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DVD SAVANT
Savant Guest Review:

Goliath and the Barbarians
and
Goliath and the Vampires (Double Bill Disc)


Goliath and the Barbarians & Goliath and the Vampires
Wild East
Color
2:35 flat letterboxed

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Still somewhat under-represented on DVD and rarely screened on TV (in the UK at least), the Peplum genre is one strand of popular Italian cinema that has yet to be fully exposed to English-speaking, twenty first century film fans. I'm familiar with Sergio Leone's The Colossus of Rhodes and can remember seeing a couple of Hercules flicks years ago but the bulk of the genre has largely eluded me. As such, I wasn't sure what to expect from these two Goliath films.

The first question that sprung to mind when approaching these shows was whether the adventures of their musclemen heroes could hold their own in the CGI age. Happily, I would say that the answer is a resounding yes: both films boast feats of strength and spectacles aplenty and their reliance on pre-CGI production techniques and special effects makes these spectacles all the more impressive. In short, both films are fantastically entertaining.

Carlo Campogalliani's Goliath and the Barbarians is a fairly straightforward historical tale in which a muscular hero, Emiliano the Goliath, leads a revolt designed to expel invading Barbarian hordes from sixth century Italy. Set in an earlier time frame, Giacomo Gentilomo's Goliath and the Vampires is a mythological fantasy that features a Goliath character going head to head with a number of interesting monsters and agents of the supernatural.


Goliath and the Barbarians
Wild East
1959 / Il terrore dei barbari / 82 m.
Starring Steve Reeves, Chelo Alonso, Giulia Rubini, Luciano Marin, Livio Lorenzon, Arturo Dominici, Furio Meniconi, Carla Calo, Andrea Checchi, Bruce Cabot
Cinematography Bitto Albertini
Production Designer Oscar D'Amico
Film Editor Enzo Alabiso
Original Music Carlo Innocenzi and Les Baxter
Written by Emimmo Salvi, Gino Mangini, Nino Stresa, Giuseppe Taffarel and Carlo Compagalliani
Produced by Emimmo Salvi
Directed by Carlo Campogalliani

Synopsis:

Italy, 568AD: when Barbarian hordes sweep into Verona and ransack the city, Emiliano (Steve Reeves) and his sister Sabina (Giulia Rubini) retreat to a forest hideaway and set up a resistance movement. Muscular and incredibly strong, Emiliano dons a monstrous mask and sets about launching hit and run attacks on the Barbarians. With Emiliano quickly becoming dubbed 'the Goliath' by those who survive his attacks, chief Barbarian Alboino (Bruce Cabot) orders his men to crush the resistance. However, infighting within the Barbarian ranks is causing problems and intrigue. Igor (Livio Lorenzon) lusts after Captain Delfo's (Andrea Checchi) beautiful daughter Londo (Chelo Alonso) but she continually spurns his advances. When Londo strays from the Barbarians' fortress and forms a relationship with Emiliano, the duplicitous Igor spots an opportunity to undermine Delfo's authority, vanquish the Goliath and claim Londo as his own.

As Charles Ambler observes in his sleeve notes for this release, Goliath and the Barbarians is set after the fall of the Roman Empire and so takes place in a time frame that falls outside of the traditional Sword and Sandal era depicted in most Peplums. One consequence of this temporal relocation is the presence of some really great costumes. The wild and shaggy Barbarian outfits featured here really make their wearers look the part. Emiliano's Goliath outfit is pretty good too: his mask makes him resemble a monstrous cat creature and he compliments this look by also sporting a deadly claw glove. Other weapons convincingly employed by Emiliano for maximum destructive effect include a rock and rope combination that he uses like a ball and chain mace, a gigantic club and a giant axe. Those who have seen Steve Reeves as Hercules will be familiar with the star's impressive physique and Reeves gets to flex his muscles here when Emiliano manhandles huge tree trunks, uses his upper-body strength to prevent two horses that he has been tethered to tearing him apart, takes on numerous Barbarians in a deadly tug of war, etc.

However, the advantages that Emiliano's strength and fighting prowess bring cannot be taken for granted when he is facing fearsome enemies who know no fear: Livio Lorenzon's (Cjamango, Ace High, The Last Gun) aggressive and uncouth Igor and his devious and villainous underling Svevo (Arturo Dominici of Black Sunday) make for formidable opponents. There are some impressively staged, large-scale action sequences present here (the Barbarians violently ransacking Verona at the start of the show, the Barbarians executing a pretty vicious and violent revenge attack on a village following Emiliano's theft of a sacred crown, the climactic battle between the Barbarians and the rebels, etc) as well as a number of smaller-scale but equally well-executed skirmishes. Further spectacle comes in the form of statuesque and super sexy Chelo Alonso's (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Run, Man, Run, Night of the Serpent) Londo. Confident, aloof and indomitable, her ritualistic and erotic court dances excite the Barbarians and drive the drooling Igor to distraction. But she's not as hard as she thinks she is: when Emiliano comes to her rescue after she suffers a nasty fall from her horse whilst out hunting alone, she cannot stop herself from falling in love with him. A growing body of evidence points towards Emiliano being the Goliath but Londo chooses to stand by him.

Goliath and the Barbarians is a decently paced adventure that manages to get the balance between court intrigue, romantic subplots and frenetic action sequences near enough spot on. It's also a colourful feature that sports some vibrant art direction, impressive sets and well-utilized locations. Bitto Albertini's cinematography is really very good: there are some great picture compositions here and Albertini consistently uses the show's widescreen TotalScope format to present busy, extras-packed ultra-long shots that give the film a really epic feel. The shots of the Barbarian hordes sweeping into Italy on horseback, like much of the equestrian work seen in the film, effectively point towards the Westerns that the Italians would be producing within just a few years. I'm not sure who was responsible for the music heard in the version of the film presented here (Carlo Innocenzi or Les Baxter) but it's a bit of a mixed bag. It gets the job done but it's not the most exciting or moving of scores. There are no such complaints about the acting found here, though. It's all generally very good for this type of show and, as a consequence, we are presented with a number of surprisingly well-drawn, interesting and involving characters.


For a flat presentation, the picture quality here is pretty good. There's next to nothing in the way of print damage in evidence but the disc's picture quality does fluctuate a bit. For the most part, the picture is just short of very good but there are a couple of sequences where the quality dips a little, becoming slightly more soft and hazy. The disc's sound quality is generally clear but it does get just a little tinny sounding in parts. The image gallery included here as an extra feature is excellent.


Goliath and the Vampires
Wild East
1961 / Maciste contro il vampiro / 92 m.
Starring Gordon Scott, Gianna Maria Canale, Jacques Sernas, Leonora Ruffo, Rocco Vitolazzi, Annabella Incontrera, Guido Celano, Emma Baron, Van Aikens, Mario Feliciani
Cinematography Alvaro Mancori
Production Design Gianni Polidori
Film Editor Eraldo Da Roma
Original Music Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and Les Baxter
Written by Sergio Corbucci and Duccio Tessari
Produced by Paolo Moffa
Directed by Giacomo Gentilomo

Synopsis:

When his village is attacked by raiders who kidnap all of the women folk, including his fiance Julia (Leonora Ruffo), Goliath (Gordon Scott) and his young companion Giro (Rocco Vitolazzi) set out to get the women back. The pair follow the raiders to Salmanak, an island state that is ruled by Sultan Abdul (Mario Feliciani) who is himself controlled by Kobrak (Guido Celano), a blood-drinking monster who possesses formidable magical powers and commands an army of zombie-like soldiers. Goliath links up with a mysterious alchemist, Kurtik (Jacques Sernas), who asks Goliath to assist him in destroying Kobrak. Goliath accepts Kurtik's request in return for his assistance in finding Julia. Unfortunately, Kobrak has instructed Astra (Gianna Maria Canale), his female servant-cum-spy within the Sultan's palace, to give Julia to the Sultan in an attempt to curb the monarch's increasingly rebellious outbursts.

Goliath and the Vampires is an inventive mash-up of Peplum and horror elements that sets its stall out during its dramatic opening moments wherein Goliath is required to dive into the sea and rescue Giro from a strange aquatic monster. The film's horror quotient continues when it is revealed that some of the kidnapped women folk are to be bled and their blood given to Kobrak, who is initially represented by a horribly gnarled hand that emerges from behind a swathe of red curtains in order to grab a goblet full of fresh blood. When Kobrak is finally seen in full, he's as monstrous as his hand first suggested. Kobrak's ability to employ a form of astral projection that allows his dangerous spirit to materialize anywhere he wishes makes him a particularly formidable enemy and his army of featureless zombie soldiers are just as intimidating: in a couple of scenes that play like they could have influenced the staging of the original Space Invaders arcade game, tightly packed ranks of zombie troops slowly but relentlessly shuffle towards Goliath, seemingly moving in unison to the soundtrack score's menacingly metronomic throb.

Elsewhere Kurtik unleashes a creatively constructed and animated mini-monster creature, which looks like something that might have escaped from Jim Henson's workshop one dark night, in his attempts to scare information out of Astra. A similar looking creature is encountered in the spooky petrified forest that Goliath must negotiate during his search for Kobrak's lair. It seems to be commonly accepted that one of the show's writers, Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence, Companeros), had a hand in directing some portions of the film and it has to be said that, considering its age, the film is extraordinarily violent and features a number of particularly unsettling and upsetting scenarios. As such, the film's diegetic world is a nihilistic and mean-spirited place that brings to mind the kind of settings found in Corbucci's Spaghetti Westerns.

Perhaps in an attempt to ease the anxieties of younger viewers, who might well have been disturbed by the levels of horror and violence on display here, every effort is made to play up Goliath's fantastic strength. In one well-executed sequence, Goliath backhands one of the Sultan's guards and convincingly propels the hapless fellow several feet into the air. And Goliath's escape from the Sultan's prison, which involves him tearing down a marble pillar and using it as a battering ram, is particularly exciting and impressive. (Spoiler begins ...) However, any comfort found in the assumption that Goliath's superior strength will guarantee a happy ending is cruelly torn away when Kobrak takes on Goliath's form and Goliath has to effectively do battle with his own evil doppelganger (... spoiler ends).

Goliath and the Vampires is a decent-looking film that benefits immensely from the presence of some great sets. Gianni Polidori (My Name is Nobody) designed said sets while Sergio Leone's regular set designer, Carlo Simi, constructed them. The film's costume design work, by Vittorio Rossi (The Colossus of Rhodes), is unusual but impressive too. The fearsome helmets and shoulder pads worn by Kobrak's zombies during the initial raid on Goliath's village look like they could have inspired the outfits worn by the Dark Judges in the classic Judge Dredd comic strips. The costumes worn by Kurtik's people, the mysterious Blue Men, have a kind of future-retro look that brings to mind some of the outfits seen in Flash Gordon. Another big plus here is the show's fantastic music. I'm not sure which composer (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino or Les Baxter) was responsible for the music featured in the version of the film presented here but the supremely powerful and stirring nature of the show's main theme really helps to set an appropriate sense of mood and atmosphere. Muscular Gordon Scott (Hero of Rome) is good as the manly Goliath while Leonora Ruffo (Hercules in the Haunted World, Goliath and the Dragon), Gianna Maria Canale (Hercules) and Annabella Incontrera (The Assassination Bureau) all work hard to provide the show with spectacles of a feminine nature. Canale is particularly good at projecting Astra's dark side and she sounds like she was dubbed by the same actress who voiced Anita Pallenberg's Great Tyrant in the English version of Barbarella.


The picture quality of this show fluctuates between fair and just less than good. The print used is intact but has seen better days. Colours are faded and there are outbreaks of scratches and evidence of film wear present too. However, this show is so absorbing and entertaining that worrying about faded colours and scratches was the last thing on my mind whilst watching it. The disc's sound is decent enough: it's generally clear if a little tinny sounding in spots.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Goliath and the Barbarians rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good / Very Good --
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Image gallery and trailer

Goliath and the Vampires rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Fair / Good --
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Image gallery and trailer


Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 30, 2008



Text © Copyright 2008 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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