The Film: Hercules (1983)

The Principles: Lou Ferrigno, Sybil Danning, Brad Harris, Ingrid Anderson, William Berger, Claudio Cassinelli. Written & Directed by Luigi Cozzi.

The Premise: In the beginning there was nothing! Then an explosion creates the Fire of Chaos! And the four elements are born! Night, day, matter, and wind! Then Pandora’s Jar is there. Then that explodes too! The shards from Pandora’s Jar form the planets and their moons. Life begins on Earth, and the Greek Gods live on the moon. From the moon, Zeus (Cassinelli), king of the gods, decides that Earth needs a champion. So Zeus creates the perfect being from pure light: Hercules (Ferrigno). Then, for some reason, instead of just sending Hercules to Earth, he puts the pure light essence into the newborn son of the king of Thebes. Zeus has super shitty timing though, cause moments later Ariadne (Danning), the daughter of the wizard Minos (Berger), stages a coup against the royal family of Thebes. Baby Hercules is saved by Zeus, and then found floating Moses-style in the river by two farmers, who raise him as proud parents. For some reason Hera wants Hercules dead, but waits until he is a giant adult to try and take him out. She joins forces with Minos, who lives on an island in outer space, or something, and who uses a bunch of tiny machine-monsters that grow in size once they reach Earth to try and kill Hercules. Hercules’ foster parents get killed, so he’s all pissed off and then goes on some adventures, blah blah, falls in love with princess Cassiopea (Anderson), blah blah battle punch flex magic blah the end!

Is It Good: Not exactly. It is a Golan-Globus produced Hercules movie from 1983 that attempts to meld the classic swords & sorcery genre with out-dated outer space science fiction, and stars an entirely dubbed-over Lou Ferrigno. So what it lacks in budget, acting, and making sense, it must make up for with cheesy zest. The best part of the whole movie may actually be the goofy prologue establishing the birth of the universe. The FX are wonderfully weird and low-tech, and right off the bat writer-director Luigi Cozzi reveals that he either has no clue about existing Greek/Roman mythology or simply doesn’t give a shit. For example, let’s take Pandora’s Jar. Why is it: A) a jar and not a box, B) used as the mythological creator of the planets and, you know, not anything to do with the actual Pandora’s Box myth, and C) why does it look like someone crossed a Roman wine amphora with the Star Trek Enterprise? Look at this thing…

Are those windows? Is it a machine? Anyway, I digress. It is like Cozzi saw a couple Hercules movies as a kid and just sorta remembered the overall gist. Hera has always been Hercules’ classic antagonist, and that’s because usually Hercules is the bastard son of serial-rapist-pervert Zeus and one of the gazillion mortal women that he boned while in disguise. So Hera, wife of Zeus, had reason to be pissed. Here Hercules is Zeus’ magical creation. It doesn’t really follow that Hera should hate him for any particular reason.

There is always something endearing about a low-budget movie that completely ignores its blatant limitations. And that is Hercules. It seems like at no point did the producers back off a story element or set-piece or location because the production couldn’t pull it off. Can’t put together a convincing set or costume or special effect? Fuck it! Do it anyway! The cumulative result is that Hercules may look laughably awful at almost all times, but the scale and scope remain what it should be. That kept my attention and ultimately earned a sliver of respect from me as well. I’d much rather watch a dumb movie go-for-broke, than endlessly try to find “clever” ways around not revealing how shoddy the production is. That just get dull. Hercules doesn’t pad its run-time with endless dialogue scenes. The kooky costumes, whacked out sets, and silly monsters just keep coming. I don’t want to oversell the film. It isn’t a good movie. But I liked the cut of its jib.

Even though I grew up with the lean and straight-haired, dirty-blond Kevin Sorbo as my Hercules, Ferrigno is the kind of Hercules I picture when I close my eyes. He’s cut from that vintage Steve Reeves cloth, then kicked up a notch on the muscle-mass and swarthiness scales. And as far as movies that re-record the lead actor’s dialogue, Hercules surprisingly has one of the better executions I’ve seen — but that’s likely just because it feels appropriate for the movie; it adds to the cheese. In any case, this dubbing is much better than the Arnold dub-job from Hercules in New York. Hercules may be the part that Ferrigno was born to play, physically at least. Though I will say, his movements look better in Incredible Hulk slow-mo than they do here in regular speed. Ferrigno doesn’t look like a man who runs a lot. But he is perfectly suited for feats of strength and punching. And because this Hercules is made up of light (or whatever), his punches are generally accompanied by bursts of white light too. Oh, I can’t forget baby Hercules either. Baby Herc killing two water serpents is a silly highlight, as a no doubt frustrated editor attempts to use footage of the baby playing with the two rubber creatures look like a battle. I could have watched a whole movie of just that. I want Baby Hercules!

The whole idea of melding swords & sorcery and sci-fi is pleasingly odd, and the film struggles with its own gimmick. Minos is obsessed with using “science” to destroy Hercules. Though it still seems like magic to me. Really the only thing “science” about Minos’ creations is that they look like machines (such as a mechanical version of the hydra, seen below). Presumably Golan and Globus felt that the world had tired of seeing heroes fight stop-motion monsters, so having Hercules battle stop-motion robots that look like monsters would be a novel twist. It isn’t. But again, that’s just part of the misguided charm. As is having Zeus and Hera floating in space in all their scenes instead of meandering around a typical Olympus set.

A special nod must also go to the ceremonial “dress” that Cassiopea wears for the final portion of the film, which is really just two sea shell pasties and strands of cloth hanging from her shoulders. Kudos.

Is It Worth A Look: Sure. If you like goofy junk like this. Despite its objective shittiness it tries to earn your enthusiasm, which I appreciate.

Random Anecdote: Got nothing for the film itself, so I’ll bore you with a Ferrigno anecdote from my childhood. When I was a wee lad the two largest actors I knew of were Ferrigno and Andre the Giant. Both sounded very similar to my undeveloped ears/mind, and I presumed this was simply what happened to human vocal capabilities once you grew beyond a certain size. Of course, years later I learned Ferrigno was deaf and Andre was French. Ah, youth.

Cinematic Soulmates: Every other Hercules movie. Clash of the Titans. Superman. Flash Gordon.

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