This fourth TV movie is my favourite movie instalment after the excellent 'Hercules and the Lost Kingdom'.
We find that Hercules is now a family man, married to Deianeira and with three children (two boys and a girl). Seemingly, some time has passed since we last saw him Hercules and Deianeira in the previous adventure, 'Hercules and the Circle of Fire', as the children are several years old (unless, with Herc being a half-God, they grow at an unusually fast rate!).
Each of the Hercules TV movies seem to open with a demonstration of Hercules testing his strength before the main adventure, and this time he is called into action when villagers are duped into fighting a bloodthirsty giant called Eryx. After a long struggle with Eryx, Herc disposes of the bloodthirsty giant on a broken wooden post.
Hercules' idyllic life is interrupted when Iole, a beautiful young woman, comes to him for help to save her village, where a crack to the underworld has opened up, literally leaking evil. Deianeira is instantly both jealous and suspicious of the attractive Iole, but still takes care of her – but her concerns deepen when an old lady warns Deianeira that Iole is a Nurian maiden, trained to lure men to their death.
Hercules has a new friend, Nessus, who is a centaur. This is the first time we have seen a centaur in the franchise (Cheiron the Satyr in the previous movie, 'Hercules and the Circle of Fire', was originally a centaur but changed to a Satyr for sake of simplicity). Considering the modest television budgets, the centaur effects, of merging a man with a horse, are very impressive (if slightly wobbly in a couple of shots).
Nessus is a hard character to work out. In his first scene, he appears to be good friends with Hercules. But in his next, he is in a bar and speaking very jealously and low of Hercules. He goes on to make strong, forceful advances on Deianeira, and later [spoiler] tries to rape her (though it is presented very tamely) until (spoiler) Hercules kills him with an arrow through the back. Even in the Underworld, Nessus is Hercules' tormentor. [end of spoiler] It is hard to deduce if he has somehow fallen under Hera's spell, as at first he seems very likeable.
Mid-way on the journey, there is a subplot about Iole's would-be lover, but it is never fully played upon and in some ways seems included to bump up the running time.
The first half of this movie is well executed and very good to watch, but not exceptional and wouldn't be my second favourite movie entry; It is not until later, that Hercules makes his way down into the Underworld, that things really start to kick in and get impressive.
Arriving in Iole's town, Hercules examines the abyss through to the Underworld – the neon gasses and the screaming spirits leaking out remind me of the ghosts leaking out of the containment unit in 'GhostBusters' (1984). Examining the abyss, Hercules has to question to his father, Zeus, whether his mortal or immortal. Zeus just angrily warns him away from the abyss, though this causes a slight sense of déjà vu after his actions in the previous story, 'Hercules and the Circle of Fire'.
Fed up of the games of the Gods, Hercules plans to just walk away from the situation, but, wearing a cloak given to him by Iole, Hercules is attacked by it (you kind of have to see it!) and is so angered (or insane) by it that he plunges into the abyss.
After making a brief appearance at the start of the story as one of two drunken locals who meet their grisly demise after getting to close to the crack through to the Underworld, Michael Hurst (better known for playing Iolaus) also plays Charon, boatman to the Underworld. Almost unrecognisable under his make-up and costume, Hurst plays Charon in the style of a New York taxi driver. Apparently, another actor was originally lined up to play the role, but fell ill, and Hurst took over. As well as playing Iolaus in the series, Hurst reprises the role of Charon several times. However, I found him playing the drunken villager (complete with dark wig) to be slightly distracting.
Back on the world of the living, Deianeira receives word of Hercules' seeming death, and is so distraught that she is lured over a cliff by a vision of him, plunging to her own death.
Once in the Underworld, Hercules encounters three beautiful but deadly maidens, who entangle him with their long, snake like tongues! Once free of them (snapping and tongues!), Herc has to escape a mass of zombies, before advancing to the next level of the Underworld and encountering a horde of villains whom Hercules slayed - including the giant Eryx! The scenes rank as possibly the scariest seen in the entire run of 'Hercules: The Legendary Journeys' – and are some of my very favourite!
Hades is here played by Mark Ferguson, a different actor and a very different look (complete with toga) compared to that of the regular television series, where he would be played by played by Erik Thomson and has a much more war-like costume and manner.
After some bartering, Hercules strikes a deal – Deianeira can return to the world of the living if Hercules can capture Cerberus, the fierce three-headed guard dog of Hades, who has broken three and is wreaking havoc in the Underworld.
Cerberus has already had several failed capture attempts by a band of rotting hunters, who have some great makeup, and some simple but effective shots of detached limbs, etc.
All-in-all, this is a very good adventure. The first half is good, but it is the second half, particularly with its scary Underworld scenes and Hercules' capturing Cerberus, that raises this to my second favourite of the five TV movies.