them one by one.

Of course they don’t believe there’s anything in this threat, although Paul Able is not so sure.

In fact only five of the six young men make it back to the US alive. One of them dies - of snakebite!

The five survivors settle back into civilian life. Paul Able and Tom Markel (Marshall Thompson) have been competing for the affections of the same girl, Julia (Kathleen Hughes). Paul wins the contest but Tom soon finds consolation when he encounters the beautiful Lisa Moya (Faith Domergue). Tom falls head over heels for Lisa. Lisa is personable enough but anyone not totally smitten by her might find her to be just a little odd. And animals are terrified of her.

As for the curse, the five friends soon have cause to wonder if perhaps there might be something in it after all after yet another mysterious and rather fatal accident.

Of course we’re going to suspect that maybe Lisa is involved, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that she’s a snake goddess or a shape-shifter or a follower of the Lamian cult. Even Paul, despite his belief that such legends may be based on something real, can see that there might be a rational explanation. As for Tom, all he knows is that he’s found the girl of his dreams.

There might not be anything original about the script but it has the right ingredients and they’re combined quite satisfactorily. Director Francis D. Lyon worked mostly in television. There’s nothing startling about the job he does here but it’s a very competently made and well-paced movie and there are a few very effective scenes (the bowling alley scene is vaguely reminiscent of the swimming pool scene in Cat People). Despite the subject matter and the lurid title this does not come across as a particularly cheap or shoddy movie and on the whole it’s played surprisingly straight - in fact it gives the impression of having been made with at least a certain amount of care.

Cult of the Cobra boasts a reasonably solid cast. Richard Long is likeable and manages to make Paul Able just flaky enough for us to accept his belief in various occult legends without being so flaky as to be unconvincing playing a man who is ostensibly a Man of Science. Marshall Thompson is pretty good as Tom, who is perhaps a little naïve where women are concerned (even though he thinks he’s a ladies’ man) but is still a basically sensible ordinary kind of guy even if he is an artist. He is however clearly so besotted by Lisa that he’s no longer entirely rational. Tom is the most complex of the male characters and Thompson makes him interesting and sympathetic even when we find ourselves getting a little frustrated by his excessive devotion to Lisa.

David Janssen, soon to find stardom on TV in Richard Diamond, Private Detective, gets a fairly decent role as the bluff cheerful Rico who likes running a bowling alley more than he liked being in the Army. Kathleen Hughes is perhaps the weak link - Julia is an actress and she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer and it’s difficult to see why men are fighting over her. William Reynolds brings some intensity to his performance as Pete, another of the hapless GIs.

It is Faith Domergue though who is the star. She has the right kind of slightly exotic beauty and she conveys the necessary mysterious quality as Lisa Moya. She plays Lisa as slightly detached but with genuine emotions as well so that we do have some real doubts about her - she might be an inhuman monster or a victim herself or perhaps she’s been caught up in something sinister. Or perhaps she really is human but just a little odd.

This is one of the five movies in Universal’s Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection: Volume 2, a great DVD set that represents fabulous value for money (The Land Unknown and The Leech Woman are also great fun). Cult of the Cobra was shot in black-and-white and widescreen and the anamorphic transfer is exceptionally good. The only extra is a trailer but given the insanely low price of this set it would be churlish to complain about the lack of extras.

Cult of the Cobra has some genuine chills and it’s consistently entertaining, and Faith Domergue’s performance is enough on its own to justify seeing this one. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Hercules, Samson & Ulysses (1963)

1958 saw the beginning of the short-lived but spectacular Italian peplum boom. Scores of imitators followed, and then after five or six years it was all over. The Italian film industry abandoned the peplum and embraced the spaghetti western. Which is a pity since on the whole the peplums were a lot more fun. Pietro Francisci directed the movie that started the craze, Hercules. And In 1963 he directed one of the last notable entries in the cycle, Hercules, Samson & Ulysses.

Francisci had in fact been making historical epics since the beginning of the 1950s. And in 1973, long after the peplum craze had run its course, he made yet another movie of this type, Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad. Clearly Francisci had a taste for this sort of thing.

Hercules, Samson & Ulysses opens with Hercules and his young friend Ulysses battling a sea monster that has been menacing Greek fishermen. Before the monster can be dealt with a storm intervenes and the heroes are shipwrecked. Hercules and Ulysses and four companions survive but the storm has taken them a very long way - all the way to a Danite village in Judea.

The people of Judea don’t seem too pleased about the arrival of these shipwrecked Greeks. Actually they’re mostly worried that the Greeks might be in league with the hated Philistines. The villagers are also worried that these visitors might betray their hero Samson who is hiding out amongst them.

Hercules and his friends set off for Gaza (where they hope to find a ship to take them home to Greece) accompanied by a Philistine merchant. When Hercules kills a lion with his bare hands the merchant is convinced that he must really be the famous Danite hero Samson. And there’s a very large reward for anyone who helps the Philistine king to capture Samson.

Hercules will meet the real Samson and in order to save his friends he will have to betray Samson to the Philistines. Unless of course he can find some honourable alternative - and Hercules can surely be relied upon to do the honourable thing?

Pietro Francisci knew his stuff when it came to directing this type of movie. The pacing is taut and there are some inspired moments. The action scenes (of which there’s no shortage) are well executed. The highlight is the epic fight between Hercules and Samson with the two heroes hurling gigantic stone blocks at each other, knocking over stone walls and generally demolishing every structure in sight. It’s truly one of the best peplum fight scenes ever. There are more superb and inventive action sequences in the latter part of the film.

The sets are very impressive. For a low budget movie this production manages to look very expensive.

Francisci wrote the screenplay as well as directing and he came up with a fairly decent story. It takes some of its inspiration from the Biblical story of Samson but brings Hercules into the story in at least a vaguely plausible way.

The acting reaches no great heights but it’s fine for this style of movie. Kirk Morris (who despite his screen name was an Italian actor and bodybuilder) is a convincing and quite acceptable hero and his performance is actually quite lively. Samson is played, and played pretty well, by Iranian actor Iloosh Khoshabe (under the suitable American-sounding name Richard Lloyd) while Ulysses is played in rather amiable and not overly heroic style by Enzo Cerusico. To be honest Ulysses is a minor character in this story. The original Italian title Ercole sfida Sansone would have been more accurately and more appropriately translated as Hercules Challenges Samson.

Diletta D'Andrea provides some amusement as Leria, the wife of Hercules. She’s a devoted wife but she’s getting a bit fed up with having her husband constantly away from home doing hero stuff.

Aldo Giuffrè is suitably cruel and villainous as the Philistine King. A really classic peplum should have a beautiful but evil queen and in this film it’s the notorious Philistine queen Delilah, played with considerable panache by Liana Orfei. Hers is the standout performance in the movie. I especially love her costume in the climactic battle scene - she looks like a sexy comic-book super-villainess.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD provides a pretty good anamorphic transfer. There is some very minor print damage but not enough to worry about and the colours are pleasingly vivid. If you’re a hardcore peplum fan you’ll know how hard it is to find these movies on DVD in an acceptable condition and in the correct aspect ratios - and peplums were always made in a widescreen format and even more than most movies they absolutely have to be seen in the proper aspect ratio. This release is most definitely a welcome one. One word of warning - don’t watch the trailer before watching the movie. It gives away far too much!

All peplums have a certain amount of camp appeal but Hercules, Samson & Ulysses stands up as a very decent action adventure movie indeed. This is definitely not to be dismissed as a so-bad-it’s-good movie. It’s superbly made, fairly well acted, it looks terrific and it’s packed with genuine spectacle and imaginative action scenes. It may have come along towards the tail end of the peplum boom but it’s one of the best movies of the genre. Very highly recommended.