Get out the chest grease kids: RetroMedia and Infinity Entertainment have unleashed MUSCLE MADNESS, a collection of five previously-released titles (two of which are double features) of pure peplum joy.
Mark Forest, star of THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR, had another opportunity to flex his pecs and vacation in Italy while making GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON, a 1963-made feature known in its native Italy as MACISTE L’EROE PIÙ GRANDE DEL MONDO (Maciste, The World’s Greatest Hero). GOLIATH is a thrilling sword and sandal adventure wherein heroic muscleman Maciste (called “Goliath” in the dubbed print) brings upon the wrath of the evil invading Babylonians by thwarting their efforts to take all of the virgin girls from Nephyr. Maciste/Goliath (Mark Forest) is soon recruited by a group of revolutionaries (including Guiliano Gemma and dwarf actor Arnaldo Fabrizio) intent on reclaiming their country (and more importantly, their virgins -- they’re important, you know). Paul Müller appears near the end as the King of Babylon.
With a delightful dubbed soundtrack including a music score by Les Baxter, GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON (released in the U.S. by American International Pictures) remains a pretty solid and very fun entry from the peplum genre and is definitely worth your time to see.
On the flipside of GOLIATH is COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN, a bizarre odyssey starring Rod Taylor, which, when the film was issued on video in the 1980s, prompted the embarrassed actor to say “Releasing it now on tape is like digging up a porno film from out of my past.” In the film, Rod plays Pirro (called Pirros in the dubbed print); our decidedly non-muscular and rather fey “hero” who is captured by a tribe of Amazon women along with his pal Glauco(s) (played by muscleman Ed Fury). I’m sure COLOSSUS was a bad film to start out with, but by the time it was released Stateside in ‘64 (four years after it was made), everyone in the country had had their fill of the genre. One can only assume that the film’s American distributors felt the movie could be better if they pushed the envelope of stupidity over the edge of reason, giving the film an upbeat jazzy score and deliberately ridiculous voices to boot (Rod Taylor was, for some reason, unavailable to dub his own voice). However, deciding to take the film’s already-bad comical aspects and injecting them with Stupid Steroids was probably an even dumber move than releasing the film as-is, and so the end-result of COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN is an insanely campy knee-slapper that, surprisingly, never surfaced on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (it would have been an ideal experiment for them).
Moving onto the second disc in the MUSCLE MADNESS collection, we find ourselves delving into the waters of immortal muscleman Steve Reeves, beginning with THE GIANT OF MARATHON. While it certainly isn’t the sort of film that will ever earn an award, THE GIANT OF MARATHON does benefit from some impressive moments courtesy of Jacques Tourneur and ghost director Mario Bava (who was called in to either finish or save the film -- you be the judge). The story is pretty standard stuff: the hero, in this case a lad named Phillipides (HERCULES star Reeves), leading his people into battle against the Persians. Personally, the movie doesn’t sway me one way or the other (sorry, kids), and so for a much better look at the film, I’d suggest checking out Christopher Dietrich’s review of the title.
On the same side of Disc 2 is WAR OF THE TROJANS, another Steve Reeves muscle-fest that is better known to viewers as THE AVENGER. One of the better peplum films made, WAR OF THE TROJANS is a direct sequel to the previous year’s THE TROJAN HORSE (also with Reeves). The story here has Aeneas/Enea (Reeves) and his people fleeing from their native Troy and heading west. Since the little people are rarely deemed worthy of having nice things happen to them in peplum movies, it doesn’t take long for the denizens of a nearby kingdom to start a war with the Trojans -- who, in turn, seek out assistance from the Etruscans. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Mario Ferrari, Liana Orfei, Gianni Garko and Maurice Poli also star in this above-average sword and sandal entry.
Lastly in the MUSCLE MADNESS set is a film that is widely hailed as one of the worst ever. Unlike the previously picked-on COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN -- which by all rights should have been featured on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 -- HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN was featured on the show…and rightfully so, too. Now, I’m sure there are a few people out there that probably enjoy this film, and that there are a few more people that despise the aforementioned MST3K and its fans, so I would like to point out that I am a) a fan, and b) one who is able to think and decide for himself what makes a movie good or bad. HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN is bad -- and that’s that. In the film, some dastardly moon men have ventured down to Earth via a meteor and are planning on reviving their dead queen with the help of a local Earth queen named Samara (Jany Clair). Wise old Claudis (Nando Tamberlani) grows sick and tired of the villagers being forced to sacrifice their children to the alien invaders, and so he summons the mighty warrior Maciste (aka Hercules aka Sergio Ciani aka Alan Steel) to save the day. A few eerie moments of atmosphere breathe a little life into the film, but for the most part, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN is a bust (but it’s still fun to giggle at).
All films except for COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN are in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen (COLOSSUS is shown pan-and-scan) and the overall quality of the first four films (more on HERCULES in a bit) is good -- but never what you’d refer to as breathtaking: colors are a bit faded, some of the source elements are damaged, the occasional speck of green, etc… THE GIANT OF MARATHON is definitely a step-up from the older Alpha Video release (which was in non-anamorphic widescreen) and is a much better purchase than the budget label's issue. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, all of these titles have been released separately by RetroMedia at one point or another in time. But what really makes this set an eye-opener is the new anamorphic widescreen digital transfer we get with HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN. Throw away those older RetroMedia copies with the bad pan-and-scan transfer, ‘cuz this release is on-par with the Image Entertainment release from a few years back (and were probably mastered from the same source). HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN also comes with an added bonus: a reproduction of the original lobby promo material with instructions for guys on “How to be a Hercules” and rules for the gals to teach them “How to hold your Hercules.” Charles Atlas would be proud.
While the new upgrade of MOON MEN probably won’t warrant a double-dip from those of you who already own all of the individual titles in this set, MUSCLE MADNESS is a must to the rest of you who love your cheese to be Grade-A Italian and your beefcake to be all, um…beefy. (Adam Becvar)
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