Hercules (1983) – Directed by Luigi Cozzi – Starring Lou Ferrigno, Sybil Danning, Brad Harris, Ingrid Anderson, William Berger, Rossana Podesta, and Mirella D’Angelo.
HERCULES has existed for 29 years without me seeing it, and my life was worse for it. Why?
Because if you haven’t seen Hercules battle against a giant, stop-motion robot, you really haven’t lived, have you?
To be clear, HERCULES is a horrible movie, but it is so dedicated to its vision that it becomes a movie you absolutely want to see despite that horribleness. Luigi Cozzi’s 1983 take on the Hercules legend is rooted in the cinematic tradition of swords and sandals but the whole movie is infused with a science-fiction vibe that makes it, if not good, certainly distinct and memorable.
And honestly, with 8 gazillion movies in the world, don’t you have 100 minutes to give to a movie that looks like almost nothing else?
I’ve been tempted to watch HERCULES for months now as it’s readily available on Netflix, but it never seem to properly fit with a monthly theme. In truth, it doesn’t completely fit with the “space movies” theme of June, either, but I honestly thought it did. I’d been told this was a bit of “Hercules in space” and while Herc doesn’t take to the stars, that’s where the gods live, and that’s where Hercules occasionally tossing things like bears to make the constellations.
In one of the early action scenes, Hercules’ adopted father (there’s a definite Superman vibe in Hercules’ origin here) is being attacked by a bear. The sequence is cut together with close-ups shots of a huge bear standing up and bellowing and obscured shots of Lou Ferrigno fighting some dude smaller than him in a furry outfit, and it ends with Hercules hurling the bear into space.
All of that really happens. I feel like I need to say that after every single thing I write about this movie, so let’s play a game. Which of the following statements about HERCULES is NOT true. Understand? Which is NOT true?
A) The planets were birthed from Pandora’s Jar, a giant space jar.
B) During his trials to prove himself to Cassiopea’s dad, little bursts of light explode when he hits people.
C) Hercules and Circe cross the Rainbow Bridge – you know, the one from, Norse mythology.
D) A narrator steps in at odd and infrequent times to gives us history lessons we need to know and exposition we don’t.
E) As a baby, Hercules kills two large water snakes by crushing them in his hands.
F) Circe dresses like a superhero. Or like an extra from Xanadu. Your choice.
Go ahead, think on it for a second. Which one of those statements is NOT true. Ready for the answer?
They’re all true. And that’s the joy of watching HERCULES – it’s utterly absurd, at times, but it’s a committed absurdity. In one scene, Hercules is cleaning out the Augean Stables old school style and at other times he’s being turned into a giant or battling a giant robot or tossing, all the while Zeus and the rest of the gods watch from the moon. It makes the movie feel both traditional and derivative.
One of the aspects of HERCULES that makes it an easy watch is that the film is always moving forward. Yeah, some individual scenes drag a bit (the scene between Herc and Cassiopea and the Augean Stables seems to take as long to watch as the stables would have been to clean by hand) but the film does an impressive job of stitching one action sequence to the next. After the Kryptonian opening act and the Augean Stables second act, Herc and Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson) are playing kissy face when Ariadne (Sybil Danning) shows up and sends the virginal Cassiopea off to her dad to get sacrificed and dumps Herc in the sea.
Hercules ends up hanging with Circe (Mirella D’Angelo), a witch who casts spells and stuff. She’s not totally honest with Hercules, but she cons him into helping her get a magical amulet in exchange for her getting him to Cassiopea. The problem is that Circe can’t actually get him to Cassiopea, which means Hercules had his arm go from being roasted in flames to chilling in ice in order to get that amulet. When Hercules finds out Circe can’t do what she promised, he wants to hurl the amulet really far away (I’m guessing space since that’s where he likes to throw things), but Circe promises she’ll get him as close as she can and that’s good enough for Hercules.
They need to get to a beach to get close, and they get there by …
I think this might be my favorite part of the movie. They get there by a magical chariot, and the chariot doesn’t fly with horses or goats or magic, it flies by a two-part method. Part one has Circe using her magic to tie a rope around the chariot and a big rock. Why they need magic to tie a rope is beyond me, but maybe I missed the part where it wasn’t allowed for Hercules to use his hands. So we get stop motion work to watch the rope get tied around the chariot, and then Hercules picks up the rock and hurls it across space.
Ferrigno doesn’t have much of a personality and his voice has been removed and another dude’s voice dubbed over him, but he’s not bad. His sort of permanent blank expression is rather consistent, at least, so he feels like an actual person, if an boring one.
I ain’t gonna lie on this, though – one of the reasons why HERCULES is an enjoyable watch is the assembled ladies. Sybil Danning does her usual fine job of being evil and barely fitting into her costume, Mirella D’Angelo somehow manages to keep her dignity in that ridiculous bad Dazzler cosplay outfit, and Ingrid Anderson … stunning. She looks a bit like a young Barbie Benton and they make her prance around for the back half of the movie in this ridiculous white costume with flowing white ribbons and seashell pasties. She’s basically naked and I’m not complaining about that.
As the film goes on, the science vs. magic angle becomes a stronger part of the movie, but it’s a bit like that loud guy at a baseball game who starts randomly talking about how the DH is the way to go and watching pitcher’s hit is an abomination, and he just won’t shut up about it, even though it has no real effect on the players on the field. It’s not like Hercules or Cassiopea give a crap about any of that.
Anyway, Hercules ends up saving Cassiopea, but before he can commit to her (“commit” meaning “make out on the beach”) he has to know if she’s really Cassiopea or Circe or Ariande. Her answer? “I am all of them,” she explains, “and none of them.”
But hey, I’ve been lucky enough to have really beautiful women say nonsensical things to me before making out, so I get where Herc is coming from – just roll with it and figure out the crazy tomorrow.
Look, this is not a great movie but it is a movie you have to watch at some point. It’s a B-movie that just embraces everything about its concept and works it. Pino Donaggio’s score is really good at taking a John Williams sound and making it work for this sword and sorcery and science flick. While the story might not make the most sense and while the acting might not win much critical acclaim, it somehow works. Watching HERCULES is like eating an average chicken pot pie – there’s just enough of all the little things you expect to be there to make it work, plus some other stuff you weren’t expecting that makes it an interesting dish.
Plus, let’s be honest, where else are you gonna watch a dude toss a bear into space?