Written and directed by Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi). Cast: Lou Ferrigno, Sybil Danning, Brad Harris, William Berger, Rossana Podesta, Ingrid Anderson, Mirella D'Angelo, Bobby Rhodes, John Garko (Gianni Garko), Yehuda Efroni, Delia Boccardo, Claudio Cassinelli, Frank Garland (Franco Garofalo), Gabriella George (Gabriella Giogelli), Steven Candell (Stelio Candelli), Eva Robbins, Roger Larry (Rocco Lerro). (PG, 99 mins)
When THE INCREDIBLE HULK ended its five-season run on CBS in 1982, two-time Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno wanted to achieve the big-screen success that his PUMPING IRON rival Arnold Schwarzenegger was enjoying with the hit film CONAN THE BARBARIAN. The opportunity presented itself when he was approached by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus about several projects for Cannon, including a new version of HERCULES. It was a dream come true for Ferrigno, who got into a bodybuilding during his teen years as a way of building his self-confidence and to combat bullying after an early childhood ear infection caused him to lose 80% of his hearing. Ferrigno discovered what would become one of his biggest inspirations when his father took eight-year-old Lou to see Steve Reeves in HERCULES in 1959, so he couldn't turn down the chance to make his own mark with a remake of a film that was such a milestone in his life.
STARCRASH, was hired to write and direct the film and brought with him STARCRASH special effects designer Armando Valcauda, whose stop-motion animation and time-lapse photography techniques were antiquated at best, and laughable at worst, even more so coming at the end of a summer ruled by RETURN OF THE JEDI. So what began as a full-blooded sword-and-sandal saga for grown-ups turned into a cheap-looking, childish sci-fi adventure whose pitiful visual effects and cheesy dubbing (even Ferrigno, his natural voice affected by his hearing loss, would be dubbed by someone else in all of his Italian-made Cannon productions) got it laughed off multiplex screens nationwide when it opened in US theaters in late August 1983. Instead of Schwarzenegger-sized stardom, Ferrigno and the film were rewarded with a slew of Razzie nominations, including Worst Film, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Actor, with Danning winning Worst Supporting Actress (shared for this and her work in CHAINED HEAT) and Lou being named Worst New Star over such competition as Reb Brown in YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE and Cindy & Sandy, the Shrieking Dolphins in JAWS 3-D.
hurls into space, creating a new constellation. When his mother is killed by a flying robot sent to Earth by King Minos, Hercules decides to forge his own path on his way to exacting vengeance on Minos and finding love with Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson), daughter of the honorable King Augeias (Brad Harris, himself a former 1960s Hercules and another inspiration to Ferrigno), and briefly being turned into a giant by Circe (Mirella D'Angelo). This all leads to a showdown on a narrow catwalk over a bottomless pit with King Minos, who swings a multi-colored laser-y flaming sword that strongly resembles a light saber in a sequence that in no way is meant to look anything like a certain memorable part of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Hercules then defeats Minos by pulling a sword from a golden stone ("This sword consecrated to Zeus fears nothing!"), but it's in no way meant to remind you of EXCALIBUR.
(Italy - 1984)
Directed by Bruno Mattei. Written by Claude Fragass (Claudio Fragasso). Cast: Lou Ferrigno, Sybil Danning, Brad Harris, Dan Vadis, Carla Ferrigno, Barbara Pesante, Yehuda Efroni, Mandy Rice-Davies, Robert Mura, Ivan Beshears (Emilio Messina), Jody Wanger (Giovanni Cianfriglia), Michael Franz (Sal Borghese), Gary Levine (Raul Cabrera). (PG, 86 mins)
When HERCULES was released in theaters at the end of the summer of 1983, it was supposed to be Ferrigno staking his claim to Schwarzenegger-level big-screen fame. When that didn't exactly pan out, his subsequent Cannon films didn't get nearly the same rollout as HERCULES. THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS made it into a handful of US theaters exactly a year later in August of 1984, but it was shot before HERCULES, which Cannon and Ferrigno clearly deemed the more important picture in their new partnership. A CONAN-inspired remake of both Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and its own remake THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS is surprisingly straight-faced and competently-made, considering it's directed by veteran Italian schlock king Bruno Mattei and written by future TROLL 2 director Claudio Fragasso. Mattei and Fragasso worked together throughout the '80s on such revered trash classics as HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE (1983), RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR (1984) and the legendary STRIKE COMMANDO (1987), and its 1988 sequel, just to name a few, but THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS finds the dynamic duo in rare, restrained form, even making effective use of mostly outdoor locations. Even 1983 Cannon was big-time for these two, so maybe the additional money and answering to Golan & Globus helped them buckle down and stay focused (it also helps that the film necessitates relatively little in the way of inevitably hilarious visual effects), but I'll be damned if Mattei and Fragasso didn't turn in a generally serious and thoroughly watchable film not aimed for the kiddie crowd. Cheap and cheesy, yes...but surprisingly okay, very respectful of its sources, and other than the villain's clothing, not demonstrating much at all in the way of unintentional laughter.
|Dan Vadis (1938-1987)|
aka HERCULES II
(Italy - 1985)
Written and directed by Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi). Cast: Lou Ferrigno, Milly Carlucci, Sonia Viviani, William Berger, Carlotta Green (Carla Ferrigno), Claudio Cassinelli, Nando Poggi, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Venantino Venantini, Laura Lenzi, Margi Newton, Cindy Leadbetter, Serena Grandi, Eva Robbins. (PG, 88 mins)
Operating under the utterly false assumption that audiences were demanding a sequel to HERCULES, Ferrigno and Cozzi reunited for 1985's THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, released in some parts of the world as HERCULES II. Golan and Globus didn't even put their names on this one, and it doesn't look like they put much money into it, either. With an even more paltry budget than the first go-around, Cozzi relies on quite a bit of recycled footage from the first film (not to mention using the same Pino Donaggio score), so much so in the early going (the eight-minute, whoosh-filled SUPERMAN-inspired opening credits sequence contains highlights from the first film) that it's 17 minutes in before we get a new shot of Ferrigno, and you can tell when Cozzi's using stock footage from the 1983 film because in the new footage, Ferrigno's hair is cut shorter and he isn't nearly as bulky--his shoulders and neck aren't quite as huge and his chest is noticeably smaller. Cozzi's script is just as incoherent as the first: four rebel gods have stolen the seven thunderbolts of Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli), who calls on Hercules (Ferrigno) to recover them and stop the evil and chaos unleashed by their theft. Hercules teams up with two adoptive sisters, Urania (Milly Carlucci) and Glaucia (Sonia Viviani) to help him in his quest. The four rebel gods: Hera (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), Flora (Laura Lenzi), Aphrodite (Margi Newton), and Poseidon (Nando Poggi) resurrect the dead King Minos (William Berger), who is given a protective shield of "cunning, connivance, and chaos" by his snarky sidekick Daedalus (Eva Robbins). Hercules battles various types of weird creatures and is kidnapped by the Spider Queen and imprisoned in her magnetic web before escaping for his final battle with King Minos.
cheap rotoscoping effects over Hercules and Minos' climactic battle in the 1983 film to present it in a weird neon animated form and pass it off as a new confrontation. But that ends quickly as the animated Minos turns himself into a T-Rex and the animated Hercules becomes a giant gorilla and they start wrestling. The T-Rex Minos then turns into a giant snake and is hurled into space by Gorilla Hercules.
But Cozzi's cut-rate hackery doesn't end there! Cozzi recycles footage from the 1983 film where Circe turned Hercules into a giant, as Zeus calls upon him to "save mankind!" (cue destruction footage from the 1960 Steve Reeves version of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII) and proceeds to awkwardly construct a climax around inferior-looking, unused workprint footage of Ferrigno from the first film. In other words, the last 20 minutes of THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES consist of two climactic action sequences that were assembled completely without Ferrigno's participation. Cozzi managed to have a Hercules/King Minos showdown with neither Ferrigno nor Berger anywhere near the set. I would've liked to have been in the room when someone said "Hey, a rotoscoped T-Rex and a gorilla! We can do this!"
(Italy - 1990)
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari. Written by Tito Carpi, Enzo G. Castellari, and Ian Danby. Cast: Lou Ferrigno, John Steiner, Roland Wybenga, Cork Hubbert, Enio Girolami, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Yehuda Efroni, Alessandra Martines, Teagan, Leo Gullotta, Stefania Girolami, Donal Hodson, Melonee Rodgers, Romano Puppo, Daria Nicolodi, Giada Cozzi, Ted Rusoff. (PG-13, 93 mins)
Luigi Cozzi had a script ready for SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS, which was set to be shot as a miniseries for Italian television right after HERCULES but Cozzi and Ferrigno ended up doing THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES instead. After that, Cannon relieved Cozzi of his duties and turned SINBAD over to veteran journeyman Enzo G. Castellari (STREET LAW, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS), who rewrote Cozzi's script with frequent collaborator Tito Carpi (with additional rewriting by dubbing veteran Ian Danby), with Cozzi retaining a "Story by" credit under his "Lewis Coates" pseudonym. SINBAD was shot in 1986 and, according to an interview with Cozzi, Castellari had six hours of raw footage that Cannon deemed unusable and the entire project was shelved. Three years later, in an attempt to salvage something of the wreckage, a struggling Cannon rehired Cozzi to take the Castellari footage and construct a 90-minute feature out of it, which obviously explains the disjointed nature of the resulting film, released straight-to-video in late 1990. An attempt was also made to haphazardly tie it into a brief and mostly botched Edgar Allan Poe revival that was taking place (over 1988-1991, there were two new versions of THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, plus THE HAUNTING OF MORELLA, THE HOUSE OF USHER, BURIED ALIVE, and Cozzi's own THE BLACK CAT, plus the George A. Romero/Dario Argento collaboration TWO EVIL EYES) by adding a pre-credits crawl claiming the film was based on Poe's short story "The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade." Cozzi shot new wraparound sequences with Daria Nicolodi as a mom reading a bedtime story to her daughter (Cozzi's daughter Giada), with extensive voiceover narration valiantly attempting to hold things together. As in THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, stock footage was utilized to tie up further loose ends (including snippets from two older Ray Harryhausen SINBAD films and even Argento's PHENOMENA), with one amazing shot of Ferrigno's clean-shaven Sinbad about to dive in the water followed by a cut to stock footage from HERCULES of a fully-bearded Ferrigno swimming. Sloppily assembled and with no oversight at all (at one point, courtesy of some careless or desperate editing, Romano Puppo's character is in two places at once), it's a miracle that Cozzi was even able to assemble anything, considering the apparent mess left by Castellari, who's got a number of beloved genre films to his name (including the original 1978 cult classic INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) but was having a really off-day with SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS.
real estate mogul.
|Is there any caption that will do this shot justice?|
The marriage between Cannon and Ferrigno didn't really work out for either party, though each of the four films have their charms, and THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS, despite a recipe for disaster with Mattei and Fragasso, is the unlikely best of the bunch. Ferrigno has said in interviews that he enjoyed working on all four of these films and has nothing but nice things to say about Cozzi and Castellari. After his ill-fated journey through the Italian B-movie industry, Ferrigno returned to the US and appeared in several INCREDIBLE HULK TV-movies until star Bill Bixby's death in 1993. He also teamed with YOR's Reb Brown in the 1989 cagefighting actioner CAGE and its 1994 sequel CAGE II. Now 61, he's a regular guest at fan conventions as well as a sought-after motivational speaker about overcoming disabilities, and he's also proven willing to poke fun at himself, even spending some time on the Kevin James sitcom THE KING OF QUEENS as next-door neighbor "Lou Ferrigno."