Hercules, The Mighty
Voiced by Jimmy Tapp, Helene Nickerson & Gerry Bascombe. Written by George Kashdan and Jack E. Miller. Produced by Adventure Cartoon Productions in association with Trans-Lux.

Colorful and pithy to the point of absurdity, THE MIGHTY HERCULES is a real “find” if you’re a fan from childhood who’s searched the heights of Mount Olympus or the depths of Haydes looking for these rarities, or whether you’re merely curious to see what vintage ‘toons from an era many when t.v. was actually watched via airwaves instead of digital cable, satellite, the net, etc. I was first introduced to this series by my Auntie which at the time seemed perfectly normal, but as an adult I look back and really how cool my auntie really is. Most people who know her see an experienced Australian real estate investor. Or perhaps they know her as a brilliant gardener who has created a spectacular garden on her property. In fact the garden is part of an annual Garden tour which allows regular folks into private gardens. My Auntie Faye was recently on the popular Australian TV show Better Homes and Gardens discussing her garden and how it started.Anyway, when I was around eight Auntie saw that I was reading all sorts of books about Rome and Greek gods and goddesses. I was dressing up in togas and sandals that I “laced up” with long shoe laces. It was at this age I saw my first episode of Hercules, The Mighty while we were visiting my aunt who lives just outside of Sydney.

The absurdity of MIGHTY HERCULES is not merely the hyper-compressed pre-A.D.D.-inducing MTV pace — blistering even by today’s sugar-coated standards at a mere five minutes per show — but also the scarcity of innovation between shows in either character advancement, narrative complexity, or even simple animation daring.

Unlike the best sellers – The MIGHTY HERCULES narrative never deviates one iota from each show’s truncated formula: enter the bad guy, enter Hercules to kick his ass, and there goes Hercules, running away without explanation, at the end of each and every show, literally screaming vain odes to his own greatness!

I mean, given he’s a bastard son of Zeus, you can almost forgive his colossal ego. But his insipid narcissism — Hercules never doubts the rightness of his mission or vision like a lot of other smug, Dynastic NeoCons — makes it a tough act to forgive, indeed. His boot-licking little Pan wannabe sidekick who can’t help but repeat literally every sentence he utters twice without literal exception (“Without literal exception! Without literal exception!”) is equally clinical (probably latent schizophrenic).
That’s not even “going beneath the surface” to deconstruct MIGHTY HERCULES’s oppressed sexuality. Given Herc flirts with his steady Helena but constantly “runs away” at the moment he conquers the danger and leaves her forever unfulfilled, the diagnosis is obvious. Once he’s defeated the ‘danger’ in his manly way — i.e., defeated his repressed homosexuality in his own subconscious mind — he feels liberated to “gayly dash away” from his former, repressive hetero identity. And unlike that sap Kent who keeps protecting his cover, Mighty Herc is forever herein madly dashing back into the closet whenever the mood strikes him. Talk about your ‘girlie man’ complex!
This means that at the end of almost every single “episode” (and I mean that in the clinical sense of the word), poor Hunk-ules abandons Helena because there is no longer any excuse not to perform. But rather than admit that the time to prove his real manhood is at hand, Herc always ‘comes’ up with an excuse to forgo coitus and in fact any form of intimacy with her, dashing away whilst expecting his Greatness to forgo a good, heroic screwing.
Okay, you’re groaning (which is more than Helena can boast), but hopefully, not as you lustfully gaze at MIGHTY HERCULES’s well-defined thighs. After all, we’re not the first to note the essential fact Hercules is rendered as the animated version of Rock Hudson incarnate, right down to his “aw shucks, ma’am, I’m jest a country demi-God” drawl!
The show was available in either a thirty-minute version or in five-minute installments. The latter was the preferred format and how most saw THE MIGHTY HERCULES, which was wise: more than three episodes in a row and you’re likely to have a near-catatonic episode. No joke, the stupor induced leaves us to issue this stern warning: keep the electrical plug nearby, preferably in hand but insulated, so you can have an ‘escape switch’ to free yourself in case of emergency. The theme song alone is highly addictive. — Notes by Ben Tramer.
What Critics Say:

“I have to credit the 1963 MIGHTY HERCULES cartoon for sparking my lifelong interest in mythology.” — Ron Allen, COMIC BOOK RESOURCES

”Jimmy [Tapp, voice of Hercules] is now 86… He had a daily radio program into his early 80’s and is now retired.” — TOONTRACKER

”From the Johnny Mathis-style rendering of the very gay theme song (‘softness in his eyes/iron in his thighs’), to the musclebound but hairless Hercules — this had to be a huge inspiration to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s Ambiguously Gay Duo.” — TV PARTY

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Haxan
Benjamin Christens…
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Narrated by William S. Burroughs. Directed by Ben Christensen.

In terms of immortal cult flix, they just don’t get much stranger, weirder and wildly wonderful than HAXAN aka WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (1922). And whereas 1970’s drive-in terror movies were always willing to hype how their flick had already been “banned in over 37 countries!” HAXAN actually had the rare honor of being deemed so offensive that it was effectively suppressed by the outraged Catholic Church from broad European distribution for much of the director’s life.

Part of the power of HAXAN is allowing yourself to be amazed at the sheer visual audacity it displays. Because of its antiquity, you expect reverence and oblique criticism; instead, you get bawdy images of women literally kissing the Devil’s arse and William S. Burroughs delightedly sparing no grisly detail in recapitulating the Church’s recorded evil in dealing with suspected “witches and converts of Satan.”

Burroughs probably enjoyed HAXAN’s demented imagery as much as the risk of exposure of which that threat was actually worse in hindsight: an unseen devil in the dark or an Inquisitor setting about his grisly task in broad daylight. The eerie, flickering images of various grotesque hell beings and orgiastic covens of witches is still shocking and horrific today. From this, one can only speculate how much deeper the psychological “cratering” HAXAN caused back in 1922. Just imagine the Pope and pals first viewing of what amounted to the first cinematic “gotcha” movie. At least Christensen didn’t call Mary “Rosebud.” 😉 — Notes by R. U. Holden.

What Critics Say:

“Even today, HAXAN is highly entertaining. Full of innovative special effects, naked women and child
sacrifices, HAXAN would go well flashed on the wall of a rave party. That is quite an accomplishment considering this movie is 78 years old. ” — ENTERTAINMENT INSIDERS

“This stunning film has survived the years and this version carried the marvelous narration of William Burroughs, surely the original model for Stephen Hawkings’ voice box.” — FILM FOUR, UK

“Alternating between hallucinatory nightmare, black humor and straight-faced documentation, the film is never less than visually stunning and contains more imaginative visuals than any ten Hollywood blockbusters combined.” — MONDO DIGITAL

Horror Express

Horror Express
Christopher Lee, P…
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Aka Panic in the Trans-Siberian Train. With Chris Lee, Peter Cushing & Telly Savalas. Directed by Eugenio Martín.

Basically an example of the old international style film financed “spectacle” (in this case Spanish production companies with English monies), HORROR EXPRESS (1972) exceeds typical results from this crap shoot method of filmmaking by actually managing to hold its cast and crew together despite language barriers and nevertheless emerging as a modestly entertaining sf/horror genre blender of a movie.

The story kicks in gear when Christopher Lee’s archeologist character uncovers a frozen primate in the Siberian wastelands. Realizing the huge, Bigfoot-like creature is a zoological find, Lee arranges to have the specimen shipped aboard the famed Trans Siberian Express in order to secure it for himself and England all that much the faster. In fact, the disdain Lee expresses for every “non-Englishman” in his midst is outrageously racist, sexist and every other ‘-ist,’ which is why it is such fun to watch — it’s not the glorification but the embodiment of such sniveling chauvinistic chivalry that accurately exposes his pomposity for what it is — ego self-aggrandizement to a level which is life threatening to all aboard.

Not unlike THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD set on a train, the frozen Beastie soon thaws and is on the loose, unbeknownst to the cast of international passengers. Well, unknown ’til the Monster begins sucking the essences of their brains straight out of their eyeballs in an unforgettably cheesy and yet also eerily effective effect that is used throughout

the flick. This ‘burning eyeball’ motif literally keeps riffing on itself until finally it is used in the finale to show the activation of a whole horde of Russian zombies attacking the remaining, horrified humans aboard. HORROR EXPRESS has many unusually unexpected narrative twists, as well, not the least of which is holding the introduction of Telly Savalas until very late in the picture.

Stylistically, one of the nice touches used by the director is to shoot many of the terror and suspense sequences (and plenty abound) using silent film techniques. This makes the

otherwise obvious dubbing on non-English speaking actors insignificant in terms of reduction of believability, and renders the horror sequences suddenly much more potent than the ‘dramatic acting’ scenes have lead you to expect. No doubt, though it mostly relies on off-screen space and seeing only a hairy hand here and there at first, HORROR EXPRESS can also suddenly go for the jugular, making it a thrilling but lurid mixtures of horror and shocks in equal doses. The haunting, lyrical ‘beast ballad’ that accompanies the monster’s appearances ala John William’s score to equal effect in JAWS is truly successful, and is part of why the flick maintains an eerie mood despite lapses in logic, melodramatic interludes, etc.

The producers of HORROR EXPRESS were wise when it came to putting every dime of their modest budget onto the screen. They began by buying the extensive leftover miniature trains and interior train sets from the mammoth production NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA, which had just been made in Spain. Since in those days leftovers from a film almost always wound up in a trash bin, the NICHOLAS producers who sold the “toy trains” must have thought they were getting quite a bargain, too!

The excellent photography on display, however, is no accident and is decidedly not a leftover from the NICHOLAS crew. Director

Eugenio Martín marshals the good cast and clever script into a fun, suspenseful outing. In fact, there is a kind of loving, almost OLD DARK HOUSE’ish quality about HORROR EXPRESS that makes it alternately horrific and then campily comic in an overall highly successful blending. There are missteps, to be sure, but at least it rockets along, and it is clear everyone is having a good time.

One last poignant note to add, however, to an otherwise happy outing. Peter Cushing had just lost his lifelong wife to cancer shortly before production, and for once in his otherwise sterling career, he was at a loss to know whether or not to go on with HORROR EXPRESS, fearing he wouldn’t have the personal strength to summon a professional performance. In fact, Cushing arrived on the set before shooting began and confided to Christopher Lee he intended to walk before he risked the picture. To his everlasting credit and in a gentlemanly manner, Lee simply talked so enthusiastically about working with Cushing in front of the director when next all three were alone that Cushing agreed to appear mostly to avoid further embarrassment. One senses that Lee recognized his good friend’s best therapy would not to be home alone and grieving, but to carry on in the “stiff upper-lip” Brit tradition.

Judging by the results, Lee was right: Cushing and Lee spark together as they do in few other outings, mainly because in too many other outings they are adversaries instead of compatriots far from home, sharing equal screen time, as they do in the moody, atmospheric mini-classic HORROR EXPRESS. — Notes by R.U. Holden.

What Critics Say:

“Goofy as hell, and not always aware of that, HORROR EXPRESS nevertheless almost always entertains. Check it out.” — Brian Wright, CALVACADE OF SCHLOCK

“HORROR EXPRESS is one of those classic horror gems from the 1970s .” — HORROR DVD REVIEWS

“This film was a staple of my childhood. It’s one of those movies that I watched in the daytime, but which still terrified me. Sure the plot is convoluted as hell, but HORROR EXPRESS is a ride I never mind taking.” — THE TERROR TRAP

“HORROR EXPRESS manages to mix the bloodletting of a Spanish horror movie with the Gothic atmosphere of Hammer into a final fusion of science fiction and horror. ” — BRITMOVIE

Human Vapor
Directed by Ishiro Honda. Special Efx by Eiji Tsuburaya.

HUMAN VAPOR (1960) is an obscure work, probably so only because the creative team was also responsible for some of the greatest monster flicks ever (GODZILLA, MATANGO and RODAN, to name but a few) and so it therefore lives in those towering beasties’ shadows. Too, because it is more akin to THE FLY (a visual inspiration) in terms of intelligent science fiction versus ‘sci-fi’ destruction ala THE MYSTERIANS, audiences didn’t respond with the same enthusiasm upon initial release for this newer, more realistic attempt. As a result, it remained a distinct sub-genre apart. Nonetheless, VAPOR is a minor gem which might be regarded as a crowning achievement for lesser directors and remains undeservedly forgotten.

Although it’s central character is not a ‘monster’ in the conventional sense complete with oversized rubber suit, he is monstrous. He’s a man — but not. After agreeing to guinea pig for a research scientist, this “Astro Man” gains the ability to

transform into a gaseous state of being and still remain conscious. Result? Megalomania sets in and he soon believes his powers make him beyond the pale of mortal weaponry, above the laws of human nature, morality, and ethics. You know, sorta like Dick Cheney and your average CEO.

Yet, his primary and overwhelming motivation involves a deep love for a real and very beautiful woman who, quite importantly, is an artist for whom he secretly commits numerous evil acts. The humanizing contradiction of his plight not only reminds of the Claude Rains starrer THE INVISIBLE MAN, but also of the ‘dangers’ of stepping outside the rigid Japanese caste system (albeit disguised in filmic metaphor). For as soon as our ‘hero’ decides he is going to be an individual (i.e. Western) rather than Japanese, he is surely doomed. In this sense, VAPOR has a distinct noir sensibility.

HUMAN VAPOR is not your ordinary monster flick, nor is it ordinary Sci Fi. It not only relies upon prevailing Japanese horror themes, but also has touches of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in the love story and as previously mentioned THE INVISIBLE MAN. It’s an offbeat film, given it origin during a period wherein the same guys were making Godzilla-type stuff; in that sense alone, it must have been creatively refreshing for them.

Watching VAPOR, MATANGO and a small handful of other films from this team, one can almost sense that it is this more minor key material that truly inspired them as artists, even though they made more money, and certainly achieved greater notoriety, by working on the big-name monsters. If you liked eating the MUSHROOMS that ATTACKed, try inhaling deeply the VAPOR, dude. 😉 — Notes by H.R. Holden.

What Critics Say:

“3 1/2 stars out of 4… vapor man’s misty face is a cool effect.”– Paul Petroskey, TERRORGUM

“4 out of 5 stars.” — Visitors’ Voting ,FJMOVIE.com

Like this flick? See Also: GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL; X FROM OUTER SPACE

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