Hercules Returns [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th October 2023).
The Film

"Hercules Returns" (1993)

Brad McBain (played by David Argue) is working for The Kent Corporation, one of Australia’s biggest film distributors, but their decisions are driving him mad. The CEO Michael Kent (played by Michael Carman) is focused on maximum profits through multiplexes and quick sequels to established franchises, instead of the art of filmmaking which is what Brad has always loved. He decides to quit his job and look to buying and restoring the abandoned Picture Palace theater in order to screen more deserving features. He enlists his projectionist friend Sprocket (played by Bruce Spence), the hard fisted no nonsense Lisa (played by Mary Coustas) and others to make his dream come true, but disaster strikes on the reopening night, as the film print they acquired for the screening is in Italian without subtitles. Brad, Sprocket, and Lisa have no choice but to dub the film in real time as it runs…

On March 26th, 1986, Australian comedy team Double Take unleashed “Double Take Meets the Astro-Zombies” to a small crowd at the New Mandarin cinema in Melbourne. It was a screening of the poorly received 1968 sci-fi feature “Astro-Zombies” but with the entire soundtrack replaced with newly dubbed voices courtesy of the members of Double Take in scripted form. Word of mouth spread, and with each screening the number of patrons increased, leading to Double Take reworking their scripted dialogue and the addition of improvisation for unique experiences on differing nights. Formed by Des Mangan with his then girlfriend Lisa Sweeney, Double Take would continue to spoof other features and tour around the country as well as overseas with their reworks.

It was during Double Take’s performance of “Double Take Meets Hercules”, in which they dubbed over the 1964 sword and sandals epic “Samson and the Mighty Challenge”, that American businessman Phil Jaroslow saw the performance. He expressed interest in turning the Double Take live performance into an actual film for cinemas to screen. Rather than shooting it in a documentary fashion or showing just the film with new voices, Mangan decided to create a humorous wraparound story to introduce a reason for the film to be dubbed, showing the film itself with the dubbed voices, plus having some behind the scenes in the projection booth scenes. As producer, Jaroslow looked to securing the permission rights from the original Italian studio that produced the film for parody purposes, as well as finding the necessary cast and crew. Double Take, which at this time was comprised of Mangan with voice actress Sally Patience, would assume their roles as the voice actors, though they would not play themselves on screen. Instead, professional actors would play the roles and during the “Samson” scenes their voices would be dubbed by Double Take. Rather than Mangan taking the role of directing the film, the job was given to first time director David Parker, who worked as producer and cinematographer on a number of acclaimed features including “Malcolm” and “The Big Steal” with his wife Nadia Tass.

With the main plot featuring the Brad McBain character, there is a nod to artistic cinema, with Brad being more knowledgeable about film than the rest of his coworkers who could careless, as well as with Sprocket who is willing to work for less money as long as there is artistic merit. It was also a reflection of the times, in which multiplexes were becoming the dominant force for the moviegoing public, and sequels and action films were becoming more popular than ever (though that could also be said for the 2000s as well). It reflects a David versus Goliath story, or the Tortoise and the Hare, with little Brad going against the powerful former boss Kent who is out to crush competition. Essentially it is due to Kent and his corporation’s interference that has the non-subtitled Hercules film to arrive at Brad’s theater, though there is little explanation on how that was accomplished. A lot of background material, such as Brad being able to buy the dilapidated theater and pay for its restoration and his promotion for the new theater is completely skipped over, as well as the relationship between him and Lisa, instead skipping quickly to the attraction itself – seeing Hercules dubbed by Double Take.

Argue has stated that creating the dubbed script for the Hercules film was a difficult one as he was given the Italian language version to work with, so he couldn’t fully understand the story. Though the comically dubbed version is itself not based on the original English dub track, it does retain the basic plot of Hercules (played by Alan Steel) being tricked by the queen (played by Lia Zoppelli) and the princess (played by Elisa Montés) going against her parents’ wishes and instead wanting to marry her lover (played by Luciano Marin). As for Hercules wanting to become a nightclub singer, the destruction of a beer garden, and other added dialogue was obviously added by Double Take with everything from toilet humor, double meanings, and odd visual cues such as missed punches making contact and obvious prop weapons and cheaply made costumes.

In a realistic point of view, the dubbing of the film in real time by the Brad and Lisa characters are impossible, such as when a bunch of women are speaking at the same time, sound effect and music cues hitting at the right spots, and other examples. No matter how good an improve comedian is, it would be impossible to do such a task under the circumstances. But it is about suspending disbelief and enjoying the show as it goes on. For “Samson and the Mighty Challenge” itself, it isn’t the best or most well known Italian sword and sandals feature, and isn’t the one with the biggest budget either. Alan Steel, born Sergio Ciani, was one of a dozen muscled actors to play Hercules during the genre’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, with Steel first playing the role in “Hercules Against Rome” which opened on May 15th, 1964. Steel would reprise the role in “Hercules Against the Moon Men” only a month later on June 27th, 1964, and then in “Samson and the Mighty Challenge” which opened on November 12th, 1964 for quite a busy year. In addition, he would perform in three more films that year, all being in the sword and sandals genre, with two of them as the Samson character. Steel as well as other muscled stars Howard Ross, Nadir Moretti and Yann L'Arvor all do a fair but not quite exceptional job in the film. Being one of the more average films in the genre, it still had a lot of fun with its brawls, comical characters, beautiful vixens and scantily clad muscle men for audiences.

As far as the Double Take version of “Samson and the Mighty Challenge” goes, the script was fully developed over time with Mangan writing and rewriting the script to find the best jokes that hit the audiences in previous live performances. There are some questionable moments such as sudden F-bombs getting thrown in the latter half when the first half seemed like it was appropriate for children to enjoy. Some jokes fall flat, some are absolutely hilarious. As for the test of time, there are some moments that reflect the period including musical and cultural references, Aussie humor, fourth wall breaking lines, and added lines with offscreen characters. The technique of dubbing actors on screen for a theatrical performance was nothing particularly new. In Japan during the silent era, films would be accompanied by live musicians plus a benshi – a narrator who would also provide the voices. Benshi were free to improvise and it was known that they would sometimes include humorous observational lines in between. An early example of a redubbed movie that changed the plot entirely was “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” from 1966 used the 1965 Japanese spy film “Key of Keys”. This would technically be Woody Allen’s directorial debut as he shot some new footage, reedited the original and dubbed the film in English with a much more humorous tone. 2002’s “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist” was also produced in a similar fashion, which a reediting and overdubbing of the 1976 martial arts film “Tiger & Crane Fists”. There was also the cult American television series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” which showed B-movies and had comments and overdubs by the series cast. Though it wasn’t entirely dubbed, there were many examples of the actors interjecting with comments on cheap background, bad acting, as well as giving characters some alternate voices to hilarious effect. The show started on local cable television in 1988 and eventually led to national broadcast on Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel in the 1990s, plus an internet revival in the 2000s via Netflix and Gizmoplex. In former communist countries such as Poland where it was common for Hollywood movies to be overdubbed by a single narrator in bootleg form, the tradition has continued to this day with even major films getting an overdub form rather than a fully dubbed version with multiple actors and actresses.

Back to the topic of “Hercules Returns”, probably the most disappointing aspect is that the A and B stories don’t quite match. The A story of the indie theater owner standing up to a massive corporation is one thing, but the B story of “Samson” has Hercules fighting and bonding with a supergroup of musclemen to bring justice to a kingdom. They don’t quite complement each other or have a narrative arc that intersects, with the only point being a latter fight sequence in both stories being played out at the same time.

The film was shot in 1992 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 28th, 1993, followed by screenings at the Seattle International Film Festival, the Washington Film Festival, as well as the Venice Film Festival in the same year. The director of “Samson and the Mighty Challenge” Giorgio Capitani couldn’t attend the Italian premiere, but gave his blessing for the film to director Parker and the crew. Reviews were critically mixed, with some praising the humor and others criticizing the plot and structure. September 16th, 1993 was when the film theatrically opened in Australia to less than enthusiastic crowds, grossing $318,788. Though the film was produced for under AU$1 million, it was not profit theatrically and plans to continue making more Double Take films were scrapped. Mangan and Patience would continue Double Take for a few more years with more movies until their hiatus in 1996. Mangan would become host for presenting cult films on SBS television, and Patience would continue working as a voiceover artist.

“Hercules Returns” was available on VHS and DVD formats, and now Umbrella Entertainment has resurrected the film for its Blu-ray debut.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. Remastered from original 35mm film elements, the image looks very good, though it does have its imperfections. For the portions that show the original "Samson and the Mighty Challenge" film has obvious weaknesses due to the age of the film and being a generation lower, having more film grain and damage marks visible. On the positive side the colors are fairly good, the sharpness is great, and the amount of damage is not too prevalent. There are some issues with the framing, as mattes and edges can be seen at times. For the newly shot Australian sequences it may look better in certain aspects such as sharpness and less damage, though the colors don't look as vivid as the "Samson" scenes shot in Rome decades earlier. But overall, the negatives shouldn't disrupt the viewing of the feature and is on the stronger side. A great transfer from Umbrella Entertainment.

The film's runtime is 80:20.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Interestingly, the film was made in the 1990s in mono and it is presented here in lossless form. The audio sounds good throughout, with dialogue sounding clear and well balanced against the music and effects. The "Hercules Rap" that closes the film (which is pretty awful, but fitting) sounds good but slightly flat. The sound has been remastered which has eliminated examples of hiss, pops, dropout, and other issues for a clean track throughout.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the feature.


Audio commentary with writer Des Mangan, director David Parker, producer Philip Jaroslow, and actor David Argue (2023)
This new and exclusive commentary reunited Mangan, Parker, Jaroslow and Argue for a group session, as the reminisce about the making of the film. They discuss about the production including the shooting locations, the history of Double Take and Jaroslow seeing their performance, the difficulties with the back and forth with the Italian rightsholders, reception by critics and audiences, comments about the original "Samson and the Mighty Challenge" feature, and more. Though there are a lot of good comments to be heard, it doesn't fully get into the step by step process of how the film was made.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Samson and the Mighty Challenge" (English dubbed version) (71:57)
The original English dubbed version of the film is presented here, running 28 minutes shorter than the original Italian version. The transfer is in HD, coming from a raw scan from an original film print. There has been no restoration applied so there are numerous issues with the image, from telecine wobble, framing issues, scratches, debris, color balance, in addition to issues with the audio with hiss, pops, and dropout. It is still in a watchable state, and is actually a lot better looking than one might expect, as it does have good detail and retains the authentic film look taken straight out of the canisters.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono without subtitles

"Double Take Meets Hercules" full film within the film (70:16)
The full version of the film within the film, the original Double Take version is presented here without interruptions like the film. Although the opening credits suggest this is the Italian version, the runtime is strangely basically identical to the English dubbed version of the film. The transfer comes from a standard definition videotape source, so it has its weaknesses in picture quality, though the audio fares much better.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in windowboxed 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Hercules Returns" Soundtrack (audio) (51:06)
The soundtrack album was released on CD in 1993 by Polydor Records. Presented here is the full soundtrack album which has eight music cues produced by Phil Rigger and Des Mangan including the closing rap song and a cover of “Macho Man”. In between the songs are dialogue moments from the film. The soundtrack is presented in stereo, which has much more depth than the mono sound as heard in the film itself. The music is presented with a still on screen and can be skipped by chapter to each cue. The soundtrack cues are as follows:
1. “Hercules Rap”
2. The story continues ... Herc rescues Labia
3. “Pink Panthenon”
4. and continues ... Hercules secret ambition
5. “Funk It Up”
6. and continues ... Labia and Testiculi are lovers
7. “Muscles For Hire”
8. and continues ... Samson and Delilah
9. “Delilah's Song”
10. and continues ... Machismo joins the fight
11. “Embarrassing”
12. and continues ... Labia and Testiculi elope
13. “Macho Man”
14. and continues ... Herc gets the plot
15. “Don't You Just Love That Music”
16. and ends ... Life goes on, and on, and on

in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

"Hercules Rap" film clip (3:39)
The music video which was directed by Mark Hartley featuring newly shot footage of Argue plus clips from the film itself is presented here. Taken from a videotape source, it’s a bit weak with the image and there are a few points where the audio suddenly drops a bit in volume.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in windowboxed 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Extended Trailer (5:56)
Presented here is a work in progress trailer of the film featuring various film clips without the trailer narration found on the finished trailers. The image is a bit weak due to the analog videotape source, though it is still in a watchable state.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG, in windowboxed 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Australian Trailer (2:29)
The original narrated trailer is presented here, taken from a film source which looks and sounds fairly good.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

US Trailer (2:19)
An almost identical trailer, with slightly different narration is presented here, again taken from a film source.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

An unrestored trailer for the film


Note that the packaging states that the disc is region B only though it is in fact region ALL.

The disc is packaged in a standard clear keep case with artwork taken from one of the original posters. The inner artwork is an alternate horizontal theatrical poster. The first pressing includes a slipcase with unique artwork designed by artist Matt Pott.

It is also available in a Collector's Edition exclusively from the Umbrella Web Shop limited to 200 copies. This includes
- "Hercules Returns: A Collection of Behind the Scenes, Experiences & Art" 48 page bound book
- custom designed outer rigid slipbox
- slipcase designed by Matt Pott
- 8 artcards
- A3 reversible poster.

The book is an excellent one with great information. First is a copy of a humorous fax from the original film's director Giorgio Capitani to David Parker. Next is an essay by Sean Welsh on a detailed history of the film and its origins, the production, and reception. Then there are reprinted pages from the original script. Next is the artwork concepts and notes by Matt Pott for the slipcase and a biography of the artist. The artcards are eight stills from the film, with one being from the original "Samson" feature. The reversible poster has the two original artwork choices found with the keep case. The poster is housed in the keep case, and the book, artcards, and keep case fit perfectly in the rigid box.


"Hercules Returns" is an enjoyable redubbing parody feature with a lot of hilarious moments, though it does fall flat on the narrative. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features a very good transfer of the film with a number of great new and exclusive extras including the original English dub version of "Samson and the Mighty Challenge". Highly recommended.

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: B+


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