Muscle Madness


One has to laugh at the packaging for "Muscle Madness," a box set of five Italian sword-and-sandal flicks. It reads, "Not Rated / Contains Men Straining Mightily."

Really, there's no better description than the appeal of such cheeseball drive-in fare. Following the surprise success of Steve Reeves' "Hercules," the man-of-might genre was a prolific one in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with American distributors buying up anything overseas featuring a hulking hero. Dubbing was so atrocious, it seemed like an afterthought, yet ironically, it often makes these pictures better.

After all, this is not serious stuff. It's more fun to laugh at them than approach them as straight adventures, whatever their intentions. They're low-budget affairs, and in the right frame of mind "? that means cheap pizza and even cheaper beer "? they can be a hoot.

Included here are "Goliath and the Sins of Babylon," "Giant of Marathon," "War of the Trojans," "Hercules Against the Moon Men" and "Colossus and the Amazon Queen." Most are interchangeable, but the sci-fi-tinged "Moon Men" is a standout, and only partially because I have fond memories of seeing it sent up on "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

The Reeves-starring "Trojans" covers roughly the same territory as "Troy," minus the enormous production budget. (Reeves also fronts "Giant," making him a proto-Schwarzenegger.) And "Colossus," starring Rod Taylor, is a bizarro fever dream of a flick that manages to spoof itself.

All this stuff of myth is the stuff of mirth.

"?Rod Lott