Thursday, February 24, 2011

In short: Colossus And The Headhunters (1963)

Original title: Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste

An island tribe of people who seem to stand culturally and technologically somewhere between ancient Greece and the stone age is nearly eradicated when the local volcano erupts. Fortunately for them, Maciste (Kirk Morris) has just arrived on a raft that's improbably large for one person to travel on and evacuates a raft-full of survivors, among them the new king Ariel (Demeter Bitenc). Because there's neither food nor water on board, our heroes naturally decide to follow an old myth and travel to a country a long journey away.

Somehow, the raft and its passengers arrive at their goal without having become cannibals. And they just might have discovered America. Or not.

Once arrived in Peplomerica, our heroes (or whatever they are) soon meet the rather rude people of Queen Amoa (Laura Brown), who have fled from the machinations of a cruel tribe of headhunters (which, in the language of this film, means "people who supposedly love decapitation, but only decapitate someone once during the course of the movie and have no interest at all in shrunken heads or, you know, headhunting"). Amoa thinks Maciste is their prophesied saviour, but our rather jerky hero decides that helping her would endanger his volcano survivors and trots away with them, only to return after Amoa and her people have been attacked and killed or kidnapped by the bad guys. If Maciste had only known that Amoa loves/hates/loves him! Suddenly all heroic, Maciste decides to find the survivors. Will he be able to save Amoa from the main bad guy's (Frank Leroy) attempts to marry her?

Colossus and the Headhunters might be the, well, outright lamest peplum I have ever had the dubious honour of watching. Usually, films in this blessed genre put all their energy into presenting themselves as exciting spectacles, full of manly belly-laughter, toppling of pillars, homoerotic torture and silly monsters. And if the budget can't pay for a mechanical giant snake, then the typical peplum will at least try and pretend that a piece of painted cardboard is a giant snake. Not so, Colossus: Maciste doesn't laugh and he never is tortured - although Kirk Morris' facial expression suggests that acting in the movie was quite painful for him. The only things Maciste topples are a rope bridge and parts of a brick wall, and even this he does with about as much enthusiasm as a child pressed into eating spinach by malevolent parents. Monsters aren't in the movie at all. The latter would be perfectly alright with me if Maciste would spend his time throwing guards around while laughing uproariously, but alas, this version of the hero spends most of his time walking around or running away.

And the "walking around" bit brings me to Headhunter's main problem: nothing ever happens in this movie, and when something happens, it's realized in as anticlimactic a way as possible. The film's big moment is probably the climactic battle in front of four grass huts (one of them even burning!). At least there's a lot of shouting and running around then, and people wave their swords at each other. The excitement!

Even the mandatory dance sequence is absurdly unenthusiastic, the poor actress (yup, no money for more than one dancer - or more than some brown walls in the background - here, sorry) looking for all the world as if someone was pointing a gun in her direction from off-camera to convince her to dance.

Need I even say that the film decides to do nothing at all with the potentially fantastically entertaining "Maciste discovers America" angle? As it stands, I'm not even completely sure the place is supposed to be America. Truth be told, the film's just too boring for it to matter in any case.



Todd said...

I wonder if there's much of a cost differential between exploding a hut and merely setting one on fire. (Perhaps it's an insurance issue?) Because a burning hut falls short of being real entertainment, whereas an exploding hut... Obviously Cyrio Santiago should have been consulted.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I suspect the director's main instruction to the crew was: "Don't make it too exciting!". And so they did.