Sword & Sandal cinema is a sadly overlooked genre amongst fantasy film fans. Of all the Italian styles of motion pictures imported and exported around the world, it is probably the least discussed and appreciated. It's surprising that the cult audience for spaghetti westerns don't have more of an interest in the peplum/fusto genre considering so many of the artists both in front of, as well as behind the camera, had cut their teeth on a costume historical/fantasy epic of one sort or other.
Directors such as Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Mario Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Alberto De Martino, Duccio Tessari, Antonio Margheriti and lesser known directors like Alfonso Brescia and Mario Caiano all worked in the genre before moving on to other cinema styles such as horror, western and crime films.
Peplums and the Herculean muscleman epics that dominated the genre offered up a lot of action and spectacle for the movie going public back in the late 50's through the mid 1960's when the genre dried up being usurped by dust riddled towns and sun scorned vistas of the Italian westerns. These movies could almost always be counted on to deliver lots of action, intrigue, feats of superhuman strength, violence and gorgeous women both good and bad. Why this particular type of film isn't more popular in cult film circles is puzzling to me considering the many fantastical attributes inherent in the genre.
Granted, many of the peplums featuring mythological monsters were, like most of the films, shot quickly and on a low budget. The special effects are often laughable, yet hold a unique charm all their own. And yet it's these less serious entries that fans tend to remember reveling in their audaciously under budgeted attractions. When I was a young kid, the first such film I recall making an impression on me was a double feature of HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1964) and its follow up, HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964). Having been mesmerized by the big screen version of SUPERMAN (1978), the Fusto films offered up very similar entertainment with their larger than life heroes showcasing prodigious strength often battling devious villains and monsters with an occasional sorceress thrown in for good measure.
The most bizarre stigma attributed to the genre (at least to me) is that the films bear homosexual undertones due to the amount of bare chested males on screen. Prior to reading such things, I never once saw these movies as anything more than harmless entertainment with characters dressed as they have been portrayed throughout the ages in historical and mythological literature. "Critics" have said the same thing in regards to Italian westerns and even martial arts films from Hong Kong. In interviews on the excellent documentary, UOMINI FORTI, various personalities including Mimmo Palmara and director, Carlo Lizzani discuss the peplums and strongman movies as nothing more than entertainment; films derided by critics, but moneymakers that enabled "serious" directors the opportunity to make their message movies.
The following list (strictly of the Italian sword & sandals) of movies are my own personal 'Best Of' and some entries are far more flippant and far less distinguished than others, but have endearing qualities which make them memorable in their own amusing way. This list will feature movies of both the gladiator and Fusto (muscleman) variety. Generally the gladiator films dealt with men destined to duel to the death in arenas, ultimately becoming a threat to a despotic leader, or often a scheming subordinate vying for the throne. The Fusto's usually revolved around a mythological super strong hero such as Hercules, or even Italy's own popular pulp people's hero, Maciste battling dragons, assorted monsters, evil kings and conniving sorceresses. Some of the entries are without doubt worthy of classic status while some others bear more camp qualities.
I have chosen 26 to represent this list as I feel that among the scant few true classics of the genre, that even some of the less serious films deserve a look for sheer imagination alone. Obviously I haven't seen every peplum picture, but out of the 100+ I have seen, these are the best of the lot for various reasons. This super heroic muscleman spectacle of 26 mythological fantasy spectaculars is overflowing with larger than life heroes, insidious and duplicitous villains, beautiful maidens in need of rescue, conniving, yet equally lovely sorceresses and fantastical monsters. These are the components that makes sword & sandal so much fun as 100% pure peplum popcorn entertainment. Hopefully, the genre will garner some new fans and not collapse further into obscurity where this cinematic style has more or less remained (in the US anyways) for the better part of two decades.
1. HERCULES (1957) aka LE FATICHE DI ERCOLE (THE LABORS OF HERCULES)
Directed by Pietro Francisci
The very first and widely considered to be the signature representation of sword & sandal cinema. Pietro Francisci directs this combination of mythological heroes featuring Hercules and Jason, leader of the Argonauts. This maiden voyage that would solidify the typical fusto trappings has our hero partaking in a number of insurmountable labors in an effort to win the hand of Iole (Sylvia Koscina), the woman with which he has fallen in love. Later taking to the sea with Jason, the two adventurers seek out the fabled Golden Fleece. Here, it's guarded by a huge dinosaur like creature (that roars like Godzilla!).
The iconic Steve Reeves, a world renowned bodybuilder, essays the role of Hercules in the first of a string of hero movies he would undertake. He was discovered when Francisci's daughter saw Reeves in the US production of ATHENA (1954) in an Italian theater. However, he only played Hercules twice, both here and the far better sequel, HERCULES UNCHAINED.
Strangely enough, this production is two films in one. The script deals with both Hercules as well as Jason and his search for the golden fleece, a subject that would form the basis for another Italian peplum adventure, 196o's THE GIANTS OF THESSALY. Reeves acquits himself wonderfully becoming the torch and toga icon by which others would strive to attain. HERCULES grossed 40 million in the US alone and made Steve Reeves the highest paid male star in Europe at the time.
Reeves, a native of Montana, was a vegetarian during his bodybuilding days. He was also one of the first to take up weightlifting before it became a popular competition. After a stint at playing Hercules on two occasions (the other being HERCULES UNCHAINED), Reeves moved on to portray a similar character in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS from 1959.
He then dabbled in various other strongman or Greek historical roles of variance such as the classic, THE GIANT OF MARATHON, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, THE WHITE WARRIOR (all 1959), ROMULUS & REMUS, THE TROJAN HORSE (both 1961), THE LAST GLORY OF TROY and THE SON OF SPARTACUS (both 1962).
Going back to HERCULES, among the mythological strongman battling amazons and dueling with lions, monkey men and the Cretian Bull, there's also duplicitous villains played by two of the genres most recognizable and prolific actors, Mimmo Palmara (HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER) and Arturo Dominici (BLACK SUNDAY). Palmara played numerous lead villain roles and an occasional hero role as well. He was originally considered for the role of Hercules because of his size, but the director wanted someone even bigger. Gianna Maria Canale, a regular female face in these movies, has the role of the Queen of the Amazons. The stunning Luciana Paluzzi has an early role here, too. Every plot device and story conceit is put through the ringer for this influential production that spurned over 200 additional peplum adventures.
2. HERCULES UNCHAINED (1958) aka ERCOLE E LA REGINA DI LIDIA (HERCULES & THE QUEEN OF LYDIA)
Directed by Pietro Francisci
Steve Reeves returns in this even better sequel to Franscisi's original. Whereas the first film was split between Hercules and the search for the Golden Fleece, Hercules is the central character this time out. The film involves Hercules attempting to thwart war between two feuding brothers over the ruling of Thebes. On his way to act as arbitrator, he becomes entranced by a mysterious woman, Omphale, the 'Man-Eater of Lydia' after drinking from a magical fountain.
In addition to featuring chunks from the actual myth of Hercules, there's also the presence of the Egyptians and their mummification practices. The number of eerily atmospheric sequences are the work of Mario Bava, whom fans will of course know as the director of BLACK SUNDAY (1960), HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961) and THE THREE FACES OF FEAR (1963) among a long list of other credits. The action is better and the cliffhanger moments are likewise amped up from the previous picture. The sets and visual flair are likewise attributed to the work of Bava. If nothing else, a non fan can appreciate the look of the film. One of the most oft used locations in peplums is seen here for what must be the first of many times. Monte Gelato is one of the most elegantly mesmerizing natural sites you will ever lay eyes on with its waterfalls and surrounding woods.
Reeves, while far from a great actor, gets a bit more to do here since the whole film is basically built around his character this time. Everything is bigger for the sequel. I get the impression that Francisci possessed a more assured hand for this production considering nothing had been done on quite the scale of the prior trailblazing torch & toga movie.
Both films are spectacles, but it's the sequel that's the better of Francisci's Herc double header. Many of the performers from the previous picture return here as well such as Sylvia Koscina and Mimmo Palmara. Future peplum star, Sergio Ciani (Alan Steel) has a part as a centurion and future Euro western mega star, Guiliano Gemma has a minor part also.
Reeves continued acting in various peplum films and other similar movies such as two SANDOKAN movies for director, Umberto Lenzi and also wrote and starred in a spaghetti western, the entertaining A LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1965). Reeves retired from movies due to injuries sustained during his career most notably by his work on the sprawling epic, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959), a movie co-directed by Sergio Leone. During his twilight years, Reeves raised horses on his 14 acre ranch where he also grew fruit such as oranges and avocado's.
1959 was a big year for Steve Reeves. He starred in the opulent and extravagant THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII for directors Mario Bonnard and Sergio Leone and he also headlined the obscure THE WHITE WARRIOR for director Riccardo Freda. Other peplums to see release in 1959 are SHEBA & THE GLADIATOR and HEAD OF A TYRANT. While Reeves dominated the muscleman movies at the time, the gladiatorial arena was about to get more crowded with American bodybuilders making money in Italian fantasy films. The following two titles are two of Reeve's best movies. One is pure fantasy and the other is taken from Greek mythology.
3. GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959) aka IL TERRORE DEI BARBARI (THE TERROR OF THE BARBARIANS)
Directed by Carlo Campogalliani
"I will kill 10,000 barbarians...and they will call me Goliath!"
One of the best and most successful of the muscleman movies due in no small part to the then rising star of Steve Reeves. A villager takes up a violent fight against rampaging barbarians after they kill his father. Being christened 'The Goliath' by his enemies, Emiliano uses his great strength to gain his vengeance against the marauding invaders.
One of the most unusual looking peplum/fusto movies in that much of it is done on studio sets. The costumes are suitably brutish for the barbarian horde and Latin American dancer, the gorgeous Chelo Alonso, found instant fame co-starring in a number of these movies. She also featured alongside Reeves as a Spanish spitfire in the pirate epic, MORGAN THE PIRATE in 1960.
The two had a great degree of chemistry and it shows on screen. This film has it all; larger than life heroes, feats of strength, nasty villains, gorgeous women and lots of action. It should be mentioned that the level of violence is high for this sort of film; at least what was seen in some of the export versions as they were often heavily edited.
There are many stand out sequences in this film such as Goliath having to win his freedom by passing several excruciating tests of strength. The gruesome massacre of a village by the barbarians is also notable as is the climactic assault on the villains fortress. It was this film that Lou Ferrigno became interested in bodybuilding after seeing Steve Reeves in action.
Reeves was an icon and an inspiration to numerous cinema personalities one of which was Sylvester Stallone. It's one of the actors best action performances. Reeves' formidable frame is showcased to a great degree here making GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS a prime picture to start with for casual viewers with a passing, or curious interest in the genre.
The director also helmed THE SON OF SAMSON (1960) starring Mark Forest and also featuring Chelo Alonso in another even more salacious role where she displays some fine moves during one of her customary dance sequences. The Spanish Warner Brothers release of GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS is uncut and contains an English dubbed version which was also ripped off for the version released here by the public domain label, Wild East.
As already stated, Reeves is a powerful presence here and Alonso oozes an incredible amount of sexuality. Arturo Dominici looks devilish as one of the chief villains. Bruce Cabot and Livio Lorenzon round out the cast of antagonists. It's a highly recommended and rousing entertainment that's a must see for aficionados of the genre and newbies alike.
4. THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) aka LA BATTAGLIA DI MARATONA (THE BATTLE OF MARATHON)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur & Mario Bava
The iconic Steve Reeves headlines yet another bombastic mythological fantasy film from Italy. This one, like many, is steeped in actual tales of Greek myth. Here, it's the story of Phillipides, an Olympic champion, who tries to save Athens from their Persian enemies by securing an uneasy alliance with their rivals, the Spartans.
Reeves is shorn of his beard for this movie and appears a bit leaner than in his previous muscleman motion pictures. Taking a cue from GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS the violence level is very high most particularly during the large scale finale wherein the Athenians attempt to foil the Persians and their warships by attacking from under the water. There are a handful of scenes of men being bloodily skewered through the eyes, neck and body by spears. The set pieces are extravagant and all the ingredients that make the genre memorable (yet sadly overlooked) are present here (although there are no monsters).
Mario Bava (who finished the film after Tourneur became ill) is a key component to the lavish look of the film and its obvious that this movie had a sizable budget attributed to it. The finale is one of the biggest seen in one of these pictures as well as being one of the most exciting. There is a great deal of action and court intrigue as the Athenians struggle with the thought of siding with their adversaries, the Spartans. Sergio Fantoni, the villain from HERCULES UNCHAINED, provides another nasty turn as the heel here, too. He has a great fight with Reeves atop the mast of one of the Persian war ships during the closing moments.
Mylene Demongeot possesses a natural, yet sensual beauty especially in scenes where she sports a diaphanous gown subtly revealing her supple and sexy frame. Daniela Rocca adds some additional sex appeal as a voluptuous vixen that falls for Phillipides. Stuntman and future Hercules actor, Sergio Ciani has an early role as the Spartan leader, Euros. He aids in saving the Athenians during the conclusion. Giovanni Cianfriglia, Steve Reeves' stunt double, also has a part as a gladiator. A rousing entertainment and one not to be missed.
1960 was another good year for the Italian costume epics. This same year also saw the release of other titles. CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER starred Debra Paget and Ettore Manni as lovers caught up in much court intrigue and subterfuge. CONQUEROR OF THE ORIENT had Rik Battaglia and the gorgeous Gianna Maria Canale in its cast. Ettore Manni returned to the Nile for the sprawling THE LEGIONS OF CLEOPATRA in a similar storyline to his other Cleopatra picture. Steve Reeves also set sail on the seven seas in MORGAN, THE PIRATE. Mark Forest also entered the scene with his first genre picture, GOLIATH & THE DRAGON aka REVENGE OF HERCULES. These next two titles below are quite good and notable for reasons all their own.
5. SON OF SAMSON (1960) aka MACISTE NELLA VALLE DEI RE (MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS)
Directed by Carlo Campogalliani
The Persians have invaded Egypt and the Pharaoh wishes to free those enslaved within the city of Tanis. His wife, Smedes, has other plans. She wishes to sell her country to their enemies and rule with an iron hand. She then has her husband assassinated, her stepson being an accomplice. Later, the Pharaoh's son, Kenamun, returns to Tanis with Maciste, having met him earlier during a struggle with several lions. The enormous strongman heads a revolt against Smedes, but not before the evil Queen attempts to seduce our hero.
One of Mark Forest's best movies he ever did. Looking at his other movies, it would seem Forest became slightly disinterested as his career wore on. In his early films, he's very energetic. Such is the case with GOLIATH & THE DRAGON. Despite being a meandering production even with its many monsters, Forest is alive with his belligerence in his role which befits that films original title of THE REVENGE OF HERCULES. Everything in SON OF SAMSON is spot on: lavish sets, good performances and direction and lots of (often times gruesome) action.
Also noteworthy is the level of violence on display. People are set on fire, speared in the mouth, buried upside down in the sand and individuals are bloodily gored with spears and swords. Director Campogalliani must have liked shocking his audience. His previous movie, GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS, features a few scenes containing questionable scenes of nasty violence.
Cuban hot tamale Chelo Alonso burns up the screen in her performance as the cruel Smedes. Alonso was a distinguished exotic dancer and put her skills to good use in Sword & Sandal movies. Her first mythological motion picture was SHEBA & THE GLADIATOR in 1959 which was quickly followed by GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS starring Steve Reeves. She appeared in a few others, but for SON OF SAMSON, she gets a very meaty role. The scene where she attempts to seduce Maciste with a hot, sexually charged dance is a highlight of the film. It's a prerequisite that Alonso gyrate in a seductive dance in her movies. She had a lot of suitors and married an Italian producer. She co-starred in a few Spaghetti Westerns before retiring from the industry at the close of the 1960's.
SON OF SAMSON was one of numerous peplum adventures that took place within an Egyptian setting. Italian producers covered the gamut of biblical, or historical locales for their adventure/fantasy pictures. As has already been discussed, they were also privy to crossbreeding different time periods. However, as far as the Maciste movies go, the sight of a loinclothed righter of wrongs in a different time period has been perceived as anachronistic to many who jeer at the genre. In the film, THE INVINCIBLE BROTHERS MACISTE (1964), the hero enjoys a romantic interlude with a beautiful woman. She asks him where he's from and his response is, "The world." Maciste was like this righteous vagabond calling no place home, but crushing oppression wherever he may find it. SON OF SAMSON comes highly recommended. It has great action, an often compelling storyline, some amazingly gruesome scenes for the time and of course, the gorgeous Chelo Alonso which by her participation alone, is worth the price of admission. (* The review of the uncut Spanish DVD is here)
6. THE GIANTS OF THESSALY (1960) aka I GIGANTI DELLA TESSAGLIA (GLI ARGONAUTI)
Directed by Riccardo Freda
An action oriented fantasy film from Italian horror pioneer, Freda (I, VAMPIRI). Here is an early telling of the fable of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Three years away was one of the most famous fantasy epics, the American 'Peplum', JASON & THE ARGONAUTS (1963). Freda delivers a lower budgeted, but still exciting and lively movie rife with monsters and cliffhanger moments.
In an effort to halt Zeus unleashing volcanic destruction on his homeland, Jason seeks out to steal back the Golden Fleece. Hiring out a group of capable hands to aid in the mission, the band of warriors set sail on the Argo and encounter evil sorceresses and monsters among assorted dangers. There's also room for some peplum style backstabbing as one of Jason's advisers conspires to steal away his wife once Jason's death is assured. One of the films highlights is a grand duel between the Argonauts and a gigantic gorilla-like cyclopean monstrosity.
Freda displays an accomplished hand here just as he did in the following years SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD. He's never gotten the notoriety of his more famous protege, Mario Bava, but Freda was capable of delivering some choice Saturday Matinee style thrills just the same. There's relatively no familiar fusto faces here, but a supreme score by the massively underrated composer Carlo Rustichelli keeps the film lively even during the slower moments. It's a bit silly at times like many of the peplum fantasies featuring monsters and fantastical elements, but these foundations are what most fans of the genre remember regardless of their kitschy charms.
Riccardo Freda also attempted a horror strongman movie like Bava did with HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1962). Freda's version was entitled THE WITCHES CURSE aka MACISTE IN HELL (1962) starring the stiff and perpetually wooden Kirk Morris, one of two Italian born actors (his real name is Adriano Bellini) to portray these kinds of roles. That film had some choice moments (and those entail the gorgeous charms of Helene Chanel) amidst some moments of stock footage from peplums past. THE GIANTS OF THESSALY is a well mounted fantasy picture and is recommended for those with a taste for the slightly lighter side of the sword & sandal spectrum.
1961 was the year the peplum and fusto film really hit its stride with some truly classic films and also some supremely entertaining and harmless fluff. The genre saw an early sampling of cross breeding of genres with THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS, a Sword & Sandal Science Fiction flick. LAST OF THE VIKINGS from Giacomo Gentilomo and Mario Bava starred Cameron Mitchell and George Ardisson. There were also some lowbrow pieces such as Gordon Mitchell's first foray into the genre with the insufferably bad, yet oddly entertaining ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS made more bearable by the participation of Cuban sensation, Chelo Alonso. Kirk Morris also debuted with TRIUMPH OF THE SON OF HERCULES. The following entries are perfect examples of what made the genre a grand spectacle and also films that showcased the purely popcorn elements inherent in the films.
7. THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) aka LA GUERRA DI TROIA (THE WAR OF TROY)
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
"No woman is worth the blood that has been shed in these nine years...least of all Helen!"
Like THE FURY OF ACHILLES the following year, THE TROJAN HORSE is one of the biggest spectacles ever to emerge from Cinecitta of Rome. It is also one of the most striking and visually stunning of all the sword & sandal epics. This production begins more or less where THE FURY OF ACHILLES ends. Hector is already dead and Steve Reeves gets possibly his most sizable role here as Aeneas. American actor, John Drew Barrymore plays Ulysses, genre vet Mimmo Palmara tackles the role of Ajax and Euro icon Arturo Dominici takes the role of Achilles. A double feature of both THE FURY OF ACHILLES followed by THE TROJAN HORSE would be an excellent introduction to Greek mythological movies for those with a serious interest in the more momentous entries the genre has to offer.
Ulysses (John Drew Barrymore, right) explains to Menelaus and his forces on how to topple the Trojans
This stupendous production deals with the ten year Trojan war that was born out of the embarrassment of King Menelaus when Prince Paris seduced his wife, Helen of Troy and abducted her. To avenge his shame, Menelaus initiates war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The title of course, refers to the Greeks building a gigantic wooden horse with which to sneak their soldiers within the walls of Troy. Reeves plays an actual mortal this time out as opposed to his typical larger than life interpretations. Here, his character of Aeneas is only interested in bringing peace out of the ten year war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Steve Reeves returned to this role for the sequel released the following year, THE LAST GLORY OF TROY. THE TROJAN HORSE is possibly Reeves' best performance, but no doubt the biggest production he took part in aside from THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959).
Whereas Robert Wises' 1956 HELEN OF TROY concentrated more on the dramatic and romantic angles inherent in the tale, Ferroni focuses more attention on the political and action aspects the famed Greek story has to offer. The Italian resources are pushed to the max for this big scale epic reaching for heights seldom attained by movies of this genre. It's clearly one of the best peplums fans will ever encounter. There's plenty of large scale action and numerous familiar faces. The opulent and bombastic score by Giovanni Fusco perfectly matches the scope and majesty of this production. The epic scale battle sequences would be used as stock footage in numerous other peplums that followed. The German DVD offers the uncut version in widescreen and is English friendly.
Director, Giorgio Ferroni was an accomplished hand at this genre ably handling such notable films as the Gothic horror of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960), the dramatic and colorful costume picture, THE LION OF THEBES and also the gritty political peplum, HERO OF ROME (both 1964). Ferroni also helmed a lackluster he man epic, THE CONQUEST OF MYCENE aka HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH (1963). He would then migrate to a successful career directing European westerns three of which would star Guiliano Gemma, one of Italy's biggest stars. Ferroni's THE TROJAN HORSE comes highly recommended and is a true classic of sword & sandal cinema. Aside from a small few, they seldom got much better than this.
8. ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) aka ROMOLO E REMO
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
1961 was a grand year for the majesty that was, for a brief time, the sword and sandal genre. Some of the best entries came in 1961 and many of them are on this list. A number of famous luminaries worked on this production not the least of which was the famed director of spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone who acted as a writer here. The director of ROMULUS & REMUS was another Sergio, the equally, if not more talented, Sergio Corbucci. Two other men that later became famous directors in their own right worked on this classic; Duccio Tessari (A PISTOL FOR RINGO) and Enzo Barboni (THEY CALL ME TRINITY).
ROMULUS & REMUS tells the famed story of the founding of Rome and the struggle between two brothers; one bound by love and piety and the other obsessed with wealth and power. Both are destined to fight over who will rule the new nation. Both Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott are perfectly cast as the opposing brothers of the films title. Scott, the better actor, was well chosen for this part. It is quite possibly the best performance of his career. The most intense of the peplum/fusto stars, Scott was able to elevate even lesser efforts such as THE CONQUEST OF MYCENE (1963) to being at least watchable if nothing else.
Scott was the eleventh actor to portray Tarzan with TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE in 1955. He was an imposing figure who found fame in Italy through his friendship with fellow strongman, Steve Reeves. It was Reeves who got Scott the part in this, possibly the greatest peplum ever made. It was rumored, though, that the two didn't get along during the making of the film. Nonetheless, Gordon Scott made a serious imprint with his performance in this picture. Possibly the best of his career, it led to many more roles in muscleman cinema.
Corbucci would direct some additional he man movies such as GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES (1961; co-directed with Giacomo Gentilomo although reportedly, Corbucci had next to nothing to do with this one) and THE SON OF SPARTACUS (1962) starring Steve Reeves. Corbucci, along with Leone, would also perform assistant director duties on THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959). Corbucci would later go on to fame as a director of spaghetti westerns despite holding disdain for that genre.
He nonetheless delivered some classic and ultra violent films with westerns such as the trailblazing DJANGO (1966) and the gloom and doom of THE GREAT SILENCE (1968). Sadly, Corbucci's sword & sandal sagas are largely ignored to put it politely, but are due reappraisal particularly the classic that is ROMULUS & REMUS, one of the best of its kind. It's a serious dramatic feature with a scene stealing performance by Gordon Scott.
9. GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES (1961) aka MACISTE CONTRO IL VAMPIRO (MACISTE AGAINST THE VAMPIRE)
Directed by Giacomo Gentilomo
There's relatively little plot in this atmospherically action packed, yet perpetually bizarre film in the prosperous peplum/fusto canon. Gordon Scott headlines once more having only recently joined the ranks of Steve Reeves and company in the muscle movie sweepstakes.
This fantasy gem involves an insidious vampire monster called Kobrak attempting to rule the world with a legion of faceless undead monsters created from captured slaves. Goliath (Maciste in the Italian original) leads an opposing army of blue men(!) against the evil Kobrak and his minions.
Gordon Scott is as kinetic as usual and surprisingly adept at action in addition to performing most, if not all of his own stunt sequences as the film below will soon attest. Hailing from Oregon, Gordon Scott found fame as Lex Barker's replacement as Tarzan in six adventures. He was praised for his portrayal of the jungle hero as being close to the way Edgar Rice Burroughs had written the character. He was a good actor and had an intimidating visage which he put to good use in well over a dozen Italian hero movies. He was one of the most popular and most prolific of the sword & sandal stars.
His intense looks and piercing eyes displayed the ability to pull off either good or bad guys although he almost always was a protagonist. Nearly all of Gordon Scott's muscleman epics are worthy additions. He also starred in a slew of gladiator productions such as GLADIATORS OF ROME (1962) and one of the last of the cycle, HERO OF ROME (1964). Like Reeves with MORGAN THE PIRATE (1960), Scott likewise did a pirate picture, THE LION OF ST. MARK (1963).
Despite its somewhat strong scenes of violence, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES is pure Saturday Matinee kid stuff and prime entertainment of the highest order. It contains all the necessary ingredients compliant with this much maligned and misunderstood genre to deliver a satisfying 90 minutes of brain-dead fun.
Director Gentilomo also helmed one of the more cheesy and enjoyable costume fantasy flicks, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN (1964). That one starred the non emotive former stuntman, Sergio Ciani in a science fiction tale laced with horror overtones transplanted to ancient Greece. Allegedly, Sergio Corbucci had a hand in the direction of GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES, but it's difficult to ascertain just what he possibly could have directed. The violence (especially towards children) may have been his work. Still, the film delivers in all departments containing rousing action set pieces and a number of scantily clad beauties. It's something of a fan favorite and definitely worth your time.
10. SAMSON & THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1961) aka MACISTE ALLA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN (MACISTE AT THE COURT OF THE GREAT KHAN)
Directed by Riccardo Freda
One of the most entertaining and pulpy peplum/fusto features. Here, Gordon Scott tackles yet another energetic performance playing Maciste in the original Italian version. Samson/Maciste must save a young prince and virginal princess from certain death by the cruel Mongols who wish to eliminate the future heir to China's throne. The barbarian marauder also plans to marry a beautiful Asian princess played by Yoko Tani. Samson saves the two siblings of royalty and hides them inside a Buddhist temple nestled within a mountain. The exotic beauty, Helene Chanel, plays the villainess who ultimately falls for the titular hero.
People often slight the genre because of the seemingly era jumping loincloth heroes. Maciste is a fictitious Italian creation who has no particular time period, but a wandering savior of the downtrodden. Like this film, Maciste was popularly placed squaring off against the Mongols in such films as the pulpy fun of HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS and HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (both 1964). Also, the character was seen fighting for Christianity in political peplums such as THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964) in addition to sublimely ridiculous caveman settings as those seen in FIRE MONSTERS AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1962).
Gordon Scott shows just why he was one of the best, if not the best peplum star. He was terribly overshadowed by the might of Steve Reeves, who cut a near impenetrable swath of popularity in the genre with his films. Still, the great Scott has his own legion of admirers of which I am one. This was Scott's second strong man adventure after being enlisted to play the role of Remus in Sergio Corbucci's ROMULUS & REMUS, which was released shortly after this picture. There's a great sequence in SEVEN MIRACLES where Samson demolishes a restaurant ripping apart the support beams to fend off his attackers. Scott was prone to performing his own stunts and was said to have been quite the wild card off screen. This film contains what is easily one of the most stunning displays of stunt work in the entire canon of muscleman epics.
Scott does a lot of his own stunts including a dangerous one like this. Prior to this shot he was trailing underneath a group of horses
In it, Samson (in the US cut) tries to rescue a group of slaves who are to be decapitated in a cruel display by men on a chariot. Samson is pulled along underneath the carriage till he finally gains his footing. Being dragged while on his feet(!), Samson finally manages to halt the horses just as they are to sever the heads of the captured slaves. Another awesome sequence sees Samson awakening after being buried within a mountain and causing an earthquake successfully annihilating the Mongol forces. Sadly, all US DVD versions are cut with the recent Retromedia DVD apparently being the worst case (supposedly only 68 minutes in length!). The PD release runs 77 minutes, but this AIP version is still shorn of around 20 minutes of footage including additional scenes of violence. (*Review of the uncut Spanish DVD is here).
11. HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961) aka ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA aka HERCULES AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Directed by Mario Bava
Mario Bava's unusual and macabre solo entry in the mythological hero realm is truly one of a kind within the genre. While there's very little of the requisite battles and sword fights, the visual style overpowers the movie. It's truly an eerie painting come to cinematic life. Bava showcases far more directorial flair than many of his colleagues working within the genre by shooting many sequences in a creative fashion as well as delivering a stunning film with very little finances.
In this entry, Hercules must journey to Hades itself to retrieve a magical stone (among other trials) in an effort to save his love, Deianira, who has fallen under a spell of the evil and vampiric Lyco. Played by horror veteran, Christopher Lee, his character is essentially a vampire although you never see him bare any fangs. Lee didn't dub his own voice, but he reportedly had a grand time working with the director. Bava delivers a truly macabre movie and one of the most striking of the genre. The film could be without dialog and it would still be an entertaining 90 minutes. It's a wonderfully visual experience that bears Bava's trademark touch of fantasy and ingenuity.
Reg Park plays Hercules in the first of five increasingly dire outings as various strongmen. British born Reg Park used his sword & sandal venture as a means for a later career as a successful businessman. He was hugely influential on Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later became his acolyte. Both teacher and student competed against each other once and Schwarzenegger won by half a point. Park's career as a bodybuilder lasted 27 years and he won the World Title on several occasions. Like Reeves, Park never used steroids to attain his impressive physique. Park looked the part with his massive frame and thick beard and mustache although he's clean shaven in some of his movies. He's one of the best remembered stars of the genre despite a few of his five films being veritable stinkers.
While it lacks lots of action, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD is a fine introduction to viewers curious about the genre. Like many other Hercules movies, it utilizes bits and pieces from the actual myth of the herculean demigod. With its elements of horror, it inspired a handful of other horror themed peplums/fusto movies such as the low profile and very similar THE WITCHES CURSE (1962). Others include ROME AGAINST ROME (1964; aka WAR OF THE ZOMBIES) and GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES (1961) starring Gordon Scott. Reg Park also did another horror enhanced strongman movie with the horrible HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1964) which featured an evil witch that turns men into werewolves.
12. HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961) aka ERCOLE ALLA CONQUISTA DI ATLANTIDE (HERCULES & THE CONQUEST OF ATLANTIS)
Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
An amazingly entertaining fusto fantasy favorite starring the popular Reg Park. A British born bodybuilder, Park used his tenure in the Italian muscleman movies as a stepping stone to more a serious entrepreneurship. This was Park's first foray in the genre and it was quickly followed up with the cult hit, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD the very same year. Whereas that film was a visual triumph and grim painting come to life, CAPTIVE WOMEN is a peplum cliffhanger dream come true. Bava worked on this film creating the numerous effects sequences and although he is uncredited, his hand is conspicuous in a number of scenes.
This entry is a high point in the fusto canon encapsulating all that makes these films so much fun to watch. The sets are grand and there's also some interesting matte paintings here and there. The first 15 minutes or so are a lively mixture of comedy and high adventure as Hercules is tricked by Theban lord Androcles (genre regular Ettori Manni) to seek out the source of the power threatening the destruction of Greece. After dealing with a mutinous crew, a violent storm separates Hercules from his pals. He ends up rescuing a pretty maiden from the evil Proteus before ending up in Atlantis where Hercules becomes the object of affection for the nasty Queen Antinea (a scene chewing Fay Spain). Later, the demi god battles an army of automatons that all bear the visage of Astor, played by genre vet, Mimmo Palmara!
There's so many classy moments and even the prerequisite midget humor found in so many similar adventures is on hand as well. Not only that, but Euro cinema fans will spot a young Gian Maria Volonte as one of the villains. Volonte found fame soon after playing the sadistic lead villain in the first two of Leone's DOLLARS movies. He later resigned himself to important movies only. These included films such A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1966), BANDITS IN MILAN (1968) and INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970). Strangely enough, the US version contains musical cues taken from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) of all things. And like most US cuts of these movies, a rumored ten minutes have been shorn for the North American release. Director Cottafavi does a grand job of keeping the action and cliffhangers coming at a fast pace. He also directed the colorful, but inferior, GOLIATH & THE DRAGON (1960).
Reg Park was one of the biggest of the costume stars and although he only did five movies, he nonetheless is one of the most enduring performers in the genre. His first two outings are undoubtedly his best. His movies became increasingly worse, however. Park was one of the main inspirations to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger whose walls at home were adorned with pics of Park flexing his pecs in weightlifting competitions. Reg Park may have only done a small number of movies, he left an indelible mark on fans of the genre with his first two hero roles. HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN is pure peplum/fusto excitement and a fun filled adventure not to be missed.
13. GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (1961) aka GOLIATH CONTRO I GIGANTI
Directed by Guido Malatesta & Gianfranco Parolini
GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS is one of the most sincerely goofy, profoundly absurd entries in the genre. However, it must be said it also contains some of the most stunning cinematography courtesy of Alejandro Ulloa. The plot is flimsy detailing Goliath returning from a five year war only to find his King has been dethroned by an evil usurper. The remainder of the picture is Goliath and company attempting to restore his kingdom by eliminating the evil Bohkan. A neverending series of adventures and encounters with assorted monsters assure a hugely entertaining good time for all.
This is another entry that would be a good starting point for those interested in the more bone headed and light hearted opuses found among the near 300 torch and toga productions produced in Italy between 1957 and 1965. Brad Harris tackles the lead and seldom emotes, but his lack of charisma is a moot point when he's surrounded by so many monsters, future spaghetti western stalwart Fernando Sancho (sporting curly hair and minus his trademark mustache!) and the mesmerizing beauty of Gloria Milland.
This peplum production bears an interesting behind the scenes pedigree. Hack director Malatesta was replaced during filming after he lost control of the picture. Future Euro western specialist, Parolini took over and got the movie back together again. Jorg Grau, the director of the horror favorite, THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974), directed 2nd unit.
Also, the great Sergio Sollima was a scriptwriter. Original director Malatesta did some of the worst entries in the muscleman genre including the hilarious FIRE MONSTERS AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961) and the irrefutably stupid COLOSSUS & THE HEADHUNTERS (1963). Malatesta apparently was never granted a big budget again as these other films looked incredibly cheap and utilized stock footage to keep costs down.
The assortment of monsters is quite stunning as the film manages to include various dragons, gorilla creatures and the giants of the title. While none of these are overly realistic, they add greatly to the fun factor this film possesses. Rarely is there a moment when nothing exciting is transpiring on screen.
The Italian DVD is gorgeous and contains an English dubbed track. It's a shame that more of these movies released in European countries aren't English friendly. GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS is one of the best of the big and dumb peplums. It never pretends to be intelligent, just entertaining. It's never boring and has much to recommend it as 90 minutes well spent.
The great Gordon Scott premiered the previous year. Some other interesting films of his debuted in 1962. GLADIATORS OF ROME saw Scott protecting the downtrodden and had one of the most peculiar endings in which he doesn't participate spending the finale crucified. MY SON, THE HERO saw Guilano Gemma take the lead as Krios in the first of a long working relationship with director, Duccio Tessari. Ettore Manni got to play the lead hero in URSUS & THE TARTAR PRINCESS in which he must free Poland from Tartar invaders. Steve Reeves starred in SON OF SPARTACUS for director, Sergio Corbucci. Freda also tried his hand at a Bavaesque macabre peplum with the disappointing THE WITCHES CURSE starring the wholly unreliable Kirk Morris. The next three films are upper tier motion pictures in the peplum genre and are well worth seeking out.
14. WAR OF THE TROJANS (1962) aka THE AVENGER aka THE LAST GLORY OF TROY aka LA LEGGENDA DI ENEA (THE LEGEND OF ENEA)
Directed by Albert Band & Giorgio Venturini
A smaller in scope sequel to the magnificence of THE TROJAN HORSE the year prior. Steve Reeves reprises the role of Aeneas (Enea). Taking place shortly after the end of the first movie, Enea and a small band of his people make their way to Italy in an effort to make a settlement along the Tiber river. While King Latino of Latsium is fine with having the Trojans as peaceful neighbors, others such as the guileful Turno (Gianni Garko) wishes to wipe them out. After the Trojans are framed, they reluctantly enter into a battle with the Latinians and lose. Forced to fight yet again, Enea makes an alliance with the Etruscans, the sworn enemies of King Latino.
This sequel, while not as accomplished as its predecessor, has a lot going for it including some interesting characters which heighten the intense battle sequences. Spaghetti western fans will be delighted to see future magician gunslinger, Sartana, Gianni Garko (looking very young), as the main villain here. He steals the show away from Reeves despite being much smaller and not very imposing. Nonetheless, Garko has an intense look and delivers a grandly evil performance as the ambitious Turno. Garko also played a villain in the laughably bad MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964) starring Mark Forest. In that film, Garko and his group were saddled with some of the worst costumes ever seen in motion pictures.
Long before going to Italy to do these movies, Reeves the bodybuilder was originally attached to appear in Hollywood's SAMSON & DELILAH from 1949. However, Reeves couldn't lose the required 15 pounds asked him by Cecil B. DeMille and the frivolous filmmaker grudgingly went with Victor Mature instead. Liana Orfei, the cousin of Moira Orfei, has a role as a feisty female warrior. She also had a role as a sneaky seductress in HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES (1965). Albert Band is listed as director on the credits, but direction is also credited to Giorgio Venturini. Band was infamous for taking over productions and this here may have been the case.
There's not a great deal of action during the first half of the film, but the tragedy is foreshadowed early on as the tension between Turno and Enea mounts. The action scenes are enthusiastic and violent especially one scene where a fighter is riddled with a hail of arrows. This scene recalls numerous similar shots of violence found in many of Chang Cheh's Shaw Brothers productions. It's not as classy, or bombastic as THE TROJAN HORSE, but WAR OF THE TROJANS makes for compelling entertainment and fans of Reeves and Garko will surely want to give it a viewing.
15. THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962) aka L'IRA DI ACHILLES
Directed by Marino Girolami
"The vagrant God's protect all of me, except one spot. A fighting machine...created to destroy...and that can also be destroyed...when and where they wish, as I said even you could have killed me. It is not necessary to be a hero. A child could kill me...provided he struck me in the right spot. I do not know where the fatal point is, but I know I will not return alive from Troy."
One of the greatest peplum epics is also one of the most extravagant and stunning. Unfortunately, the film is only available to English friendly audiences via pan and scan, less than stellar prints floating around on public domain labels. Possibly the finest two hours to ever feature Gordon Mitchell, the rugged, granite faced actor owns this film. Here, he plays the near invincible Achilles in this sumptuous Italian telling of Homer's 'The Illiad'. The film takes place during the closing days of the 10 year Trojan War.
A two hour action drama of epic proportions, it rivals another equally grandiose Italian peplum, THE TROJAN HORSE, a 1961 spectacle (also on this list). In THE FURY OF ACHILLES, the word 'Fury' is an apt description for the film. The battle scenes have a ferocity about them that was largely absent from many of the films in this genre. A lot of this is attributed to the manic and dominating performance of Gordon Mitchell who hacks and slashes his way through a legion of Trojan warriors in an effort to slay Hector.
Mitchell was a genre mainstay often playing characters such as Maciste in the goofy ATLAS AGAINST THE CYCLOPS (1961) and the horrible VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER (1962). He made the transition to spaghetti westerns and later onto many exploitation movies originating from Europe. This film has a very nice cast that also includes prolific actor, Piero Lulli (here playing Ulysses) and frequent peplum actor, Mario Petri (BEAST OF BABYLON AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES). The director, Marino Girolami (father to Enzo Castellari) helmed some choice Italian crime features such as VIOLENT ROME (1975) and SPECIAL COP IN ACTION (1976). He also did the Euro sleaze favorite, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980).
One of the most beautiful of the peplum starlets, Gloria Milland, plays the role of Bryseis, a captured Greek maiden whom Achilles becomes entranced. The scene where Bryseis tries to assassinate the invulnerable fighter is one of the best in the film. Here, Achilles gives explanation as to his insuperable body and his prophesized doom. Then, he takes the dagger by which she would kill him and bends it making a bracelet out of it! The two then share an embrace and kiss. It's a wonderfully accomplished movie being both opulent and graphically violent at times. A highly recommended production.
16. GLADIATORS SEVEN (1962) I SETTI GLADIATORI
Directed by Pedro Lazaga
"It's much better that my father think I died fighting against Rome...than to know that I'm still alive, but a Roman slave!"
Richard Harrison, the star of countless awful movies shows a surprising amount of robust initiative and vigor in his numerous torch & toga productions. He still retains a look of catatonia on his face, but his actions are of a level that far surpass what he would undertake during the 70's and 80's in his far too many trash non classics. Here, Harrison plays Darius, the first son of the revered Emperor of Sparta. After aiding five Spartan gladiators to escape their prison, he's arrested and promised liberty if he can defeat a gauntlet of warriors atop a trap laden platform. Winning his freedom and returning home, Darius finds his father, the Emperor, murdered and soon is framed for the death of his lovers father as well. Escaping once again, he seeks out a group of his former Spartan warrior friends to battle against the usurper to his fathers throne; a man that also has eyes for Darius' lover.
It's obvious where this film gains its inspiration just by the title, but that doesn't hinder ones enjoyment of the picture. Just glancing at the rousing opening, one would assume that a large budget was utilized here for this MGM distributed production. The action scenes are very well staged and the film gets off to an exciting start with Darius's aforementioned death duel in the arena. One scene has one of the gladiators seven placed into a confined arena with a raging bull. Darius and his band show up and toss him a spear to which he fatally gores the bull (it appears real and not staged). Then the requisite fight ensues. A lion is then let loose in the small battleground but the gladiator escapes in the nick of time with the help of Darius.
This is a frequently exciting peplum production although it slows down a bit in the middle. The set pieces are all well done and the mostly non traditional cast of unfamiliar players all acquit themselves to a fine degree. Frequent genre actor, Livio Lorenzon is the only other recognizable face of any substance. It's more memorable in pieces than as an actual whole, but fans could do far worse. It's just shocking to see Harrison in a film as good as this one. A couple years later, Harrison also headlined another similar movie, the action packed Margheriti 'Men On A Mission' peplum, THE GIANTS OF ROME (1964), which is also on this list.
Harrison also took part in other muscle epics such as THE INVINCIBLE GLADIATOR (1962) and the childishly entertaining MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963). Supposedly, Harrison turned down the lead in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (something Steve Reeves attests to as well) and recommended Clint Eastwood instead. He also starred in a string of horrible Italian westerns, spy and crime pictures before settling in on "ninja" movies from composite king and perennial Hong Kong hack, Godfrey Ho. Harrison did appear in two big Shaw Brothers productions in 1975, MARCO POLO and THE BOXER REBELLION.
The year 1963 saw the genre dominated by goofy fusto flicks with an accent on the absurd. Some were great fun while others were a pain to sit through. The next five films represent some of the best of that year. The first of the Ten Gladiators trilogy made its debut starring Dan Vadis. He also headlined SON OF HERCULES IN THE LAND OF DARKNESS in '63. Gordon Mitchell headlined BRENNUS, ENEMY OF ROME with Tony Kendall. Gordon Scott starred in probably his most dismal costume adventure, THE CONQUEST OF MYCENE better known as HERCULES AGAINST MOLLOCH. These five films are a subtle precursor to the sometimes overbearing goofiness that would infiltrate the genre the following year.
17. THE BEAST OF BABYLON AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963) aka L'EROE DI BABILONIA (THE HERO OF BABYLON) aka GOLIATH, KING OF THE SLAVES (For a review of the restored version, click HERE)
Directed by Siro Marcellini
This is one of the more action oriented peplums with an accent less on storyline and more on the violence and atrocities of the villains. The intense Gordon Scott portrays Nippur, the rightful heir to Babylon, the richest city in Rome. The despicable Balthazar owns the throne, though, and makes frequent sacrifices to the God of Fire, Ishtar using the terrified and beautiful daughters of the enslaved villagers as offerings. Returning to take his rightful place as King, he attempts to save his friends wife from being sacrificed, but fails. Escaping Babylon, Nippur is injured and taken in by Persian fighters. They later march on Babylon in an effort to topple Balthazar and his wicked followers.
Despite utilizing sets left over from THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1961), the costumes are quite extravagant and flamboyant. The sets and soldier outfits would be used again in TYRANT OF LYDIA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES the same year. There's a lot of well staged action and some startling violence such as the screaming women being thrown into a huge pit of fire. Gordon Scott is his usual overly kinetic self indulging in some enthusiastic swordplay. The cliffhanger moments are numerous especially one in which Nippur struggles to save his lover from being burned alive. It's also overly misogynistic in places showing women strangled or being flogged while crucified. The ending is a surprise as the Babylonian despot picks up a sword and duels with Nippur as opposed to sending dozens of automatons to their doom in his place.
Prolific Eurowestern actor, Piero Lulli is deliciously evil as the villain Balthazar. He's totally over the top playing this gaudy ruler who demands viewers attention. He's ably assisted by former circus performer Moira Orfei as the scene stealing Ura, his second in command. Orfei is a striking beauty and she's cold as ice in this movie commanding many deaths by fire ("The first one!"). Orfei was well liked by all her colleagues keeping the sets alive with jokes and frivolity. This is a choice production for both these performers who deliver wholesale as antagonists. Lulli can also be seen as a good guy in ROMULUS & REMUS (1961), Ullysses in THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1961) and Hercules' friend in the overly silly, but entertaining THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) starring Dan Vadis and also featuring Orfei as an evil sorceress.
Gordon Scott fights for screen supremacy against both Lulli and Orfei and holds his own emitting lots of charisma in one of many intense performances throughout his career. His military career as a drill instructor and military policeman no doubt aided him immeasurably during his tenure in Italian fantasy and historical epics. Prior to embarking to Italy, he was discovered by a Hollywood producer while employed as a lifeguard in Las Vegas which led to his stint as one of the best screen Tarzan's. While Scott sometimes was clean shaven in his movies, he looked most imposing with the devilish pointed beard and goatee which he sported in many of his movies, this being one of them. BABYLON is an occasionally violent and diverting peplum for mindless action buffs.
18. THE TYRANT OF LYDIA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963) aka GOLIATH E LA SCHIAVA RIBELLE (GOLIATH & THE REBEL SLAVE)
Directed by Mario Caiano & Alfonso Brescia
This is a similar movie to the above entry, only in place of the action, this political peplum contains a preponderance of back stabbing and court intrigue. The production saves a bit of money by utilizing sets constructed for THE FURY OF ACHILLES from 1961. The above entry also used these same sets as a cost saving measure. Gordon Scott again stars this time playing Goliath in the Italian original and, curiously, a character called Gordian for the US release. In the film, Alexander the Great has marched onto Asian soil to battle his enemy, the Persian King, Darius. The ruler of Lydia, Omacius (Massimo Serato), is bewitched by his evil regent, Artefinese (Mimmo Palmara), that Alexander has designs on the neutral city. Gordian, a friend of Alexander, believes that he will honor his word and leave Lydia untouched as long as they remain neutral and not take up arms against him.
There is an inordinate amount of drama and intrigue for this entry, but it works in the films favor as it gives a scene devouring Mimmo Palmara a chance to own the show as the treacherous Artefinese. He secretly desires the throne held by his cousin and cares nothing for even those that seem closest to him. He has some choice heated dialog exchanges with Gordian. Palmara did an incredible amount of Italian adventure movies, but seldom got a lead role at least as the hero. He did play the lead in the lively fantasy film, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER in 1963. Palmara was an integral component in the peplum. He was one of the tallest of the Italian stars and can be seen in countless genre productions.
The gorgeous Gloria Milland is present once more and here, she's a villainess, the lover of Artefinese. She plays his co-conspirator in dethroning the guileful Omacius and attacking Alexander and his forces. Massimo Serato was another familiar face. An actor of some repute, he made appearances in numerous sword & sandal sagas in addition to many other Italian genre pictures. Gordon Scott headlined more than a few worthy productions in this genre and he delivers some of his best acting here. The action quotient in minimal, but it's well choreographed. The script is very good and quite intricate with the many twists and turns that occur most especially during the first hour.
Gordon Scott reportedly lived a life similar to that of the adventure movies he starred in. He enjoyed living fast and hard and some of his on screen stunt work nearly got him killed such as a near death experience with a near 19 foot python while filming TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE (1958). Reportedly, Italian actor Mario Brega enjoyed spreading a story around that he had supposedly gotten into a violent scuffle with Scott which resulted in the wild muscleman being bloodied up, but this tale is apparently nothing more than just that. Scott, like Reeves, also did some Italian westerns. Scott starred in what is considered the first actual Italian western film, BUFFALO BILL, HERO OF THE FAR WEST (1964). He also starred in the star studded and entertaining THE TRAMPLERS in 1966.
19. GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963) aka MACISTE, L'EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO (MACISTE, THE WORLD'S GREATEST HERO)
Directed by Michele Lupo
The Babylonians overtake the city of Nephir and demand a tribute of 30 virgins to be given every year to the evil King Calphus. They are to be sacrificed for the amusement of the Babylonians. The rightful heir to the throne, Princess Rezzia, can't take back her land till she marries. A group of righteous warriors join forces with Goliath in an effort to rescue the captured women and rid Nephir of King Calphus and his followers. Michele Lupo helms this extravagant and spectacular Torch & Toga film. This would be a choice starting point for those curious about the genre. The film features many familiar faces, lots of action and cliffhanger moments and also some comedy sprinkled throughout.
Some of the most striking sequences include the chariot race between Goliath and Princess Rezzia and the sea battle between the rebels and the Babylonians. There's also plentiful sword duels and a scene where lions are let loose in the dungeons to fill their stomachs with the bodies of the resistance. The conclusion also contains some nice miniature work. Another aspect of this production that makes it appealing is that it's an ensemble piece. Both Mimmo Palmara and Guiliano Gemma share equal screen time with Mark Forest. Director Lupo apparently enjoyed working with Gemma as he used the actor in a handful of westerns such as the unofficial RINGO sequel, ARIZONA COLT (1966), the comedy team up of BEN & CHARLIE (1972) and the muddy and dark thriller CALIFORNIA (1977).
Mark Forest was recruited by Italian producers after Steve Reeves became such an international success with the release of HERCULES (1957). Forest entered the scene with the fan favorite, GOLIATH & THE DRAGON (1960) aka THE REVENGE OF HERCULES. Whereas that film contained a plethora of monsters, SINS OF BABYLON relies on spectacle and big set pieces to sell itself. While being lavish in scope, the plot point involving the 30 virgins is somewhat tossed by the wayside later in the film (a result of editing for the export version?). The alluring Jose Greci (Susan Paget), armed with one of the most innocent of faces, is the sole female love interest and not even that of the title character. Forest does get to show off in a number of action scenes, though, despite not getting the girl.
One gets the impression that the film is something of a showcase for future western sensation, Guiliano Gemma, considering how much screen time he absorbs. Gemma got his start in talented writer/director Duccio Tessari's THE TITANS (MY SON, THE HERO;1962). From there Gemma featured in TWO GLADIATORS (1964) and REVENGE OF THE PRAETORIANS (1964). In 1964, Gemma reteamed with Forest for HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN. Gemma went from peplums straight on into Italian westerns where he had a massively successful career most notably with directors Michele Lupo and Duccio Tessari. GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON is a major highlight of the genre and comes highly recommended for fans and newbies alike.
20. MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963) aka PERSEO, L'INVINCIBILE (PERSEUS, THE INVINCIBLE)
Directed by Alberto De Martino
King Acrisius of Argos uses monsters to quell trade routes with the King of Seriphos. He plots a marriage between his son, Galanore and Andromeda as a cover to launch an attack on Seriphos. It's soon foretold that Perseus, thought to have been killed, will return to reclaim his rightful place as King of Argos. Alberto De Martino directs this dumb, but hugely enjoyable peplum fantasy film. De Martino was a reliable director at delivering the goods whether it be harmless fluff such as this, or nasty horror flicks like THE ANTICHRIST (1974). He also directed one of the best Eurocrime movies, IL CONSIGLIORI (1973), an Italian version of THE GODFATHER (1970). He also directed one of the most sleazy of that genre, BLAZING MAGNUM (1976), a film that contains one of the most stunning car chases in cinema history; a seven minute wonder with a determined Stuart Whitman behind the wheel. De Martino likewise helmed the boneheaded action fest, THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) starring Dan Vadis, wherein our hero battles against magic and a group of iron men.
Richard Harrison was arguably the most prolific of all the American stars to appear in peplum pictures. He did dozens of films in various genres and even made numerous HK action pictures as well. Granted, most of these movies were C and D grade productions, the man definitely kept himself busy. Noting that Harrison always seemed so disinterested in his roles, his sword & sandal performances, while not great acting, seemed far more energetic and lively. Harrison's first role as a period hero was in THE INVINCIBLE GLADIATOR (1962) also directed by De Martino. There are three films of Harrison's on this list and MEDUSA is the most fantasy oriented.
The film has lots of action and monsters and they're seen often. Carlo (KING KONG 1976) Rambaldi was responsible for the creation of the two monstrous creatures. One is a huge, hydraulically controlled dragon that resides beneath the waters of a lake. It's a reasonably impressive monster for the time. The Medusa is also impressive. It's a cyclopean monstrosity with snake like vines adorning its head. The beast resembles a twisted and malevolent tree that turns hapless men into stone. To restore the valley of stone men back to normal, the Medusa must be killed. Notable Spanish director, Amando De Ossorio (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD) also worked on the effects of this production.
Rounding out the cast are perpetual villain, Arturo Dominici essaying the role of King Acrisius. Leo Anchoriz, the man that menaced Steve Reeves in the first two SANDOKAN movies, plays the King's evil son, Galanore. Other behind the scenes alumni working as scriptwriters on this highly entertaining movie are Ernesto Gastaldi (7 GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS), Luciano Martino and Mario Caiano (THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES). You could do lots worse than this movie. It's not one of the best in terms of technical achievements, but it's easily one of the most fun and seldom ever lags in its pace. Nearly two decades later, the story of Perseus would be told again with the release of the Ray Harryhausen fantasy spectacular, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).
21. HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963) MACISTE CONTRO I MONGOLI
Directed by Domenico Paolella
Mark Forest is Maciste in the Italian original of this action packed mythical adventure. Both this and its follow up (see below) have much the same cast and crew, deal with the same time period and characters, but have vastly different storylines. While the film itself isn't classic material, what sets it apart is its abundance of savagely cartoonish characters. The costuming, most especially that of the Mongols is quite striking and looks straight out of a Conan comic. The whole enterprise is rather goofy and unintentionally humorous at times. The villains constantly cackle amongst one another as they go about their various acts of barbarism.
The plot concerns Genghis Khan's three sons denouncing his last wish for peace instead making war with foreigners and subjugating those in the surrounding countryside. They then set their sites on the heirs to the city of Judeyla and kill them all except for one, a small boy named Alexander. The three sons of the deceased Khan seek him out and it's up to Maciste to protect him. This storyline offers up many occasions for various fights and large scale battles. The plot also contains various subterfuges as the three brothers conspire against one another. The sets are left over from a previous production dealing with Mongolian tyranny entitled THE MONGOLS (1961) starring Jack Palance.
Despite the large cast, the film had an apparently small budget. A huge flood sequence at the end comes off as trite and lacking in excitement. Nonetheless, there's plentiful cliffhanger moments and the action is well choreographed. Ken Clark carves a great lead villain as Sayan. He had previously been a good guy in a stack of American television programs and assorted B movies. He went to Italy and got some leads in a few westerns and spy pictures in addition to his turn as an antagonist in Paolella's Maciste/Mongol movies. Clark had a great look (akin to Charles Bronson) and it was a shame he didn't go further in his cinema career.
Renato Rossini came in somewhat late to the peplum/fusto genre appearing in less than stellar movies like SAMSON & HIS MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964) and KINDAR, THE INVULNERABLE (1965). His name sometimes appears as Howard Ross on film credits. The elegant and stunning Jose Greci (Susan Paget), one of the most attractive and demur of the peplum women, stars as the love interest. Mark Forest again plays Maciste. The domination of the Christians is utilized again, although this plot point doesn't permeate the proceedings. Maciste continues with his proclamation of being a follower of the religion as in some other Maciste movies. The Mongols force him to partake in several gruelling tests in order to prevent the deaths of captives. It's all rather inconsequential, but there's enough good moments and plentiful action set pieces here to make HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS choice, yet boneheaded popcorn entertainment.
The next five titles come during the last major wave of Torch & Toga epics. By this point, the genre was privy to comedic antics and lots of brainless shenanigans. But amidst all the mindless and morose movies during the year, a good number of these peplum and muscleman flicks had a lot of charm. A lot of them did not. ALI BABA & THE SEVEN SARACENS (with Gordon Mitchell), ATLAS AGAINST THE CZAR (with Kirk Morris), GOLIATH AT THE CONQUEST OF DAMASCUS (with Peter Lupus) and HERCULES OF THE DESERT (Kirk Morris, again) were just some of the films from what was one of the most prolific years for the Sword & Sandal genre. These five movies are a mix of fun, braincell lacking mayhem, or story driven political peplum. After 1964, the peplum, like Pompeii during its last days, was about to fall.
22. HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964) aka MACISTE NELL'INFERNO DI GENGIS KHAN (MACISTE IN THE HELL OF GENGHIS KHAN)
Directed by Domenico Paolella
The follow up to the above action spectacle, Paolella's second production dealing with the marauding Mongols is a decidedly more talky affair. There's action, but the story takes precedence over fights and battles. Also, unlike the outdoor locations of the previous picture, HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS opts for a more studio bound approach with a far more convoluted plot to boot. It's an ultimately bigger movie in scope with slightly less cartoonish characters resulting in a more serious tone. With so much similarities between the two pictures, they both couldn't be more different.
The story begins with the Mongols being defeated at the Polish city of Krakow. Disgusted with the loss, Genghis Khan sends his son to make amends for the defeat. The Mongols later learn that a young peasant girl is of great importance to the conquering of Poland. The Mongols manage to capture the woman and Maciste, having fallen in love with her, is determined to free her before she is forced to marry the strongest of the Mongol warriors, Ogutai. There is far more to the story than this with multiple story arc's for many of the characters. It's a shame the US version is shorn of some 30 minutes of footage as these missing scenes would no doubt push this film into the league of some of the more respectable entries.
However, with the inclusion of Maciste, the requisite strongman antics are also present. He even fights a giant snake and one of the fakest crocodiles the screen has ever seen. These moments add to the overall flavor of the production giving it a kiddie matinee vibe. Despite the level of action as seen in the previous movie, what's here is very well done. The cliffhanger moments are doubled what with the multitude of characters in the script. The ending is the usual big battle this time with the lead heroine's life hanging in the balance. Again, some of the set are recycled from the big production of THE MONGOLS from 1961, that film being directed by Andre De Toth (MORGAN, THE PIRATE).
Mark Forest returns as Maciste battling the Mongols one more time. His duel with Ken Clark is short lived compared with the previous picture, but the scene ends in a jolting shot of violence. Jose Greci also returns playing her usual role of a Queen although here, she is ignorant of her true heritage. The production is also aided by another beauty, Gloria Milland. She and Greci also shared the screen in THE REBEL GLADIATOR (1962). Milland was cast in the excellent peplum production of THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962) among a handful of other genre credits. This entry is lots of fun and makes for a great double feature with its more comic book predecessor. It's an adventure well worth taking for peplum fans.
23. THE LION OF THEBES (1964) aka LEONE DI TEBE
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
"How many have betrayed...plotted...killed for me...my beauty. How often I have had occasion to curse it! It hasn't brought me one moments happiness."
The last peplum to star Mark Forest before he turned his back on the film industry to concentrate on voice training and the opera. While this film lacks a lot of action, it makes up for it with an interesting script and good performances from most of the participants. For this peculiar peplum, Troy has been toppled by the Greeks. Meneloa, Helen of Troy and her bodyguard, Aryan, find themselves stranded without a country. Meneloa disappears leaving Helen and Aryan to fend for themselves in the desert. The two find themselves in Egypt and ultimately in the company of the Theban pharoah, Ramses. While the Pharoah becomes increasingly entranced with the Trojan Queen's beauty, Tutmes, the Phaoraoh's advisor, plots his ascension to the throne.
There's a plethora of subterfuge and character development found in the script which takes the place of lots of action. There's also some stock footage utilized here taken from THE TROJAN HORSE (1961). Considering this was near the end of the muscleman cycle, the budgets were dwindling, but this production has a lot in its favor. What action there is on screen is rather exciting especially a scene towards the end after Helen has been tied to a trap that threatens to crush her to death. Ferroni wrings every bit of cliffhanger suspense possible out of this sequence. Aryan battles with a Theban centurion as a huge slab of granite looms ever closer to squashing the beautiful Helen of Troy.
Yvonne Furneaux is one gorgeous actress and will be recognizable to horror fans as Peter Cushing's wife, Isobel, in Hammer's THE MUMMY (1959). She admirably pulls off the role of Helen of Troy as a woman who feels cursed by her beauty which has brought men to war and death. The role was previously played by Rossana Podesta in Robert Wise's epic 1956 production about the Trojan Queen. Massimo Serato, who usually plays a King in these movies, plays a scheming advisor this time out. Mark Forest doesn't do a whole lot except walk around watching over Helen. He sort of just stays in the background much of the time although his part kicks into high gear around the halfway mark. Everyone else is so good, it's easy to overlook Forest's mostly subdued performance.
The title derives from a famed Theban warrior. Aryan is challenged to a duel and the winner will receive the coveted dagger owned by the late fighter, The Lion of Thebes. Rosalba Neri provides some additional eye candy as Nais, the lover of Ramses. Her role is a bit different from the norm. She neither conspires against Helen, nor desires the company of Aryan. She simply wants Ramses to love her again. Instead, both she and Helen work together to steer Ramses back into her arms. As far as late entry peplums go, THE LION OF THEBES is a highlight during a year when the genre was mostly churning out brainless and empty headed actioners with little to no substance.
24. THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964) aka MACISTE, GLADIATORE DI SPARTA (MACISTE, GLADIATOR OF SPARTA)
Directed by Mario Caiano & Alfonso Brescia
A surprisingly engaging political peplum dealing with the pervasive Christian religion and the Romans insistence to abolish it. The film deals with Maciste, the most valued and respected gladiator for Caesar Vittelius. He rescues a young woman from some of Caesar's soldiers and soon becomes interested in her curious religion, Christianity. The Emperor becomes agitated that his greatest gladiator would side with this new following. After failing to slay Maciste in a duel with a huge gorilla, Vittelius uses the valiant fighter to unwittingly lead his forces to where the Christians are hiding.
The characters are nicely drawn for this film. Maciste is seemingly very naive and credulous for the bulk of the picture. Later, though, he shows that he, too, is capable of being unscrupulous after realizing he has been used as a tool for the Emperor. Mark Forest was one of the most popular of the strongman stars and he played Maciste on at least seven occasions. He first played the Italian bred pulp hero in SON OF SAMSON (1960). Like Steve Reeves and Reg Park, Mark Forest was involved in bodybuilding competitions starting at the young age of 19.
The sensual beauty of Marilu Tolo is on display as the secondary love interest for Maciste. As with most similar roles in these films, she comes to a bad end for trying to side with the hero. Tolo played the lead female character in De Martino's goofy, but action packed fantasy film, THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) starring Dan Vadis. TERROR OF ROME hasn't a lot of action, but makes up for this with an unusually good script by Mario Amendola. The character of the Emperor almost steals the movie with his amusing antics and non nonchalant threats of violence towards the protagonists. In pretty much every scene the man has food of some sort in his hands. Played by Peter White, he's almost a parody of similar characters in peplums featuring mad, or despotic rulers.
Director Caiano was an accomplished and capable filmmaker. Some of his credits include GOLIATH & THE REBEL SLAVE (1963), NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) starring Barbara Steele, TRAIN FOR DURANGO (1968) and WEAPONS OF DEATH (1977). Alfonso Brescia, Caiano's frequent co-director, had a career of his own. He delivered mostly mediocre to average work, but some of his spaghetti westerns such as .32 CALIBER KILLER and DAYS OF VIOLENCE (1967) were quite well done features. Brescia also helmed the awful THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR in 1964 starring Mark Forest. That film utilizes lots of footage from TERROR OF ROME. This Forest feature is one of the better later movies of this genre, successfully mixing the historical with fiction. It's recommended for those who are interested in a good story as opposed to endless scenes of action.
25. SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964) GLI INVINCIBILI DIECI GLADIATORI (THE INVINCIBLE TEN GLADIATORS)
Directed by Nick Nostro
The second and best of a lively trilogy of gladiator films that includes THE TEN GLADIATORS (1963) and TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964). The same cast carries over from film to film. In each of the three movies, Dan Vadis plays Roccia, the leader of the troupe. Interestingly, the first film, THE TEN GLADIATORS (TEN DESPERATE MEN), takes place after the events seen in the two sequels. Gianfranco (SABATA) Parolini directed this one and Nick (SUPERARGO AGAINST DIABOLICUS) Nostro took over directorial reigns on the subsequent two movies. Whereas the first film plays everything for laughs up until the conclusion where it turns deadly serious, the first sequel has a better balance. The third film is mostly comical, but also has a nice balance between laughs and thrills.
After the Ten Gladiators speak out against a young boy having to duel with his father, they're banished and threatened with never being able to fight in an arena again. They find work with a Senator Varo who employs them to find and bring back a rebel slave named Spartacus. Upon later learning that Varo is corrupt, the Ten Gladiators join up with Spartacus to free his people and take down the evil Senator with eyes on controlling Rome. The script (Sergio Sollima was one of three) touches occasionally on the life of a gladiator in that they were not well regarded at all within Roman society. They were there simply to satiate the peoples lust for blood and nothing more. At this late in the game, it's nice to see one of these movies feature even a modicum of character development.
Dan Vadis, who had his first appearance in COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA in 1962, got his first role of substance the same year with THE REBEL GLADIATOR. He was part of the Mae West Revue along with other stars such as Gordon Mitchell who got him into the film business. He really hit his stride in the genre in 1964 with a string of brainless actioners before finding work in spaghetti westerns. Two of note are FORT YUMA GOLD (1966) and THE STRANGER RETURNS (1967). He played villains in both. Vadis later found even more work in Eastwood's Malpaso Company movies like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) and EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978) among them. He was found dead inside his car on June 11, 1987, the result of an apparent accidental overdose.
Milton Reid (DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT) has a great role as the lead henchman. Nick Nostro seems quite comfortable handling action and he packs this film with more than its fair share. With ten times the grunting, groaning and acts of heroism, SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS is an amusing way to pass 100 minutes. The little nuances inherent in the script, and the overall lively tone make the film a fun experience and one that fans of the genre should seek out. Like the third entry, it's a nice little popcorn movie that doesn't feature the plethora of court room intrigue that is generally found in so many others.
26. THE GIANTS OF ROME (1964) aka I GIGANTI DI ROMA
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
"Caesar doesn't need dead heroes!"
One of the best of the last lot of Sword & Sandal adventures. This one is in the vein of a war picture; a 'Men On A Mission' movie if you will. Richard Harrison stars and leads a group of varied mercenaries on a mission to destroy a new weapon created by the Paganistic Druids that threatens to defeat Julius Caesar and his forces. All the warriors have different looks to distinguish their characters. Harrison is one of four men assigned to destroy the Druids weapon, which ends up being a souped up catapult. This is one of Harrison's most kinetic roles as the action is more or less non stop. The heroes are constantly engaged in battles, or are captured and must plan an escape. I can honestly say that Harrison is really very good in this movie. I don't think I've seen him as good as he is here.
Antonio Margheriti handles action very well and he acquits himself far better here than he does in the simply awful HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL released the following year. Margheriti was, like Bava, an accomplished effects artist. whereas Bava could build a movie around limited resources, Margheriti could make striking miniatures on a minimal budget. He worked as an FX artist on Leone's DUCK, YOU SUCKER (1971) as well as his own illustrious career in many European popular genres. He directed notable works such as CASTLE OF BLOOD, LONG HAIR OF DEATH (both 1964), AND GOD SAID TO CAIN...(1969) and THE LAST HUNTER (1980). One of his most notorious movies is the 1980 favorite, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE.
Margheriti lends his film a much more serious tone than other peplums around this time. The early going is a bit lighthearted, but the tone changes drastically from there. The violence is high such as a young boy tortured (off screen) and crucified and some brutal horse falls. One of the best scenes is where Harrison is branded with a hot iron and he never flinches from the pain. Instead, he insults his oppressor. The ending is very exciting and showcases some explosions. One of the main thrusts of this movie is the occasionally thrilling score by Carlo Rustichelli. He is without doubt, one of the most criminally underrated composers ever to work in cinema. His scores often are far bigger than the films themselves and likewise elevate the material to a level it wouldn't have had otherwise.
Ettore Manni is a familiar face to fans of Eurocult movies having appeared in a number of well known westerns and crime pictures. Some of his Sword & Sandal work is also notable such as HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961), HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1963) and the bizarre horror peplum, ROME AGAINST ROME (1964). His bizarre death is one of the more shocking incidents in Eurocult cinema. The hypnotic Wandisa Guida was also in the abysmal MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1963) among some others. Piero Lulli has a small role and notable director Sergio Martino was a production manager. GIANTS OF ROME has a lot of energy and ranks alongside GLADIATORS 7 (1962) as one of Richard Harrison's best movies. There's seldom a slow moment in this Italian/French co-production and it's recommended for fans of Antonio Margheriti and Richard Harrison.
By the time 1965 rolled around, the genre was seriously on its last legs. There was virtually nothing of much substance coming out of Italy as far as costume fantasy films were concerned. The genre was quickly being supplanted by Eurowesterns that were far less fanciful, but more adult and leaning more towards the violent side. Some of the examples of what '65 had to offer was the potentially thrilling, but aborted television program, HERCULES & THE PRINCESS OF TROY starring Gordon Scott in the role. There was also ERIK THE VIKING starring Guiliano Gemma and Gordon Mitchell. Kirk Morris was in FALCON OF THE DESERT, the totally bizarre Sci Fi muscle movie THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS and the rare patchwork movie, MACISTE IL VENDICATORE DEI MAYAS from genre hack, Guido Malatesta.
Also, that year saw the release of Reg Park's last movie, the abysmal HERCULES, THE AVENGER, a production made up of lots of stock footage from past Park movies. Outside of something like Lupo's lively SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS, the genre didn't really have any stand out movies during the year of 1965 and it's a shame the films had to go out on such a sour note, but the lowly stigma the genre unjustly adopted over the years continues today. Fans are forced to make do with inferior full screen, washed out prints. There's a smattering of widescreen prints going around, but these were often cut for US consumption during their original releases. There are bountiful foreign releases on the digital format, but these aren't English friendly for the most part. Hopefully, this misunderstood genre of Italian cinema will receive some much needed appraisal at some point down the road.
Despite being largely dismissed by critics at the time, other directors of importance would never have gotten their more cerebral productions bankrolled if not for the popularity of this genre. That brief span of around 8 years was when stories of mythological men, monsters and maidens dominated movie screens at the Italian cinema and foreign screens abroad.