Skip to content

Plot: rogue gods plan to overthrow Mount Olympus, lone muscleman intervenes

The first wave of Italian peplum lasted from 1958 to 1965 as Meditterranean directors and producers made use of the lavish sets left behind by American productions and smaller-scale sword-and-sandals adventures replaced the more serious Biblical and Greco-Roman epics of the forties and fifties. Pietro Francisci’s The Labors Of Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), both with Steve Reeves as the titular demigod, ushered in the arrival of a more pulpy, kitschy peplum. By 1962 the first Italian peplum wave was cresting and outliers started to appear. One such example was Emimmo Salvi’s fantasy mash-up Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter (1962) with Iranian strongman Iloosh Khoshabe, Cuban import Bella Cortez and Gordon Mitchell. Cortez and Mitchell had figured into the entertainingly delirious The Giant Of Metropolis (1961), duly pilfered by Alfonso Brescia for his The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), which Salvi wrote and produced. That Pietro Francisci would direct Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1963), widely considered the last great Italian sword-and-sandal epic, is more than fitting.

Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter was the first Italian sword-and-sandal production to be filmed on location in Iran with a mostly Italian cast and crew. The feature was produced by Spartaco Antonucci and Manouchehr Zamani. Zamani cast Iloosh Khoshabe, a star of movies from Shapur Yasami and Esmail Kushan and who Zamani himself had directed once or twice – for release in the domestic market. That Zamani would cast Khoshabe, who sports a Steve Reeves beard and a Kirk Morris glistening chest, in the first English-language peplum production in Iran is only logical. Emimmo Salvi first worked as a production assistant from 1953 to 1958. From there he was promoted to screenwriter and later ascended to the director’s chair with this production. In an interesting twist he contributed to the screenplay for Umberto Scarpelli’s The Giant Of Metropolis (1961), before helming a duo of Arabian Nights adventure yarns with The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba (1962) and Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964) as well as the Wagnerian epic The Stone Forest (1965). Salvi’s features often starred Gordon Mitchell and Bella Cortez. When the peplum dried up Salvi took to directing a few spaghetti westerns and an Eurospy romp before retiring. Bella Cortez was a skinny, long blackhaired, hourglass figured belle from Oriente, Cuba who briefly acted from 1961 to 1966 and starred in about a dozen, mostly peplum, productions. Cortez graced magazine covers from Italy to Yugoslavia and Switzerland and was romantically involved with director Emimmo Salvi. If Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter is retroactively famous for one thing, it’s that Luigi Cozzi lifted the plot wholesale for his equally entertaining The Adventures Of Hercules (1985) with Lou Ferrigno, Sonia Viviani and Milly Carlucci.

On Mount Olympus king of the gods Jupiter (Furio Meniconi) intervenes in a tryst of Venus (Annie Gorassini) with the mortal Adonis by throwing a lightning bolt at him. In his court Jupiter announces that Venus is to be wedded to either Mars (Roger Browne) or Vulcan (Iloosh Khoshabe, as Rod Flash Ilush), the latter who has been working in the Olympian forgery on a sword for Achilles. Angered by Jupiter’s decision Venus forms an alliance with Mars and Pluto (Gordon Mitchell, as Mitchell Gordon) to overthrow Jupiter and Olympus. When Venus partly disrobes and throws herself at Vulcan, this draws the ire of her beau Mars resulting in the inevitable fight in the smithy. Pending his decision Jupiter casts both men to Earth. Not helping matters either is Erida (Edda Ferronao) sowing discord among the Olympian gods. Vulcan awakens drowsily on the shores of Sicily where he is promptly rescued by the scandily-clad Aetna (Bella Cortez), who wears what amounts to a very skimpy cheerleader outfit, and her nubile nymphs.

Meanwhile Mars and Venus convince Thracian warlord Milos (Ugo Sabetta) to erect a tower reaching Olympus. No sooner has Vulcan been rescued by the Sicilian nymphs they are attacked by a tribe of scaly, fanged Lizard Men and summarily imprisoned. Vulcan is tortured by the Lizard Men until they are freed by Geo (Salvatore Furnari). Geo proves to be strategically important as he can summon a Triton to bring them to the realm of Neptune (Omero Gargano), who vows to help Vulcan. Before setting out on his quest Vulcan is treated to a tantalizing dance of veils from Aetna. Cortez’ little routine obviously took some inspiration from Anita Ekberg’s dance from the Terence Young directed Arabian Nights adventure Zarak (1956). After the dance Mercurius (Isarco Ravaioli) briefly engages himself toying with the gemstone jewel in Aetna’s navel. In the grand finale the forces of Neptune and Thrace come to a clash, Vulcan challenges Mars in man-to-man combat and Aetna and Venus all duke it out. It’s a battle so ineptly staged that Jupiter calls from the heavens above for all to lay down their weapons.

For a production with no budget to speak of Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter was able to assemble quite a cast. It was the first English-language production for Iloosh Khoshabe, and Bella Cortez was well on her way in becoming a peplum fixture thanks to her radiant looks, dancing skills, and with titles as The Tartars (1961), the science-fiction mash-up The Giant Of Metropolis (1962), and the Arabian Nights double whammy The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba (1962) and Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964). Roger Browne in a few years hence would figure into the fumetti Argoman (1967), Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968), and The War Of the Robots (1978). Edda Ferronao would star in The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1964) two years later. Isarco Ravaioli was a beloved character actor with titles as diverse as The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), the fumetti Diabolik (1968) and Satanik (1968), the Eurowar romp Heroes Without Glory (1971) and the barbarian movie The Throne Of Fire (1983). Annie Gorassini was a comedic actress that worked with everybody from Federico Fellini, Pietro Francisci to Lucio Fulci, Bruno Corbucci and Emimmo Salvi. Famous in their own way were Salvatore Furnari and Franco Doria, probably the most recognizable dwarfen actors of the day.

Granted it never quite reaches the same level of kitsch as The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) and it isn’t as out-there as The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965) later in the decade. Furio Meniconi wears a really bad wig, Omero Gargano’s Neptune looks sort of drowsy and the rubber suits from the Lizard Men are even worse than that of Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreleys Grasp (1973) about ten years later. Jupiter’s bold of lightning was crudely scratched onto the film to reach the desired effect. Primitive does not quite convey just how crude these special effects are. The action choreography and the fights are as lamentable, clunky and stilted as they come. Italy after all is, was and never would be Hong Kong or Japan and nobody in the cast had any formal combat training. Khoshabe, Browne and Mitchell acquit themselves admirably enough, and the catfight between Cortez and Gorassini is a lot better than it has any right to be. Which doesn’t mean any of the fights are good or at least believably staged. The Lizard Men were an interesting addition but they are discarded almost as soon as they are introduced and their subplot goes nowhere virtually immediately. Likewise does the Thracian tower subplot never amount to anything, even though the characters make it out to be important for a good while. Venus ensnares gods and mortals by wielding her most common superpower. In Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon aren’t all that different from the mortals they apparently so despise.

With a showing this abysmal, no wonder special effects man Roberto Parapetti would never be heard of again. Iloosh Khoshabe, Roger Browne and Gordon Mitchell are sufficiently oiled and practically bare-chested the entire time. Bella Cortez, Annie Gorassini, and Edda Ferronao unfortunately are not but they wear the skimpiest of tunics – and it’s puzzling that Cortez never became a bigger star than she ended up being. Certainly her appearance and bellydance routine in The Seven Revenges (1961) should have landed her bigger opportunities than the ones she ended up getting. Gorassini obviously has a lot of fun in the role of duplicitious Venus, who is prone to disrobing to have men doing her bidding, and her experience as a comedic actress evidently helps tremendously. The throne room on Mount Olympus seems perpetually enshrouded in smoke and dry ice and it’s not quite as lush and opulent as it probably should have been. The production values are nothing to write home about and match the early Alfonso Brescia catalog. Evidently the first wave of peplum was cresting and the lack of resources available to the production makes that painfully clear. The battles lack in scope and scale and the gods act far too much like the petty and vindictive mortals they use as peons.

There isn’t a whole lot to recommend if you are looking for a quality peplum, but as these things go, you could do far worse than Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter. It’s thoroughly entertaining for the rank pulp that it is. Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter is the sort of historical curiosity that - while available in the public domain and from companies as Mill Creek Entertainment, often in prints of dubious quality and origin - should be given a proper restoration and remastering. It certainly no classic peplum and whatever merits can be bestowed upon it is that it features an ensemble cast of sorts. The first cycle of peplum was winding down and productions as Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter would never have been greenlit if it weren’t for companies completely milking a concept until audiences no longer showed up in cineplexes. The peplum would experience a resurgence (as would gothic horror) in the next decade, but they’d never command the resources they once had in the fifties and early sixties. Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter borders on the satirical but it never transcends into the realm of send-up or spoof. Perhaps it would have worked far better acting as such. It’s not exactly tedious, but it isn’t spectacular in its wretchedness enough either. It’s still sufficiently awful by any reasonable standard, and the terrible dubbing is always a hoot with this sort of productions. At least there’s Bella Cortez.

Plot: journalist accepts wager to stay overnight at a haunted castle

All through the 1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations were in vogue. The movement was started by a slew of Roger Corman productions starring Vincent Price as The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), The Premature Burial (1962), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965). This in turn led to Poe-inspired productions as The Blancheville Monster (1963) and the German production The Castle of the Walking Dead (1967). The credits insist on that Castle Of Blood is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Danse Macabre” but instead it bears more of a resemblance to Poe’s 1827 five-part poem “Spirits Of the Dead”. Castle Of Blood bases itself on the French superstition that the dead rise from their graves on All Souls Eve, the subject of the titular poem by Henri Cazalis which was put to music by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874.

Castle Of Blood was helmed by versatile workhorse director Antonio Margheriti from a screenplay by Bruno Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi (as Jean Grimaud). The project was initially slated to be directed by Sergio Corbucci but he passed it on to Margheriti due to scheduling conflicts. Second unit and assistant directing was future cannibal atrocity specialist Ruggero Deodato. The production was bankrolled to make optimal usage of the sets and locations that producer Giovanni Addessi had used earlier for the comedy The Monk Of Monza (1963). British horror queen Barbara Steele was in the midst of her conquest of Meditterranean horror cinema and Castle Of Blood is graced with breathtaking monochrome photography by Riccardo Pallottini (as Richard Kramer) and a waltzing harpsichord, piano and weeping violin score by Riz Ortolani. Castle Of Blood was shot in just 15 days and Margheriti remade it on a larget budget and in color as Web Of the Spider (1971) with Michèle Mercier in Steele’s role. Castle Of Blood is a spectacular little gothic exercise that overcomes it budgetary limitations through sheer talent, perseverance and ingenuity in using the resources that it has to its disposal.

In the gloomy Four Devils pub in Victorian era London vacationing American author of weird and macabre literature Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli, as Montgomery Glenn) is reciting his 1835 novel “Berenice” to his companion Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho, as Raul H. Newman). Intersecting with the men is starving young journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) who has been trying to secure an interview with Poe. Poe insists that all of his stories were based on events he experienced. The men discuss the nature of death and Foster explains his skepticism towards the supernatural. At this juncture Lord Blackwood proposes Foster put his skepticism to the test by staying the night at his remote castle. An easy enough wager that will score him 100 pound sterling for his trouble. Foster accepts the challenge, offering ten pound sterling as collateral and soon he is being transported to the fog-enshrouded manor by coachman Lester (Salvo Randone) in Lord Blackwood’s carriage. After passing through the huge iron gate, traversing a foggy graveyard and navigating through thick foliage and long tree limbs Foster, sufficiently spooked, makes his way into the Castle Of Blood.

After walking aimlessly through shadowy, cobweb-filled corridors with dusty candelabras and metallic suits of armor, desolate empty chambers with nothing but blowing, ghostly curtains Alan at long last makes his acquaintance with Elisabeth Blackwood (Barbara Steele). Foster is immediately smitten with Blackwood but he is spooked by a clock that chimes even though its pendulum doesn’t swing and an eerie looking portrait that acts as a centerpiece in the great hall. Julia (Margarete Robsahm) seems to materialize out of the shadows whenever he looks at her portrait. Julia warns Elisabeth not to befriend the handsome stranger, but Elisabeth insists that he will “bring her back to life”. As it turns out Elisabeth not only had a husband named William (Benito Stefanelli, as Ben Steffen) but also was in a tryst with strapping gardener Herbert (Giovanni Cianfriglia, as Phil Karson) and the unwilling recipient of Julia’s sapphic affection. Along the way Foster meets house guest Dr. Carmus (Arturo Dominici, as Henry Kruger), an expert in the supernatural. According to the good doctor every year on All Souls Eve the lost souls of Castle Blackwood re-enact their fates lest they are able to claim the warm blood of the living to sustain them until the next year.

As Foster comes to grips with the realization that he is doomed Lord Blackwood has invited a couple of newly-weds on the pretext of the same wager. Before they arrive Foster first has to see how Dr. Carmus met his demise as he walks through the ancestral crypt and is eventually overcome by the walking corpse of gardener Herbert as one of the coffins disgorges its decaying cadaverous contents. By this point Elsi Perkins (Sylvia Sorrente, as Sylvia Sorrent) and her husband (John Peters) have arrived and are all over each other. Elsi is frightened by the strange noises inside the castle’s bowels and urges her husband to investigate. This doesn’t stop her from taking off her bodice and changing to a see-through hoop skirt. Elsi is choked by the hulking Herbert as she takes off her clothes in front of the fireplace. Her husband befalls a similar fate when he comes to her rescue. Having witnessed the grisly ends of all residents Alan is barely holding on to his wits. Elisabeth urges him to escape the castle premises but insists that she cannot go with him. Alan forcefully takes her with him only for Elisabeth to dissolve to ghastly skeletal remains on her own gravestone. On his way out of the premises Alan is impaled by one of the spikes of the iron fence as the wind blows. In the morning Poe and Lord Blackwood arrive at the castle. “He’s waiting, so you can see he’s won the bet,” Poe intones jokingly. “The Night of the Dead has claimed another victim” retorts Blackwood sardonically. ”When I finally write this story…. I”m afraid they’ll say it’s unbelievable,” a morose Edgar Allan Poe concludes.

As a French-Italian production Castle Of Blood boasts two stellar leads and a number of prominent supporting players. Barbara Steele had established herself with her double role in Mario Bava’s excellent Black Sunday (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962) and worked with Margheriti earlier on The Long Hair of Death (1964). Steele would continue her conquest of Meditterranean horror cinema with appearances in 5 Graves For A Medium (1965), Nightmare Castle (1965), An Angel For Satan (1966) and in the following decade in Shivers (1975), the debut feature of body horror specialist David Cronenberg. Georges Rivière had been in The Black Vampire (1953), The Longest Day (1962) and The Virgin Of Nuremberg (1963) prior. Arturo Dominici was a reliable supporting actor that was in The Labors of Hercules (1958), Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959), The Trojan Horse (1961) and the Angélique series (1964-1968). Silvano Tranquilli was in, among others, The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962), the Silvio Amadio comedy So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975) with Gloria Guida and Dagmar Lassander as well as Star Odyssey (1979), the concluding chapter of Alfonso Brescia’s abysmal science-fiction quadrilogy following the success of Star Wars (1977). Finally, Umberto Raho was in The Last Man on Earth (1964), the superhero fumetti Satanik (1968), The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and the Tsui Hark actioner Double Team (1997) with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman.

Like a lot of gothic horrors of the day Castle Of Blood is a slow-moving affair that takes its time setting up its characters and building atmosphere. The Four Devils pub scene does some excellent economic storystelling. It sets up the main characters, lays out the premise of the movie and sets the plot into motion. Each character is given just enough shading to be believable. Foster is a man of reason and logic, Poe initially comes across as a raving lunatic (but in the third act will turn out to be the most sympathetic character) and Lord Blackwood is a member of nobility that will stop at nothing to take advantage of the poor classes for his own personal enrichment/entertainment. Written not quite as well as the love arc between Foster and Barbara Steele’s Elisabeth. Within moments of their initial meet-cute the two are declaring each other their eternal love. Margarete Robsahm’s stern villainess contrasts beautifully with Barbara Steele’s wide-eyed and innocent Elisabeth. The colors of their gowns should clue anybody in as to what their alliances are. The brief topless scene from Sylvia Sorrente in the international version is worth the price of admission alone. The entire framing device in the Four Devils pub, having all three principal male leads detailing what the movie will be about, is surprisingly effective given the ridiculousness of the central premise.

Castle Of Blood was prescient of where gothic horror was headed in the ensuing decade and pushes the envelope in terms of violence and eroticism. Barbara Steele looks absolutely dashing with her pulled back ravenblack hair, huge eyes, lowcut dresses and heaving bosom. Norwegian actress Margarete Robsahm has that stern, icy Scandinavian look and Sylvia Sorrente is by far the most curvaceous of the assembled cast. Several of Steele’s love scenes are a lot more explicit than others from the period and Sorrente’s brief topless moment in the French print considerably raises the temperature. The sapphic liaison between Julia and Elisabeth was quite risqué for the decade for the same reason. It are not mere allusions that Robsahm’s character makes towards Steele’s Elisabeth but overt advances. The explanation for the castle’s curse is something straight out of H.P. Lovecraft or Nathaniel Hawthorn instead of the supposed repertoire of Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood. In the following decade gothic horror would remain a staple in continental European cinema and experience an infusion of bloodshed and erotica to make it more appealing for the new decade. Castle Of Blood, as these old gothic chillers tend to go, delivers exactly what it promises.