A great example of the sort of stuff I'm hoping to discover with this project, MACISTE ALL'INFERNO is an adaptation of The Divine Comedy in the same way that SNAKES ON A PLANE is an adaptation of the Book of Genesis. For those of you who haven't read it, The Divine Comedy does not include these things:
- A muscle-bound hero who solves all of his problems by punching them to death.
- Demons who invade the Earth disguised in wax mustaches and magician costumes.
- She-demons who jiggle around in skimpy bikinis and what appear to have been iron pasties with pentagrams on them.
There were apparently numerous Maciste shorts prior to this 1925 feature and the character would also be resurrected for a run during Italy's peplum craze of the 60s, but I think ALL'INFERNO is the only real entry with enough horror content to qualify for competition on this blog. Maciste is basically the Italian Hercules, a hulk who is renowned for his strength and not so much for his keen wit. A legion of demons invade Earth, disguised ridiculously as described above. One of them shows up at Maciste's house while he's having breakfast and they immediately re-enact the temptation scene from the Gospels, only with ballerinas and flyovers of skyscrapers. Maciste eventually realizes that the demon is a demon and begins to punch him, but the demon disappears. Maciste then IMMEDIATELY goes back to drinking coffee nonchalantly, like this happens every day. Maciste is the hero we need!
The demon, Barbariccia, kidnaps a baby in an attempt to get the mom to renounce God. It works, but Maciste rescues the infant, then gets sucked into hell. These scenes are pretty incredible.
The makeup is clearly superb and even presages an Italian film that would arrive sixty years later, Lamberto Bava's DEMONS. The set design in Hell is fantastic, the costuming, everything looks resplendent. I hope I've racked up enough sins to go there one day! I like that this is a traditional, King James rendition of Hell and also that it follows the King James tradition of completely making things up as it goes along. In this case, we get title cards like, "According to the latest rules of Hell [ed. note: lolololol], no living man could remain there for more than three days unless kissed by a female Demon."
As intense as some of the torture scenes get (those whippings!), there's plenty of lighter outrageousness in Maciste's journey into Sheol, so you're never very far away from hilarity. I literally died about "Even in Hell, women are fickle!" and "Oh, here we know everything! Would you like to see her by television?" The characters are generally pretty great, with Maciste just being dumb and strong all the time and the cutest she-demon being a good-hearted and self-sacrificing kind of gal.
And this dragon! What can you say? "Hell's aeroplane", indeed.
After writing this whole thing, I'm really loving the DEMONS connection I made above. Like DEMONS, MACISTE isn't really a film that's going to rank as high art of the Shakespeare stripe, but it is a very fun and well-executed romp through the brimstone netherworld. The version that I saw was just over an hour, but there's allegedly a cut that runs more than ninety minutes. I'm not exactly sure what was excised, but I could see how additional Hell scenes might actually weaken the film—what's here does get a little draggy and repetitious, as if the director clearly wanted to show off the stylin' makeup and sets. Understandable and forgivable in light of the overall product, which is certainly see-it-now material.
TOP 10 OF THE 1920S:
1. Phantom of the Opera (1925)
2. The Unknown (1927)
3. Maciste All'Inferno/Maciste in Hell (1925)
4. The Cat and the Canary (1927)
5. Wolf Blood (1925)