Muscles vs. Monsters!
While roaming the ancient countryside looking for a place to blast his quads, Hercules (or Machiste, or whatever the sword and sandal hot pants prancer is calling himself these days) is asked by the wise muscle worshipper Claudius to defend his homeland from the human sacrificial edicts of Queen Samara. Seems that every full moon, the overly mascaraed miss rounds up the city's available young virgins and casts them into the volcanic Mountain of Death. There they are forced to trade fatal fashion tips with the Moon Men, a bunch of interstellar party boys in boulder suits, lead by Radolphus, a giant being dressed in flowing robes and an oversized aluminum bucket head. He and the Queen have a devilish deal—she supplies the chicks, and he promises her untold power post-Armageddon. Well, our muscle-bound bruiser sticks his pecs in where they're not wanted, and after some cheesy battles and the longest cinematic sandstorm in recorded history, he defeats the lunar-tics and saves the day, smiling like a simian savant and glistening greasily the entire time.
Meanwhile, during Salem-like witch trials (?), a hideous old hag is given the heathen's hotfoot for fornicating with the Devil (or, in actuality, for not fornicating with the local judge). Just before she's seared, she curses the town, dooming it to the awful fate of having a tree that will constantly remain barren! Oh yeah, and the young lasses of the village can't help but pull a Sylvia Plath once they see the leafless branches. When a young newlywed with a similar moniker as the long dead witch is condemned to die under the then perfectly legal charge of guilt by unfortunate coincidence, a shirtless sheepskin Speedo wearing beefcake stumbles upon the pre-broast proceedings and promises to travel down through the several layers of Hades and find the sulking sorceress. He will convince her to lift the emblazoned blight or he will carbo-load her posthaste. And wouldn't you know it, that masochistic Machiste drags us right down into boring cinematic Hell with him.
The peplum—originally conceived as a small panel of fabric or a short skirt draped over the lower torso area of a women's dress or outfit.
Peplum—a term that those wacky over intellectualizing goats of film criticism, the French, derived as a slang swipe at the glut of gladiator pictures hitting international film screens between 1950 and 1970.
Peplum—the now generic reference phrase to describe any movie that has muscled heroes, ancient Greeks and/or Romans, and far too many male groin shots.
Thanks to Something Weird Video, we get a pure peplum party with the release of this DVD. While no better or worse than your standard Hercules movie, this version of the steroidal strongman, here battling so called "Moon Men," is unusual in that it contains bad guys from another galaxy in rock formation flight suits. Now, beings with the ability to travel beyond the speed of light should have better things to do than victimize ancient civilizations by sacrificing Italian actresses for the sake of some questionable jollies. Leave it to extraterrestrial foreigners to take the whole "when in Rome…" thing to an extreme. At least there are some goofy monsters and preposterous situations for our beefed-up body builder to get all huffy about. Otherwise, this is the kind of movie that will have you remembering Saturday afternoons in front of the TV, peanut butter and Fluff Nutter sandwich in hand. And recalling how incredibly bored you were back then as well. At least Hercules Against the Moon Men does have one of the best unintentional jokes ever in a sword and sandal epic. When asked why there will be so much death and destruction when the planets align and the evil Moon queen is reborn, the pail-headed leader states that it all has to do with "the evil influence of Uranus." Honestly, that explains everything.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can elucidate the purpose behind The Witch's Curse. Apparently, decrepit legend tells of Machiste, a planet-roaming do-gooder, always adding his chiseled ass and massive pythons into everyone and anyone's business. After righting wrongs and thrusting squats, he would be on his merry way, off to another section of the vast space/time continuum to spread his bulky moralizing. Okay, but it's still weird seeing a refugee from a Spartan sauna bath traipsing around colonial Scotland…and no one giving a drachma. The trip to Hell is deadly dull, with only a couple of bright spots to keep one from rejecting Satan and all this badass balderdash outright. Machiste runs into Sisyphus (still pushing that rock) and Prometheus (still getting his vulture spleenectomy), which adds a little mythological heft to the confusing, lightweight storyline. And a huge door engulfed in flames that our Macho Mach has to circumnavigate is also fairly impressive. But overall, this is a terribly muddled movie. Our hulky hero has only one facial expression (call it intense grimace bordering on potential hernia/groin pull agony) and he uses it constantly, even when wooing the ladies. After sitting through this impotent Inferno, you'll feel like hurling supernatural epithets as well.
Now comes the really confusing part. This is a Something Weird Video title that may or may not represent the best quality image of Hercules Against the Moon Men. Other websites have pointed out that, upon its initial release to DVD, the proper aspect ratio (2.35:1) for the film is only viewable on anamorphic widescreen sets. Without such enhancement, the image is about 1.85:1 and looks stretched along the vertical. There are also arguments over whether or not the scenes in the Mountain of Death are tinted or just improperly color balanced. Not being a purist, this reviewer can only assume that in a proper original aspect ratio and tint transfer this Greco-Roman rubbish turns into a work of peplum art. As it stands, the transfer is perfectly acceptable but the film itself is just plain crap. The Witch's Curse looks (and is) a lot worse, however. The colors have solarized, as if the print was moments away from self-destruction (damn! Couldn't SWV have waited a few more weeks…) and the full screen presentation makes for jumbled, busy framing. As for extras, there is really nothing exceptional or worthwhile. Something Weird has cut down two full-length gladiatorial spectacles and reduced them to uninvolving "short subjects" and "featurettes," one more pointless than the next. About the only engaging thing on this disc is the trailers and poster gallery. A couple of years ago, SWV released Goliath vs. the Dragon, a much better looking and entertaining bit of sword and sandal silliness. Unless you are desperate to see over- and under-developed Eurotrash scuttling around in their culottes, it would be better to avoid Hercules Against the Moon Men / The Witch's Curse altogether. The only "burn" you'll feel is in your pocketbook. Or your peplum.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Something Weird Video
• Sword and Sandal Style Trailers
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