Soldiers that were escorting a Roman treasure are killed and the treasure stolen by Aderbad (John Drew Barrymore), the leader of a Sarmatian cult. Rome sends the Centurion Gaius (Ettore Manni) to find out from the governor of the territory, Lutetius (Mino Doro), what happened. Little does he know but Lutetius and his wife Tullio, (Susy Andersen), are in league with the evil magician. Tullio is attracted to Gaius and plans on seducing him. Gaius is attracted to Tullio’s slave, Rhama (Ida Galli). Rhama is being bewitched by Aderbad and is an unwilling priestess in his cult. Aderbad also has some deformed people as minions that do his bidding.
Aderbad worships the daughter of Osiris, the goddess of the dead. He captures Gaius when he follows Rhama to Aderbad’s underground shrine. To prove his power Aderbad drinks the blood of a fallen Roman soldier and brings the dead man back to life as one of his minions. After being rebuffed by Gaius, Tullio wants revenge on Gaius and has Aderbad use Rhama to secretly set Gaius free believing he will return to Lutetius' palace where she can get her revenge and get rid of a husband all at the same time.
Azer (Phillippe Hersent) is the leader of a band of men that broke away from Aderbad. His men captured Gaius but Azer had him released. When Gaius is released from his prison by Rhama he goes to Azer for assistance. Leaving Rhama with Azer, Gaius goes to confront Lutetius. Lutetius is murdered by one of Aderbad’s men. Tullio frames Gaius for the murder. Gaius escapes but Lutetius’ men attack Azer and his people. Rhama is taken back to Aderbad. Gaius tries to warn the authorities but Tullio beats him to it. Gaius is once again imprisoned.
Back in Rome no one has heard from Gaius or anyone in the Sarmatian territory. Rome sends its legions of soldiers to Sarmatia where Aderbad’s army of reanimated soldiers confronts them in a vicious battle.
“Rome Against Rome” AKA “Roma contro Roma” AKA “War of the Zombies” was released in 1964 and was directed by Giuseppe Vari. It is an Italian sword and sandal film with an unusual twist in that it is a strange combination of peplum and “zombie” movie.
The movie is a half way decent sword and sandal movie but a rather pathetic zombie movie. First, it takes well over an hour to get to the zombies. Second, they are not really zombies but ghosts. When International Pictures released it to the U.S. they changed the name of the film to “War of the Zombies”. I’m not sure why they picked zombies instead of ghosts other than the name sounded cool. The zombie craze was in its infancy when the film was released in the U.S. in 1965. The be all to end all zombie movie, “Night of the Living Dead”, wasn’t released until 1968.
One the plus side thanks to Gabor Pogany, Mario Bava and Giorgio Giovannini there is some fascinating cinematography, sets and special effects. The battle between the ghosts and the Romans is especially interesting. You can see Bava’s influence with the blue and red mist that covers the apparitions. Aderbad’s mysterious temple is also nicely done.
In many Italian sword and sandal movies done later in the genre an American actor was added to the cast to give the film more of an American appeal. In this case it is John Drew Barrymore that gets that honor. John was the son of John Barrymore and the father of Drew Barrymore. Not as talented as others in the Barrymore clan he managed to do well enough to provide some note worthy over the top acting in the film. John was cast in the starring role of Lazarus in the original Star Trek series episode “Alternative Factor." When he didn't show up on the first day of filming the producers of the series filed a grievance with the Screen Actors Guild. The Guild suspended his SAG membership for six months. Actor Robert Brown was hired to replace him.