In 1983 an event happened which changed the course of history. An impossible event that nobody ever thought could happen. Luigi Cozzi actually managed to make a film EVEN CHEESIER than his previous epic, 1979's STARCRASH! Proving that he had learnt nothing about film-making in the four years since, Cozzi now attempted to cash in on 1983's sword-and-sorcery boom which came in the wake of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Carefully he gathered together all the right ingredients - a wide distributor in the form of the dreaded Cannon films, headed by the unforgettable Golan-Globus team; possibly the only muscleman ever to rival Schwarzenegger in terms of sheer bulk; a really appalling script; pretty much the same crew and effects men he used in his 1979 film; plus loads of impressive sets. The best thing that can be said about HERCULES is that visually, it stands out from the crowd. The sets are huge and the special effects - utilising the familiar back projection and matte shots - whilst not always convincing, are at least spectacular.
Watching this movie, you might be forgiven for thinking you've tuned into a science fiction film instead because this is Hercules unlike ever before. The slow prologue charts the formation of the universe and goes on for an age. Then the mythic heroic character - played by dozens in the peplum films of the 1960s and best-remembered in the persona of Steve Reeves - is transported into a quasi-futuristic universe, where the gods all live on the moon and people can fly through space just like that. Instead of the traditional monsters for Hercules to fight, he finds himself up against some giant robots, stop-motion relics which look like they're left over from STARCRASH. I guess the best reason I can think of is that jerky robotic motion is a lot easier - and quicker - to create than the more traditional monsters of Harryhausen, so Cozzi saved a few bucks by swapping monsters for robots. No matter that the film doesn't make sense, as its just for uncomplaining kids anyway.
Often, the film is trying to watch because it just overdoes it with the cheese. Zeus and Hera keep popping up at every minute like in CLASH OF THE TITANS to offer advice, whilst the constantly-moving, globetrotting antics quickly become tiresome. Bad scripting is complemented by bad acting, most apparent in the case of Lou Ferrigno, whose attempts at acting make him even more wooden than an early Schwarzenegger. Still, physically Ferrigno is at his peak, covered in baby oil, with every inch of muscle on his body bulging and glistening for the world to see. Although his acting is a million times worse than that of Reeves, at least his bulk is bigger.
The film offers plenty of opportunity for Ferrigno to flex his bodybuilding muscles. Even as a baby he finds opportunity to strangle two slimy serpents sent to dispatch him. From a mangy bear to a flying robot, a centaur robot, and a three-headed hydra robot, Hercules spends most of the film fighting something or other. He also takes part in some cheap gladiator games headed by stern-faced Augias, played by former muscleman Brad Harris in what is only a cameo performance for name value alone - a little sad, as I was hoping Harris would get up to some of his old rock-lifting tricks. The STAR WARS influence is even apparent on this movie, with glowing swords replacing light sabers in a battle scene at the finale.
Most of the female cast members spend the film half naked and displaying their ample curves, but when the actresses include the sultry Mirella D'Angelo, the sweet Ingrid Anderson, and the slightly scary Sybil Danning, there's no cause for complaint. Many familiar faces pad out the cast, most former stars now on their way out. As evil bad guy King Minos, William Berger (FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) chews the scenery with relish but doesn't beat Joe Spinell in terms of hammy overacting. Fan favourite Bobby Rhodes (DEMONS) appears as an African king (!) but he doesn't even get out of his seat to take part in any action. Watch out for Claudio Cassinelli (ISLAND OF MUTATIONS) in the lamest white wig and beard ever, playing Zeus at far too young an age.
Although the film is cheap and cheerful, it still sets out to try and portray some legendary deeds. Thus we have Hercules diverting a river to clean out the stables of Augias, crossing the River Styx with the aid of that spooky boatman, bending swords, tossing rocks, and fighting off dozens of opponents at one time. The most hilarious scene is when he kills a bear and throws the body into space, thus forming a new star constellation. Yet even this ridiculous moment is beaten by a later point in the film where he throws a log into space which smashes into another planet! Frankly hilarious stuff, and the kind of effects-laden cheese they just can't many anymore. Films nowadays have to be deadly serious or stupidly funny, and are unable to take themselves tongue-in-cheek like HERCULES. The most astonishing thing about this movie is that it was successful enough to spawn a sequel, two years later!