Saturday, November 24, 2012


The land of Neffer has been conquered by Babylon and a puppet king has been installed by the wicked Morakeet. Every year, Neffer must gather 30 young virgins to be sent to Babylon, never to be seen again. This year, a group of men led by the hunky young Xandros and the hunky slightly older Alceas are supposedly in gladiator training but they're using that as a front to make plans to get their virgins back by force. Regia, daughter of the previous king, should be the ruler but cannot take her place until she marries, and because of some arcane rule, she can only marry the man who beats her in a chariot race—and no man has, yet. The hunky Goliath, strolling through town on a bright sunny day, helps one of the virgins escape and is recruited to help with the full-scale rescue. 

Peplum films are the sword-and-sandal movies cranked out in Italy in the 60s, usually featuring an American actor (or an Italian actor with an American-sounding name) as a musclebound hero such as Hercules or Samson, though often the characters and situations are far divorced from their historical or folkloric contexts. In most of them, including this one, the main hero was actually named Machiste, a popular character going all the way back to Italian silent movies, but they were renamed for the American market—as well as, of course, being awkwardly dubbed into English. These films were generally marketed here as the stuff of kiddie matinees, but there were generous amounts of skin shown by males in loincloths and females in sheer gowns for adults who wandered into the theaters. Most of these movies have only been available lately in faded, full-screen, pan-and-scan versions, but seeing this one as it should be seen, in colorful widescreen gives one a whole new appreciation for the genre.  Mark Forest, our main hero here, has muscles, good looks, and some intelligence glinting in his eyes. Giuliano Gemma looks like an underwear model but is effective as the romantic lead Xandros, who tries to win Regia's hand. Mimmo Palmara is more serious (and more rugged) as Alceas. There’s also a dwarf thrown in mostly for comic relief—I kept thinking of Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones and expected him to start cursing and sleeping around. The skimpily-dressed women are in short supply here, but there’s plenty of beefcake for enthusiasts of such. The action scenes, including a battle between two ships and a finale which involves a city being trashed and set on fire, are good, and even better is a torture scene in which Goliath is tied down and spread-eagled on a table as spears shoot down from the ceiling, one of which is supposed to kill him. If you’ve never appreciated this genre, find the widescreen DVD from Retromedia and give it a shot. [DVD]

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