Saturday, April 3, 2010


Italian composer Angelo Francesco Lavagnino permeates "Hercules Against the Moon Men" director Giacomo Gentilomo with a flavorful, atmospheric score for his above-average, but predictable spear and sandal saga "Goliath and the Vampires" (*** OUT OF ****), starring muscle-bound Gordon Scott as the legendary champion. Like the Reg Park outing "Hercules in the Haunted World," Goliath confronts a supernatural adversary named Kobrak. Pirates from a distant kingdom attack a defenseless village without mercy. They raze the village, slaughter the men, abduct the nubile young women and transport them across the sea into slavery. These heartless sea raiders are so wicked that they feed the older women to the sharks. The eponymous strongman follows the pirates to their faraway island to rescue the women. Outnumbered as always, Goliath tangles with dozens of soldiers, but he exploits his strength to triumph over these greater numbers. No, Kobrak doesn't qualify as the standard vampire with fangs, a regal wardrobe, and beguiling eyes. Kobrak materializes like an apparition from nowhere, kills with ugly clawed fists, and reduces his victims to lifeless mummies. Moreover, the evil Kobrak shows no qualms about dispatching his own subordinates. Gentilomo and scenarists Sergio Corbucci of "The Mercenary" and Duccio Tessari of "Duck You Sucker" have contrived one of the better peplums, with several elaborately staged combat scenes. Indeed, a couple of counterfeit looking little monsters cheese up a scene or two, but they are quickly forgotten. Meantime, our brawny hero has his hands full most of his time struggling with his opponents. Bare-chested Gordon Scott is appropriately stalwart and purpose-driven as the male lead. The beautiful, hour-glass shaped women wear big hair. Gianna Maria Canale looks as gorgeous as she is treacherous, and producer Dino De Laurentiis seems to have spared no expense.

The opening scene solidly establishes the protagonist's character. Goliath (Gordon Scott of "Tarzan's Great Adventure") trudges behind two oxen and a plow, gouging grooves in an inhospitable field. Typically, the peplum hero is an outsider, sometimes a wandering adventurer, who enters a society and delivers it from tyranny, but Goliath is not an outsider here. Later, when he enters Salminak, he is an outsider. Gentilomo depicts Goliath as a peaceful farmer, using his incredible strength to uproot and remove a stump from the field. Clearly, though the most convincing but mundane scene, this modest display of brute force illustrates Goliath's determination to let nothing stand in his way. He uses his brawn to solve his problems. No sooner has Goliath gotten rid of stump than he hears cries of alarm. The young boy, Ciro (Rocco Vitolazzi), that Goliath brought with him, is drowning. Plunging from a high mountain cliff, Goliath saves the lad from a watery grave. Some kind of sea monster may have figured in Ciro's near drowning, but the fight has been mysteriously edited. As he takes Ciro back to their village on his white horse, Goliath reminds the youth that his sister would never have forgiven him if Goliath had let him die. Ciro chastises Goliath because he has kept putting his impending marriage to sister, Guja (Leonora Ruffo of ""Goliath and the Dragon") on hold. Gentilomo and his scenarists sketch more depth into Goliath's character than the typical peplum.

As they approach the village, they see clouds of dark smoke gathering. They arrive too late to thwart the pirates. Ciro's mother and father lay dead, while Goliath's mother (Emma Baron of "Aphrodite, Goddess of Love") dies in his brawny arms. "I shall avenge them," Goliath vows. "I shall free Guja and the others and those responsible will pay for their crimes." Moreover, Goliath is puzzled by the raiders. "Their ferocity and cruelty make no sense. Why do they murder like this without plundering. Why take nothing from the houses? Only the women are kidnapped and the men are thrown in the fire." An elderly man who survived the carnage informs Goliath that the raiders hail from the faraway island Salminak. Meanwhile, aboard their ship, the pirates slash the women, drawing plasma from all them but Guja, to fill a goblet for Kobrak to quench his thirst for blood. Kobrak's initial appearance aboard the ship is rather sinister. The leader of the raiders, Amahil (Van Aikens of “Revolt of the Slaves”) enters a chamber and a hideous hand wreathed in smoke emerges from behind a curtain and grasps the goblet. Gentilomo heightens the tension as the interior turns blood red and the curtain billow after Kobrak has drunk the blood. The captain scrambles out of the room, happy to be alive.

The setting shifts to the market place in Salminak as the soldiers force a man against his will to ascend a wooden pole about as high was a telephone pole. At the square-shaped base of the pole is an area laid out with spikes. The man reaches the top of the pole but loses his grip on the pole and plunges to his death. This is the same area where the women from Goliath’s village are about to be sold into slavery. An observant man named Kirtik (Jacques Sernas of “"Duel of the Titans"), who drapes himself from head to toe in apparel as if he were in an Arabian Knights adventure, stands in the crowd and takes an interest a new arrival. Goliath and Ciro ride into the market place and Ciro spots some of the village girls. Our hero goes into action, helps the girls escape. Magna (Annabella Incontrera of “"A Bullet for Sandoval"), slips away from the crowd with Kirtik. Later, they meet Goliath and Ciro in a hidden place while the army searches for the strongman. News of Goliath’s amazing exploits have swept through the city and alarmed not only Sultan Abdul (Mario Feliciani of "Devil of the Desert against the Son of Hercules") but also Astra (Gianna Maria Canale of “"The Lion of St. Mark"). We learn that he wants to destroy Kobrak: “There exists here a beast who is more evil than a fiend. You can repay me by helping me defeat him.” In the palace, the Sultan worries about both Goliath and Kobrak. One of his older advisors confides in the Sultan: “A monster dominates the country with his hooded murderers and diabolical forces. The time has come to act. The last hope of the people is you.” The advisor urges the Sultan to lead a rebellion against Kobrak, but he gets nowhere. “Impossible,” the Sultan snaps. “Remember we are slaves ourselves.” The advisor suggests Goliath might be convinced to work with them against Kobrak. Meanwhile, Astra eavesdrops on the Sultan and the advisor and kills the advisor after he is leaving by the hallway. She hastens to her altar and summons Kobrak. The huge entity in a hood with horns on its head emerges amid red smoke. Astra urges Kobrak to kill Goliath. But the vampire has no such plans for the strongman. “I want him alive. His magnificent body can serve as a model for the army of slaves with which I shall conquer the earth. An army of indomitable giants subservient to my will.”

Goliath and Kirtik venture out into the city under the protection of darkness and avoid the Sultan’s army. Initially, Goliath regards Kirtik with suspicion. “I only trust my shadow,” Goliath states. Kirtik tries to convince Goliath that they share the same enemy. “I do know that mine is a murderer who lurks and hides in the dark.” Kirtik relishes the challenge, “We’ll see if I can’t make him come out.” While our heroes skulk through the darkened streets, Magna rummages through Kurtik’s documents. She stumbles onto one with a serpent drawn on it. She reads it: “And from the serpent born in the depths of the kingdom of evil sprang the monster that nourishes itself on human blood to generate an army of automatons. Only the proud and noble people—the race of the blue men—will have the courage to combat the monster and restore face to each of those he has deprived.” Magna latches onto the name of the monster. “Kobrak is the name of the monster.” Predictably, the evil Kobrak materializes in a cloud of red smoke before Magna. He wastes no time and rakes his powerful claw across Magna’s screaming throat and kills her. At this point, “Goliath and the Vampire” has gotten just over a half-hour into its sprawling plot.

Peplum lenser Alvaro Mancori of "Ulysses against the Son of Hercules" captures the larger-than-life splendor and savagery of "Goliath and the Vampires" with his widescreen cinematography. The violence is somewhat abrasive, but it remains primarily bloodless during the commission of the act with blood visible afterward. One scene shows a marauder firing an arrow into a man's face, while other shows a spear hurled into the villainess' stomach. The Corbucci & Tessari screenplay boasts a surprise or two, especially during the finale when Goliath confronts a foe that matches his strength. The filmmakers put our hero in several tight spots. One fantastic scene has Goliath with his wrists shackled to a huge wooden yoke behind his neck and across his shoulders. Goliath's captor challenges him to escape. Exerting his superhuman strength, Goliath snaps the yoke in half, removes the shackles, and then dislodges a pillar that brings part of the dungeon crashing down on his captors. An earlier scene in the town square has our hero dismantles a torture device with giant spikes in it and wields it as a weapon against armed horsemen. According to the Wild East blurbs, Corbucci helped out Gentilomo helming a scene or two, but Gentilomo directed the lion's share of the action. He keeps the action moving briskly along in this trim 91-minute opus.

"Goliath and the Vampires" ranks as a better-than-average peplum.