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(Note, 1/26/03: This DVD has been reissued and corrected for a flaw in which the 16:9 squeezing doesn't reformat for flat monitors. The old version with the problem has a spine # of 11845; the corrected version is #00475.)
A muscleman epic from the tame end of the cycle, Hercules Against the Moon Men is a rather generic action movie without a whole lot going for it. The direction is dull, the story by-the-numbers, and the production values weak in all departments. Something Weird's DVD presentation is the star here - both in the quality of the transfer and the quantity of extras. The disc is labeled as a double-bill, but the co-feature The Witch's Curse is of such lesser quality that it really should have been a throwaway extra, like the added feature on the same producers' Goliath and the Dragon.
As rushed and sloppy as a muscleman movie can get, Hercules Against the Moon Men came at the end of the era for sword and sandal movies, just before spaghetti westerns took over. Gone are the large casts and interesting production designs. The cave interiors and royal halls seen here are the same overused sets from dozens of other movies, and the sparse props might as well have rental tags on them. Stone walls flex like cheap stage flats when Hercules pushes against them. He bends the bars of a steel 'barrier' that shakes as if he has to hold on tight to keep it from falling down. When marching through the desert, Herc goes out of his way to rip apart two trees, when he could just walk around them.
Of the cast, only the well-oiled Alan Steel, his sweet girlfriend Agar (Anna Maria Polani), and the stock evil queen have characters to play. This movie's Hercules has an unconcerned, friendly look on his face throughout the whole picture, which doesn't help create tension. Polani has a likeable face, and at least seems interested in the events of the plot. As Hercules doesn't make a move without being guided or informed by her, she practically is the plot. Samara is the stock Alpha female with too much makeup and delusions of grandeur. Parading around in the best costumes, she wants to be the only human left alive, along with Hercules as her 'slave lover', courtesy of some magic powder. Constantly pouting and cross, Samara has to take lots of fast, short steps in her tight ankle-length skirts. 2 She puts on sneering smiles that wouldn't fool a five-year old, and then wonders why her plans don't work out.
Would I have liked Hercules Against the Moon Men at age ten, when I started seeing these pictures double- and triple-billed in matinees? I don't know. The direction is incredibly slack, and the action scenes just terrible. Most scenes are flat-lit and have no pacing. The visually promising attempt to skewer Herc in a giant spiked rat trap is dull, a series of shots of ropes tightening intercut with widescreen closeups of Steel's flexed chest and arm muscles. Long lines of screaming sacrifice-ees are pushed into a Moloch-like green door in Death Mountain, but we're never shown what happens to them inside.
There's almost no music in the picture, and many scenes play in silence, even horse rides and walks through sandstorms that cry out for 'travelling music'.
With most of the running time devoted to limp organizing against the nasty queen, the fantasy premise of the film is given short shrift. An embarassing opening effects scene of a meteor bringing the 'moon men' to Earth is a terrible tabletop model. The main alien (they're called monsters, but never Moon Men in the dialogue) tries to revive his queen, who is an inexplicable lookalike for the Blonde Billis. The full moon seems to grow during the ceremony in Death Mountain, but there's no threatened collision of planets, unless there's something I missed. The 'unusual men made of rock' are a fun bunch of stone giants similar to the Rock Men of Missile to the Moon. There's a lot of them , and they fill the 'Cromoscope' screen nicely, but naturally, their main purpose is to be something for Herc to pick up and toss in the air.
Tim Lucas has identified Hercules Against the Moon Men as another film with visual & directorial input from Mario Bava. There are scenes and shots that resemble his lighting, but they're not all that numerous. The green tinted interior of the Death Mountain is a pale optical job, something that's not Bava's style. The setup with Billis being bled to revive the sleeping Moon Queen, however, does seem a direct lift from Bava's Black Sunday.
The film rather unimaginatively uses several key locations we recognize from Bava films - caverns with tall, vaulted ceilings, a familiar quarry-like area, and of course Bava's favorite beach. Lucas has information that il maestro frequently moonlighted like this between his own work, and recognizes Hercules Against the Moon Men as a likely suspect. This picture is a fine example of the state of Peplum, circa 1964, but you won't confuse it with Bava's superb Hercules in the Haunted World, or even a top-end Sword 'n Sandal film.
This DVD presentation of Hercules Against the Moon Men is a great opportunity to see the picture in almost perfect shape. The color of the original 'scope photography is excellent, and really sticks out in contrast to the sloppy volcano stock footage that's thrown in at the end. There are some white scratches on the film once or twice, as if someone wrote on it with a stylus, but they disappear immediately. The sound is so clear, one wonders at the paucity of sound effects, as if the cutters had the same two body impacts to work with, three kinds of footfalls, and nothing else.
For extras, Something Weird has filled the disc to the brim. The second feature, The Witch's Curse (Maciste all'inferno 1962), is a faded pan'n scan with pompadour'ed pretty boy Kirk Morris playing a muscleman who rather incongruously shows up at a Scottish witch trial to save the accused by taking a Bava-like trip to Hell. Savant asked for the title because it was signed by director Riccardo Freda. The picture has a lot of elaborate and atypical costumes and settings, but Morris looks like a male model who wandered by in his underwear. A good print would doubtlessly have made this even more attractive than the main feature, but scanning kills the compositions and the faded color is unattractive. The vision of Hell has a bit where the hero helps a Sisyphus-like tormentee lift a large rock. A helpful oracle shows Hercules a clip from an earlier film.
The extra menus reveal two 'Sons of Hercules' short subjects, the ones that begin with the silly song and the oxymoronic voiceover, "Through the Centuries in olden times ...". Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules is an excerpt with an unidentified Son fighting an ape in an arena at a Roman party. Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules is a half-hour long and holds together pretty well. "Machistius' (?) and a very shiny black muscleman free yet another captive community held underground by white-robed, uh, mole-men.
A special bonus is a tall stack of trailers (12 titles) for other muscleman movies released around this time. Included is a tasty blurb for Goliath and the Vampires, an exciting Gordon Scott film that looks like the best of the bunch. The disc unfortunately begins with the Something Weird exploitation montage, that makes it entirely unsuitable for children.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hercules Against the Moon Men rates:
1. Savant had a heck of a time getting the names straight while listening to the dubbed
English soundtrack. Nobody's name sounded the same twice in a row. Billis began as 'Phyllis', and the guy I'm calling
'Darax' is just a guess.
2. It's pretty amusing when she takes about 20 teeny steps to cover twelve feet or so, and
then hits a small gong - to summon a servant who was well within earshot.