The ancient world was one where Gods walked among mere mortals. Gods who were endowed with powers such as immortality, superior fighting skills, magic swords, and leather outfits any of you kinky bastards would be proud to prance around in. And we’re talking both the girls and guys – the ancient world was not as repressed as us modern types. And these Gods had names that we recognize even today! Names such as Brad Harris! Sybil Danning! And the most incredible of them all, Lou Ferrigno!
Some of you may be nodding your head in recognition as you surely recall Brad, Sybil, and Lou in the Italian sword and sandal classic of 1983, Hercules. Yes, it was a thrilling tale of bad special effects and bears being hurled into outer space, but why rehash that spectacularly sweaty piece of trash again?
I beseech thee to still thy fetid tongue! For as the Gods may have one adventure in 1983, if it be their will, they shall have another! Fetch me my leather gauntlets, dog! We are to ride once more into the mouth of he-man adventure, into the teeth of an evil characterized by maniacal laughter, bad haircuts, and abominable wigs, into bad Italian movie legend itself!
When Brad, Sybil, and Lou last strapped on the togas, it was Luigi Cozzi who put them through their paces. Luigi was so successful in this task, that the Gods tapped him again to make another movie with Lou called The Adventures Of Hercules II!
But The Seven Magnificent Gladiators was a different beast than those films. There would be no cheesy special effects and monsters to distract the viewer from the movie’s shortcomings (story, acting, production values, direction, etc.). These seven warriors would be up against a script that harkened back to the very Golden Age of the Ancients! I’m of course referring to the early 1960s when a couple of Hercules, Maciste, Samson, and Goliath movies were released every week.
What we’ve got here is a version of the The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, but better because the Italians are involved. This is about their ancestors, after all. Better because a guy listed in the credits as Claude Fragass wrote it. And no, that’s not some French guy with the best last name ever. That’s Claudio Fragasso, an Italian guy with some of the best writing credits ever! Hell Of The Living Dead, Strike Commando, Troll II, and Interzone just to name a few of the many gems he was no doubt divinely inspired to write.
Funny thing though about Claudio Fragasso. He’s pretty much Italian cinema’s Robin to its Batman! When you’re staring at a Fragasso-scripted flick, you can be 95% certain that there’s only one guy who has the tools to put all of Claudio’s budget-conscious ideas onto the big screen! A guy named Mattei. Bruno Mattei.
Mattei, jack of all genres and master of none, gets his chance at the sword and sandal genre and has no problem emulating the best of the monster-less entries in the field. He’s helped of course by having a supremely jacked up Ferrigno, but even more than that is the presence of Harris and Don Vadis as the evil Nicerote.
Harris and Vadis are legitimate peplum legends from the 1960s with Harris starring in films like Samson, Goliath Against The Giants, and The Fury Of Hercules while Vadis brawled his way through The Ten Gladiators, Ursus, the Rebel Gladiator, and The Triumph Of Hercules among others. It’s a nice torch passing that goes on in this movie with these two guys symbolically handing over the sweaty jockstrap to Ferrigno. That nothing other than those two Luigi Cozzi Hercules movies ever followed is immaterial. The whims of the film Gods are not for us to question.
The movie itself gives off the expected whiff of Lou’s armpits after a particularly strenuous battle in the midday Italian sun. A village is being harassed by Nicerote who is invulnerable thanks to some kind of voodoo laid on him by his witch mother. The men have been killed and things are only going to go further downhill now that a couple of punks try to assassinate Nicerote when he’s trying to demand tribute from this village. Even worse is that the village only offered Nicerote four chickens and a piece of cheese in tribute! Hell, I’ve got more than that in my refrigerator!
Some of the village broads take the magic sword hidden in the witch’s temple to Rome to find the guy who can wield it and defeat Nicerote. He turns out to be a barbarian named Han (Ferrigno) who is fresh off a big chariot race with another gladiator named Scipio (Harris). Han refused to kill Scipio following his victory and now both are on the run from the emperor. They run into the women being attacked by a variety of Rome’s finer citizens – hunchbacks, lepers, retards, and amputees and waste little time wading into them to clean house. You’ve haven’t lived until you’ve seen Lou punch out a hunchback!
The magic sword works for Han, so he, Scipio, and a bunch of other gladiators including Danning ride off to rid the village of Nicerote. There’s a battle and Nicerote’s forces are run off. A celebration at the temple turns sour when the gladiators are attacked again and informed that Nicerote is back at the village. The villagers tell the gladiators to get lost and Nicerote orders the gladiators to leave in shame!
Outnumbered, they have no choice and do so. But then they come back and kick ass! Sure, it doesn’t make any sense, but these are gladiators and they don’t know from sense, but they know about kick ass!
That’s all there is to the movie. What more do you need, want, or expect? Vadis is great as Nicerote, decked out in his leather daddy outfit, throwing guys off walls, killing his blind mother, and being burned alive by Han’s sword. And yes, I am trying very hard not to read too much into that, but it is difficult, especially when you see how Lou holds his sword out in front of him when he first gets it!
For his part, Lou acquits himself in the manner expected of a living muscle god! Lou heaves people and rocks! He swings swords and sticks with ripped authority! Most importantly of all, he has the beard and bod to easily dominate all the past cinema strongmen!
While not as flashily terrible as some of his more famous efforts, Bruno finds success in the small touches such as the poorly shot chariot race scene that seemed to have an audience of about five spectators, the fruity emperor, the casting of a fat guy as Goliath, and outfitting Lou’s character with a belt that has the letter “H” on it, presumably standing for his first name, Han. And just to make sure that even as he pays homage to the great musclehead movies of the past, Bruno still puts his stamp on things by featuring an overlong, pointless scene of two greased up girls wrestling one another! A very sturdy and studly, if second-tier Bruno/Claudio collaboration, but only because they set the standard so freaking high!
© 2013 MonsterHunter