As with most of the Peplum films that are out there, there appears to be many versions of this film, varying in running time from about 90 minutes to 120 minutes. As well as differing running times, the films hero seems to change from either Hercules or Masciste, the son of Hercules. But that shouldn’t matter too much. The version I am reviewing here is the shortened American version, Hercules Against The Barbarians, which features Mark Forest as the titular Hercules.
The movie starts off with Genghis Khan and his Mongol army invading Poland. Actually we don’t see the invasion, only lots of Mongols, waving spears of horseback. The narrator tells us the Mongols have suffered their first defeat. We are also told that Hercules has fought alongside the Polish, like a ‘tornado’. And when we finally clap eyes on Hercules, he is being thanked, slapped on the back and sent on his way. The opening seems like a bit of a ripoff to me. We hear of a great battle but don’t see it.
Hercules is heading back to Arminia (José Greci), his fiancé, but before he arrives, strange things are happening in her village. Firstly a woman, Arias (Gloria Milland) is being chased by an angry mob. They accuse her of being a witch and want to burn her at the stake. She finds refuge in Arminia and her father’s cottage. However, he protection doesn’t last too long, as a band of Mongols arrive and kidnap Arminia, and kill her father. Arias is left arrive, and blamed for the atrocity. The mob quickly pick up their flaming torches once more and tie Arias to a stake. But just before going up in flames, she is rescued once more, this time by Hercules.
It is determined that the Mongols have taken Arminia to the city of Tornapol, where she is being held captive by Genghis Khan (Roldano Lupi). Naturally enough, Hercules and his new lady friend, Arias, set off in a bid to rescue Arminia.
The real villain in this movie is Kubilai, played by an almost unrecognizable Ken Clark (weird hair, silly moustache). Kubilai is a vicious piece of work, prepared to kill anyone who hinders his ascension to power, including his father and his brother. His malevolence is shown when he stabs one of his lovers in the heart after she has learnt too much about Kubilai’s plans.
At this time, Hercules Against The Barbarians veers into Tarzan territory. Hercules battles various rubber creatures during his travels including a giant python, and a crocodile. Forest makes an admirable attempt at making the croc fight seem real, but cannot overcome the glaringly fake rubber reptile.
For me, Hercules Against The Barbarians is a weak entry in the Sword and Sandal series. Forest is not my favourite Hercules. He takes the role far too seriously and always looks to be in pain. On top of that this movie is fairly slowed paced and drags between action sequences. There is one sequence that is worth mentioning though. It is in the palace of Genghis Khan, and we are treated to an array of ‘regal’ entertainment, including oriental dancers spinning plates on sticks, and acrobats spinning and tumbling over giant flags as they are swirled around the room. The entertainment culminates with Hercules and one of Genghis Khan’s warriors fighting to the death in a gauntlet of (rubber tipped) spears.