TCM Underground: Hercules (1983)

When you see that a movie is a Golan-Globus Production in its opening credits, you have no idea what you’re in for.  The people behind the Cannon Group were certainly… ambitious.  They had a few winners, they had a few losers, but they had a commitment to low-budget entertainment.  When the gamble paid off, you had a rare success like Runaway Train.  When the gamble didn’t pay off, well, you wound up something like tonight’s feature, Hercules, a 1980s update to the classic demigod hero, given a new backstory to be fresher to modern audiences.

The film begins at the beginning of the solar system.  In a lengthy, drawn-out sequence, we’re told that there was a pitcher–or something–and it shattered and its pieces went on to form all the planets.  The rings of Saturn.  The moons of Jupiter.  The blah, blah, blah of Mars.  None of this matters… at all.  We finally get to the creation of Earth, and the story can begin.  Sort of.  We have to hear all about the formation of the council of ancient gods first, who pretty much decide to make Hercules on day one.  Their reasoning is that the world will need a hero, so they decide to make one dude pretty much invincible.  With this council of people in white capes presiding over the creation of a powerful hero, it’s impossible not to think of Superman (maybe this was just the warmup to Cannon’s Superman IV), but this Hercules wears its inspirations on its sleeve.  Hell, there’s even a half-ass attempt to make the swordplay more Star Wars-like by having them flash red upon impact.  It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to.

After Hercules is born, a bad man planning a coup decides to have the baby Herc killed.  “One of the maids took him,” a henchman tells his king.  “She was running toward the secret passageway!”  Henchmen.  They see her running toward a secret passageway they know to exist and wait to tell anyone about it?  The maid is killed and baby Herc is set to drift aimlessly down the river on a boat, where the bad guys presume he’ll die of starvation or crushed by rocks over rapids.  Zeus intervenes and saves the baby just as he’s about to go over a waterfall, much to the chagrin of another god with a shitty attitude, who decides to send a monster after him.  The baby Herc squishes the monster and not but five minutes later a childless couple find the baby and decide, hey, maybe we can keep this kid!  And they do.

In a transition that shows a passage of time straight out of Conan the Barbarian (it’s the same fucking scene, he’s cranking a giant stone wheel as a kid and into adulthood), Hercules grows up to be a dubbed Lou Ferrigno.  The decision to dub Ferrigno was a dumb one.  Half of his charm is in his accent and speech.  Having some Anglo-sounding voice come out of him is jarring.  In a series of scenes that don’t appear to have any connective logic, Hercules’ parents are killed.  First, his dad is killed by a bear that Hercules promptly beats the shit out of.  I think his dad’s death was supposed to have some Pa Kent type of emotional impact, but at this point in the film, we’ve only gotten to know the guy for three or four minutes.  He’d only had like three lines of short dialogue.  Next, his mother is killed by a giant robot that was sent–I think–by the bad guy who overthrew the original king in the beginning of the movie.

And it’s right about here that I stopped being able to follow any kind of story.  Things just seemed to happen at random.  After the death of his mother, Hercules decides to… he says he has some trials to perform to some guy we never see again, and then we see him beating the hell out of people for some random-ass king and throwing a log into outer space to show how awesome he is.  The king agrees, man, you’re awesome, and gives him a job to escort a princess on a very dangerous journey.  The king’s right-hand man is like, hey, not so fast, he might be evil… and the way to prove he’s not evil will be to have him clean up this old horse stable.  Cassiopea, the princess, wears a veil to disguise her face, who she will only show to a man she loves.  The veil was a poorly designed piece of costuming, smooshing her nose and lips like someone wearing panty hose over their head.  Hercules makes a bet with her to have her take off her veil if he can clean this old horse stable, which is apparently an impossible task (it looks like it would be a terrible job, but not impossible).  She agrees and then they fall in love.  It’s right around here that Zeus cockblocks Herc by striking him and her unconscious with a goddamn bolt of lightning.  Zeus explains that, somehow, this saved Hercules’ life, but I’m not buying it.  Zeus was jealous.

One damn thing leads to another, like a bad video game where one task requires another nonsensical task, and we get to the finale, totally unrelated to the beginning, totally unrelated to the death of Hercules’ parents, where he is now on a mission to save Cassiopea for the evil King Minos, who sometimes gives evil orders from what appears to be another side of the moon from the one the gods live on, and reminds the audience about ten or twelve times that he believes in science!  Does this movie have an overt anti-science agenda?  I’m not sure it has an agenda or believes in any type of morality whatsoever, because in Hercules’ quest to get laid, a lot of innocent people get killed when the kingdom is destroyed.  King Minos tells Hercules not to remove a sword, that if he does, a phoenix will awaken and a volcano will blow.  Hercules does and a volcano blows and the movie shows innocent people screaming in the last moments of their lives.

The film’s climax takes place on an island where everything looks green and the only reason I can think of for the filmmakers to do this is to remind us that Lou Ferrigno once played the Incredible Hulk.  If there’s one clever bit in the film it’s that in the final showdown, the main woman villain has the top of her cleavage exposed while our heroine in distress only has her underboob exposed.  It’s kind of like a visual metaphor on duality.

This is one of the few movies where when the final credits rolled, I audibly said, “Thank god.”  It was painful for me.  I don’t think this movie was ever screened for MST3K (other Hercules films were, just not this particular one), but that would have made it semi-enjoyable.  As it is now… it’s just too damn boring and incoherent to be worth anything.  There are a few unintentional laughs, such as when Hercules is crossing a beautiful rainbow bridge… to hell.  But mostly, I was blinking at the TV wondering why and how we were onto the next set piece and how it even factored in to the overall plot in any way.

Next Week: Alone in the Dark and Killer Klowns From Outer Space.