Goliath and the Vampires was made in 1961 at the height of the peplum craze in Italy. Sergio Corbucci, later to become well-known to spaghetti westerns fans, co-wrote the script and apparently took a hand in the directing as well although the directing credit goes to Giacomo Gentilomo (who later helmed the incredibly crazy Hercules vs. the Moon Men).
As its original Italian title Maciste contro il vampiro suggests the hero is actually Maciste, but poor old Maciste always ended up being renamed either Hercules of Goliath for the US market and in this case AIP went for the Goliath name.
Whatever the hero’s name this is one of the best movies of its type you’re ever going to see. It has every one of the ingredients that make the peplum (or sword and sandal if you prefer) genre so much fun.
Our hero (whom I might as well just call Goliath for the sake of convenience) is out doing good deeds when his village is attacked and destroyed by mysterious sea raiders. The raiders are attacking all the nearby villages as well. They do not take any loot - their only interest is in taking the women. The older women are thrown to the sharks. These marauders only want the young beautiful women. In this case the kidnapped women include Goliath’s fiancée. Goliath vows to rescue her and to have his revenge for the destruction of his village.
But what do these raiders want from the women? The women will soon find out. Apart from the usual fate which they expected (being sold into slavery) the raiders also want their blood. As we will soon discover the blood is used to feed an evil monster named Kobrak. He’s not a vampire as such but he does feed on blood.
The women are taken to the city of Salmanak. The sultan of Salmanak is not evil but he’s weak-willed and pleasure-loving (taking a particular pleasure in women) and in any case he does not really rule. Kobrak rules. The sultan would, in his better moments, like to do the right thing but he is too afraid of Kobrak to attempt to do anything. Kobrak is not just immensely powerful but he also seems to know everything that is going on.
This is largely because Astra (Gianna Maria Canale) keeps him informed. The English dubbed version doesn’t make it clear if Astra is the sultan’s queen or merely his mistress but either way she fulfills the role of the evil but beautiful queen without whom no self-respecting peplum is complete. Astra is more than happy to indulge the sultan’s taste for beautiful maidens.
Goliath arrives in Salmanak and starts wreaking peplum-style havoc, throwing the sultan’s soldiers around, knocking down buildings and freeing slaves. Eventually the soldiers capture him by the simple expedient of throwing a net over him. Curiously enough although this works very effectively it never occurs to the soldiers to use this simple tactic again. And of course Goliath knocks down some more buildings and escapes.
He now finds an unexpected ally in the person of the rather enigmatic Kurtik (Jacques Sernas). He’s a scientist with a well-equipped laboratory who has created an army of blue men to serve him. They’re called the blue men because their skin really is blue. Kurtik seems to be the only serious threat to Kobrak’s power but in practice the blue men aren’t particularly effective against Kobrak’s army of robotised zombies. Goliath however needs all the allies he can get. He intends to destroy Kobrak and Kurtik, for reasons not yet clear, is willing to help. Much mayhem and lots of heroic deeds follow in typical peplum style.
One great plus in this movie is that the hero has a really formidable enemy to deal with, an enemy who in fact seems almost unbeatable even given Goliath’s enormous strength and fighting prowess. This gives the movie some real suspense since it is difficult to imagine how even Goliath can prevail against him.
This is a rather dark peplum with a harsher edge to it than is usual (one might suspect Sergio Corbucci’s influence here since his spaghetti westerns are pretty dark). The violence is at times pretty savage by the standards of 1961.
Gordon Scott is quite adequate as Goliath and the supporting cast is solid with Gianna Maria Canale being delightfully wicked and duplicitous (and fairly sexy) as Astra.
This movie throws in everything you could ask for - mad scientists, assorted monsters, zombie warriors, the supernatural, scientific laboratories, fiendish tortures, vampirism, plenty of action and a really evil villain. The special effects are adequate, the sets are quite impressive and the action scenes are handled well. It was probably a relatively low-budget production but it manages to look quite lavish. Cinematographer Alvaro Mancori gives us some nicely moody night scenes and some interesting use of colour. He was no Mario Bava but he was clearly competent.
Wild East’s DVD release pairs this one with another pretty reasonable peplum, Goliath and the Barbarians. Both movies are given quite good widescreen transfers on a single double-sided DVD, non-anamorphic unfortunately but given that peplum fans for years had to put up with shoddy fullframe releases it’s definitely a bonus to be able to see both these movies in their correct aspect ratios. The colours are perhaps just a little faded on Goliath and the Vampires and there’s occasional print damage but in general it’s a more than decent print. Only the English-dubbed version is included. This two-movie set is an absolute must-buy for fans of the genre.
Goliath and the Vampires is enormous fun. Highly recommended.