29 July 2009

Memories of the Lou Ferrigno Hercules ‘83

Update: You can now read my full review of Hercules here, based on a fresh DVD viewing.

The world of genre movie-fandom is always filled with this persistent question: “When are they going to put ——— on DVD?” (A variant: “When are they going to put ——— on Region 1 DVD?”)

I remember the primitive days of the DVD format during the late ‘90s, when this question applied to many films, not only the strange genre stuff folks like me adore. People were screaming mad that The Godfather, the Star Wars films, Stanley Kubrick’s movies, and the Indiana Jones series hadn’t made it to DVD, when Home Alone 3 had. Understandable rage. Some of this had to do with the studios who were slow to embrace the new medium—mostly because of that cursed Divx scam—and some with studios trying to put together genuine premium releases of the best quality. The wait for the original King Kong was a lengthy one… but it was worth it when the special disc finally came out.

Now most of the complaints about holes in the DVD catalog circle around lesser-known masterpieces, most of them foreign-made, and TV shows that have to run a legal gauntlet to get a release (a.k.a. the 1960s Batman series).

I have a list of films I’d like to see get a release, many of them Japanese and involving rubber monster suits. But today I’m going to focus on one particular movie that I’d wanted to see debut digitally, preferably in a decent widescreen transfer, for eons: the 1983 Lou Ferrigno-Luigi Cozzi Hercules.

If you vaguely hope for something long enough, you may get it and not realize it at the time. Because I randomly checked today to see if somebody had put Herc ‘83 on DVD, expecting nothing… and I found out someone had made it available. Years ago. Maybe I didn’t want it as much as I thought. (Or because the last time I really thought about it was early 2005.)

I still haven’t purchased it, but I’m going to.

Yes, I’m insane. But all genre fans are at least a little bit insane. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hercules is a rotten film, all-around. I can’t see anyone arguing it differently. But it’s a busy, weird, and colorful rotten film, and I have such fond memories of watching it as a kid that I want to see it again and really get to grips on it.

I remember my first viewing of it, when I was probably eleven: I was at a friend’s house and we decided we were going to check out the cable premiere of this Hercules film starring that guy who plays the Hulk. I mean, doesn’t that just sound too cool? I was already a Greek mythology nut, starting back in second grade, so I was eager to see a live-action adventure story with gods and heroes and maybe the Nemean Lion or the Hydra and Herc beating up folks really good.

You can probably tell that at eleven, I wasn’t well versed in the art of the Low Budget Film. Especially the Low Budget Italian Film (and produced by Golan-Globus!). I had raised my expectations a bit too high. I also had this bizarre eleven-year-old concept that filmmakers were somehow, by some mystical means, obligated to follow their source material closely.

In addition, I had no idea that the Italians had a long history of Hercules movies—although none of them anything like this one. But I loved Clash of Titans (still do) and thought I might see something like that here. I got something, all right. Something bizarre, stupid, and sort of wonderful. The hundred minutes certainly amused me and my friend.

I was looking for the Heracles (uhm, I mean Hercules) myth in the story, and the movie did toss a few crumbs my way. Herc strangles two snakes sent to kill him as a baby. He also washes out some stables. That’s about it. Otherwise, I was dumbfounded by the apparent “Greek Mythology” the film was throwing at me, which seemed to have a predilection for lasers and outer space. The Gods of Greece live on the Moon. The villain is King Minos, who is part of the Theseus myth and not the Hercules cycles, and he doesn’t have a Minotaur or even a tatty labyrinth. However, he does hire Daedalos, played a woman for some reason, to build giant robots to kill Hercules. Oh, and Herc tosses a bear into orbit (I thought this was hysterical at that time; I’ll bet it still is).

The whole science-fiction angle of the film perplexed both of us. We didn’t have the market understanding to see that the Italian filmmakers were trying to re-work their old sword-and-sandal films, the peplum genre, into a Stars Wars rip-off. The idea of somebody using Greek mythology as the starting point to copy a space opera wouldn’t have made sense to us then. In retrospect, because I notice so many archetypes within the Star Wars universe, Greek mythology seems an appropriate launching pad. But the Greek adventures stand quite well on their own without laser blasts and robots. The filmmakers should have aimed more for a Conan the Barbarian rip-off—Juppiter knows Italy was already making enough of those at the time—if they were going to tackle Hercules. Nonetheless, what director Luigi Cozzi, under the “Lewis Coates” psueodnym, turned out sure is… ah… interesting.

By the way, my friend and I both thought Sybil Danning, who plays no-relation-to-the-spider-myth Ariadne, was really hot and wore clothing appropriate to the occasion. An important learning experience, especially at eleven.

So, when do I give in and purchase the DVD and give you folks a full review? Or is my memory of it enough? (I get the sequel, The Adventures of Hercules, on the same disk, an incentive.)

Oh to Hades with this. I’ll just plunk it in my Netflix queue. There: added, moved to the top. See you in a few days with a genuine review.