Peplum Populist: Colossus of the Stone Age (Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules)

Saturday, March 4th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

colossus-of-the-stone-age-maciste-contro-i-mostri-italian-posterHere’s a pleasing discovery: Amazon Video has a widescreen print of the 1962 sword-and-sandal (peplum) film Colossus of the Stone Age available under its U.S. television syndication title, Fire Monsters Against the Son of Hercules. And the print is a good one. It’s not the level of a professional 4K restoration like the Phantasm Blu-ray that came out in December, but considering sword-and-sandal movies often look like someone dragged the film along the sidewalk on the way to the telecine department, Colossus of the Stone Age is damned near pristine. It isn’t part of the Amazon Prime library, however, so subscribers have to shell out $1.99 to rent it, or an extra 51¢ to own it. There’s a version streaming on Amazon Prime under the same title, but it’s the standard cropped and dragged-across-the-pavement type.

So as far as pepla available in English, Colossus of the Stone Age looks fantastic. But is it any good?

Perhaps the better question is, “Is it worth watching?” For this type of low-budget fantasy production, the question of quality is often separate from the question of whether to spend time with it.

But my answer to both questions is “no.”

The appeal of a peplum movie set in the Stone Age and the promise that it will have fire monsters is tempting, and the quality widescreen presentation is a legitimate bonus, but Colossus of the Stone Age (the U.K. theatrical release title) is one of the more tatty and flavorless examples of this genre. Pepla at their best have bizarre imagination, creative production designs and visuals, and robust action scenes. At their most mediocre they have heroes who don’t do anything and long scenes of extras running around in fields or through cheap cavern sets while clumsily swinging sticks at each other. Which is a sentence that works as a summary of this movie.

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Peplum Populist: Perseus the Invincible (Perseus Against the Monsters)

Saturday, January 21st, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Perseus-the-Invincible-Poster-ItalianThe peplum film, a.k.a. the sword-and-sandal movie, was a dominant genre of Italian cinema from 1958 to 1965. Over a hundred pepla were produced, frequently in co-productions with other European countries, and often starring beefcake actors from the U.S. and U.K. like Steve Reeves, Reg Park, and Gordon Scott.

Buried in this heap of musclemen action pictures and low-budget ancient costume dramas are a few fantasy treasures. Locating these gems of the fantastic is an occasionally, uhm, Herculean task because peplum films are poorly represented on home viewing options in English-speaking countries. You can find hordes of them on streaming services — 75% of Amazon Prime’s library seems to consist of public domain sword-and-sandal movies — but most are horrendous and unwatchable pan-and-scan transfers from prints faded almost to gray smudges. The same is true of the numerous budget pack DVD collections. Even the occasional prestige disc releases are often inferior.

So in this first of an occasional column excavating for the sword-and-sandal films the Black Gate readership may wish to sample, I’m glad to report that one of the most fantasy-heavy pepla, Perseus the Invincible, is available in a decent version from (who else?) Amazon Prime under one of its alternate titles, Perseus against the Monsters. Pepla often skimped on outright fantasy beasts in their mythological stories, but Perseus the Invincible delivers creatures from legendary special-effects designer Carlo Rambaldi. That alone makes it worth a look.

An Italian-Spanish co-production, Perseo l’invincibile was released in Italy in February 1963, just as the sword-and-sandal craze was poised to wind down and the Western was waiting in the wings to take over. It reached the U.S. on television as part of the “Sons of Hercules” Embassy Pictures syndication package, where it was retitled Medusa against the Son of Hercules. It’s also gone by the names Medusa vs. the Son of Hercules and Valley of the Stone Men. There are at least three different cuts in circulation: the original Italian version, the U.S. syndication cut, and a Spanish cut with additional special effects like laser eye beams from Medusa.

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Peplum Populist: Hercules in the Haunted World

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

hercules-in-the-haunted-world-us-posterAmong the most popular articles I’ve written for Black Gate is a look at one the goofiest fantasy films of the ‘80s, the Lou Ferrigno Hercules. Two-and-a-half years later, I feel I should give the on-screen Hercules another shot with one of the better films to carry his name. Plus, I just pondered the news that a new Hercules film is on the way. Or maybe I’m just trying to repeat the search-engine magic of the name “Hercules.” So let’s leap back twenty-two years from the science-fiction cheesy glitz of Ferrigno’s film and take a kaleidoscopic trip to Hell on a shoestring budget with Mario Bava.

Among the many movies produced in the “sword-and-sandal” (peplum) deluge in Italy between 1958 and 1965, two stand out for movie fans: The Colossus of Rhodes (1960) and Hercules in the Haunted World (1961). Both were early efforts from directors who went on to re-shape other genres and subsequently turned into legends. Sergio Leone, director of The Colossus of Rhodes, created the style of the Italian Western with his three films with Clint Eastwood and the ultra classic Once Upon a Time in the West. Mario Bava, director of Hercules in the Haunted World, gave form to the Italian giallo film and Continental horror in general, starting with Black Sunday made the year before his one Hercules films.

The difference between The Colossus of Rhodes and Hercules in the Haunted World is that Bava was already in fine form and showing his signature style, while Leone displayed little of his famous “Leone-ness” in his first movie. The Colossus of Rhodes looks like something any competent director could have turned out. Nobody but Bava could have created the colorful fantasy eeriness of Hercules in the Haunted World.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in April

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hell Hounds Banner

Joe Bonadonna had the top post at Black Gate in April, with his review of Andrew P. Weston’s Hell Hounds, the follow-up to his 2015 novel Hell Bound, and the second novel featuring the Daemon Grimm and his adventures in the Heroes in Hell universe created by Janet Morris.

Not to be intimidated, both Bob Byrne and Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month. Bob’s feature on Arthurian Elements in the Conan Canon came in at #4, and his post on Tolkien’s Magic Sword Anglachel placed 9th. Fletcher claimed the sixth slot with his review of Andre Norton’s classic Witch World, and his look at Fred Saberhagen’s long-neglected novel The Broken Lands landed at #10.

There were a handful of folks in the Top Ten who weren’t named Joe, Bob, or Fletcher. Our feature on 40 Years of Gaming in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar grabbed the #2 slot, and Ryans Harvey’s celebration of My 300th Black Gate Post soared to #3. James Wallace Harris asked if we are Fans of a Dying Art Form in our #5 piece, and our Vintage Treasure article comparing The Best Science Fiction of 1974 anthologies from Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim was good for #7. Rounding out the list was our brief history of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.

The complete list of Top Articles for April follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder by the Pound at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

The most popular topic at Black Gate last month was the Gary Con gaming convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gary Gygax’s home town. Part 1 of my convention report, in which I detailed the angry fallout among Pathfinder licensees to Paizo’s announcement of an impending Second Edition — including the “Pathfinder by the POUND!!” liquidation at the Frog God booth — was our most popular post for the month, by a pretty wide margin. Part 2 of my report, a 17-photo pictorial walkaround of the gorgeously well-stocked Goodman Games/Black Blade booth, came in at #3.

Gary Con wasn’t the only topic of interest in March, however. The second most-trafficked article for the month was Rich Horton’s commentary on the Hugo nominations, and our look at Unbound Worlds’ suggestions on where to start with Gothic Space Opera came in at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was Bob Byrne’s recap of his epic adventures with Gabe Dybing, Martin Page and his son Xander, and the new Conan RPG from Modiphius Entertainment.

Thomas Parker got into the spirit of our recent Ace Double reviews with “Doubling Down, or Just How Bad Are Ace Doubles, Anyway?” and that was good enough to win him the #6 slot for March. Joe Bonadonna claimed #7 with his review of Tempus With His Right-Side Companion Niko, by Janet Morris. Sean McLachlan picked up on the vintage paperback theme nicely with “STRANGE! WEIRD! EERIE! The Odd, Unusual, and Uncanny Biography of Lionel Fanthorpe,” placing at #8.

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The Top Black Gate Posts in January

Sunday, February 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

godzilla-planet-of-monsters-radioactive-blast

Ryan Harvey was the man to beat at Black Gate in January. He claimed three of the Top Ten articles — including our overall most popular post last month, a review of the new animated film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Bob Byrne came in at #2 with his Conan pastiche review round-up, “By Crom: Some Conans are More Equal Than Others…” Fletcher Vredenburgh took third with a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin. Derek Kunsken’s review of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune was the fourth most popular post in January, and Fletcher rounded out the Top Five with “Why I’m Here – Part Two: Some Thoughts on Old Books and Appendix N.”

Our obituary for the great Ursula K. Le Guin was #6, followed by John DeNardo’s Definitive List of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of last year. Eighth was my article on vintage paperbacks, “Christmas for the Paperback Collector,” followed by Ryan’s review of Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ryan closed out the Top Ten with a piece on that Saturday morning classic, Warlords of Atlantis.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in September

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The God in the Bowl-small

The top articles at Black Gate in July and August were both features on Conan, and last month Bob Byrne managed to nab the top slot with his look at a strange mash-up of police procedural and sword & sorcery, the Conan tale “The God in the Bowl.” Conan was created by Robert E. Howard in the pages of Weird Tales in 1932; 85 years later, he’s still the most popular character among our readers. That’s durability.

The second most popular article at Back Gate in September wasn’t about Conan, but it did feature a sinister cosmic entity also created in Weird Tales, this time in H.P. Lovecraft 1928 story “The Call of Cthulhu” — our report on the latest Call of Cthulhu solo module, Alone Against the Flames. At #3 was Elizabeth Crowen’s interview with popular cosplay photographer Bruce Heinsius. Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month; the first was his review of Roger Zelazny’s 1983 novel Dilvish, the Damned, which placed at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was an article on famous book hoarders, “What do George Lucas, Michael Jackson, and Harry Houdini Have in Common?”

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in July

Sunday, August 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan-Rogues-in-the-House-miedium

Conan, and his creator Robert E. Howard, are perpetually popular topics at Black Gate. Our top blog post last month was M. Harold Page’s “Why isn’t Conan a Mary Sue?” followed by James McGlothlin’s review of two Howard biographies. Freelancers looking for topic suggestions: you can’t go wrong with Robert E. Howard!

The third most popular article last month was our report on the best readings at the Wiscon science fiction convention in May, followed by Ryan Harvey’s review of the 1985 film The Return of Godzilla. Rounding out the Top Five was an update on the second issue of the excellent new magazine Occult Detective Quarterly.

Sixth was our look at the Bantam Spectra Omnibus editions of Robert Silverberg, followed by Derek Kunsken’s list of the best hard science fiction he’s read in the past decade, “Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology…” Coming in at #7 was Matt Drought’s breakdown of the differences between Microsoft’s Xbox One and the PS4 Pro, followed by an examination of one of Gardner Dozois’s best anthologies, Modern Classics of Fantasy. Closing out the Top Ten for the month was our survey of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series.

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The Top Black Gate Posts in April

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Traveller Core Rulebook Mongoose-back-small Traveller Core Rulebook Mongoose-small

The most popular topic at Black Gate last month was the new edition of the classic SF role playing game Traveller from Mongoose Publishing. And the most popular blogger was our roving games reporter M Harold Page, who covered the new edition in two posts that both made the Top Ten. Well done, Mr. Page! (However, we need to talk about those expense reports from that Altairian space bar. What exactly is a “Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster?”)

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, Ryan Harvey had the overall most popular post in April, with exciting news on the upcoming Godzilla sequel. Hot on his heels was David B. Coe, with an article on setting and the craft of worldbuilding. Next up was Sean McLachlan, our man in Egypt, who donned a worn fedora and penetrated deep into the early tombs of ancient Egypt, sending back a trove of photographic evidence (and two mummified spiders, which thrilled Goth Chick to no end.) Rounding out the Top Five was Robert Zoltan’s far-ranging discussion with BG Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones, on the master of Sword & Sorcery himself, Robert E. Howard.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Blog Posts in March

Monday, April 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Collapsing Empire-smallerThere were lots of new faces in the Top Ten last month, including the #1 slot, which featured a cover comparison between John Scalzi’s new Tor bestseller The Collapsing Empire, and a hurriedly-packaged cover rip-off, The Corroding Empire, by “Johan Kalsi.”

Coming in at #2 was our coverage of the third Literary Wonder and Adventure Podcast, a conversation with Scott Oden, followed by Sean McLachlan’s fascinating photo-essay on the items you don’t usually see from King Tut’s legendary treasure trove.

Rounding out the Top Five were Thomas Parker’s gargantuan undertaking, the Master List of Fantastic Literature, compiled from recommended reading lists from several notable sources, and our look at the first Fifth Edition D&D dungeon anthology, Tales From the Yawning Portal.

Coming in sixth was Ryan Harvey’s review of the Sword & Sandal classic Colossus of the Stone Age, followed by our celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Black Gate‘s very first blog post (Howard Andrew Jones’ musings on Sword & Sorcery — go figure). At number 8 was our a look back at the fiction and covers featured in Asimov’s Science Fiction in the 90s.

Wrapping up the Top Ten were our review of the marvelous new periodical for vintage magazine fans, The Digest Enthusiast, and Bob Byrne’s look at Nero Wolfe.

The complete list of Top Articles for March follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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