Following on from my Top 20 classic Italian films discussed in previous posts, while I was writing Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult, I also compiled a ‘Top 20 cult movies’, which are more offbeat and well worth tracking down. Some of these are pretty rare, but over the next few posts I’ll describe where, if possible, to find them.

The Trojan War (Giorgio Ferroni, 1961)
Billed as a Steve Reeves vehicle, this recreation of the battle for Troy, via Homer’s myth, is one of the top Italian sword and sandal spectaculars, with large sets, a great score by Giovanni Fusco and a memorable supporting cast – Hedy Vessel makes the screen’s most beautiful Helen and Drew Barrymore’s father John Drew Barrymore played crafty Ulysses. It was shot in Italy and Yugoslavia and deploys hundreds of extras for its impressive battle scenes. Reeves plays Trojan hero Aeneas, who survives the sacking of the city and heads off to found Rome in the sequel, The Last Glory of Troy (1962, aka War of the Trojans).

The Trojan War is available under its US retitling The Trojan Horse, in the boxed set The Adventures of Hercules. This 7-film set also includes The Loves of Hercules (Hercules vs the Hydra) with Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun, Hercules Versus Moloch, The Lion of Thebes, The Triumph of Hercules and the entertaining Perseus the Invincible under the title The Medusa Against the Son of Hercules. All are panned-and-scanned prints, but are clear, in English (with optional English subtitles) and are far above the usual public domain pepla releases. As it says on the box, ‘a must-have for every collector’.
Buy it in the UK
and US

Maciste in Hell (Riccardo Freda, 1962)
Kirk Morris plays mythological muscleman Maciste, who arrives in 17th century Scotland during a witch trial and travels into the bowels of the Earth to lift a centuries’ old curse. Hellish in its depiction of Hell (and with some hellish acting to boot), this one divides peplum fans – some rate it, some hate it. The vivid Hell scenes, with fires, torments and the writhing Damned, were staged in the grottoes of Castellana in the Apulia region of Italy, which are still open to the public today.
Maciste in Hell is available on Region 1 DVD in a barely-viewable print, under its alternative title, The Witch’s Curse in the UK
and US

A better print is on the better value double-disk, with a great widescreen print of Hercules against the Moon Men.

Sons of Thunder (Duccio Tessari, 1962)
Former stuntman Giuliano Gemma’s first starring role, this peplum send-up was filmed on picturesque locations in Italy and Spain and is a tour-de-force from former scriptwriter Tessari. He later worked regularly with Gemma in a variety of genres, most notably on the Ringo westerns, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo (the latter was a reworking of Homer’s Odyssey in a post-American Civil War setting). Though it has been shown on TV in some territories with English subtitles, Sons of Thunder remains an obscure film. One of the best mythological epics ever made, its unavailability on DVD in an English-friendly release is mystifying.
You can currently see the entire film, in Italian, here

The Castle of the Living Dead (Warren Kiefer, 1964)
This cult Gothic horror about a troupe of travelling players trapped in a lunatic’s castle is celebrated for several reasons. It was co-directed by Michael Reeves, who later made Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm, before his untimely death in 1969. It stars Christopher Lee in one of his best Italian vehicles and Donald Sutherland in his film debut in not one, but two, roles. Sutherland plays a policeman investigating Count Drago (Lee) and his experiments in the atmospheric castle, and also appears heavily disguised as an old hag who talks in rhymes and warns travellers to avoid the count: ‘Some will live and some will die, before tomorrow’s sun is high’.

It has been released in the UK in 2012 by Odeon Entertainment in a very good print, in English.
In a bizarre link, Parco Di Mostri (Park of the Monsters), the eerie location used as Castle Drago’s grounds which is filled with unusual statues, is also featured in the BBC TV programme Monty Don’s Italian Gardens
, a series which visits several locations used in Italian cinema, including Villa Borghese in Rome.

Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
Bava’s contemporary horror film lays the foundations for what later became ‘giallo’ psycho-thrillers, with a maniac knocking off models in a chic fashion house. It’s really just a colourful Krimi, but one made with imagination and a superb eye for visuals. Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok are the nominal stars, but the film’s real attraction is Bava’s camerawork. Carlo Rustichelli’s percussive jazz score is his best and is available on CD
The film was heavily cut for its original English language release, and video and DVD releases have been variable. Of the two UK videotape releases I’ve seen, one is the cut version, the other uncut. This one is uncut

It’s also available on DVD on Region 1 in the UK
and US


5 thoughts on “RomaDrome

  1. tim ed kenneally says:

    howdy mr. hughes, i’ve read two of your books and enjoyed both of the them. the spaghetti western book and cinema yourself i grew up watching i-talian films on tv (mostly peplum) but my favorites are the western and crime movies. one of my favorites is “milano calibro 9” with gastone moschin and the great mario adorf. i have the i-talian language version with english subs. mario is great as a hood trying to pressure gastone into telling where some stolen loot is. he’s rough and brutal and almost as good as he was in “the i-talian connection” that is, in my opinion, a masterpiece and his best film. i like the dario argento horror films and also lucio fulci. westerns (all types) are my main thing and now i set my sights on getting your book, “stagecoach to tombstone” i would also like to say a big thank you for your great job on that “dark of the sun” article in cinema retro magazine. rod taylor is my favorite actor and “dark” is my favorite film of his along with “darker than amber” co-starring big bad bill smith. i have the uncut version of that fight they have and it’s the best. i remember being in maimi, florida in ’71 and found a theatre in a rough-ass cuban neigborhood that was showing it. i talked a buddy into hitch-hiking with me and we thumbed 30 blocks to see it and had to sit with our legs up on the seat because we spied a large rat roaming the theatre floor. life was sure good back then. cheers,tim ed kenneally reno, nevada

    • Hi Tim and thanks for your comments,
      Agreed, Milan Calibre 9 is a great movie. With Castellari’s The Marseilles Connection my favourite Italo crime movie.

      I’m pleased to hear you’re enjoying my books and hope you think Stagecoach to Tombstone matches my others. Each book is different and I learn something with each one I write. I really enjoyed researching Stagecoach to Tombstone and think, four years down the line, it stands up as a good read. If you like westerns, you’ll find it interesting, and hopefully illuminating. Cinema Italiano was a slightly different book format to my Filmgoers’ Guides (which take a key film as the focus for each of the chapters) and my World War 2 films book, When Eagles Dared, was a different format again, with me looking at the historical events behind the films as well as the films themselves. My next Filmgoers’ Guide is on Science Fiction (from Metropolis to Avatar) and will be out next year.

      The articles I contribute to Cinema Retro are great for me because they are illustrated so well by their archive of colour ad material. Dark of the Sun was a breeze to write – as long as the subject is interesting, the article should be and the films I cover in Retro are always interesting ones. I’ve also contributed to the new expanded edition of their Where Eagles Dare 116 special issue and am looking at more War movies in future issues of Retro.

      Best regards,

      • tim ed kenneally says:

        howdy mr. hughes, thanks for the nice letter. i also love “where eagles dare” and would like to read your book, “where eagles dared”. mostly like westerns and war movies plus crime but don’t dig sci-fi. would like to see you do a book on the complete series of the edgar wallace films the germans did in the 60’s. the black abbot, fellowship of the frog, the green archer with big ol’ gert frobe and dead eyes of london with even bigger “human monster” ady berber. these films really need a good writer like yourself to give them their proper due. that is if you know of them and like them like i do. please let me know. many thanks,tim ed kenneally

  2. Hi Tim,
    I love the Edgar Wallace films (and derivatives) and have looked at them in some detail for my forthcoming book on Klaus Kinski, which is out next year and is available to preorder from Amazon. It’s called The Many Faces of Klaus Kinski: The Complete Films, and it includes discussions of all Kinski’s films, plus a colour poster section.

    My favorite of the Krimis is one you mentioned, The Dead Eyes of London, a really atmospheric film. One of the colour ones, The Blue Hand, is also very good, with Kinski in two roles. I’ve just seen The Black Cobra (available on a double bill DVD with the odd Euro-sci-fi No Survivors Please), which is very like the Wallace films, and Berber’s in that too, as a good guy.

    I’ve mentioned a new Cinema Retro special issue magazine in a blog post above. If you like ‘Where Eagles Dare’, this 116-page edition is the definitive story of the film’s making.

    Best regards,

    • tim kenneally says:

      guten morgen herr hughes, very happy to hear about the upcoming book on klaus kinski. i read his auto-bio and he’s the devil on earth, for sure! or was. liked him best in those edgar wallace films instead of the spaghettis but his performance in “the great silence” is a work of art. i just finished watching “giants of rome” and your book “cinema italiano” is most helpful in actors you might not know. i really like wandisa guida and know of her from previous films. i have that “euro-fantastico” double-header you speak about and yes, ady, is the good guy for once. love that footage of the cobra and the mongoose. my main madchen maria perschy is in the other feature “no survivors,please” and she is most excellant. i enjoy the german stars best and as very happy to find “the black cobra” sprechen sie mit spater (talk to you later), tim

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