Director: Mario Bava
Screenwriter: Mario Bava
Soundtrack: Armando Torvajoli
Starring: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardisson, Ida Galli
Run Time: 1Hr 28Mins
Ratio: 2:35:1 Colour
Language: Italian-English Subs
Format: DVD Region 1
Mario Bava’s Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (1961) is another adventure in the Hercules cycle popular in Italy during the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s. The Hercules mythology was very popular in Italian cinema ever since the 20’s and many variations and adventures were filmed for the Greek hero. Reg Parks, a British bodybuilder was cast as Hercules with a two sidekicks and an evil nemesis played by Christopher Lee, starlight from his success as Hammer’s Dracula. In a few countries this movie was promoted as Hercules meets the Vampires! which already typecast Lee as the uber-vampire lord!! The US title is Hercules In The Haunted World an altogether creepier title but bears little resemblance to the story locations.
This time our hero must travel to Hades to retrieve a life giving glowing stone which will cure his beloveds illness. All the while Hercules must fight stone monsters, evil witch women, flying zombie vampire creatures, and finally face off against Lico (Christopher Lee) and more flying zombie-vampires. Lee wanted to move away from the Dracula persona he was now so associated with, so trips to Italy to star in movies he was offered was a must. Though this film was marketed on some countries as a vampire movie, all because of Lee’s role!
This film is again a delirious mix of colours, lighting, mist and sets that are lurid and wonderful all at the sametime, so if nothing else this is a feast of visual delights which the viewer cannot but emmerce themselves in the beautiful visuals presented before them.
The script maybe basic, the plot simple but that is not what this film is all about, this is a Bava movie and as been pointed out before, Bava has an inexhaustible colour visual eye and a full pallet of colours which is a feast to the eye. Apparently this film was Bava’s second feature as a director, after his debut with ‘Black Sunday’ which had done excellent business worldwide. When you take into account all of Bava’s movies you can see the specific and unique visual style that Bava employs, a trademark if you like that has often been copied but never bettered.
As mythology is about the fantastic and wondrous, Bava is best suited to the genre, and is of interest to note that he contributed to many Peplums, both as cinematographer and as art directors over the years Bava’s eye for the colourful worlds of the Ancients brought to life what we thought it looked like. Unlike the first Hercules film’s with Steve Reeves, this Hercules movie is dark and foreboding in it’s tone the tasks set for our hero are scary and dangerous, though all only breed to appropriate usage of muscle and all ends well.
In the climactic scene where Hercules is overwhelmed by the flying zombies it is a treat to watch the insane visuals in front of your eyes and not be amazed. As the creatures rise up from their tombs is delirious blues and blacks and greens, covered in smoke and dust and flying through the air trying to attack our hero you feel scared and delirious at they same time as so much is happening and this scene is so much a for runner to the later Zombie movie cycle. Bava’s extensive use of trick photography including his trademark fore and background shots, and various matte shots all created in the studio it is a testament to Bava’ ingenuity that this film is his first foray into colour and what an experience he had from baroque Black & White visuals to glorious technicolor.
Bava could be quite clearly labelled a master of the visual arts and through his long career through all his genre film making it is clear that he enjoyed making movies going experience a treat for his audience. like a great painter, Bava was able to bring his world’s to life and for us to enjoy.
Hercules In The Haunted World is a must see gem, just to witness Bava’s extraordinary use of colours, photography and special effects and the wild sets, creatures, beautiful maidens and heros ready to do battle are all in this heady mix of sword and sandal mythology, true fun!!!