Thursday, July 5, 2012


In a New York Times interview, “Blade Runner” director Ridley Scott described his third science fiction film “Prometheus” as “‘2001’ on steroids.”  This comparison is entirely appropriate, particularly if you’ve seen the enigmatic but thought-provoking Stanley Kubrick epic about the evolution of mankind since the dawn of time.  Scott’s first 3-D spectacle (“Prometheus” is fun to watch once in 3-D) has elicited a wide variety of commentary since it arrived in theaters.  Essentially, “Prometheus” (**1/2 out of ****) chronicles mankind’s search for its origins.  Two archeologists convince a wealthy corporate sponsor to create a spaceship that will transport them to the far reaches of the galaxy where they believe that they will find the answers to questions that the ancient etched in caves long ago.  Of course, what they find is not what they wanted.  Nevertheless, they do learn something not only about themselves but also their creators that will keep audiences arguing about the meaning of “Prometheus” until the producers shed more celluloid on the situation.  Ostensibly, “Prometheus” qualifies as a quasi-prequel to Scott’s own scary sci-fi saga “Alien.”  The chief difference is that “Prometheus” isn’t a tenth as horrifying.  Nothing like the pugnacious pickle-shaped predator bursting from the chest of a human appears in this tame sci-fi opus.  Meantime, Scott has stated that “Prometheus” isn’t a prequel. He concedes, however, that the seeds of “Alien” have been sown into it.  You cannot watch “Prometheus” without thinking about “Alien.”  The “Alien” space jockey—as it is referred to--appears in “Prometheus” and so does an “Alien” prototype.  Furthermore, the story unfolds like “Alien,” boasts a contemplative android, a tenacious female protagonist, and a couple of tentacled reptilian creatures icky enough to make you shrink in revulsion.  The problem with “Prometheus” is that it is more speculative than dramatic.  Everybody about the physical appearance of “Prometheus” looks dazzling.  The technology and the equipment look like each belongs in the future.  Some of the performances are extraordinary, too, especially Michael Fassbinder as a sophisticated android with a lethal sense of humor.   Like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Prometheus” spends more time contemplating our predicament rather than frightening the living daylights out of us above it. 

“Prometheus” opens on what appears to be planet Earth.  We are treated to some awesome vistas as we fly above the sprawling terrain.  A man in a cloak with alabaster-white skin and a muscularly sculpted physique walks up to a waterfall while a gigantic, saucer-shaped UFO hovers not far away.  He takes the lid off a container and consumes some blackish goop.  No sooner has he swallowed this nasty stuff than he suffers crippling spasms and plunges into the waterfall.  The man’s powerful body integrates and we see his DNA appear.  As incredibly visual and mysterious as this scene is, you find yourself wondering exactly who this dude is and from whence he came.  The next sequence finds a team of archeologists excavating a site in the year 2089 when Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Naomi Rapace of “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows”) finds a star map on the wall of a cave.  She summons her colleague, Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green of “Brooklyn’s Finest”), who also happens to be her boyfriend, and shows him a cave painting with a tall, thin, man pointing to an array a stars.  The importance of this primitive drawing is that Shaw and Holloway have found similar examples of it around the world.  They believe that they have discovered a star map that will take them to meet their creators.  The next scene finds everybody aboard the Exploratory Vessel Prometheus in the year 2093 as an android, David (Michael Fassbinder of “Centurion”), keeps track of them before they awaken from stasis.  Once Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway along with their colleagues have gotten up and eaten, they meet the CEO of the Weyland Corporation, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce of “Lockout”), whose billions have brought them into orbit around a faraway moon designated LV 223.  He makes comments about the mission in a holographic presentation to them and then hands the briefing over to our heroes.  Not long afterward, Weyland’s dictatorial daughter, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron of “Snow White and the Huntsman”) informs them that they answer to her and she controls the mission.  Basically, Vickers is the equivalent of Ellen Ripley from “Alien.”  She warns them not to contact any aliens until they have notified her about it.

Our heroes, David, and their colleagues land on the surface of the moon near a gigantic structure and enter it wearing space suits.  No sooner have they walked in than they discover that they can take off their helmets because they can breathe the air.  They find a Mount Rushmore sized alien head in one of the rooms as well as mysterious vases that contain the black goop that the exterrestial sampled in the prologue.  They also find tall, imposing aliens like the “Alien” space jockey.  Most of these fellows are dead and laying about in piles in what appears to be bunkers.  David checks out a room teeming with vases.  Their exploration is cut short because a storm is moving in and they are order to evacuate and return to the ship.  Two of Shaw’s colleagues are accidentally left behind.  The captain of the spacecraft, Janek (Idris Elba of “Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance”), advises them to sit out the storm and await their arrival in the morning.  Creepy things begin to happen and the two men encounter a snake-like creature that latches on to them.  They are not prepared for what happens to them.  Later, it turns out that Dr. Shaw has been contaminated with an organism in her body that resembles an embryro.  She explains that she is not fertile and begins a mad dash to remove this organism from her body.

The monsters in “Prometheus” aren’t as scary as the “Alien” beasties.  Meantime, this two hour-plus, R-rated potboiler will make you think about what didn’t happen on screen more than what did.


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.