Tuesday, December 25, 2018

You Better Watch Out: An Appreciation For Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

When it comes to classic Christmas horror, the late Bob Clark's festive fear favorite BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974; see our original/sequel comparison article HERE) set a standard that's hard to beat. On the other end of the spectrum, you have 1987s Santa slasher sequel SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2; a film you'd never expect to have a fan following, but it does... and one that has gained a surprising amount of momentum in recent years; arguably surpassing the popularity of the controversial seasonal slasher that preceded it.

Filmmakers always have obstacles in their way that positively or negatively affects the outcome of their movie. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987) is one such film where the deck was stacked against the actors and crew even before production began. For years it maintained an incendiary reputation as one of the most hated sequels ever made due in large part to its Christmas stocking full of leftover scenes from the first film, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). But all around the world creatures were stirring; a small group of fans believed in the film, embracing the campy qualities lurking in the sixty minutes worth of new material. SNDN2 is the type of nutty horror film that, after repeat viewings, appreciates in value. 

This article is a tribute to SNDN2, a cult film that has garnered a surprising amount of acknowledgment and adoration from a small, but loyal (and growing), fan base. This is my experience seeing the film for the first time back in the day; some of you reading this may have a similar memory--and possibly the reasons why people keep talking about it--leading up to its new blu-ray release with all the (jingle) bells and whistles not normally afforded a lower tiered horror title.

Imagine you're a filmmaker hired to direct a sequel to a controversial horror film you weren't all that enamored with; and instead of making an entirely new film, your assignment was to cobble together a sequel using only the existing footage of the first picture. Well, that was the difficult task that befell veteran editor Lee Harry in 1987. After convincing the producers to fork over approximately $100,000 for new footage, Lee and his crew made a remarkably entertaining little movie on a terribly tight, seven-day shooting schedule. Whether good or bad, it was a Christmas miracle the film turned out as good as it did.

When I was a kid--thanks to Fangoria and video mail order catalogs--I had a mental checklist of various horror movies I wanted to see; many of these got little theatrical play or went straight to tape. When my parents divorced in 1983, now occasionally free of my mother's authoritative persistence in keeping me from viewing forbidden cinematic fruit, it was now easier to obtain them via the plethora of VHS tapes flooding video store shelves in the 1980s. Having graduated from the frequent airings of Gothics of the Universal and Hammer days on television, the shocking gore-laden horror of the 80s video boom was like nothing ever seen. Naturally, dedicated horror fans like myself couldn't get enough. It was the splatter that mattered.

Before the dark days of CGI, practical effects were all the rage. The sheer amount of horror and fantasy film work meant there was a huge demand for seasoned and hungry makeup magicians ready to provide gore, gore, and more gore. Artists like Dick Smith, Tom Savini, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Tom Burman, Rob Bottin; and many others like Jill Rockow, Ed French, and Chris Biggs (makeup effects artist on SNDN2; pictured with his TEEN WOLF makeup in insert photo) created dozens of spectacular demises and incredible creatures and transformations that amazed horror fans across the country and around the world.

Slasher movies presented many opportunities for the imagination to run wild. If the film wasn't very good, there'd at least be a memorable death or two that kept the picture alive through the years. 1984s SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT had two--the kid being decapitated while sledding down a hill; and a topless Linnea Quigley being impaled on deer antlers. SNDN2 followed suit with a couple unique kills of its own. One of these was an impressive umbrella impalement; and a shocking, eye-popping death by battery charger.

Like most R rated movies with sex and violence, my mom wouldn't allow me to see the original SNDN when I was a kid (I was nine years old when it had its brief theatrical run); even though she somewhat relaxed the reigns that year in 1984, I'd of had to sneak, or use some form of subterfuge to see this particular horror picture. A school friend's dad had rented it upon its home video debut in 1986 so I was able to see it that way; eventually purchasing an EP mode VHS tape at a local Kmart a few years later.

I enjoyed it--finding it awfully mean-spirited and worthy of the notoriety it had accumulated from outraged parents that ended its theatrical run after a few weeks. Naturally, this just made people want to see it even more. It's worth noting that kids have always been leery of, or outright scared of Santa Claus long before SNDN visualized him as a murderous psychopath. There had also been movies with killer Santa's before, but nothing quite as raw, even repellent, as what was seen in Charles E. Sellier's movie (a director known primarily for family-friendly fare). Santa Claus and the Christmas holiday had been turned into something dirty. Basically, it was the sort of horror movie that did exactly what it was supposed to do... and that included leaving the door open for a sequel.

So naturally, when I read the announcement in a 1986 Fangoria magazine that a part two was indeed in the works, I was pretty excited to see it--hopeful that it would pick up where the first movie ended.  A lot of time passed and I heard nothing more about it till the Fall of 1987 when a Fangoria reader expressed his disdain for having wasted his money on the sequel; the brunt of the anger deriving from the preponderance of stock footage taken from part 1 (approximately 30 minutes worth in total).

That summer in 1987 (I was 12 then), I was coming home from the beach with my grandparents. They had an F150 Ford truck with a camper on the back. We had a big mattress back there so me and my cousin (or cousins) could be comfortable on our beach trips. I'd bring pads and pens (I drew a lot back then); my boombox; and whatever else to preoccupy our time on the 4-5 hour journey. Anyway, I'm back there with my cousin and we passed a movie theater on the way home. I happened to glance at the marquee and there it was, in big letters, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2. There was a co-feature in smaller letters, but I can't recall the title. My eyes lit up. I immediately knocked on the back window and asked my grandparents to take me back and drop me off there for a couple hours. They had a good laugh; I eventually came back down to reality; and I told my cousin about the first movie as we continued the trek back home.

Sometime the following year in 1988, I ran across the VHS of SNDN2 in a local video store called Adventure Video (later to change its name to Beyond Video). Anxious to finally see it, I rented the tape and took it home. At the time I didn't think it compared favorably to the first one--my frustration matching that irritated fan who sent in a letter to Fangoria the year prior complaining about the heavy use of stock footage. What's interesting was that the first movie caused outrage over its depiction of Santa Claus. The sequel invited outrage as well, but from disgruntled viewers furious over having to sit through a big chunk of the original film's footage.

Granted, it wasn't the first time this sort of maneuver was implemented by filmmakers. One of the earliest examples--if not the first time--stock footage was used extensively was in Universal's MUMMY sequels from the 1940s. Annoyingly, all of them used the same scenes from one film to the next; and those pictures were barely an hour in length.

As for SNDN2, from that first viewing, it felt like the filmmakers simply didn't care; as if they were only interested in making a quick buck off the notoriety of the original. I did get a kick out of the new footage, though. With the tone drastically different from the first film, I couldn't tell if the absurdities prevalent onscreen was intentional or not; the only thing I was sure of was that car got a little too close to the stuntman (stunt coordinator and filmmaker Spiro Razatos) in a surprisingly spectacular stunt that closed out the infamous neighborhood rampage sequence. 

Regardless of whether you love or hate the film, what has kept it alive all these years is the merciless, scene-gobbling performance of Eric Freeman. To call it over the top is an understatement. Freeman's interpretation is a cross between William Shatner and Jack Nicholson. It's such an untamed portrayal, it's difficult to take the film seriously; and it's all the better for it (or worse depending on one's point of view).

SNDN2 may have disappointed me in the beginning, but something about it inspired me in another way...

Around this time I used to write rudimentary horror short stories; often in school when I should've been listening to what the teacher was saying. Some of these were titled after actual movies but the stories were different; others were stories for films that were announced but never made like Ovidio Assonitis's 'Piranha III'. I was excited over this one, too, so I wrote my own 'Piranha III', a sixty or so page tale about a growth hormone injected into a school of genetically altered piranha by a vengeful scientist who then dumped them into the ocean. Highlights were the giant razor-toothed fish killing off sharks during a feeding frenzy and an assault on the US armed forces with whole military boats swallowed whole and the mega-piranha leaping out of the water into the rotary blades of CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

Another story I wrote was a 25-30 page second sequel to SNDN titled 'Slay Ride: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3'. This story had Ricky surviving, escaping again, and going after the nuns at the orphanage where his brother was killed. The ending had him supposedly dying in a fire that destroys the orphanage. When the police and firemen scour the charred remnants of the building for Ricky's body, they find no corpse.

On the big screen, Caldwell did continue in a real part three; the bland and boring SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT! (1989). Bill Moseley (Chop Top in 1986s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) took over the role of Ricky Caldwell. Awakened from a coma by a blind psychic, a Santa suitless Caldwell goes on a lackadaisical killing spree with his brain visible inside a transparent dome on his head. In the end, it was best Eric Freeman didn't carry the mantle a second time; it's difficult to imagine him embodying the character in a lobotomized performance where he's not allowed to say anything. It's worth seeing at least once, if only for seeing Moseley play something the polar opposite of his Chop Top role.

Two more sequels followed, only these went the HALLOWEEN III route with the title being the sole commonality. Outside of a few minutes of part 4, I never got around to seeing them. Part 3 (viewed on HBO during an early morning airing on a school night) ended my interest in the series. The late 80s was the worst for slashers, and especially the Big Knives of the sub-genre like FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. 

Speaking of terrible slasher movies, SNDN got a sort-of remake in the form of the execrable SILENT NIGHT in 2012. A remake of SNDN2 could be a lot of fun if an actor could be found with the same demented fervor of Eric Freeman.

About ten to twelve years later I saw SNDN2 again, this time on DVD. I had a vastly improved opinion of it and took notice of Lee Harry's editing style in tightening up the recycled footage while adding some of his own creative touches. The new scenes are paced very well even if there's little time (or room) for character expansion. The tongue-in-cheek nature of SNDN2 is evident in Lee's excellent short film from 2015, THE WHISTLER (you can read our review HERE). It's a shame he hasn't directed more movies.

Seemingly aging like a fine wine, the reputation of SNDN2 improved dramatically within the last ten years. Let us count the ways...

1. The most famous line in the movie, "Garbage day!" became a massively popular meme on the internet; even permeating the pop culture lexicon with people who had no idea what the movie was.

2. In 2013, some dedicated fans started the 'Finding Freeman' campaign to locate lead actor Eric Freeman, who had seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth. When he was finally found, the many comments from fans were akin to the running gag in BIG JAKE (1971) that everyone thought John Wayne's character was dead!

3. In early 2017, Eric began attending horror film events at establishments like Dark Delicacies and horror conventions like Monsterpalooza to meet fans of his movie.

4. During Eric's first autograph signing at Dark Delicacies last January, he caught up with Emmy award winning makeup artist, Jill Rockow (see photo above). Jill helped out for a few days on SNDN2 doing straight makeups. Both have been good friends for more than three decades. You can read our interview with Jill Rockow HERE.

5. You can read our interview with SNDN2 director and editor Lee Harry HERE.

6. You can read our interview with SNDN2 actor and writer Eric Freeman HERE (affectionately referred to as the Epic Freeman interview).

7. Eric wrote a script that continued the Caldwell character but under a slightly altered name. Titled 'Unhinged', Caldwell became something of an anti-hero in what was more of a revenge thriller in the vein of DEATH WISH.

8. Eric is also an accomplished guitar player. You can watch a brief clip of him playing HERE and purchase memorabilia at his official website HERE.

9. In 2016, Eric did some podcasts in relation to SNDN2. You can listen to the Pizowell Podcast HERE and the Shock Waves podcast HERE.

10. On December 11th, 2018, Shout! Factory (through their Scream Factory line) released the film on blu-ray loaded with extras. A deluxe limited edition was also released that included a rolled poster of the blu-ray artwork and an NECA action figure of Ricky Caldwell with an ax, a gun, and a detachable hand (for holding the gun) as accessories. You can purchase it directly HERE or at amazon HERE.

Within the span of three decades, SNDN2 went from a predominantly despised sequel to a cult favorite. I've wondered had the entire film been built around Ricky Caldwell, would Lee Harry's movie be remembered to a greater or a lesser degree today. Infamous for its use of stock footage and having survived on Eric Freeman's insanely immoderate performance, and the immortal utterance of "Garbage Day!" that became a meme sensation, SNDN2 is a cult film curio in a category all its own.

*All screen caps and behind the scenes photos from the Shout! Factory/Scream Factory blu-ray*

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bonehill Road (2017) review


Eli DeGeer (Emily Stevens), Ana Rojas Plumberg (Eden Stevens), Linnea Quigley (Suzy), Millie Milan (Tina), Dilynn Fawn Harvey (Lucy), Gary Kent (Rhett Tanner), Douglas Epps (Coen Anders)

Directed by Todd Sheets

The Short Version: If you're into terrible movies, and particularly terrible werewolf movies akin to 1995s THE HOWLING VII: NEW MOON RISING, then take a wrong turn down BONEHILL ROAD. Crowd funded and heavily hyped for its use of practical effects, signs lead you to think this is a Howling good time; only things quickly detour into Texas Chainsaw territory when the plot shifts to the home of a cannibalistic serial killer. Meanwhile, the werewolves--which is what the film is supposed to be about--infrequently bear their fangs and claws, but appear domesticated in their idleness; open doors by the handle and possess a curious inability to break through glass. Bad acting, bad gore effects, and bad camerawork await you on this dead end street. One decent acting role out of the bunch, a handful of eerie photographic shots and surprisingly efficient monster suits are the only positive aspects of this misanthropic Lycan-throw-up.

After escaping her abusive husband, Emily Stevens and her daughter run afoul of werewolves and a crazed man with a fondness for human flesh.

Like any other sub-genre, werewolf movies run the gamut in quality. You have classic examples like THE WOLF MAN (1941) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981); fun, inventive entries like PROJECT: METALBEAST (1995) and DOG SOLDIERS (2002); and then there's execrable were-shit like THE HOWLING VII: NEW MOON RISING (1995) and BONEHILL ROAD (2017)--a film heavily ballyhooed for its reliance on practical effects and receiving an enormous amount of unwarranted praise giving the impression it's the top of the crop when it has more in common with the bottom of the barrel.

Reviews for BONEHILL ROAD are overwhelmingly positive with some laughably placing it alongside real classics like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING (both 1981); while others claim you're not a real fan of horror if you don't like this poorly made, gory gobbledygook. Reportedly winning at least one horror festival award for Best Feature, the mind boggles at how inadequate the competition must have been.

To put it both mildly and succinctly, BONEHILL ROAD is a boneheaded mess. Marketed as a werewolf movie, the hairy hominids are barely in the film at all. Lycanthropic cinema is cursed with a legion of flea-infested entries and BONEHILL ROAD runs ahead of the pack; a plotless, thoroughly awful movie that's mostly about a serial killer torturing captured women at a secluded house while the least motivated, uncharacteristically mannerly werewolves stand around outside waiting their cue to casually enter the domicile for dinner.

Within the first few painful minutes, director Todd Sheets dares you to turn his movie off after assailing viewers with some of the most atrocious acting you've seen in years along with a slew of plot holes and continuity errors; one such goof is that some people scratched or bitten by a werewolf turn while others never do. 

Ana Rojas Plumberg is the only actor who puts forth any effort. With only two credits thus far, hopefully she gets more work but in better movies. In this, her second role, her energy doesn't go unnoticed in a sea of lethargy that drowns everyone else. 

Even when actors are required to do little more than run, there's no conviction or sense of urgency. Nor is there much focus in the nonsensical script by director Todd Sheets, a veteran of SOV (Shot On Video) movies; those camcorder crapfests that clogged video store shelves in the 1980s with titles like SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987), CRAZY FAT ETHEL 2 (1987), 555 (1988) and REDNECK ZOMBIES (1989).

The camerawork is likewise devoid of any quality. Aside from a few establishing shots (see above) that, while creating mood, evaporates it within seconds. The rest of the photography is sloppy--made up primarily of close-ups that renders the action nearly indecipherable. The extreme close-ups likewise wreck havoc with the already destitute gore effects.

The werewolves fare no better. The suits and masks are surprisingly effective although their potency is ruined by the indolence of the actors wearing them. They're mostly immobile--unable to catch victims that, if they were moving any slower they'd be going in reverse. These wolf men are possibly the most inert, lackadaisical ever captured on film. They open doors by their handles; can't break through glass; display virtually zero strength; and mostly stand around snarling for the camera till the boring siege on the house during the last 10 minutes.

If you haven't seen the 1980s most popular Scream Queen, Linnea Quigley (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD; SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) in a while, you can do so here for about five minutes. One of Coen's victims, she quickly comes to a bad end, spilling phony-looking viscera. Her character's corpse turns up later on sitting in a chair with the hole in her stomach seemingly having miraculously healed and nary a drop of blood on her.

Despite all the hype surrounding the wolf men, the bulk of the film is centered around the aforementioned Coen cannibal character and his handful of torture victims tied up throughout the house. The werewolves--who don't really do anything till the last ten minutes--feel like they've been tacked on. There's no explanation for their presence or even a reason for being in the movie. Nothing revelatory is done with Coen, either. If this was a movie with a sense of direction, Coen would turn out to be the leader of the wolf men or something else of consequence to tie the two plot points together.

Reportedly budgeted at approximately $15,000 (its indiegogo campaign is a little over $22,000), this crowdfunded project certainly wears its monetarily emaciated budget with pride. Reviewers raving about this being the best werewolf movie in years raises questions as to whether such praise was done via payoff or at gunpoint. To paraphrase, a number of these reviews are calling BONEHILL ROAD a "throwback to old-style werewolf films." Proclamations such as that are only half-right; most definitely "throw it back". And if you're going to bring back 80s horror, at least bring it back as a good movie.

This review is representative of the Wild Eye Releasing DVD. Extras: Behind the scenes; running time: 01:25:05

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965) review


Gordon Scott (Hercules), Paul Stevens (Diogenes), Mart Hulswit (Ulysses), Diana Hyland (Princess Diana), Steve Garrett (Petra), Roger Browne (Ortag), Gordon Mitchell (Pirate Captain), Giorgio Ardisson (Leander), Jacques Stanislavski (Argus), Mario Novelli (Botus)

Directed by Albert Band

The Short Version: Joseph Levine struck theatrical gold after importing HERCULES (1958) and its sequel from Italy. Regrettably, his lavish, ill-fated pilot for the ABC Network based on the Greek Demi-God was never picked up for production. This is unfortunate since Albert Band's 47 minutes of flex n' pecs is as strong as the best theatrical offerings; only by 1965, Hercules had lost his lucrative strength. Three of the genres biggest names and best actors--Gordon Scott, Gordon Mitchell and Roger Browne--give it all they've got; and Carlo Rambaldi builds a massive opponent for Hercules to duel in the form of a multi-limbed denizen of the deep brought to life via computer and engines, and operated by remote control. With a number of new, and subsequently popular TV shows debuting that week; and a handful of other children's programming airing in the same time-slot, the TV Gods decided the fate of HERCULES was to never set sail again.

An enormous sea monster terrorizes the people of Troy. To satiate the monster's appetite for human flesh and prevent the destruction of their city, the Trojans must sacrifice a young girl every month. Hercules, Ulysses and Diogenes, sailing aboard the Olympia on a long journey to Thebes, land on Troy's shores. Once there, they uncover an assassination plot to kill Hercules; a sinister scheme to seize the Trojan throne that puts the female heir in grave danger; and finally, they must devise a plan to defeat the maiden-devouring monster.

Without Joseph E. Levine, it's questionable if Sword and Sandal movies would've been as popular as they were in America in the late 50s and early 1960s. Outside of cult circles and nostalgia lovers, the genre is virtually forgotten these days. Back then, Levine managed to keep the genre in the public eye in America for the duration of its popularity in its home country of Italy. 

A former shoeshine boy turned multimillionaire movie mogul, Levine's penchant for showbiz savvy and extravagance was evidenced in the movies he handled. Founding Embassy Pictures in 1956, Levine brought Godzilla to America that same year with GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS; re-cut and with added footage of Raymond Burr. 

Not long after, the enterprising producer showed a lot of muscle with another import, Pietro Francisci's HERCULES (1958); the classic Italian mythological movie starring Mr. Universe Steve Reeves. Utilizing approximately $1.5 million to purchase rights, add dubbed dialog and promotion, his gamble paid off with some $15 million in grosses. The sequel, HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959), likewise proved profitable for the producer.

With the Sword and Sandal genre still popular in the early 1960s, Levine made his way into the proverbial gladiatorial arena again. From 1963 through 1964, Levine fostered over a dozen more Italian he-man movies and gladiator films for viewing on the small screen--repackaging them as THE SONS OF HERCULES series. Releasing them to television via his Embassy Pictures, this weekly series heralded a heroic adventure prefaced by a catchy theme song, 'The Mighty Sons of Hercules'.

He would return to the mythological well for the last time in 1965. Having worked with the genres first major player in Steve Reeves, Levine would now associate himself with the second biggest name of strongman cinema in Gordon Scott.

A weekly series about the adventures of Hercules wielded fantastic potential.... five years earlier. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS had been a hit in 1963; but by 1965, loincloth cinema had been usurped by westerns and spy pictures. The television medium is an entirely different battleground; but even there, the market was already flooded with westerns and a smattering of spy shows. You'd think a fantasy series would've been ideal for an entertainment pool with little variance. The public just wasn't interested.

Still, that's not to say the script by TV writer Larry Forrester and Italian adventure specialist Ugo Liberatore isn't appealing. Nearly all the genres cliches are accounted for. There's epic action sequences, feats of strength, and cliffhangers putting the protagonists in sufficient jeopardy between commercial breaks (the writers could've come up with a more believable manner for Hercules to be captured, though). For kids, anyway, it seemed like a great recipe.

Scott's musclebound hero is joined by Ulysses (played by newcomer Mart Hulswit) and Diogenes (played by veteran actor Paul Stevens). Had the show been picked up, Ulysses could've been the Robin to Hercules' Batman. In the pilot, the character isn't given much to do in an already crowded cast of characters. Diogenes is the more interesting of the two--as a scientist devising weapons to help Hercules in defeating the sea monster.

Shot in Rome and Yugoslavia, Levine's small-screen HERCULES was stunningly polished, benefiting from high production values and seasoned professionals both behind and in front of the camera. At just over 47 minutes, the HERCULES pilot looks bigger and better than many of the genre's full-length features. One of the programs greatest assets is its monster; an oversized crustacean created by a young Carlo Rambaldi--the future Oscar-winning FX artist of KING KONG (1976), ALIEN (1979) and E.T. (1982) to name a few.

In 1962, Rambaldi had built an impressive dragon for Antonio Margheriti's PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (itself one of the SONS OF HERCULES pictures re-christened as MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES) that looked more realistic than your average European-made fantasy picture. The sea beast seen in HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY is a slightly more impressive creation.

Measuring some 25 feet in length and costing $25,000 to build, the Herculean monstrosity was built with metal, plastic, and ten miles of wires--encasing six engines powered by a computer. Two operators maneuver the creepy crustacean (named Max by the cast and crew) via remote control transistor radios. 

HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY was heavily ballyhooed in all your finer monster periodicals of the time like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein, and Mad Monsters magazines. Gordon Scott may have been the star, but Mighty Max virtually overshadowed him from all the coverage he received back in the Fall of 1965 (and into the early months of 1966). With no advertising other than the TV Guide listing, the end result debuted on the ABC Network on Sunday, September 12th, 1965 from 7-8pm.

There were a lot of new shows debuting that week like GREEN ACRES (1965-1971), LOST IN SPACE (1965-1968) and THE WILD, WILD, WEST (1965-1969). HERCULES didn't have to contend with any of those, but was unable to strong-arm a multitude of kid-friendly competition. On CBS, it was the 12th season premiere of LASSIE (1954-1973) and the third season opener of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (1963-1966) in the 7pm and 7:30pm time-slot.

Other children's shows provided stiff competition for the Son of Zeus over on NBC. For an hour block between 6:30pm and 7:30pm, the network aired a special preview of two soon-to-debut Saturday morning cartoons--Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel. The former was an insect with super strength; while the latter was the animal kingdom's James Bond. Following that was the conclusion of KILROY, a repeat of the 4-part tele-film on the WALT DISNEY'S WORLD program that originally premiered earlier that year in March.

Additionally, on another network, HERCULES was preceded at 6:30 by the US debut of the children's show, STINGRAY (1964-1965), a British Supermarionation television series.

There may not of been enough interest for ABC to order a season's worth of HERCULES, but examples of the genre were getting airplay that same week. The Saturday before HERCULES debuted saw an airing of Gianfranco Parolini's SAMSON from 1961 at 7pm; on Thursday, September 16th, Sergio Grieco's SWORD OF THE EMPIRE (1964) aired at 5pm. Not entirely unrelated, TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI (1956), another Gordon Scott outing, swung into action on CBS on Friday, September 17th at 5pm.

While kids were the primary audience for HERCULES' monster action, an international cast perform admirably in measuring up to their show-stealing, armor-plated co-star.

After making his mark as the best Tarzan next to Johnny Weissmuller, the late Gordon Scott went to Italy in 1960 where he found further fame as a host of heroes in a dozen costume epics and swashbucklers ranging from Maciste to Zorro. Strangely enough, Scott's last such picture was the first time he was playing Hercules. Dubbed in his previous peplums, we get to here Gordon's real voice this time.

As in his other pictures, Gordon Scott's performance possesses the energy of ten. Stoic as always, he would've made a fantastic Hercules had the series found life on network television. Gordon Scott was always a commanding presence, and he gets several opportunities to show off here; particularly during the finale while battling the monster. Another memorable sequence is at the beginning during an unusually impressive sea battle with pirates led by genre favorite Gordon Mitchell.

Mitchell fans will be disappointed in the actor's brief screen time considering he was a major player in Sword and Sandal cinema. Starting off playing the heroic Maciste in ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS (1961), Mitchell's face was better suited to anti-heroes and villains--types of characters he excelled in such as the lead role in THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962). 

Aside from Mitchell, there's a handful of other familiar faces of American and Italian heritage.

Faring better than Mitchell in screen time is fellow American actor Roger Browne as Ortag, the brave centurion who is presumed dead after facing the sea monster at the outset. Returning with a mask covering his mutilated face, he saves Hercules just in time for the big battle on the beach that concludes the movie. Browne had worked with Gordon Mitchell before in VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER (1962) and in two of Michele Lupo's grand gladiator trilogy--THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964), SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964) and minus Mitchell in his last genre offering, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965).

Browne, along with his colleagues Gordon Scott and Gordon Mitchell, were the best actors this genre had ever seen. This was the only film to feature all three of them together. You can read our extensive interview with Roger Browne HERE.

Diana Hyland is the title Princess placed in peril by the usual throne usurper essential to vintage mythological movies. The typical plot device is that the hero saves the female protagonist, with both living happily ever after at the end. This being a pilot for a television series, you can't have your hero settling down so soon; so Hercules doesn't get the girl.

The late Ms. Hyland featured in numerous television programs--one of which being the spooky TWILIGHT ZONE episode, 'Spur of the Moment' from season five. Sadly, she died in 1977 from breast cancer at a very young 41 years of age.

Blonde-haired Georgio Ardisson (George Ardisson) was a fixture of Italian adventure, westerns and horror pictures, but barely gets anything to do or even say in HERCULES other than stand in as the love interest for Princess Diana. One of his most memorable roles was as the villain in the Barbara Steele Italian horror feature, THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964).

Another member of the Italian cast fans will recognize is stuntman and actor Mario Novelli (he does both here; doubling Scott in a scene where he stops a galloping horse). An unremarkable actor, he rarely got many lines (if any at all); and the trend continues in HERCULES. Novelli has a duel with Hercules in what amounts to a failed assassination attempt. Novelli appeared in some of Italian muscleman cinema's best later examples--as well as a number of Italian and barbarian movies--he just never stood out as more than a familiar face.

Albert Band directs the action with flair, giving a glimpse at what a full-length Fusto feature would've looked like under his guidance. Band did work with Gordon Scott again in the same year's THE TRAMPLERS; an intriguing Italian western co-starring Joseph Cotten, James Mitchum, and Franco Nero. Band previously directed the quirky horror film, I BURY THE LIVING in 1958; returning to horror in 1977 with the thoroughly bizarre and campy DRACULA'S DOG. The father of Charles Band, he made movies under his son's Empire Pictures; and again in numerous Full Moon productions.

Fred Steiner's opulent musical arrangements are as big as Hercules' muscles. His impressive cues greatly enhance an already stout production. Steiner composed music for some of the greatest television shows of all time; these include GUNSMOKE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, STAR TREK, THE WILD, WILD WEST and HAWAII FIVE-O to name a few.

Well known as a cinematographer, Enzo Barboni photographed films as diverse as ROMULUS AND REMUS (1961), NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) and DJANGO (1966). In 1970, Barboni moved up to directing, helming the wildly popular THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970) and its even more profitable sequel, TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME (1971).

Billed as a one-hour special narrated by the esteemed Hollywood actor Everett Sloane, you'll know his face from dozens of television shows; including THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (as Jubal Foster), THE TWILIGHT ZONE (the main character in 'The Fever'), and a few GUNSMOKE episodes to name some of his credits. Sadly, Sloane would take his own life on August 6th, 1965. HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY would be one of, if not his last credit.

HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY looked its best when TNT aired their yearly New Years Eve Sword & Sandal all-nighter where it played as HERCULES VS. THE SEA MONSTER. It looked its worst on German DVD as HERKULES UND DIE PRINZESSIN VON TROJA. The packaging makes the release look high quality, but the contents are little more than a dupe from a horrible looking VHS tape.

Possibly had Levine pushed this endeavor when the genre was a heavyweight, HERCULES may have been picked up as a weekly series. Then we could've seen Gordon Scott battling various monsters and duplicitous villains once a week for at least a full season, if not two. With but a single pilot episode, HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY is an historical curio of what might of been.

This review is representative of the Retromedia DVD. Specs and Extras: Full Screen presentation; paired with ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS and GIANTS OF ROME; Running time: 00:47:09
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