04 August 2009

Ferrigno Fights On: The Adventures of Hercules

The Adventures of Hercules (1985)
Written and Directed by Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates). Starring Lou Ferrigno, William Berger, Milly Carlucci, Sonia Viviani.

Yesterday I hurled an enormous hunk of a review of the 1983 Lou Ferrigno Hercules. The 1985 sequel appears on the flip side of the current DVD, but with all my labor given to the first movie, I can only offer you a brief look at the follow-up. There isn’t as much to say; most of the criticism stays in the same mode: too many lasers and science-fiction trappings, bad effects, poor acting, and who misplaced all the Greek mythology?

While Hercules ‘83 got a theatrical stateside release, it wasn’t a hot property in North America except as an object of jeers. It made enough international coin for the same Italian production team to mount a sequel, but The Adventures of Hercules went straight to video and cable in the U.S. and isn’t as well-known on this side of the Pond.

The Adventures of Hercules’s tighter budget is evident in the recycling of special-effects footage, the scant sets, and the limited use of stop-motion animation. Some of the scenes were apparently shot for the first Hercules but never used, and some footage came from another Italian-made Ferrigno film, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators. There is some astute use of actual ruins shot in a naturalistic style that gives a stronger sense of Heroic Age Greece than anything in Hercules. But the science-fiction aspects of the first movie remain in force here, with full laser-light shows and chintzy electronic sound-effects making the “Bronze Age” part of the story a bit hard to discern.

Herc’s quest this time is to recover the seven lightning bolts of Zeus that four rebellious gods have stolen and hidden inside various monsters. The theft of the bolts has caused Zeus to lose control of the Moon, which will now smash into the Earth—although apparently it stepped back a long way to get a good running start. Hercules also comes to the aid of a tribe of women led by Urania (Milly Carlucci) and Glaucia (Sonia Viviani)—the only members of this tribe that we see aside from an early casualty—who are getting sacrificed to a poorly animated fire-monster. The four rebel gods resurrect the villain of the first movie, King Minos (again played by William Berger in the best performance among the cast), to halt Herc from his tasks. The four gods aren’t creative in their method of resurrecting Minos, swiping it straight from 1966’s Hammer film Dracula—Prince of Darkness. Minos turns against his benefactors and starts babbling about “science” and some plan to create a genetic super-race via Hercules. This is only a distraction from the quest for the thunderbolts and stopping the Moon on its collision course, and the script forgets about it rapidly.

The movement of plot in The Adventures of Hercules is more linear than in the first film, as Herc and his two skimpily-clad girl companions bash through various monster menaces to grab the lightning bolts. Along the way, the same blender of Greek mythology occurs: Hercules gets pulled into both Atlas’s and Achilles’s stories, and encounters a strange version of the Amazons ruled by a “Spider Queen” and her “magnetic web.” Taking up Perseus’s mantle at one point, Hercules slays a Gorgon-like creature in a blatant, shot-for-shot rip-off of the slaying of Medusa in the original Clash of the Titans—only with really terrible stop-motion work.

Most of the effects this time are based on hand-animation and glowing opticals, as well as people in silly monster suits who always do back-flips whenever Herc punches them. Most of the visuals are a step below the first film, and culminate in the mind-numbing finale where Minos and Hercules duel against the background of a static star-field. After Minos finishes hurling neon laser blasts at Herc, the two fight a shape-shifting battle using poorly rotoscoped outline animation. But the film goes right off the edge when Minos shifts into a T. Rex (lots of those in Greek myth) and Hercules into a big ape. If the battle between these two animated outlines looks familiar, it’s because it appears the effects crew simply rotoscoped over the classic fight footage between Kong and the T. Rex from the original King Kong! Sad. Really sad. (And I’m certain the fire-monster image is copied from the Id Monster in Forbidden Planet.)

Ferrigno is dubbed once again, and his physical performance seems like he’s a touch toasted. Hercules is a big guy, and that’s about all you can say about the character. Lou Ferrigno’s wife Carla, under the name Carlotta Green, acts in the film as the goddess Athena. She’s better at the part than the actress who played Athena in Hercules. In general, the gods are bettered portrayed here—and a bit more sensibly dressed.

Strangely, there is absolutely no sexuality in the film. Even though Hercules spends most of his screen-time walking around with two beautiful ladies, there isn’t a touch of sexual tension, or even the most chaste of kisses. It seems the filmmakers were trying to shove the movie even firmer into the kid-vision camp.

In the long view, The Adventures of Hercules is as dumb as its predecessor, but not as much fun. It’s more comprehensible, but it seems shallower and tackier, its age showing far more. The rotoscoped finale is worth seeing however, if only for its audacious terribleness. This film also made me realize, much more so than the goofy romp of Hercules, that given the incredible depth and imagination in the actual myth cycles around the Heracles figure, there’s no reason to whip up inferior, petty gimmicks to make a movie about him. Isn’t the power of the Greek legends, the inspiration for thousands of years of art, enough? Not in 1985, apparently.

To conclude my oration, In Facinorem Herculis: This is the side of the MGM/UA “double-feature” disc that will get far less viewing.

Also, Minos should really consider dumping all this bogus-science and just get himself a damn Minotaur.