Hercules the Avenger (1965)

aka The Challenge of the Giant, La sfida dei giganti
Article 3327 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2010
Posting Date: 9-23-2010
Directed by Maurizio Lucidi
Featuring Reg Park, Gia Sandri, Giovanni Cianfriglia
Country: Italy
What it is: Sword and Sandal

When his son’s soul is held in bondage after a lion attack, Hercules must go into the underworld and rescue him. Meanwhile, Anteaus, the son of an Earth Goddess, impersonates Hercules and becomes a tyrannical dictator over the kingdom of Syracuse.

You know, given the number of sword and sandal movies that emerged from Italy in the early sixties, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of them borrowed footage from earlier movies to pad out the proceedings. If they did so, however, they did so with restraint. That’s not the case here. My first hint was a sense of deja vu during a visit to a soothsayer. However, once Hercules does battle with an old man who turns into a lizard creature, I knew that this movie was pillaging footage from HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, and shortly after that, it started pillaging from HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD as well. At any rate, that explains why this one is so bizarrely structured. What original footage exists seems to involve the home life of Hercules and the machinations of Antaeus, and the complicity of a misguided (as in opposition to evil) queen who agrees to his impersonation as a ruse to get rid of unwanted suitors. Though the final scene of the fight between Hercules and Antaeus is new footage, it’s not really all that novel, as I remember the character appearing in HERCULES UNCHAINED, which also used the gimmick that Antaeus could not be defeated while his feet were on the ground. At any rate, this is an unnecessary movie, as its footage is taken from much better sword and sandal movies.


Der Herr im Haus (1940)

aka The Gentleman in the House
Article 3275 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-7-2010
Posting Date: 8-2-2010
Directed by Heinz Helbig
Featuring Hans Moser, Maria Andergast, Elise Aulinger
Country: Germany
What it is: Comedy

I’m forgoing the usual plot description here for the simple reason that I can’t really piece anything together. I’m watching this one in unsubtitled German, and usually in cases like this, I’m able to pick up some thread to follow, but not in this case. I know it’s a comedy, and it follows the adventures of a man who seems to be either a landlord or a butler. His daughter is involved in a romance with a handsome young man. There’s a big stage production involved. And part of the plot revolves around spiritualism, with one scene in which a medium (who may be a con man; there’s some business about switching necklaces) is trying to summon the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte. Oddly enough, the main character’s name seems to be Napoleon Bonaparte, but I’m pretty sure we’re not dealing with the historical figure. Almost all of the humor is verbal and tied to various character relationships, which leaves me very little to go on. So I’m marking this one as watched, but until I become really fluent in German, I’m at a loss here.

The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

Article 3262 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-25-2010
Posting Date: 7-20-2010
Directed by Paul Harrison
Featuring John Ireland, Faith Domergue, John Carradine
Country: USA
What it is: Scary house/zombie flick

A horror film is being shot in a creaky old mansion that was the site of occult-related murders many years ago. When the director decides to add authenticity by borrowing chants from a book of the occult found on the premises, he unwittingly unleashes great evil…

The cast is pretty good in this one, and it’s nice to see John Carradine with a role that takes up more than a minute of screen time. In fact, the opening scenes gave me some hope for the movie. The problem is that the movie takes its own sweet time to get things moving, so we’re treated to an hour of the cast and crew making the movie and yelling at each other or at the caretaker, and this gets old very fast. Things pick up a little when the zombie shows up, but his rampage and the events surrounding it are more than a little confusing. Still, I have to admit to a little fondness for a moment towards the end of the movie when the director, surrounded by all the carnage caused by the zombie, discovers the REAL tragedy. No, the movie isn’t very good, but it does have its moments, and I’ll give it credit for that.

The Horrible Sexy Vampire (1970)

aka El vampiro de la autopista
Article 3239 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2010
Posting Date: 6-27-2010
Directed by Jose Luis Madrid
Featuring Val Davis, Barta Barri, Anastasio Campoy
Country: Spain
What it is: Horrible sexy vampire movie

A vampire is loose strangling topless women. The police think it’s a non-supernatural sadist. The only male descendant of the vampire takes residence in his ancestor’s castle to learn the truth.

Given the title, I wasn’t expecting much, and my expectations were met. Still, I can be grateful that it wasn’t any worse than it was. The vampire has some differences about him; he strangles his victims instead of biting them. I’m not sure how he gets the blood out of them, but giving the marks on the necks afterward, I’m guessing he uses a vacuum cleaner hose. The vampire also turns invisible, which means that some of the attack scenes are rather silly-looking. The plot does seem rather thrown-together, but there’s some odd touches here as well; the vampire hunter is a heavy drinker who is generally considered by others to need a psychiatrist, and there’s an odd but interesting ironic note to the ending. Oh, and did I mention there’s a lot of topless women? These somewhat compensate for the uninspired direction and the hangdog feel of the whole affair, as well as a wealth of time-wasting scenes; if you can find a point for the gas station sequence near the end of the movie, you caught something a lot subtler than I was able to see. In the final analysis, I’d say it’s dumb but harmless, but not necessarily unlikably so.

House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Article 3224 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2010
Posting Date: 6-12-2010
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott
Country: USA
What it is: Theatrical adaptation of supernatural soap opera

A seeker after a hidden fortune releases a vampire from captivity, who returns to his native home. The vampire eventually falls in love with a woman who resembles his bride-to-be from 200 years ago, but what will the future hold for them?

I remember trying to get home in time to see “Dark Shadows” on TV when I was a kid, but I rarely did and only caught the show sporadically. I remember Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, and a few of the other actors and actresses, but for the life of me, I can’t remember a single story line. So I can’t say if this movie adaptation was modeled off of specific story lines from the show, but the story line is somewhat fractured and a little meandering, and this does give me the feeling that it did adapt some of the story lines from the TV series. I thought the movie was a little too coy in keeping us from seeing the face of Barnabas Collins for as long as it does; since I suspect that the movie was mostly geared for fans of show who were expecting to see Frid and knew what he looked like, it hardly seemed necessary. The movie has some good things and some not so good things; of the latter, the music is repetitive and tiresome and the characters sometimes feel inadequately developed. Still, the acting is solid (especially from Frid, Thayer David and Grayson Hall), there are a few pleasant surprises (for example, when the policemen show up to do battle with a vampirized Carolyn, they actually are armed with crosses and know how to use them), and you’re never quite sure who will prove to be the ultimate hero. I still think it’s a bit of a shame that the next movie didn’t feature Barnabas Collins; the charismatic Jonathan Frid was really the center of attention here, and the sequel suffered for his absence.

He Knows You’re Alone (1980)

Article 3223 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-15-2010
Posting Date: 6-11-2010
Directed by Armand Mastroianni
Featuring Don Scardino, Caitlin O’Heaney, Elizabeth Kemp
Country: USA
What it is: HALLOWEEN clone

A psycho killer who specializes in prospective brides (and anyone else he feels like) is on the loose. A detective (whose own bride-to-be was murdered by the psycho, who happened to be a jilted boyfriend) has vowed to catch him. A woman about to be married is the killer’s next target.

It’s a slasher script, modeled off of HALLOWEEN rather than FRIDAY THE 13TH, which means it’s more interested in the suspense than the gore. But Armand Mostroianni is no John Carpenter (but this was only his first movie, and he got better), Caitlin O’Heaney is no Jamie Lee Curtis, and Lewis Arlt is no Donald Pleasence. We get lots and lots of lines like “I think I’m being followed” and “Is someone there?” and unending conversations on the woman’s doubt about her impending marriage (all designed to lead up to a lame twist ending). There’s a few good moments; the opening murder is well-staged, and it effectively sets up a clever hint that the killer is in the house at one point (if you can count to five, you’ll know what I mean). However, the movie way overdoes its attempts to ratchet up the suspense; all too often it comes off as annoying rather than scary. By the way, this was Tom Hanks’s first movie; his character was originally supposed to be killed, but he turned out to be so likable that the murder was taken out of the script.

Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (1964)

aka Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi
Article 3222 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2010
Posting Date: 6-10-2010
Directed by Antonio Margheriti and Ruggero Deodato
Featuring Reg Park, Mireille Granelli, Ettore Manni
Country: Italy
What it is: Sword and Sandal

A monster is loose in the vicinity, and so far, Hercules has been unable to track it down. An evil king decides to use the situation as a pretense to invade the region, claiming that the monster is a creation of Hercules and its residents. However, complications arise; Hercules is in love with he woman who is the rightful heir to the throne, and not everyone is who they seem…

Whatever flaws this particular sword-and-sandal movie has, I’ll definitely give it credit for one thing; it avoids the trap of merely repeating the tired story lines that usually mark this genre. The key wild card that has been thrown into the mix is the monster, and the mystery surrounding it and its elusiveness sets up some very interesting plot twists indeed. Technically, it’s not a Hercules movie; the Italian movie indicates that the main character is actually Ursus. Another piece of trivia; this is the first directorial work for Ruggero Deodato, who would go on to direct the notorious CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST; he’s only credited as assistant director, but according to IMDB, he was an uncredited co-director. The story gets a little confusing at times, and parts of it are unsatisfying, but the unusual story line and revelations make this one of the more interesting examples of the genre.