Last night Charles and I watched a movie — sort of: it was a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode based on a 1964 Italian film called Hercules Against the Moon Men, though in the original Italian version the strongman star was actually playing a long-lived local character named Maciste, who had begun his reign over cheap Italian movies in 1912 and was still going strong as a box-office attraction into the 1960’s (sort of like Tarzan in the U.S.). But the U.S. distributors for this excessively boring movie decided that, as long as they were dubbing it into English anyway, they would change the name of the musclebound lead from Maciste to Hercules to tie it in with the fantastically successful Joseph E. Levine U.S. releases of the Italian cheapies Hercules and Hercules Unchained (both also parodied on MST3K). I had a hard time staying awake through this one — this was one of those bad movies which the MST3K crew seem to have picked because its badness manifested itself mostly as boredom — and from what I did see it looked like a standard-issue action-adventure science-fiction movie in which Maciste/Hercules/whatever his name was (played by an Italian actor named Sergio Ciani who was billed as “Alan Steel,” which sounds like a porn alias to me) has to fight a race of baddies who buried deep into the bowels of the earth (if they were indeed from the moon, as the title and the official synopsis stated, it wasn’t clear how they got there, though I think it was supposed to be that they took advantage of a convenient volcanic eruption to burrow into the earth) near the town of Samar, from which they demand a periodic sacrifice of the town’s children, who are marched into the leftover volcanic opening and done away with in some unmentioned (and undepicted) but presumably horrible fashion. Samara (Jany Clair), the queen of Samar, has apparently cut a deal with the Moon Men so she can be given eternal youth by being plugged into some kind of energy-transference machine so she can suck out the energy of her twin sister — which seems to work by intertwining their hair.
Of course it all leads up to a giant confrontation scene between Hercules/Maciste and the baddies, who look like animate rocks (and the costuming and effects work on them is so tacky one can’t help but remember how well a similar effect was done with the Clay People in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars in the 1930’s — albeit the Clay People were actually mostly on the side of good) and vastly outnumber Our Hero. Of course, since this is a movie, none of that matters: he’s able to knock down the rock men and turn them into ordinary, non-animate rocks. But what really makes this an especially terrible movie is that for some reason director Giacomo Gentiluomo (“gentleman”) — who, according to a “trivia” note on imdb.com, quit the movie business after this film and became a painter — and writers Arpad DeRiso, Angelo Sangermano, and Nino Scolaro, decided to stage the final confrontation against the backdrop of a sandstorm that engulfs the entrance to the Moon Men’s cave and forces Hercules, his on-screen girlfriend and the other good guys to make their way to the Moon Men’s cave through an impenetrable goop that’s supposed to represent blowing sand and just makes it virtually impossible to tell what’s going on. For some reason the MST3K crew decided — rare for them — to telegraph the ending; in the setup sequences depicting the “invention exchange” between Satellite of Love denizens Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) and his robots Crow (Trace Beaulieu), Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) and Gypsy (Jim Mallon) on one side and the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester (also Trace Beaulieu) and his sidekick TV Frank (Frank Conniff) on the other, Dr. Forrester is shown scooping through a bowl full of sand and saying, “Sandstorm … sandstorm.” Not that it mattered much: Hercules Against the Moon Men showed an occasional shot of visual elegance (perhaps Gentiluomo did considerably better when he abandoned filmmaking for static art, at which this film suggests he would have been considerably more talented) and Alan Steel was nice to look at even though, as one of the MST3K crew commented, he made you miss the acting chops of Steve Reeves.