Written By Zak Attack
A dramatic journey through the dreck we all know and love.
Why Did I Watch This?
We here at Action A Go Go love Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; the top badass of modern cinema. One could even make the argument that not only is he one of the best action stars working right now, but that he’s also the only “true” action megastar worthy to follow in the footsteps of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis. So while it doesn’t look poised to be the smash hit of the summer, we’re still kind of pumped for his new Hercules movie coming at the end of July.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s the beginning of Hercules Month at “Why Did I Watch This?”, which is a thing I just made up. There have been quite a few questionable entries into the cinematic forays of our favorite Greek strongman. For our first of four entries, I thought getting into the low-budget, Italian sword-and-sandal flicks from the 60’s would be appropriate. There is a cornucopia of poor quality versions of these on Netflix and Amazon streaming services as well as a handful I had as part of my personal collection for some reason. To decide which should be our inaugural entry into Hercules Month I ranked them by IMDb rating and chose the lowest one… because I hate myself.
The “winner”: The Loves of Hercules, aka Hercules Vs. Hydra with a rating of 3.2 out of 10.
NOTE: I also seriously considered Hercules Unchained because of it’s history with Joel and the Bots, but it’s just too darn difficult to watch a movie seriously after already seeing it be riffed countless times on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
How Did I Watch It?
This was one of the Hercules films on Netflix streaming. Couldn’t get a single soul to sit still for this one.
What Did I Watch?
I have always wondered what made the sword-and-sandal movies so popular in Italy. You could say that it’s part of their storied tradition of Ancient myth and that they acted, in a way, as Westerns did here in the States… but the Italians made some of the best Westerns as well! Regardless, for some reason Italy produced 17 Hercules films over the course of 8 years as well as several other series’ with incredibly similar characters (Ursus, Maciste, Samson, Goliath, etc.). Basically any giant, well-oiled dude would do.
The Loves of Hercules (which I will officially call it from now on since it is both the more accurate and the funnier title) starts immediately with the sacking of Hercules’ (Mickey Hargitay) village and the death of his wife. As part of an overly complicated and consistently evolving plot to takeover a throne, the evil Licos (Massimo Serato) kills the king who is semi-responsible for the murder of Hercules’ wife. His thinking is that Hercules than won’t assault the kingdom in outright war in revenge. Instead he will just be super bummed when he shows up to exact vengeance on the former king and discovers that he is unable to double-kill him. Deianira (Jayne Mansfield) throws a wrench in the works when she offers herself to Hercules as the guilty party in order to appease him. Our recently widowed protagonist ends up thinking this is pretty hot, so goes with the old “love the one you’re with… right now” adage and becomes smitten.
Not one to be easily foiled, Licos points out that since Deianira is already engaged, Hercules is going to go apeshit and kill her fiancé when he finds out. Much to his chagrin, Hercules does not kill Deianira’s fiancé. In fact, it’s a running theme that Licos makes quite a few assumptions about behavior that ultimately turn out wrong. So he finally just says “screw it!” and orders someone else to kill Deianira’s betrothed with Hercules’ knife so he looks guilty. To prove his innocence, Hercules goes all the way to the Underworld to hunt down the real killer and ends up fighting the Hydra, who as implied by the title of this feature, looks like the barely mobile float from a Chinese New Year parade. You might think this is the end of the movie since we’ve already resolved the eponymous struggle between Hercules and the Hydra, but you’d be wrong because we’re only halfway done.
Hercules gets wounded pretty badly in the battle and has to be rescued by the strange-hatted Amazons. It’s probably asking a lot for this movie to be faithful to the myths, but it’s strange that…
- The Amazons apparently live in the Underworld
- The Hydra was guarding the entrance to the Underworld instead of Cerebrus
- The Hydra was defeated by cutting off one of his (only) three heads. The whole point of the Hydra was that it became stronger with each head that was cut off.
- The Amazons are mostly villains. Hippolyta just loves bedding men and turning them into trees for some reason.
I could go on (Hercules calls his father by both the Greek name “Zeus” and the Roman name “Jupiter”, etc. etc. etc.), but I won’t. It’s just frustrating when the myths of old are already so full of spectacle and excitement and a filmmaker resorts to, “Eh, whatever. I’ve heard this name before so I’m going to throw it in there”.
As mentioned, Hippolyta is really hankering to turn Hercules into a tree and decides the only way to do that is if she ingests a magic potion that turns her into Jayne Mansfield with red hair. I was expecting they would go with her straight up pretending to be Deianira, but in fact Hercules is so dumb that he decides that he’ll just stay with the Amazons since Hippolyta suddenly became as pretty as his last “love”. Hercules is eventually helped by an rebel Amazon who simply doesn’t like her queen and he escapes.
Meanwhile, Licos has imprisoned Deianira and taken over the kingdom. In response, the returning Hercules rallies the troops of the kingdom and storms the castle. This is ironic since this show of force by Herc is exactly what Licos was trying to avoid by killing his own king in the first place.
The makeshift army breaches the castle and a bunch of bad guys die at the hands of the villagers. Licos retreats with Deianira into the countryside, but they are attacked by some sort of terrifying Neanderthal creature who looks vaguely like the gremlin on the wing of Shatner’s plane in that one episode of The Twilight Zone. The Neanderthal kills Licos and captures Deianira, Hercules kills the Neanderthal (by throwing a rock at its leg… it’s very anti-climactic), and Herc and Deianira live happily ever after
The Loves of Hercules apparently has never met a storyline it couldn’t rush through and make unnecessarily convoluted. From the unexplained Neanderthal to Licos’ inane plot for glory to Deianira’s burgeoning lesbian romance with her lady-in-waiting in the dungeon (I might just be reading too much into that last part), the movie is both quick to jump into and then abandon plotlines. The result is an ultimately boring experience where the stakes never feel quite that important.
Our main character is a wet fish of a hero who lets himself get manipulated across the land and merely travels from setpiece to setpiece as required while ineffectually solving problems. At the end of the day, all he really does is stab a bull, kill a Hydra (I’ll give him that one), push open a door for his army to do all the work, and kill a Neanderthal by throwing a rock at its leg.
In fact, I also ended up watching the famously bad Hercules Unchained from my personal collection for the hell of it… and it’s surprisingly way better. Steve Reeves is more charming, the plot is simpler (Hercules is also tricked into falling in love with an evil queen, but actually spends more than fifteen minutes there), and the final battle is actually kind of awesome. There are siege towers and he kills a bunch of tigers!
I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed the kitschy charm to the terrible make-up and effects. It was an effectively silly experience with such unattractive creature designs as the Hydra, the tree-people, and whatever that Neanderthal was. The trees especially look like costumes that were rejected for looking too fake to use as the anthropomorphic apple tree in The Wizard of Oz twenty-five years earlier. While that sounds terrible, the homemade look to this low-budget trash is really the only thing The Loves of Hercules has going for it. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects are legitimately amateurish and ugly, but the strange plot, dubbed voices, and outdoor scenes clearly shot on a set help hammer this one home as a high camp endeavor. Jayne Mansfield especially vamps it up a bit to keep the audience somewhat entertained.
While you can’t get your full ironic enjoyment quotient out of The Loves of Hercules, it’s at least there. I don’t know, maybe I’m reaching or maybe I just have a particularly corny aesthetic, but that’s the highlight for me. However, I’m sure after I watched all 17 of these Italian Hercules films I’d be singing a different tune.
I have a feeling this is the first of many Hercules films I’ll be watching where the bland, charismaless lead is going to drag the proceedings down quite a bit. Hargitay does his best impression of an incredibly confused, roided out Russel Crowe as he stumbles from one arduous plot point to the next. There’s a scene where he’s required to throw axes at Deianira with the caveat that if he hits her then she is guilty of the murder of his wife and if he misses the gods have shown that she is innocent. Hargitay’s blank slate of a face had me legitimately wondering if Hercules was trying to hit her but Zeus was leading the axes astray or if he was missing on purpose because he had grown to admire her.
The character motivations that ran the gamut from muddled to nonexistent didn’t do his limited acting range any favors. Nearly hours after the death of his wife Hercules falls in love with Deianira. The strength of his love is so great that he almost kills a guy for simply being engaged to her. However, nearly minutes after he finds out the guy died by someone else’s hands and he goes to the depths of the Underworld to chase down the killer, he completely forgets so he can get involved with Deianira’s doppelganger. I get that Hercules can be kind of a thoughtless cad, but this wasn’t Hercules being portrayed as a free-wheeling party animal… this was an incredibly short-sighted and easily fooled Hercules. At least Hercules Unchained provided magic waters that gave him amnesia before he forgot about his wife completely.
Was It Worth Watching?
No, this was not particularly worth watching. I didn’t think it was a complete waste of time (I learned that Mariska Hargitay from Law & Order: SVU is the daughter of a former Mr. Universe!), but recommending it for consumption just seems a touch cruel.
But don’t let that stop you from joining us next week for Part 2 of Why Did I Watch This’ HERCULES MONTH!
Hercules Month Part 1: You just read it!
Hercules Month Part 2: Hercules / The Adventures of Hercules
Hercules Month Part 3: Hercules in New York
Hercules Month Part 4: The Legend of Hercules
All images courtesy of Grand Schermi Italiani