Movie review ratings really aren’t meant for the likes of Hercules, which are patently awful but oh so much fun. If you derive entertainment value out of a ridiculously bad film, does that, in fact, negate its badness? We can’t give movies like Hercules an “A” because we really don’t want to put it in the same category as legitimately great movies. Yet giving it an “F” implies a panicky “stay away for the love of God” vibe, which isn’t quite fair either. No other grade can encapsulate the gloriously wonderful awfulness that this film encompasses, so what is one to do?
It’s probably safe to say that even the campy pleasure on display here are an acquired taste. It came from Cannon Pictures, a mid-80s operation run by a pair of batshit crazy Israelis who had great success in the fourth-tier action film market. In this case, they sought a revival of the old Steve Reeves movies, complete with an Italian crew and a gigantic slab o’ man in the lead. Lou Ferrigno, previously known for playing the Incredible Hulk, jumped at the chance to try on Reeves’ furry loincloth. His variation on the mythic hero battles the sinister King Minos (William Berger) whose bizarre adherence to “science” results in a lot of stop-motion robot monsters rampaging through the scenery. Throw in some cheap sets, a woefully anemic cast list, some heavy-handed lessons about the evils of technology, and legendary scream queen Sybil Danning wearing next to nothing, and you have a recipe for a midnight classic.
The essential harmlessness of the endeavor forms its greatest strength. Hercules was clearly intended for the undemanding kiddies, and its cheap larger-than-life heroics could only pass muster with the under-8 crowd. Poor Ferrigno never gets a chance to recite his lines, having been redubbed by another actor in postproduction. That only adds to the ridiculousness, of course, as do the sloppy fight scenes, cut-rate stop-motion beasts and profoundly bad acting on display from every level of the cast.
As I mentioned last week with Yor, it’s the painfully wrong-headed decisions that turn this into some kind of berserk masterpiece. They may be sending the locomotive straight over a cliff, but by God, they’re engaged in their task. The cast plays it straight, but also seems to understand that they’re selling the movie to kids, and uses over-the-top theatrics to make up for their lack of talent. The enthusiasm becomes infectious in a classic MST 3K way; we giggle and laugh with the same energy with which the filmmakers are trying to sell this giant ball of cheese, and in the process, a strange sort of affection develops. You can’t stay mad at these people. They’re not deliberately wasting our time and their efforts certainly produce some mutant form of entertainment for our enjoyment. You don’t finish Hercules flattened and depressed, with the feeling of time wasted and goodwill squandered. You finish it upbeat and peppy, still giggling under your breath and wondering idly if it would be just as much of a hoot the second time around.
Rest assured that this film is truly abysmal, assembled on the cheap by drive-in hucksters who – like every other filmmaker in August of ’83 – were trying to cash in on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newfound superstardom. But for the right sort, that’s a thing of wonder, delivering the kind of inspired awfulness that leads to bad movie immortality. The effort even produced a sequel, never released in the U.S. but which MGM thoughtfully put out on the quickie DVD release. As double-features go, you could do worse… by which I mean you couldn’t possibly do worse. Ponder the paradox as you enjoy this camp-tastic mess. It’s only one of the joys Hercules delivers with the guileless glee of a congenital idiot, one whose incompetence is matched only by an utter inability to hate it.