Monday, March 23, 2009

Italian Peplums & Fusto Films: Muscleman Adventure/Fantasy Overview Part 5

The great Gordon Scott from ROMULUS & REMUS (1961)


Steve Reeves & Sylvia Koscina from HERCULES (1958)

Continuing from the fourth chapter, this is the fifth and final installment in the Peplum and Fusto film overview. This last article pays more attention to the gorgeous ladies of this unfairly neglected genre. Whether it was larger than life heroes and adventure, or elaborate sets and sumptuous costumes, this genre provided lots of allure for movie buffs; and these beautiful women were a large part of that. Whereas the musclemen garnered the bulk of the attention, we now continue our tribute to these bountiful beauties and the "muscles" they had to showcase.

Moira Orfei as the evil sorceress in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)

Moira Orfei was yet another exotic Italian beauty who made some money portraying several roles in films like THE LOVES OF HERCULES (1960), THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) and TWO GLADIATORS (1964). Growing up in a circus family, she was one of the most well proportioned and athletically built of all the torch and toga lovelies. Orfei had a sensual presence and often played strong female characters both good and bad. Whether it was an evil sorceress, or the ruler of the Mole Men in MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961), she could bring life to lesser films in the genre. Her cousin, Liana Orfei, also appeared in some peplum and fusto films such as HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES (1963) among several others.

Mylene Demongeot in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959)

French actress, Mylene Demongeot, did relatively few Italian costume epics, but she lit up the screen with lots of sex appeal opposite Steve Reeves in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) and also played Roger Moore's(!) love interest in the odd, ROMULUS & THE SABINES (1961) wherein the future James Bond played Romulus, the founder of Rome. Demongeot's curves are clearly apparent in her slinky white apparel in the more widely known Reeves movie.

Helene Chanel from THE WITCH'S CURSE (1963)

Another amatory actress from France with a body to die for was Helene Chanel. Possessing a hypnotic pair of eyes and magnificent curves, this hypnotically sexy siren played in some of the more obscure entries in the genre such as THE INVINCIBLE MASKED RIDER (1963) and HERCULES OF THE DESERT (1964). Chanel shows off her frame in SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1962) and also appeared in two of the more peculiar strongman hybrid movies, THE WITCH'S CURSE (1963) and THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965) both starring Kirk Morris.

Helene Chanel in SAMSON & THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1962)

Chanel would go on to appear in a lot of action films sometimes playing tough characters or a devious or scheming character. Examples of these two character types where Chanel's mesmerizing beauty can be seen are TWO R-RINGO'S FROM TEXAS and .32 CALIBER KILLER (both 1967) respectively.


The luscious allure of German actress, Helga Line showed some spunk in several fusto and gladiator movies such as the last two of the TEN GLADIATORS trilogy as well as HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (all 1964). Outside of Rosalba Neri, Line quite possibly had the longest acting career of any other female actress working in the Italian film industry.

Helga Line as the fighting Queen in TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964)

She crossed over into every other European genre style that became popular whether it was westerns, spy pictures or horror films. Helga Line lent her talents when they were needed. Thankfully, it was quite often. One of her most memorable roles was a supporting role in the wonderfully bizarre horror sci fi monster flick, HORROR EXPRESS (1972) wherein the German lovely shared the screen with heavyweights, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Rosalba Neri as the distressed damsel in HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964)

Rosalba Neri was a sexy actress who often shedded her clothes on many occasions in later Italian horror pictures. Earlier in her career, she played numerous damsels in distress in the muscleman films and also in a lot of spaghetti westerns. Curiously, a lot of the western pictures in which she featured, Neri often was only in the movie briefly before being killed by one of the villains. She also played both good and bad characters in her peplum/fusto films as well as playing the oft used bad-girl-turns-good plot device.

Marilu Tolo (left) & Moira Orfei (right) death struggle in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)

As already mentioned, many of these actresses went on to appear in similar roles in Italian westerns once the costume adventures had run their course. A handful of supporting actors went on to prosperous careers as leading men, or bountiful roles as bad guys in the Euroaters that followed. Below is a handful of the more familiar actors that populated the peplums, or had successful careers in both sword & sandal adventures and the European westerns that usurped them.

Palmara & Guiliano Gemma (right) in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963)

The most famous and popular of the peplum co-stars would have to be Guiliano Gemma. Making an impression in SONS OF THUNDER (1961) directed by his future western director, Duccio Tessari, Gemma would appear in a few other movies with one of his biggest roles being in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963). He would also feature in lesser entries like HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN and TWO GLADIATORS (both 1964) in support of leads Mark Forest and Richard Harrison respectively. Gemma found major stardom in Italian westerns with the release of A PISTOL FOR RINGO in 1965. From there, he was a top draw and possibly the biggest and most popular Italian actor of the genre till the release of THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970) starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, a duo who took the waning genre to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view).

Richard Harrison & Guiliano Gemma (right) from TWO GLADIATORS (1964)

Another actor would also star in TWO GLADIATORS who would be one of the most recognized and prolific performer associated with the muscleman epics. This actor would be synonymous with the genre and appear in more sword & sandal pictures than the many leads in the films.

Mimmo Palmara challenges HERCULES (1958)

Mimmo Palmara is probably the most recognizable face in all sword & sandal cinema. He often played the main villain, or the chief underling to the main bad guy. He also sometimes played heroes in supporting roles and later went on to feature in some lesser known Italian westerns. He did manage to co-star alongside Steve Reeves yet again in the western, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968) also written by Reeves. Palmara, though, has co-starred in some of the most memorable sword and sandal movies that ever came out of the Italian film industry.

Palmara in a duel to the death from HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959)

He had villain roles in the first two Hercules films starring Steve Reeves, another quirky lead bad guy in the hybrid fusto film, KINDAR, THE INVINCIBLE (1964) where Palmara was the most interesting thing about the film. He had a big supporting role alongside Mark Forest and Guiliano Gemma in the epic, GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), one of the genres best outings.

Palmara in a rare lead hero role in HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964)

Other films include the classy and majestic THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) starring Steve Reeves. Here, Palmara plays the Trojan hero, Ajax. He also headlined one of the more bizarre muscleman hybrid movies, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964) where he played the lead, a Zorro type hero. Mimmo Palmara was one of the most unique stars in the genre and one of the most welcome faces. If the movie was bad, Palmara could generally be counted on to deliver a fun and interesting performance.

The venomous Arturo Dominici in HERCULES (1958)

Arturo Dominici will most likely forever be remembered for the role of Juvutich in Mario Bava's seminal horror classic, THE MASK OF SATAN (1960). Dominici had a devilish visage that advertised him as an easy candidate for evildoers. He was likewise a villain in Pietro Fransisci's HERCULES (1958). He effectively played the second in command, Seyvo, to Livio Lorenzon's Igor, the leader of the barbarian hordes in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959).

Leo Anchoriz (left) & Arturo Dominici (right) from PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1963)

Dominici also essayed the lead heavy in the lively fantasy romp, MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (PERSEUS, THE INVINCIBLE; 1963). Dominici again played the villainous Captain Blasco in the lively swashbuckling adventure, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964).

Leo Anchoriz (left) is brought to justice in SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963)

Leo Anchoriz was a more familiar face in the numerous spaghetti westerns in which he appeared. Prior to that, Anchoriz played supporting bad guy roles in sword and sandal adventures such as HERO OF ROME (1962) and MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963). He later had a decently prosperous career as a lead heavy, or sometimes as a supporting player in a number of westerns. Anchoriz was also memorable as the lead antagonist in the pulpy Steve Reeves pirate adventures, SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963) and its first action packed sequel, SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964).

Piero Lulli in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)

Piero Lulli, mentioned briefly earlier in this article, is probably the most prolific actor in terms of how many genres he appeared in. Rivaling Nello Pazzafini, Lulli surpasses him in that he played bigger roles. Pazzifini often played minor, or background characters while Lulli played either one of the main antagonists, or a benevolent figure who met his end in battle, or in some other tragic way.

Piero Lulli as an insidious bad guy in TWO GLADIATORS (1964)

He's played the typical peplum villain in such films as GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), TWO GLADIATORS (also with Mimmo Palmara as a villain; 1964) and HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (1964). He was an incredibly memorable villain in the outrageous science fiction Fusto movie, THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965) starring Kirk Morris. Here, Lulli plays an evil wizard named Ramir. Lulli's dress and look recalls the character of Ming the Merciless from the famed FLASH GORDON serials and feature film from 1980.

Lulli as the outrageous Ming-like villain from THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965)

Piero Lulli appeared as a good guy in such films as the classic, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) and the lesser, but fun film, THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964). A fine actor, his turn as the cruel Don Rodrigo in HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964) is a highlight and one more testament to his ability to imbue a lot of charismatic evil in a performance regardless of the fact it's dubbed, or post synced.

Steve Reeves in chains from HERCULES (1958)

After the sword & sandal and costume adventures in Italy ended in 1965, the genre left behind some 200 movies of varying style and quality. Many of them were forgettable and yet many of them deserve to be rediscovered, or are rife for newfound critical appraisal. They epitomised the comic book/fantasy adventures by featuring larger than life heroes, sadistic and evil villains, duplicitous women and the ubiquitous damsel in distress who would nearly always be seen riding off into the sunset with the musclebound hero. Hopefully, the Italian Fusto and Gladiator movies will garner some new fans in order to keep the genre alive and not just a distant memory of Saturday Morning entertainment remembered by a select few who have all but forgotten them.


The Pack (1977) review


This is a section devoted to rare, obscure and 'as yet to be released on legitimate DVD' movies. Some films may have been released in some part of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have simply never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other, whether it be on the silver screen, video tape, or the small screen at home.


Joe Don Baker (Jerry Preston), Hope Alexander Willis (Millie), Richard B. Shull (Clyde Hardiman), Sherry Miles (Lois), Bibi Besch (Marge), R.G. Armstrong (Carl Cobb), Paul Wilson (Tommy Dodge), Ned Wertimer (Harry Walker)

Screenplay & Directed by Robert Clouse

"Sometimes they get lost...sometimes tourists, they deliberately leave'em behind. They pick'em up in the pound, they bring'em over to play with for the summer then they leave'em."

On an isolated island, a group of vacationers are trapped by a bloodthirsty pack of rabid dogs. After a fierce storm destroys communication with the island, and no help coming for several days, the terrorized motley group of travelers struggle to survive the increasingly violent attacks by the ravenous canines.

Robert Clouse, whose biggest claim to fame was directing ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) starring Bruce Lee, tries his hand at a horror movie and delivers one of his best films. Considering some of the dreck he ended up helming, THE PACK (1977) is surprisingly well made and suspenseful. Clouse builds the tension brilliantly for the most part. The dog attacks are some of the best ever filmed and are incredibly staged especially the first siege on the house and the conclusion where the dogs are locked inside the cabin with Joe Don Baker fighting them off alone. The shots of the cast members beating the dogs off with weapons as well as a blind man's dog valiantly fighting the entire pack of canines are grueling and surprisingly well handled; a credit to the films editor.

Some scenes even have the dogs fighting each other as mentioned above. During the first big siege on the house, Jerry's German Shephard had already been attacked once, and when a Doberman gets inside, the Shephard attacks the raging dog to protect Walker, played by Ned Wertimer. Several other sequences appear to put the animals in some serious peril. Two scenes worth mentioning are a man driving a truck like mad through a heavy rain storm trying to run over the mongrels. Another has a man trapped on a pier by the dogs with no way out. Joe Don Baker drives his truck down the pier attempting to mow down the dogs. Still, the action involving the dogs was monitored by the ASPCA.

Another great scene predates CUJO (1983) wherein Jerry's fiance, Lois, is assaulted by the pack as they attempt to get at some chickens. When she tries to shoo away the main killer canine, the mad mongrel lunges for her followed by the rest of the dogs. Lois barely manages to get inside her volkswagon as the wild dogs cover the small car and attempt to chew their way inside. This brief sequence encapsulates the entirety of the Steve King adapted movie; whereas CUJO had one dog, THE PACK has over a dozen. I wonder if the famed horror novelist got his idea from this one scene?

The most astonishing thing about the film is that it's rated 'R' yet there really isn't any serious gore in the movie. You see a bit of blood here and there, yet when mangled bodies are discovered, you never see the remains save for a slight hint of grue. Possibly the 'R' rating came from the intensity of the attack scenes, or it could have been the expletives heard throughout. Since this is essentially a siege movie, comparisons can be drawn between THE PACK (1977) and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Although the classic argument of the 'upstairs' and the 'basement' never comes up despite there being a huge attic which does come into play during the action packed finale.

The opening scene sets the whole picture in motion. The idea for THE PACK stems from vacationers who cruelly abandon their pets before they return home. Foraken by their owners, the pets are left to starve at the mercy of mother nature. At the start, we see a family leaving their dog behind much to the dismay of the son. Tying the dog to a log, the animal is deserted and left to fend for himself. What makes the scene more heartbreaking is that the dog attempts to get free as it watches its now former owners leave it to die. This dog later chews itself free ultimately ending up with the pack of wild dogs. Yet this canine never partakes in the blood frenzy of the others. The abandoned pet also repeatedly gets his rope caught on various downed tree limbs or tangled in various fauna. You don't really see this dog much although at the end, it provides Clouse's film to end on an upbeat note.

After all the other rabid dogs have been presumably killed within the burning cabin and the leader impaled on a large pipe, the dog from the beginning is seen, his dangling rope caught once more. Jerry carefully tries to set it free, yet the dog is as just as frightened as the terrorized vacationers who have survived their horrible ordeal. Knowing that the dog attacks spurned from starvation, Jerry calms the animal by giving it some crackers. Eventually, the terrified animal relents and takes the food then the film freezes as the dog licks Jerry's outstretched hand.

THE PACK (1977) most likely wouldn't be as effective if not for the wonderful score by composer, Lee Holdridge. He packs the film with several foreboding cues that signal the dread and horror to come. There are also some amped up pieces to heighten the suspense level seen in the film. One scene though comes off a bit humorous. In it, the obese Tommy Dodge is pursued by the pack. The scene plays mostly in slow motion. What's funny is that the pack seemingly takes forever to catch up with him, but his death is one of the more gut wrenching. Making his way to a precipice high above the crashing waves below, Tommy must make a hasty decision--either fall to his death, or be eaten by the starving and rabid dogs. Among his many credits, Holdridge composed the exciting and epic score for the cult favorite, THE BEASTMASTER (1982).

The charismatic Joe Don Baker plays Jerry Preston, the marine biologist living on the island and who is in the process of building himself a house for his future wife to be and their two children. Baker never really quite comes off as a scientist, but more as just another oppressed person on the island. Baker and Hope Alexander Willis are the only two of the cast that get the most attention paid to their characters in terms of who they are and why they are on the island.

Aside from those two, that's the one spot the script sort of fumbles the ball; in the character development. However, the film does so many things right it's easy to overlook this and the dog attacks are so well staged, the audience doesn't really pay much attention to the lack of characterization unless you're looking for it.

Baker appeared in GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969) as a one armed gunfighter and also in WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1972) as one of a trio of Vietnam vets that descend a staircase into madness upon returning home culminating in the destruction of an entire town. Baker will no doubt be best remembered for his provocative role as real life Tennessee lawman, Buford Pusser in the ultra violent blockbuster, WALKING TALL (1973). Baker commands audience attention as the sheriff of a crime riddled town and the vigilante justice implemented to quell the sleazy denizens of the community. Baker also played a villain in the Bond film, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987).

The cast also contains many television personalities. Two of the more prominent are Paul Wilson and Ned Wertimer. Wilson will be instantly recognizable to fans of a certain show about a bar in Boston. He was barstool, Paul Kraypence on CHEERS (1982-1993). Ned Wetimer was Ralph Hart, the greedy bellhop on THE JEFFERSONS (1975-1985). Without his outfit and hat, Wertimer is almost unrecognizable, but his voice will clue you in. The rest of the main cast also had long careers on the small screen.

R.G. Armstrong is a welcome addition to the cast. He has appeared in many horror pictures during his long and varied career. Here, he plays a former 'salt of the sea' who attempts to bring help back to the island (by rowing over 18 miles of open sea!) after communication has been cut off from a massive storm. Armstrong also gets the best lines in the movie especially when Tommy Dodge (Wilson) goes missing-- "Well if he's got any sense, he'll climb a tree...if he can get his fat ass off the ground." MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973), RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975), BOSS NIGGER (1975; also reviewed on this site), EVILSPEAK (1982), THE BEAST WITHIN (1982), CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) and PREDATOR (1987) are just some of his various action and horror appearances.

A surprisingly gripping 'Nature Gone Amuck' movie, director Robert Clouse would return to the killer animal arena with DEADLY EYES (1982), another movie based on a novel and co-production between Warner Bros. and Golden Harvest of Hong Kong. This film dealt with huge killer rats terrorizing citizens in Toronto. It's not as well made as THE PACK (1977), but Clouse includes the gore missing from his killer dog outing. THE PACK (1977) comes recommended and is one of the better killer animal movies to come out of the 1970's and one of the more watchable movies from its director, Robert Clouse.
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