Monday, August 27, 2012

Sword and Sandal Theater: Maciste in Hell

Of all the heroes of Sword & Sandal films, the just plain weirdest has to be the man known as Maciste. Now theoretically Maciste is another name for Hercules, but the movie Maciste seems to be a separate character who shows up to fight evil anywhere and any time. Wikipedia tells me that Maciste originally appeared in over two dozen silent films and then made a comeback in the 1960s during the Steve Reeve's generated Sword & Sandal boom.
   What's so weird about Maciste? Well as I said, he shows up in any time period and without any explanation. So far I've seen Maciste in ancient Egypt, Babylon and Rome. But he also shows up to fight Genghis Khan and in 13th century Scotland, about which I'll have more to say in a minute. And according to the Wiki, in one of the silent films he even fights in World War One. Oh yeah, and he meets Zorro and some point. Yes. That Zorro.
    It took me a while to notice that all of these movies were supposed to be about the same guy because most American re-dubs of these Italian films renamed him Hercules or Samson, or Goliath, or Atlas, so I didn't realize that these movies had originally been about Maciste. Also, a lot of different actors played the character, with Mark Forest making the most appearances. But Kirk Morris, Reg Park, and former Tarzan, Gordon Scott also portrayed Maciste.
   Saturday I watched one of the strangest Maciste movies of all, Maciste in Hell, which had been retitled The Witch's Curse for American release. The US version also had about 15 minutes cut out of it. I picked up a restored version in widescreen from Video Trash and checked it out.
   It begins in Scotland in the 12th century where a woman named Martha Gunt is being burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. As the flames begin to rise she curses the villagers. Jump forward to 100 years later when a descendant of Martha's, also named Martha arrives at her ancestral home with her new husband. No sooner though, have the townsfolk learned that there's a new Martha Gunt in town then they set out to drag her from her home and put her to the fire as well. It seems that recently various young women in town have been going mad and trying to hang themselves on the limbs of a strange dead tree that breaks into flowers when one of the girls dies. The villagers figure the new Martha Gunt is responsible, so it's burn witch burn time again.
   But, and here's where things turn surreal, who should show up to rescue Martha, but Maciste! (Kirk Morris) Okay, let me paint this picture for you. It's 13th century Scotland. Everyone is dressed in trousers and tunics and cloaks and such. Maciste? You guessed it. A loin cloth and sandals. Now this wasn't overly noticeable when Maciste showed up in Babylon or Rome, but the nearly naked muscle man looks just a bit out of place here. And of course, no one notices. It's like "Hi Maciste. Thanks for saving us. Good to see you. Nice loin cloth."
   The villagers are still out for blood, so Maciste goes to the dead tree and uproots it, revealing a tunnel that leads to the underworld. Maciste descends and battles all manner of monsters and menaces as he tries to find the original Martha Gunt in the depths of Hell. Only she can end the curse.
   The inferno is a strange mix of the Biblical Hell and the classical Underworld. Maciste finds tortured souls writhing in agony and also runs into Prometheus of all people. He is seduced by hot Italian babe Helene Chanel and for a time forgets his mission, but eventually he manages to find the witch and get her to end the curse.
   On a technical note, the restored 15 minutes of footage hasn't been redubbed, so occasionally people break into Italian with subtitles. Just another bit of strangeness.
   Anyway, this is a weird weird movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Four out of five Sandals for Maciste in Hell.


RJR said...

Charles, I did the same research on Maciste. Some of the movies were apparently retitled as par tof the Sons of Hercules series I enjiyed when I was a boy. I recently bought a boxed set of about 50 S&S movies. I'll have to check and see if there are any Maciste films in there.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

If it's the same set I have, you should find a lot of the Maciste films, including most of Mark Forest's and a couple with Kirk Morris.

PEPLUM cinema said...

The US version of Maciste in Hell is cut...Maciste became some sort of hero that's not limited by time and space...