Some years ago, as an active member of The Society Of Fantastic Films, I was fortunate to meet, and become friends with, many people who had achieved notable success in either the literary or film world – sometimes both. One such person, the brilliant horror writer Stephen Laws, allowed me to persuade him to write a piece for our fanzine, Widescreen Movies Magazine. I recently asked him if he would allow us to add it to our online version – and I’m delighted to say he was delighted! So, originally published in 2004, here once again is your chance to enjoy Steve’s recollection of a childhood trip to the cinema with...
A Boy and His Minotaur
As a boy, I still remember the sense of wonder and excitement I’d feel when the cinema lights lowered and went out, just as the cinema screen curtains began to slide open. That feeling of excitement was always heightened tenfold when a familiar whirring sound also accompanied that swish of the curtains. If you didn’t hear that sound, you knew the unfolding movie would be in ‘normal’ screen size. But if you DID hear that sound – you knew that it was the machinery behind the curtains widening the screen, and therefore you were going to get a HUGE widescreen presentation. Quite why I never checked the poster back then to find out beforehand if the movie was going to be in widescreen, I can’t really say. Maybe some part of me wanted not to know, so I could experience that special ‘thrill’ of anticipation.
How The West Was Won was a fantastic experience for me back in 1962, when it was first screened. When I see the movie again on video or television, I still get a measure of that chest-filling emotion I felt just prior to the end credits when the camera swoops over the landscape and Alfred Newman’s choral music swells and plays, but it seems a pale shade of the way I felt in front of that vast, vision-filling Cinerama screen at the Queen’s Cinema, Newcastle.
I guess I could go on forever about movies, and the wonderful widescreen ones that have left their imprint on me. However, John has asked me to write an article on one movie in particular, a movie that made a particular impression; and whereas I could easily write at length on, say, Cy Endfield’s Zulu or Sergio Leone’s superb use of widescreen in his spaghetti westerns, I thought I’d write about a widescreen movie that I saw way back in 1961 at The Imperial Cinema, Byker – but which no one in England appears to have seen since. It was never re-released in the UK, has never been shown on UK television – and its showings in the USA appear to have been rare indeed.
The movie in question was an Italian sword and sandal/peplum adventure entitled Teseo Contra Il Minotauro (Theseus Versus The Minotaur), aka Il Minotauro (The Minotaur) and directed by Silvio Amadio. Known as The Minotaur: The Wild Beast Of Crete in the States, it was released over here in England under the title Warlord Of Crete – and has one the great over-the-top sixties movie posters of all time – some quotes:
I think you’ll agree that’s an awful lot of ‘Sees!’ for a one-and-six seat in the stalls.
Warlord Of Crete starred Bob Mathias – not an actor, but the then Olympic triathlon medal-holder – being given his first chance in the movies (in the tradition of Jim Brown, James Caan and other sportsmen turned thespian), and Rosanna Schiaffino, an established genre female lead of sword and sandal movies, in a good-sister/bad-sister dual role as Phaedra/Ariadne.
And the reason I’ve chosen this movie as my ‘widescreen’ example? Well, I have to go back to that first viewing and give you my nine-year-old memory of what I saw. Here goes...
Back then, my brother and I went to see just about every sword and sandal movie that appeared (the first, Hercules, starring Steve Reeves, had started a whole trend). In those days, the bad dubbing, even worse acting and wobbly special effects didn’t bother us. Round about then, an older friend showed me a new magazine he’d picked up, Famous Monsters Of Filmland. The stills therein opened up a whole new and exciting vista of movie monsters, lost lands, fabulous adventures and downright scary stuff. One of the stills became imprinted on my mind – it was from The Minotaur – but now called Warlord Of Crete. It showed a beautiful maiden in the clutches of a 12-foot, shaggy demon with horns, teeth and huge claws. So when the poster advertising the movie appeared on the billboards, announcing that film’s showing the following week – we were first in line.
It wasn’t like the other sword and sandal movies. Sure, there was a dragon in Hercules, there were big, dopey looking mechanical monsters in Colossus Of The Stone Age – but right from the start, when a young woman is thrown into the labyrinth beneath King Minos’ palace and she is stalked by something large, unseen and with huge claws, we knew that this was a SCARY movie.
Much of the plot details are vague from then, although I already knew the legend of the Minotaur, with Theseus being given a ball of thread that he winds out as he searches the labyrinth for the monster. And it was this latter sequence from the movie that stuck in my memory for these many years.
Theseus warily wanders the darkened tunnels, sees the skulls and skeletons of previous sacrifices strewn on the ground. At any moment, we’re waiting for that thing from the Famous Monsters magazine to leap out on him. I remember the sequence going on for a long time, my brother and I clutching our seats in fear. And then—
Theseus enters a tunnel and moves warily towards us, unaware that there is another tunnel parallel to his own, separated by a thin rock wall. And now see, emerging from the darkness in the second tunnel, a huge and monstrous shape – like a gigantic horned bear – now also shambling towards us. Theseus and the Minotaur are only inches away from each other, separated by that thin rock wall, both heading towards the camera. Theseus doesn’t know the thing is there, but does the Minotaur sense his presence, only inches away, as they head on in the same direction? My brother and I could see that in a very few moments they’d reach the turning where both tunnels converge, and then...and then...and then...
The monster lunges, Theseus darts aside – and a fight to the death ensues. The beast is gigantic, slashing with its claws. Theseus’ small sword seems hopelessly ineffective. He just manages to keep out of its reach (Hell, we’re talking Bob Mathias, Olympic champion here!). Theseus dives into a cleft in the rock wall. The monster claws after him, but can barely reach – and that’s when the short sword comes into its own. Theseus plunges it into the exposed belly of the beast. It staggers away, blood oozing. The heroine appears! The foolish woman has followed her loved one into the labyrinth! Oh no! The beast goes for her. Theseus leaps to her defence, manages to burn out its eyes with a blazing torch – and then brains it with a rock. The Minotaur is dead. Hero and heroine embrace. Crete is free of the Minotaur...
Ever since that one and only viewing, I’ve kept my eye open for a re-release of the movie. It never appeared again. Never in any cinema in the North East of England, where I still live – and never, but never on television. As the years progressed, as movies are rediscovered and released on video, I always thought: “One day, one day...” But no, it’s never been released.
Then, with the advent of the internet, I continued my search among the rare, hard-to-find-movie retailers. Nothing. Then, last Christmas on eBay: There it was – a video. One and only.
After an intense and nail-biting auction, I managed to acquire same – at an utterly ridiculous price. (Someone somewhere is very happy – especially so, since although the video box has movie poster artwork and what looks at first sight to be a professional video releasing company logo, the movie turns out to have been taped from an American TV channel).
I sat down to watch the movie, aware that some of the movies from my youth have failed to live up to expectations. The movie begins, and off we go. And hey, this movie has a much better than average music score by Carlo Rustichelli. The movie looks good, it’s got a decent plot – and whereas no one here is going to win an Oscar, it’s less wooden than I’d been used to.
Whoops! There goes the sacrificial maiden, down the hatch and into the hole. Wait a moment, things have got a little splicey here. An old print, or has something been cut out? And now – arrgh! The hairy claws of the Minotaur have grabbed her, just as I remember.
I’m watching the movie, and trying to pay attention, but really, I’m waiting for the stalking sequence in the labyrinth, and the scary scene with two tunnels. Here it comes, and - oh, bloody hell – because the movie is full frame (not even pan and scan), we can’t see the tunnels properly, we can’t see the skulls and skeletons that Theseus is reacting to – and now he’s in the tunnel heading towards us – AND WE CAN’T SEE THE TUNNEL NEXT TO HIM! Oh no, we can’t see the Minotaur heading in the same direction. It needs widescreen! Someone, quickly, press a switch – do something! Give me widescreen! I need to see this in WIDESCREEN!
Suddenly, the Minotaur lunges, the fight begins. And yes, the 12-foot nightmare that haunted my dreams does now look, after all these years, like a guy staggering under the weight of a huge moth-eaten Muppet harness-and-fake-head. The fight is just as I remember, and in a strange schizophrenic way, the adult ‘me’ is wearing a wry smile and shaking his head, while the 9 year-old ‘me’, still buried deep inside, is reliving the same thrill and metaphorically bouncing up and down on a cinema seat of the mind.
By the time the movie finishes, and the tape is rewinding, I’ve invented a whole new series of trailer tag-lines to accompany that viewing experience.
So there you go – my most potent ‘widescreen’ memory. A forty year vigil for a widescreen moment that ended up as a full-screen disappointment.
Needless to say – anyone out there with a WIDESCREEN print of the movie is destined to be my new best friend!
For more information about Steve’s excellent books,
And finally... a brief word about Theseus himself – Bob Mathias.
Warlord Of Crete, would be his only appearance in a peplum feature. A six-foot-three two-time Olympic Decathlon Gold Medal winner – first in London in the 1948 Olympics and then in Helsinki in 1952 – he would be recognized as one of the world’s greatest field event athletes.
After graduating from Stamford University in 1952, with a B.A. in Education, he enlisted and served for two and half years in the U.S. Marine Corps, promoted to the rank of captain before being honourably discharged.
Mathias would star in a film of his own life, The Bob Mathias Story (1954), followed by appearances, usually in cameo roles, in numerous 1950s TV series – including 26 episodes of The Troubleshooters (1960), with Keenan Wynn. He also featured in the 1958 war drama China Doll and 1962’s It Happened In Athens.
Throughout the latter half of the 1950s and into the 60s, he served as a Goodwill Ambassador for America, visiting more than forty countries on America’s behalf, before being elected to the U.S. House Of Representatives in 1966, where he served four two-year terms.
Mathias was inducted into the Olympic Hall Of Fame in 1983.
In 1996, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but would survive until 2006, when he passed away on September 2nd, aged 75.
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John Hayes/Wide Screen Movies Magazine
Last revised: 26 November, 2019
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