Thursday, July 5, 2012


Italian composer Angelo Francesco Lavagnino furnished "Hercules Against the Moon Men" director Giacomo Gentilomo with a flavorful, atmospheric score for his above-average but formulaic spear and sandal saga "Goliath and the Vampires," starring muscle-bound Gordon Scott as the legendary champion. Like the Reg Park outing "Hercules in the Haunted World," Goliath clashes with a supernatural adversary named Kobrak. “Goliath and the Vampires" doesn't take itself seriously so it is a lot of fun with the usual damsels-in-distress, palace intrigue, and a heroic protagonist whose triumph occurs only in a matter of time. Gentilomo and scenarists Sergio Corbucci of "The Mercenary" and Duccio Tessari of "Duck You Sucker" have contrived one of the more imaginative peplums, with several elaborately staged combat scenes. Indeed, a couple of counterfeit looking little monsters cheese up a scene or two, but the filmmakers dispense with these goofy bugs quickly enough after exploiting their shock value. Meantime, our brawny hero has his hands full most of his time struggling with overwhelming numbers of opponents. Bare-chested Gordon Scott is appropriately stalwart and purpose-driven as the male lead. Goliath’s first fight in the market place is a spectacle itself with him wielding whatever is at hand to subjugate the soldiers. When he isn’t pummeling his opponents with his fists, Goliath swings huge beams, hurls carts, and tears up a torture device. Later, he is subjected to the torture himself of being imprisoned within a giant bell while slaves hit the bell with rods.  The ultimate shown occurs when Goliath has to fight himself. Kobrak has taken on his appearance. Violence proliferates in this fantasy peplum entry. The villain tears out a defenseless woman’s throat, even a child dies!   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 with some spacious sets.  

Pirates from another 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. So wicked are these heartless sea raiders that they feed the older women to the sharks. The eponymous strongman travels to the faraway island to rescue the women. Outnumbered as always, Goliath tangles with scores of soldiers, but he exploits his spectacular strength to compensate for their greater numbers. No, Kobrak doesn't qualify as the standard vampire with fangs, a regal wardrobe, and beguiling eyes. He materializes like an apparition from nowhere, kills with his clawed fists, and reduces his victims to lifeless mummies. Moreover, the treacherous Kobrak shows no qualms about dispatching his own subordinates. 

The opening scene solidly establishes the protagonist's character. Goliath (Gordon Scott of "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure") trudges behind two oxen and plows an inhospitable field. Typically, the peplum hero is an outsider. Sometimes, he is an iterant adventurer. He 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 so we cannot see what is happening. 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 Ciro die. Ciro chastises Goliath because the strongman 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 African-American leader of the raiders, Amahil (Van Aikens of “Rage of the Buccaneers”), enters a chamber with a goblet and a hideous hand wreathed in smoke emerges from behind a curtain to grasp it. Gentilomo heightens the tension as the interior turns blood red and the curtain billow after Kobrak has drunk the blood. Amahil scrambles out of the room, happy to be alive. Later, we learn Kobrak is assembling an army of faceless zombies to conquer the world. By this time, Goliath has come to the attention of Kobrak. Against the advice of Astra, Kobrak wants Goliath alive. During Astra’s first conversation with Kobrak, the villain declares: “I want him alive. His magnificent body can serve as a model for the army of slaves with which I shall conqueror the Earth, the army of indomitable giants subservient to my will.”

After creating a huge disturbance in the market place, Goliath and Ciro flee and take refuge with the mysterious Kurtik (Jacques Sernas of “For a Few Extra Dollars”) and his friends. Kurtik rescued Magda (Annabella Incontrera of “1969 The Assassination Bureau”) from the market place and saw Goliath repulse the soldiers.  He wants Goliath to join forces with him. “I only trust my shadow,” he tells Kurtik. Kurtik assures Goliath they share the same enemy. Goliath is so sure, “I don’t know your enemy. I do know that mine is a murderer who lurks and hides in the darkness.” Kurtik vows to flush their mutual adversary out of hiding. Back at Kurtik’s refuge, Magda roams around a laboratory. She reads an ancient scroll. “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 one 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.” No sooner does she learn about this than Kobrak materializes and rips her throat open. 

Meantime, unrest smolders in the palace. The Sultan Abdul (Mario Feliciani of “Last of the Vikings”) who rules Salminak fears Kobrak. When a minister urges Abdul to take advantage of Goliath’s presence to stage a rebellion against Kobrak, Astra disposes of the minister. As the minister leaves the Sultan from another door, Astra trips a switch that triggers a trap door to the dungeon below and certain death. Ironically, Astra serves as Kobrak’s chief enforcer. This is a bit unusual for something like this in a peplum. Usually, the chief villain is another man, not a woman. Mind you, Astra gets what she wants until she tangles directly with Goliath. Astra carries out Kobrak’s orders. She finds Amahil with Goliath’s wife and kills the naval chieftain with a knife in the chest. Kurtik had scheduled a rendezvous with Amahil, but Astra kills him and he staggers from his room to topple from the balcony. Our heroes knelt at his body, and a soldier of the Sultan Abdul arrives and arrests Goliath. A brief fight ensues, but the soldiers subdue Goliath with a net. In prison, the jailor challenges Goliath to provide him with a display of his strength. "I hear you're the man who created more damage in a single day than a battalion." Goliath tears off his chains, strides to the center of the room, seizes a pillar, and brings the roof down. He escapes and finds Guja in the Sultan’s palace where Astra has delivered her. Goliath overpowers the guards, but Abdul orders them out. As a consequence of talking with Goliath, the Sultan suffers the wrath of Kobrak. Goliath and Guja flee from the city, get waylaid in a sand storm, and wind up in a cave with an army of blue men with spears. Goliath learns that Kurtik is the leader of the Blue Men.

 "Ulysses against the Son of Hercules" lenser Alvaro Mancori captures the larger-than-life splendor and savagery of "Goliath and the Vampires" (*** out of ****) 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 and 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.

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