Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys – Darkness Visible – review (TV Episode)

dvd set

Directed by: Philip Sgriccia

First aired: 1999

Contains spoilers

Some time ago we looked at the Xena: Warrior Princess vampire episode. Xena, of course, was a spin-off from the series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and thus it seemed right that Hercules should, itself, have a vampire episode.

However, when Hercules (Kevin Sorbo) and his side-kick Iolaus (Michael Hurst) finally met vampires – in season 6 of the show – they were not the bacchae that Xena had met – a type of vampire invented to fit in with the Xena-verse – but something a whole lot more traditional.

female vampireThe episode itself begins with a castle and a man running, pursued by something. He reaches a door and manages to bolt it, turning he comes face to face with a freshly severed head. He is on the ramparts of the castle and below are impaled bodies. He looks to jump down to the icy wastes below, presumably preferring suicide to the fate in store for him, when his leg is grabbed by a female vampire.

Iolaus and HerculesHercules and Iolaus are at an orphanage teaching the kids basketball – for those unaware of the series, whilst set in ancient Greece (and elsewhere in the world), the series often added in modern pointer references and this will come more into discussion later. They foil a purse snatch and are approached by a man, Mateus (Jon Brazier). He has been sent by his master Prince Vlad (Jeffrey Meek), who fought with Hercules at Antioch, as his kingdom has been invaded by strigoï. Hercules explains that these are vampires and he and Iolaus are off, by ship, to save their friend.

When they land they are threatened by Galen (Stephen Lovatt) and his companion, a mercenary for hire named Darius. Galen has a neat wrist sheath that fires silver tipped ‘arrows’ – for arrow read stake. They warn about the strigoï until Hercules declares his name. It seems Galen’s sister, Nadia, was a refugee who went to Vlad’s castle when the strigoï invaded; he has heard nothing of her since. Galen and Hercules decide to travel together – Mateus unhappy as Vlad sent for Hercules alone and Darius unhappy as he does not wish to split the gold.

field of impalementThe trek affords time for us to learn some of the rules. The strigoï look like you and I, they have no reflections and a stake will kill them. Kill the head vampire and the others return to human – a nice get out of jail. Eventually they reach a field of impalement and comment is made about the name Vlad has gained – the impaler. Mateus claims that only the kingdom's enemies would call him so. Hmm… Vlad the Impaler, lets stop and look at this.

Of course our time frames are completely out. Later Vlad talks about Turks invading his country (at the time the series is set Turkey would be populated but not called Turkey. Troy, for instance, would be in the region). This juxtaposition of history is common within both Hercules and Xena, indeed the series have no regard for history at all (Xena destroys a temple that becomes Stonehenge at one point). However, for the audience, these pointers do lend a familiarity within the series. We now know that Vlad is the baddy, we know the rules we are playing with generally and we feel comfortable because of it – I trust that was the idea, at least.

impaled vampireAnyway, they camp by the impalements but Darius, being greedy, goes to a body to steal a necklace. The body is not as it seems and awakens, attacking Darius and killing him. They destroy the strigoï but Darius quickly turns and they have to destroy him also. Without further ado they head to Vlad’s huge, gothic monstrosity of a castle.

Jeffrey Meek as VladWhen they arrive Vlad is all smiles. He greets his friends, offers to find Nadia and feeds the travellers. Speaking separately to Hercules he explains how his father went mad and tried to murder him – he had to commit patricide. He makes comment about seeing a little bit of his father in his reflection, Hercules can’t see the mirror he references but we see there is no reflection – as though we needed another clue.

This had to happenHercules isn’t buying it. There are, however, refugees in the castle that need rescuing before they leave. Nadia, of course, is now strigoï. How much do you want to bet that Iolaus gets turned? Of course he does, it would have been more of a surprise if the sidekick had remained sacrosanct through the episode. Now just see if you can work out whether his loyalty to Hercules could overcome his undead urges?

We get little further bits of lore. When Hercules goes off alone, Galen gives him Hemlock. Iolaus questions whether you can poison vampires but Galen explains that the poison will weaken them, however it is for Hercules to take if bitten to prevent him turning into a strigoï – strangely I’d have thought that this would have hastened turning rather than preventing it, but I can live with that.

Nadia is now strigoïWe discover that Vlad’s father had become strigoï and attacked Vlad – hence killing him. Vlad sent for Hercules when he was turning and wished to die but the power of vampirism has corrupted him – Hercules’ blood will give him more power, Hercules being half-God. Vlad is the head vampire and we are left with the question of why, if killing the head vampire will save the others, killing his father didn’t prevent the vampirism for Vlad? A plot point neatly sidestepped and ignored.

arm growing backWe see that strigoï can vanish in a puff of mist. When a character has their arm eaten off in an attack and subsequently turns, the arm re-grows in a neat bit of CGI graphics. Bats are involved, but they seem to be window dressing rather than transformed strigoï. The refugees are held in the dungeon as a food source, drained but not turned.

a staked vampire dissolvesWhen a vampire dies they kind of go grey and disintegrate in a cgi mix that worked in a TV show kind of way. The hemlock does knock some strigoï out but it only weakens Vlad to the same power levels as Hercules – making it a fair fight – so we can assume that he was incredibly powerful before.

harvesting Hercules' bloodThe show manages to generate a neat gothic atmosphere through the castle scenes. Okay it is totally over the top, but so was the show. There is an iron maiden set up, putting spikes into the arms and bleeding through the hands of the front piece that looked fantastic and was used to harvest Hercules’ blood. Acting is okay, the general level one would expect for the show. Not Oscar winning but perfectly fine for a network series. Cheesy grins are necessary at the end.

This was fun. The use of Vlad the Impaler was ridiculous in a historic sense but history is of a secondary consideration and it allowed the show to be relevant to the audience without too much exposition. The episode was completely stand alone so there was no over-riding arc getting in the way of the vampiric aspects. Cheesy, historically (and myth-wise) so imperfect it is untrue but also great take your brain out escapism - 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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