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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hercules / Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules
Hercules / Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules
Image // Unrated // May 30, 2006
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted May 30, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Retromedia have put out a few sword and sandal double features over the last couple of years, bringing the Italian 'Peblum' films to a North American audience who, aside from one or two nice efforts from companies like Something Weird Video and Fantoma, have more or less had to make do with crappy 'public domain' discs. The original Hercules in particular has had a shoddy release history on home video in North America, but thankfully that all changes this time…

Hercules:

Steve Reeves plays the titular Son of Olympus in this, the first of the Italian Hercules films that kicked the sword and sandal/peblum genre into high gear. The story bears more than a few uncanny similarities to the story of Jason And The Argonauts but it still makes for good fun and the distinctly Italian cinematography, courtesy of Mario Bava (who would later direct one of the finest entries in the genre, Hercules In The Haunted World sets this one apart from many of the films that would follow by ensuring that it looks about as slick as it can.

When the movie begins, Hercules has just saved the lovely Princess Lole (Sylva Koscina) after a chariot accident almost finished her off for good. Thankfully for her, however, Hercules was on his way to do some training at a nearby city of Jellico and he stumbled upon her on his way and managed to take care of things. Once Hercules makes it to town he finds out that the rightful heir to the thrown of Jellico was forced into hiding years ago so that the King's brother could usurp control of the city for himself. With the king having recently been slain, there could be no better time for Hercules to show up and clean up the mess that has ensued.

After a fair bit of talky political kookiness everyone's favorite muscleman ends up having to head out on a quest for the Golden Fleece of legend. He puts together a crew of mighty men to accompany him on his trip and dubs them 'The Argonauts' and off he goes to fight dragons and deal with strange Amazon women in hopes of returning to the city triumphant with fleece in hand. Unfortunately for Hercules there is a traitor in his midst, one who plans to take down the Son of Olympus to keep him from meddling with the bad guys' plans…

Though it takes a little while to start moving, once the plot picks up and Hercules is off on his quest this one proves to be a lot of fun. A few nice beastly creatures and plenty of political intrigue keep the plot moving as do a few side-stories including Hercules' relationship with Princess Lole (who is plenty easy on the eyes as well). Steve Reeves exercises his considerable screen presence very well in this first film, completely looking the part of a bronzed Greek god, oiled up and muscular from start to finish.

The movie also benefits from some excellent set design. The famous finale of the film where Hercules goes postal and tears down portions of the temple is one of the movie's most recognizable scenes (it would be copied often in later genre efforts) and the cameras capture all of the action with style to spare. While there would be a few better efforts in the sword and sandal genre, the first Hercules is definitely a top tier effort with a solid cast and some beautiful camera work even if the story really does lack a lot of originality.

Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules:

This 1961 effort from director Antonio Leonviola is also known as Maciste – The Strongest Man In The World and Maciste And The Night Queen but is presented here with the Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules title card in place. Leonviola would follow this film up the same year with Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops which starred Gordon Mitchell in the role of Maciste, played in this film by Mark Forest who would show up in no less than twelve Italian muscleman films before retiring to dedicate his life to teaching opera.

Princess Saliura (Raffaella Carra) has been kidnapped by the evil Queen Halis Mosab (Moira Orfei) and taken to her underground city. Maciste and his pal Bango (Paul Wynter) decide to allow themselves to be captured by the Queen's band of evil henchmen so that they'll be whisked away to the same underground lair where the Princess is being held so that they can help her escape.

When the Queen lays her eyes on Maciste, she's taken with him pretty much instantly. It seems she's got a thing for muscle bound hunks and as such, he's just her type. She decides to make him her love slave if he can pass a few tests and Maciste figures this will be a good way to get full access to everything in the underground world. The first test she puts him up to is to defeat in hand to hand combat a giant ape, with the Princess' life hanging in the balance. He succeeds and snatches the princess up, taking her to safety above ground where the Queen's henchmen will not go (they dissolve if the sun gets to them). Maciste knows that there are more hostages down there, however, and so it's back underground for more action and adventure but little does Maciste know that there's a plan underfoot to breed the Queen with a human so that her henchmen will be able to survive in the surface world and it's a plan that will also see Maciste and Bango dead!

While this later feature lacks the art direction and professional cinematography of the earlier movie on the disc, it makes up for it with monsters and mole-men aplenty. The evil Queen is a pretty fun character, as clichéd as she might be, and while Mark Forest is no Steve Reeves he's not half bad in the lead either. Bango makes for a fun supporting character and Princess Saliura sure is fun to look at, which results in a pretty entertaining popcorn movie that probably won't change your life in any way but which will keep you interested for ninety minutes.

Leonviola's direction is strong and the script is definitely goofy enough to make for a fun diversion of a movie. Some of the interplay between the Queen and Maciste is a little racier than you might expect but it adds to the Mediterranean flavor of the film quite nicely. The mole-men themselves, clad all in white cloth, are pretty humorous even if they're not supposed to be and the scene where Maciste takes on the giant ape is handled well. This ones got lots of action and sweaty dudes pushing a giant wheel around, monsters, evil Queens and henchmen – pretty much everything you could hope for from a movie of this type.

The DVD

Video:

Good news! For the first time on DVD in North America, Hercules is finally given an anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original 2.35.1 aspect ratio. For those who have seen the French R2 release, Retromedia's disc is close in terms of quality to that disc, which slightly flatter colors. Print damage is rare and nothing to worry about though there is some moderate grain present in scenes. Skin tones look appropriately tanned and maybe just a hint too red though the movie has always had a bit of that going on so it could be the elements rather than the disc itself.

Mole Men Against The Son Of Hercules doesn't fare as well as it's presented on the flip side of this disc in a cropped 1.33.1 fullframe transfer (possibly taken from a television print). Colors are soft as is detail and the picture is a bit washed out but it's watchable and those used to the presentations that peblums have received for the most part in R1 won't be shocked to see it look as it does on this disc. The movie is watchable, but that's about as nice as one can get when describing the image. Look at this one as a freebie for buying the earlier film in its proper aspect ratio.

Sound:

Each of the two films are presented dubbed into English, which is fine considering more than a few of the principal stars spoke English anyway. There is the occasional pop in the mix and some hiss is present throughout a lot of the running time but it's never so overpowering that you can't understand what's going on and the background music actually sounds pretty decent here, quite epic in scope. Not a perfect presentation by any means, but it'll suffice until a better release comes along.

Extras:

Don't go looking for extras around here, punk, you'll just come up empty handed. There are some brief liner notes on the back of the keepcase however, and both movies come with animated menus and chapter stops. Sadly, that's all she wrote.

Final Thoughts:

A historically important and entertaining film, Hercules finally gets a decent DVD release thanks to Retromedia. The second feature doesn't look so hot but it too proves to be a fun film and this disc comes recommended for fans of Italian sword and sandal films.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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