Wednesday, August 30, 2006

XV. ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA (HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD) (1961)



ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA (HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD)

Year; 1961

Director & Writer; Mario Bava & Franco Prosperi
Country; Italy.
Duration; 77 mins [UK] 83 mins [Germany]91 mins [Italy / USA]
Original Ratio; (2:35:1)
Available; DVD Region 1 Fantomas DVD release.
Colour * 16/9 (2:35:1)*English / Italian Dub*

Alternative;
Hercule contre les vampires – French title/Hercules at the Center of the Earth – US title/Hercules in the Centre of the Earth – UK title/Hercules in the Haunted World – US title/Hercules vs the Vampires/Herkules gegen die Vampire – Austrian title/Herkules voittaa helvetin – Finnish title/Vampire gegen Herakles – German title

The Players; Reg Park [Ercole]Leonora Ruffo [Princess Deianira of Ecalia] Christopher Lee (King Lico) George Ardisson [Teseo]Marisa Belli [Aretusa]Ida Galli [Miosotide]Franco Giacobini [Telemaco]Mino Doro [Keros]Rosalba Neri [Aegle]Ely Dracò [Giocasta]Gaia Germani [Medea]Raf Baldassarre [leader of the cutthroats]

As we have seen Mario Bava was no stranger to the ‘style’ of Ercole and it wasn’t long before he changed his technical ‘support’ role and went behind the camera with Franco Prosperi and between them produced one of the most definitive examples of the peplum genre.

Previously Bava had mastered the black and white technique with the haunting ‘Black Sunday’. If ‘Black Sunday’ hoisted the new plane of black and white cinematography then Hercules in the Haunted World achieved the same with blazing colour, breathing new ‘stylish’ life into a genre ignored and overlooked by the snobbish critics.

Ghoulish monsters, convoluted and intelligent narrative twists all set against a luminous terrain sets this movie leagues above its’ predecessors.

To top it all Christopher lee plays the villain magician ‘King Lico’, as always Mr. Lee brings a wonderfully ephemeral sinisterness to the character which is a joy to watch.

Reg Park plays Hercules and brings life back into the character he is also accompanied by a decent supporting cast – another true bonus.

Hercules returns from his Labours across the ancient landscape. When he returns he teams up with his best friend Theseus.

Hercules learns his true love Princess Deianira of Ecalia has been reportedly been in a powerful trance and is seemingly losing her grip on reality.

Hercules visits the mysterious, broody and sinister King Lico who advises that the answer for the cure lies with a Sibyl. They meet and she informs Hercules that the solution is in the underworld; he needs to venture to Hespirides where an apple will open the pathway to the stone of forgetfulness. This could restore Deianira’s memory but there will be perils along the way until the goal is scored and very deadly they are too….

Hercules gives up his immortality and with Theseus and Telemachus, the ‘stooge’ of the trio, voyage to the underworld.

The three venture into The Land of Night where they are tested by the harshest endurances. This netherworld is saturated in blue and red light. Rock pools bubble anticipating any poor souls fall into the burning inferno, there are supernatural abominations ready to attack and flying zombie vampires that acrobat through the air to sup the blood of their victims.

Bava pulls out all the stops and achieves stunning vortexes and whirlpools of texture and colour, bold, vibrant, sense sticking colour. At one stage our heroes manoeuvre themselves across a bubbling pool of lava by hand to rope. This sequence is a little masterpiece that demonstrates triumph using the barest of special effects. The variegated sequences of blue hue forests and the dank tombs are also worth a mention bringing Bava’s psychedelic nightmare into existence.


Bava’s miniatures and soundstages are transformed into lavish vistas and at first glance it seems colour itself has now been morphed into solidity leaving an echo of its former solid shape.

I first read a review of this movie in Hardy’s Aurum Encyclopedia of Horror Film, not one of the best references but never the less intriguing. I saw pictures and stills later and finally caught the tail end of the movie dubbed into German on early ’90’s satellite television, I recall RTL or SAT1 stations used to screen these on a Saturday afternoon. With such tasty glimpses I forgot about the movie but not completely.

For years I awaited a trigger to spark my dormant enthusiasm and fortunately Hercules in the Haunted World was given a new lease of life on a bells and whistles DVD region 1 release - available on this link. Eventually I could finally see ‘animated’ what had been dormant in my mind as a montage of stills for years, and I was bowled over.

We are spoiled rotten in what has to be the definitive release, the visuals are so sharp and pristine it looks as though it was film a month ago. The Fantomas DVD is platinum quality, I’d think I’d weep if I knew what versions and quality this has been released on in the past. Fortunately this version would blow all the others out of the water I would imagine.It is region 1 only and unfortunately is not available in the United Kingdom, this is a crying shame.

The film itself has aged admirably well and is a truly amazing piece of craftsmanship. The only shame is that Mario Bava didn’t do a few more but he returned to the giallo/thriller genre and remained in that niche forever more, pioneering some bloodthirsty firsts that would start a legacy..............


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