Wednesday, November 01, 2006

XXVIII. MACISTE ALL'INFERNO (THE WITCH'S CURSE) 1962



Maciste all'Inferno (The Witch's Curse)

Year;
1962

Director: Riccardo Freda

Music; Carlo Franci

Country; Italy

Duration; 88 minutes

The Players;

Kirk Morris (Maciste) Hélène Chanel (Fania) Vira Silenti (Young Martha Gaunt) Andrea Bosic (Judge Parrish) Remo De Angelis (Prometheus) Angelo Zanolli (Charley Law) Charles Fawcett (Doctor)

Alternatives;

Maciste in Hell

The Witch's Curse

Available;Something Weird Region 1 DVD or Alpha Video DVD
Original Ratio;
2:35:1
DVD Ratio; Pan and Scanned 75 minute edit.
Colour * English Language* Dubbed*


Already realising The Argonauts to the silver screen for the first time ever, Riccardo Freda brought the cinemagoer an updated version of ‘Maciste all’ Inferno’ with this 1962 outing.

Anyone expecting a re-appraisal of the 1925 film with a 60’s slant will be sorely disappointed. Although the film is worth a look it has none of the epic flair of it’s’ predecessor.

Freda’s interpretation of Hell results in a more ‘earthy’ affair. It’s craggy, eerie and on the depressing side more than the fantasy gothic approach. Instead of beasts of fantasy we have more humble tooth and claw with the obligatory lion combat, a ferociously taloned eagle and a pissed off gargantuan in a loin cloth.


Although realism is favoured it really adds little value to the vehicle and due to the drab (this may be the DVD versions’ fault and perhaps may look different in a pristine edition) environment and sluggishness already part of the mix it is something Freda could’ve done without in my opinion.


Morris is a dumb, characterless and potentially mute (he doesn’t speak for the first 30 minutes) version of he-man Maciste. Usually flaws can be swept aside if the supporting cast is half decent but this is also a no go.

What does compel you to keep watching is that the plot, quite frankly, is a law unto itself. The setting is a puritan community in 16th century Scotland. In breezes Maciste with no explanation as to his arrival.

Oddly despite the fact that most yokels would think a brighter shade of grey is tantamount to advertising you’re a whore none of them seem to bat an eyelid that there is a scantily clad young man wandering around the area; chucking the odd puritan over his shoulder for good measure.

But this is fantasy and in the realm of such versatility anything can and usually does happen. We’d better surmise as in Hercules vs. the Sons of the Son that one of his crew pissed a god off and blew the lot through time. Or that Maciste is a time lord, which explains his changing face and the fact he can turn up at the time of the Incas and that of 15th century China in his previous outings. Fancy that !!

The film opens with the burning of Martha Gaunt; we understand through her catawhallin that she is being burned at the stake (which in this case is a tree), that she is soon to be incinerated as she wouldn’t shag Judge Parrish and for her cavorting with old horny. Before the first match is lit she manages to curse the village and states in 100 years time the retribution will manifest.

100 years later and the villagers begin to weird out. Young females attempt to hang themselves from the ‘burning tree’ and when successful new blossoms appear on the bough.

Also two new arrivals make matters worse as their coachman dumbly informs the whole of the inn that they are Sir Charles and his newlywed honey Martha Gaunt!

Any rational human being would realise by now that the lineage must have been coincidental at some stage!

The villagers don’t see the odd side and with pitchforks and ‘oooo…arrrrrs’ aplenty begin to siege the castle.

Charles tries to prevent the villagers from going loco in his new abode but one against several hundred is never too successful unless the one is a uranium bomb. All of a sudden Maciste turns up and begins bashing people about and gets Charles, Martha and a kindly Doctor to safety.

The three take refuge in the doctors’ house where they agree the best solution would be to seek the advice of the Burgomaster. Martha feels confident about confronting any jury as she is convinced of her innocence.

The Burgomaster incarcerates her and places her on trial to prove her innocence. Out comes the trusty book of fables, you know the one about the hippy that is so favoured by the old, and she is asked to touch it. There is a cackle of laughter and the book bursts into flames.

This doesn’t go down too well in 17th century Scotland and does naff all to calm the populace of the thatched roof dwellings. In true Christian fairness the poor girl is put too death.

Maciste intervenes and learns from the Doctor that unless Martha Hag isn’t destroyed the curse will never be lifted. Maciste is lead to the burning tree where he breaks it up from the roots and descends to Hell to save souls and the entire villager.

Some of the hellish sequences are o.k. but one can see the lack of funds on show and unfortunately nothing lifts us away from the paper over the cracks. Maciste conveniently loses his memory too and sees’ into a time pool and witnesses clips of previously and totally unrelated adventures featuring other actors in the role.

Just like the film as a whole some sequences are cobbled together so we sit through 75 minutes of visual Hodge podge and hokum.

The version which I saw as a ‘bonus feature’ along with ‘Hercules versus the Moon Men’ is a truncated 75 minute American repackage under the title ‘The Witchs’ Curse’.

Unfortunately another down side is the pasty, projector worn print that is used and if any film was in need of a colourful elevation it’s this movie at times.

One plus point is the atmospheric music which bumps up the Goth it swirls amongst the stalactites with high pitched shrills and choral wailing. It would be such a treat to see the original length version as such instances do demonstrate something decent trying to clamour out of something low key.

Another decent piece of direction to note are the flames lighting the steps as Maciste walks down them and despite there dilution the sequence of the inhabitants torment in Hell is gruesomely fashionable.

Whether such truncation hampered the original narrative and potential impact, I don’t know until I stumble upon a fuller version. Its’ a shame I can’t compare it to how it was and how it should be. If the movie made a little more sense then it could make something unfathomable into something of fascination maybe.

A below average feature film in its production, direction and in its revival and at times is an unfortunate cobbled mess; Freda’s testimony that gothic and gladiator is a most unsuitable marriage despite flashes of inspiration.


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