There are several genres dear to the hearts of bad movie fans everywhere because these particular genres have produced more than their fair share of cinematic turkeys. One of these is the "sword and sandal" flick, and another is the "Caveman" picture. Wouldn't it be great if someone combined both of these tried and true genres into one satisfying movie treat? Of course! And thus "Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules" was born.
First, a brief history lesson for any newcomers out there. The sword and sandal picture burst into preeminance with the 1958 release of "Hercules" with Steve Reeves. It proved an enormous success not only in Italy but also internationally. Italian filmmakers quickly jumped on the bandwagon to produce similar fare, resulting in literally hundreds of such movies being produced through the mid-sixties, when the genre was officially run into the dirt through over supply. The Italian film industry proceeded to crank out hundreds of Spagetti Westerns, beat that horse dead, then began churning out spin-offs/rip-offs of such popular pictures as "Dawn of the Dead," "The Road Warrior," and "Escape From New York." Notice a pattern?
The standard plot for most sword and sandal movies can be summarized as follows: a really strong hero (Hercules, Goliath, Samson, etc.) joins a band of rebels to overthrow a tyrant and replace the rightful ruler to the throne. As the market for such films became glutted, script writers had to come up with ever changing permutations on the formula (since coming up with a new plot was apparently out of the question) to keep the increasingly jaded audience coming back for more. The first films in the cycle were set in ancient Greece or during the early to mid Roman Empire. Later films threw any sense of "reality" to the four winds by shuffling the geography and chronology of the stories, placing Hercules and his kin in China, fighting Arabs during the Crusades and crossing swords with Zorro. The writers probably figured that since the films were fantasies anyway, who cares? "Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules" distinguishes itself by being (to my knowledge) the only such film to take place during the Ice Age. With so many sword and sandal films being produced, many of them failed to secure the much desired U. S. theatrical release (a huge market). Some never made it to the States at all, whilst others went directly to television. Embassy Pictures bought the distribution rights to a whole slew of unrelated sword and sandal pics and, with a little re-dubbing and re-titling, created the "Sons of Hercules" series, most, if not all of which, went straight to the tube.
With that out of the way (whew!) we can get on with the review. All the "Sons of Hercules" films begin with the same theme song, a catchy, surf-guitar-driven ditty sung by a male chorus extolling the virtues of the various Sons. It sounds more like a Spagetti Western theme than the typical horn-heavy bombast associated with sword and sandal flicks. Sample lyric: "The mighty sons of Hercules once thundered through the years. These men of steel could never feel the curse of a coward's fears." I swear, once you've heard this you'll be singing it in your head for the rest of your life.
Ok, the credits are followed by an opening prologue which was tacked on by the American distributor. This reiterates about the various Sons of Hercules and generally provides us with no new information beyond what the theme song already told us, except that this particular tale will contain the exploits of Maxxus.
Now I will digress yet again (sorry). An extremely popular Italian muscle man character is Machiste (Italian for "Rocky", as in, "rock-like"). Since this character was unknown to Americans, almost all of the many "Machiste" flicks were retitled (and sometimes re-dubbed, but not always) to make his name Colossus, Atlas, or whatever. This particular film is clearly a re-dubbed Machiste film, a minor point which we will return to later on.
Now the movie really begins (honest!) with another narrated prologue. We are told that plummeting temperatures have driven the tribe of Dorac southward. We see them trudging along through the snow, carrying their most prized possession -- fire -- on a pallet. We know that they are a good tribe because they all wear white furs and have light brown bad wigs and paste-on beards. And they worship the sun. They come to a non-snowy location and decide to build a new settlement there. We now meet our first pair of romantic protagonists. Idar is the strapping son of chief Dorac. He is portrayed by Luciano Marin, who incidentally played the real son of the real Hercules in "Hercules and the Captive Women." His girlfriend is Rya, a sexy cave babe with false eye lashes and a huge red wig that should make Peggy Bundy envious. She nags Idar to officially take her as his mate. "I'm eighteen, and I'll be old soon!" she scolds.
As they walk by a small lake, they are attacked by the first of several dinosaurs which appear in the movie. None of them are actually "fire monsters," but that's ok. Monster number one is a long-necked, dragon-headed serpent that rises out of the water. It is a full sized mechanical contraption that actually looks pretty good, with a mobile face, rolling eyes, and snapping jaws. It must have cost a heck of a lot of money to build and operate, even though it's only in the movie for about one minute. Director Guido Maletesta must have loved it, because instead of showing it in quick cuts he lets the camera linger on its every move, destroying the illusion of reality the prop might otherwise have fostered.
Over the top of a hill appears a burly stranger with beet-red hair. He launches his spear at the beast, and we see the weapon tumble off away from its intended trajectory as it leaves his hand. Fortunately the next shot reveals the spear flying straight into the creature's eye. With a mighty bellow the monster submerges while the special effects guy blows his cue by releasing bag of blood dye into the water before the head actually touches the surface. Idar thanks the stranger, Maxxus, who is played by Reg Lewis. Lewis has a truly phenomonal body. In fact, his upper torso is so huge you wonder how he can walk without toppling over. He isn't called upon to do much more than be strong and confident, but at least he manages that well, and his pumped-up physique make his feats of strength almost believable. Lewis speaks his lines in English, but someone overdubbed them all anyway. His voice is provided by an actor doing a "heroic," hearty baritone in an operatic, declamatory style which reminds one of Dudley Doright. It almost sounds as if he's singing some of his lines rather than speaking them. However, when Idar asks him his name, an entirely different voice (whimpy and nasal in a much higher register) intrudes on the soundtrack to answer "Maxxus -- son of Hercules!" (because his name was really Machiste, remember?). "What a strange man!" opines Rya, no doubt commenting on his changing voice and Johnny Lydon-like hair.
Now we segueway to the Idar-chooses-his-mate scene. This is prefaced with a pagan dance, another trope of the sword and sandal genre (I've never seen one that didn't have at least one "exotic dance" scene). Four young ladies with white wigs and white fur dresses perform their gyrations for the tribe's amusement, which I only mention because we'll be seeing them again later on. With the conclusion of the dancing, Rya's father gives her away to Idar. Gamel, the official Old Wise Man of the tribe seals the deal by announcing "Should she not obey you, you have the right to put her to death (!)." Man, the good old days!
This scene also introduces us to another young couple who go unnamed, so I'll just call them the Deadmeat Couple. These are two dreary looking characters who you just know aren't going to survive the movie. Deadmeat Girl turns to Deadmeat Boy and asks, "We'll be happy one day, won't we?" As if in ironic answer to her question, the group is suddenly attacked by another tribe. Enter the Droods, an evil tribe who wear black furs and have black bad wigs and paste-on beards. And they worship the moon. They are lead by Fuon, who, with his short black curls, full beard, constantly glaring eyes, and rotund figure, reminds one of Popeye's arch-nemesis Bluto. Oh yes, and he also usurped the Chieftainship from the rightful ruler. The violent Droods quickly route the peace-loving sun worshippers. In the ensuing battle Chief Dorac is wounded and all the women are rounded up and dragged off. Also, in a completely gratuitous display of bad sportsmanship, one the Droods maliciously puts out the fire!
They bring the women to a huge cave where they all live, the entrance of which is covered by a huge boulder (I wonder who could ever possibly move that! Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.) They are to be sacrified to the moon god. The Evil Wise Old Man of the Evil tribe says, "Prepare the block on which they are to be beheaded!" prompting one to wonder just how much preparation a chopping block requires. With his dying breath, Dorac passes on leadership of the tribe (what's left of it, anyway) to Idar. Old Wise Man Gamel announces, "Your father's dead!" even though he's standing quite some distance away and doesn't even bother to check the body. The remaining men are quite put off by this turn of events -- not only have all the women been captured, but now they have no fire and will soon freeze to death. One chunky cave lad, his priorities clearly in place, laments, "We won't even be able to cook our food anymore!"
Idar rallies the troops, sending men out to search for Maxxus and ask his assistance. Maxxus appears in short order, glad to help out. Noting that everyone is depressed about the loss of the fire, he asserts his superiority by saying, "Two stones solve the problem!" Sure enough, he grabs two rocks, whacks them together (once) by some straw, and instantly produces a blaze! The tribe is as amazed as the audience.
Maxxus and Idar lead the warriors after the Droods but can't get into the cave. Maxxus enters by swimming through an underground river, promising to open it up from the inside. On the way he fights a rubbery three-head water monster. Inside the cavern he meets Moa. She is another sexy, eye makeup-laden cave girl with an even bigger, redder wig than that of Rya. (I'm beginning to think that bright red is a favorite color motif of the director.) Moa is played by an actress who appears to have been someone's girlfriend whose previous acting experience was a high school play. She over-emphatically enunciates her lines in English, even though she's Italian (as does Idar). It looks fairly evident that she learned her lines phonetically in order to facilitate the English dubbing, but it's all to no avail as the soundtrack steadfastly refuses to sync with her lip movements, further emphasizing her hammy, over-wrought performance. (It also points out the producer's obvious desire to score points with their target American audicence.)
Because of their similar hair color, Maxxus and Moa immediately bond. She is the daughter of the rightful chief of the Droods, who was killed by Fuon. Now Fuon wants her as his mate in order to legitimize his claim. ("I'll tame you, of that you can be sure!" he snarls. "And sooner than you think!") He explains that he's the son of Hercules, and once again we are baffled as a completely different voice pipes in with this information. Moa asks, "Are you looking for something?" "Yes, I'm looking for trouble!" he replies, adding, "I'm here to teach Fuon a lesson!" When she explains that the captured women will soon be sacrified to the moon god he reassures, "Don't worry -- I think things will go differently." Prior to the sacrifice, however, we have to have another dance. We now see the exact same dancers that we saw earlier, only now they're wearing black wigs and black fur so we will recognize them as evil dancers. I'm assuming that they are supposed to be a different dance troop, anyway, rather than defectors from Idar's bunch.
With the dancing over, the Evil Wise Old Man of the tribe announces that the "virgins" will be sacrified. Unfortunately, they've got the entire female population of the tribe rounded up. Surely they can't all be virgins! However, the sacrifice is interrupted when the Droods look up through a matte painting of a hole in the roof of the cave to witness a matte painting of a convenient lunar eclipse. Now one might think that moon worshippers would have noticed this not-to-uncommon occurrence before, but in this case it freaks them out. Perhaps they are new converts to moon worship.
Anyway, Maxxus takes advantage of this to over power the guards and shove aside the boulder blocking the cave entrance. Idar and the warriors storm in. A fenzied battle ensues, with lots of extras pummeling each other with stone hammers and axes. Maxxus himself wields an oversized styrofoam clum that would look right at home in the hands of Barney Rubble. Fuon fights with Deadmeat Boy (remember him?), who is momentarily distracted when Deadmeat Girl stupidly calls out to him. He foolishly turns his head to say, "Wha...?" and is promptly bludgeoned to death by Fuon. Two seconds later Deadmeat Girl gets herself stabbed, and they die in each other's arms. There. The two characters were introduced solely so we could deduce that they were doomed, and the very next time we see them they die. Satisfied? I was. At least I appreciated the economy of it all.
Moving along, Maxxus and Idar lead the women to safety. They don't go out the main entrance, which would have made sense; instead they go through another passage where they will all have to cross a perilous log bridge across a gaping chasm. Everyone makes it, but Maxxus stays behind to dump the log into the chasm so the Doods can't follow. Foolishly, he does not cross over himself before doing this and thus cuts off his own escape! Maybe he's not so superior after all. He is captured and buried up to his neck in the dirt by the Droods, who proceed to yuck it up and have a big feast. It seems like they wouldn't have much to celebrate, seeing as they lost a lot of men in the attack and all the women escaped and all they have to show for it is capturing one guy. On the other hand, maybe it's just an example of Fuon's advanced leadership skills that he sagely deflects attention from his massive failures by distracting the populace with feasts and celebrations. Politicians take note.
Anyway, Moa tries to dig Maxxus free but is herself captured, with the next shot revealing both of them buried up to their necks in dirt! Hah! "I think the time has come for us to say goodbye," Maxxus calmly understates. But wait, this isn't just an sword and sandal flick, it's also a caveman flick, and you know what that means, right? Volcano eruption! Yes, right on cue a hitherto unseen volcano erupts. It looks like a small styrofoam boulder with a bit of flame shooting up behind it, but it does the trick, causing the earth to split open and free our heros while simultaneously swallowing up many of the remaining Droods. Maxxus and Moa try to return to Idar's village but get lost. They enter a convenient cave to rest when they are attacked by yet another giant lizard. Again, it's a full-sized mechanical dinosaur, which would have looked pretty cool if the director hadn't shown so much of it. But another question arises. Didn't they check out the back of the cave before making themelves comfortable? How could they possibly overlook a monster of this size? My admiration for Maxxus is diminishing by the minute. The logical thing, of course, would be to run out of the cave, but instead Maxxus asserts, "There's only one thing I can do!" This "one thing" turns out to be grabbing the beast by snout, pounding on it, sticking a spear into it, shoving a burning branch in its mouth, then running out of the cave. Crisis averted.
They make it back to Idar's settlement, but the movie isn't over yet. Fuon still thirsts for revenge, despite having most of his tribe decimated. He orders his lacky Eye-gor (yes, just like in "Young Frankenstein") to go forge an alliance with another tribe, the Ulma, so they can attack the sun worshippers. "The Ulma?" protests Eye-gor. "But they are primitive barbarians!" Now a little cultural jingoism is to be expected, but just what in heck do the Droods think they are? "And," he continues, "they don't even speak our language!" "But they do understand it!" replies Fuon. Hunh? "But they're a cruel tribe!" whines Eye-gor, conveniently forgetting everything done by the Droods up to this point. He then points out that the Ulma won't help unless offered something in return. "We'll teach them everything we know!" blusters Fuon, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Droods are the stupidiest tribe on the planet. "We'll teach them how we build our cabins!" Those of us watching are are now completely baffled, as through out the picture the Droods have been shown to be living in a cave. It's Idar's people who build their own shelters.
Anyway, let's get the third act rolling. Eye-gor indeed enlists the assistance of the Ulma (who wear furry headbands with horns, so they must be a super-evil tribe), although given the language barrier it's difficult to figure how this could have been accomplished. They attack Idar's village, leading to yet another frenzied battle of flailing extras. The evil alliance is driven off, however, with the mighty help of Maxxus, but not before one of the Droods falls over and reveals his bright red underpants beneath his loincloth. This confirms that bright red is indeed a full-fledged color motif in this film. Fuon is left to square off against Idar ("You murdered my father!") but accidentally hacks at a huge stone slab bearing the emblem of the sun god with his ax. The slab falls over and crushes him to death. Oh, the bitter irony.
The film ends with the traditional Hero-leaves-while-villagers-wave-and-cheer scene but not before one last speech. Maxxus tells Idar "You will be the leader of the first free people on earth." Hunh? He further advises him, "Don't forget to defend yourselves against wild animals, monsters, but most of all against men." Which is pretty good advice.