Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Hercules against the Moon Men (1964)

By 1964 the Italian movie industry had cranked out countless highly entertaining and extremely profitable movies in the sword and sandal (or peplum as it was know in Europe) genre, and what was ned was a way to keep things interesting, to vary the formula just a little. The solution adopted in Hercules against the Moon Men (Maciste e la regina di Samar) was to add some science fiction elements. And since this is an Italian genre movie, those added science fiction elements are deliciously bizarre!

The wicked queen of Samar hides an abominable secret. This is an Italian sword and sandal epic so of course there has to be a beautiful wicked queen, not that I’m complaining, beautiful but wicked queens are always fun. The people of Samar live under the shadow of a volcano, but they live even more under the shadow of the terrible monsters of the mountain. At regular intervals they must make human sacrifices to the mountain. Queen Samar has gone beyond such commonplace evils however. She is in league with the inhabitants of the moon, the cruel and rapacious Moon Men! And she plans to sacrifice her own sister so that the queen of the Moon Men may be revived from her eternal sleep.

This is clearly a job for a hero, and luckily there’s one wandering about nearby who volunteers to help the struggling masses of Samar to overthrow their cruel but beautiful tyrant. The hero in question is Maciste, a recurring character in Italian movies of this type going way back to the very beginnings, the 1914 epic Cabiria. This movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Hercules, so for its US release the title was naturally changed to give the impression that it was a Hercules movie. Maciste hooks up with the rebels, and soon becomes involved in romance with the daughter of the rebel leader, Agar. Since this is a peplum Agar is brave and virtuous, but terminally dull.

The main thing this movie has going for it is the sheer outrageous loopiness of the plot, and some delightfully silly moon man costumes. Giacomo Gentilomo’s direction is less than inspired, and the effects are fairly cheap (although the gigantic jaws of death from which Maciste must escape are quite cool). To enjoy it you really have to be a fan of this type of movie, and of movie campiness in general. The acting is generally unexciting, although it has to be admitted that the actress playing the evil queen is very good, and rather sexy in a beautiful wicked queen sort of way. Perhaps I was just in a particularly benevolent mood when I watched it, but I found its oddness reasonably appealing. Not a peplum classic, but an interesting curiosity.

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