This Saturday night at midnight Facets Night School features media scholar and film critic Jef Burnham as he presents “Puritanical Peplum Panic: Hercules, Samson & Ulysses as Religious Battle Crossover.” If shirtless muscled hunks are your thing, you’ll certainly get moist with this screening (that is, until you hear the dubbed voices).
Be that as it may, Legendary Lew, host of “Mediatrocities,” recently took a cold shower and interviewed Jef regarding this film and the action subgenre of “sword and sandal” movies, sometimes referred to as “peplum:”
LL: What about “Hercules, Samson and Ulysses” do you think will appeal to a midnight movie audience?
JB: I think it’s an ideal midnight movie because it’s fast-paced and action-packed– just the kind of picture to keep you awake in the waning hours. It’s got big, unlikely battles between even bigger men and that, in my book, makes for a helluva good time. Plus, it’s mercifully short and the importance of that when 1:30 rolls around cannot be underestimated! But most importantly, it’s a curiosity. It stands as perhaps the only film in cinematic history to rely on a bare-knuckle brawl between prominent figures from two, arguably opposing, religions for its primary draw. It’s the economically-driven, battle-centric crossover film at its most daring.
LL: What can you tell us about the genre of Sword and Sandal epics?
JB: We’ll be talking a lot more about that Saturday night, of course, but in short, “Sword and Sandals” pictures, otherwise known as Pepla (or peplum in the singular), are Italian productions typically set in ancient Greece, Rome, Judea, etc. featuring an endless onslaught of scantily-clad gentlemen fighting it out with, well, swords. They also often wear sandals as it happens. The genre really achieved international popularity in 1958 with the release of director Pietro Francisci’s “Hercules,” starring Steve Reeves. And the Hercules series remains easily the most recognized of pepla to this day. Francisci followed that up with another Steve Reeves/Herc film, “Hercules Unchained” (1959), which was notably featured on season four of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” And 1963’s “Hercules, Samson and Ulysses” is in fact the third film by Francisci to feature the character of Hercules, only this time around the roles were recast, as well as the locations when pals Herc and Ulysses find themselves stranded in Judea. So not only is the picture absolutely one-of-a-kind as a sort of religious-crossover-actioner, but it’s actually the product of the very man who popularized the genre!
LL: These films evolved at a time when homosexuality in film was definitely closeted. Given that you have 3 sweaty shirtless hunks bandying about, would you consider this a homoerotic movie?
JB: Oh lordy, yes. (Of course, applying the term hunk to Ulysses in this film may not be entirely appropriate. The term I’d personally choose for his character in this film would probably be “dweeb.”) Hercules and Samson come dangerously close to kissing on more than one occasion. They’re just all over each other! Truthfully though, were the film not homoerotic, I wouldn’t have even considered it for this Session. After all, it’ll be the third film in a row I’ve presented at Facets Night School about scantily-clad, muscular warriors, following “Yor, The Hunter from the Future” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.” And I couldn’t rightly stop at two, could I? Had to make it a trilogy! Yor, Thor, and Hercules.
LL: What do you hope viewers will take away from watching “Hercules, Samson and Ulysses?”
JB: For starters, of course, I want everyone to have a good time. It’s a wacky movie with greased-up musclemen pummeling the bejesus out of each other! How could they not? But in my lecture, I’m also looking to build a sort of brief history of the battle crossover picture that hasn’t ever really been discussed before, because I for one have never heard this film discussed among the likes of the more recognizable battle crossovers “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” and “Freddy vs. Jason.” And of course, it would be great if people walked away with a renewed interest in pepla… or at least the urge to buy a copy of “Hercules, Samson and Ulysses” of their very own.
My thanks to Jef Burnham for the interview!
Head out to Facets Multimedia for this wild presentation.
“Puritanical Peplum Panic: Hercules, Samson & Ulysses as Religious Battle Crossover”
Saturday night, April 6th at Midnight
Admission: $5. FREE for Facets Members! Become one here.
One FREE small popcorn for students with valid student ID.