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Case Number 16155: Small Claims Court

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Hercules Collection

Hercules
1958 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops
1961 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Hercules And The Captive Women
1961 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules
1961 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Giants Of Rome
1964 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Hercules And The Black Pirate
1964 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil
1964 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Hercules And The Princess Of Troy
1965 // 47 Minutes // Not Rated
Hercules The Avenger
1965 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Image Entertainment
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // April 15th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Bromley shall henceforth be known as "Bromucles."

Editor's Note

Our review of Hercules, published April 12th, 2000, is also available.

The Charge

Spectacles of massive might beyond any ever known before!

The Case

I'm not a fan of watching movies ironically. I get little enjoyment out of spending 90 minutes feeling superior to something because it's dated or corny. This may explain my dislike for a movie like Snakes on a Plane or why I'm only able to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 in small doses. If this means I have to surrender my hipster credentials, so be it. I've been living on borrowed time, anyway.

That quality makes it a little challenging to slog through the eight sword and sandal films on the recently released Hercules Collection. These are Italian movies from the 1960s about shirtless, muscle-bound men fighting rubber monsters. Oh, yeah, and they're all dubbed into deep-voiced, incredibly American-sounding English. Approaching these movies with an ironic detachment may seem like a reasonable defense—or, at least a coping mechanism. But I didn't want to do that. I wanted to enjoy the films for what they are; goofy, yes, but fun and strangely sincere. You have to take movies in the spirit in which they're intended.

If you already own any of the previous Hercules titles from Retromedia, don't bother picking up this box—these are the exact same discs that were previously released, just packaged together for the first time.

Here's a rundown on the eight sword and sandal epics contained in the Hercules Collection:

• Hercules
The first and best-known of the series. Steve Reeves stars as the titular hero in what's basically a re-telling of Jason and the Golden Fleece. To win the heart of the king's daughter, Iole (the impossibly beautiful Sylva Koscina), Hercules must complete a series of tasks. In doing so, he teams up with Jason and the Argonauts in the pursuit of the legendary Golden Fleece.

• Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules
Mark Forest steps in as Maciste (whom the title and opening theme song refer to as the "son of Hercules"), who is captured by the underground-dwelling Mole Men (really just guys in white makeup and fright wigs). Forced by the mole-queen to complete tasks (what is it with completing tasks in these movies?), Maciste rescues a beautiful princess (check!) and escapes to the real world. It's not long before a crisis of conscience—or is that called heroism?—compels Maciste to return below ground and free the rest of the Mole Men's captives.

• Hercules and the Captive Women
A somewhat misleading title, in that there's exactly one captive woman in the film—and even she's freed in a matter of minutes. Reg Park takes over as Hercules, who accompanies the now-liberated captive woman to her home city of Atlantis. Once there, Hercules has to defeat the girl's evil mother and an army of scary blonde guys.

• Hercules, Prisoner of Evil
Reg Park returns as Hercules, this time battling an evil sorceress (Mireille Granelli) with the power to turn men into scary monsters resembling werewolves. After Hercules is put under her spell, it's up to his brother, Ido (Ettore Manni), to stop the witch and bring Hercules back from the dark side.

• Hercules the Avenger
Reg Park's last outing as the man of iron is actually largely cobbled together from pieces of Hercules and the Captive Women and Hercules and the Haunted World (not found on this set). When Herc's son is kidnapped, he sets off to get him back; while he's gone, Earth Goddess Gia substitutes her own son for Hercules—leading to a climactic "Good Hercules vs. Evil Hercules" showdown.

• Hercules and the Black Pirate
Alan Steel takes over as Hercules for a sword-and-sandal film that doesn't take place in Ancient Greece/Rome. It's actually an Elizabethan swashbuckler that features none of the traditional peplum elements. Steel battles pirates and protects an aging king and his daughter.

• Hercules and the Princess of Troy
Originally shot as a pilot for a TV series that was never picked up, Hercules and the Princess of Troy finds the muscular hero, accompanied by Ulysses, setting off to Troy to defeat a sea monster that's been gobbling up the city's virgins in ritual sacrifices.

• Giants of Rome
In this non-Hercules feature, four warriors are selected for a mission to find and destroy a top-secret military weapon being used by the Druids against Rome.

• Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops
Gordon Mitchell (Fellini—Satyricon) stars as Atlas, tasked to defeat the evil Cyclops that has been terrorizing a country while at the same time spurning off the advances of the wicked Queen Capys (Chelo Alonso).

To call the Hercules Collection a "mixed bag" would be considered an affront to bags of things that are mixed. The contents of this box are all over the place, from entertaining highs to unwatchable lows. Super-fans and scholars of the genre (and I know there are many) may be excited to have a few of these titles at all; everyone else is best advised to stick to one or two of the films and skip the rest. Take my word for it. I watched all eight.

The original Steve Reeves Hercules is obviously the biggest and best-known of the series, and is, at times, a lot of fun—though despite the fact that it tells a familiar story (Jason and the Argonauts), it's strangely hard to follow. Hercules takes a back seat more often than I'd like, sometimes feeling a little too much like Live Free or Die Hard-era John McClane. Surely, that's the first time that comparison has been made.

My favorite movie of the set, however, is Hercules and the Captive Women. Yes, Reg Park seems to have been cast more for his look than for acting ability. Yes, the title is misleading. But the movie has a number of cool set pieces, including one sequence where Herc fights a shapeshifter that keeps transforming into different animals before finally settling on a giant lizard monster (the filmmakers liked this sequence so much that they used the exact footage—minus the animals—again in Hercules the Avenger). It also features some impressive production design and, as it was originally photographed in 70mm, is probably the best-looking movie in the box.

I also found some enjoyment in Hercules the Avenger, despite the fact that it's largely stitched together from previous movies. Once again, the widescreen transfer is nice and the whole "good Herc versus bad Herc" storyline keeps things interesting. Their climactic battle scene is almost as interminably long as the Roddy Piper/Keith David showdown in They Live, but nowhere near as impressive or suplex-heavy.

Those three films are entertaining and have been given decent treatment by Retromedia (now releasing through Image Entertainment). They're in their original widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 playback. Sure, they look their age and have a number of defects, but colors are reasonably vivid (particularly on the 70mm Captive Women) and there's nothing about the presentation that should distract you from enjoying the movies.

Not so with the majority of the remaining films in the Hercules Collection. The rest of the titles are presented in full screen transfers ranging from kind of crummy to downright unwatchable. Hercules and the Princess of Troy fares the best, because its photography was designed for television and, while it looks old, it's not too bad. Every other film looks washed out and badly damaged, culminating with Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops (which even contains a title card at the start stating that it's been pieced together from the "best available" elements, with apologies), which is so poorly maintained and mastered that it's nearly impossible to get through.

All the films come with their original mono soundtracks, and all feature the sometimes-funny English dubbing (which is surprisingly wordy for movies a genre so simple). There's not much to love with the audio tracks—there's a good deal of audible hiss and things can be hard to make out at times—but at least they're faithful and less problematic than the video transfers.

There are no extras on the discs, save for the fourth and final disc which contains three brief featurettes: "Gordon Mitchell in His Own Voice," "Goliath and the Cheerleaders," "The Alien Within." The Gordon Mitchell piece is a later-era interview with the man who once stepped into Hercules' sandals, while the other two are just clips from '80s B-movies featuring other actors from the sword and sandal films.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the Hercules Collection is the selection of films. Not only have they all been released before—making this a little redundant—but there are several films missing that could have made the whole thing much better. How about Hercules Unchained, the only proper sequel to the original Hercules and the only other outing to feature both Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina? Or Hercules and the Haunted World, directed by the great Mario Bava? Wouldn't either of those been more valuable additions than the unwatchable prints of The Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules or Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops?

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm certainly not an authority on the peplum genre. I'm just a guy who would rather spend time with decent prints of better movies. Maybe the real fans are happy to have these particular titles collected. And because a few of the titles are worth watching and you can pick this set up for pretty cheap (under $20), it may be worth an investment for fans of the genre. Just don't waste your time with the "B" sides.

The Verdict

Guilty!

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Genres

• Adventure
• Classic
• Fantasy

Scales of Justice, Hercules

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Hercules

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Hercules

• None

Scales of Justice, Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops

Judgment: 45

Perp Profile, Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 7.1 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops

• None

Scales of Justice, Hercules And The Captive Women

Judgment: 71

Perp Profile, Hercules And The Captive Women

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Hercules And The Captive Women

• None

Scales of Justice, Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules

Judgment: 53

Perp Profile, Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules

• None

Scales of Justice, Giants Of Rome

Judgment: 61

Perp Profile, Giants Of Rome

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Giants Of Rome

• None

Scales of Justice, Hercules And The Black Pirate

Judgment: 55

Perp Profile, Hercules And The Black Pirate

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Hercules And The Black Pirate

• None

Scales of Justice, Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Hercules, Prisoner Of Evil

• None

Scales of Justice, Hercules And The Princess Of Troy

Judgment: 57

Perp Profile, Hercules And The Princess Of Troy

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 47 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Hercules And The Princess Of Troy

• None

Scales of Justice, Hercules The Avenger

Judgment: 68

Perp Profile, Hercules The Avenger

Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Hercules The Avenger

• None








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