Mario Bava, again. Watching his films or more precisely, rediscovering them after a few decades is turning into a revelation on how insanely creative he was as an all-round filmmaker. Writing/co-writing, directing, designing and a special effects whiz working on limited funds and more. While not all of his work is great, there’s a lot of greatness to see in how well a lot of it came together.
1961’s Erik The Conqueror might in spots be a too-close for its own good reworking of Richard Fleischer’s 1958 hit The Vikings. But Bava makes it well worth watching thanks to great use of color, a more fantastical tone and yep, that Bava touch that gets one smiling because the illusions created onscreen do a fantastic job in transporting one into the past (albeit a past that never took place as shown here). Arrow Video’s recently released 2K remastered Blu-Ray/DVD combo is a great way to check out this colorful near-epic, although it’s light on special features.
For a lower-budget flick, Bava squeezes out some great work, opening with a surprisingly brutal battle scene with English troops laying waste to a Viking village. In the chaos, twin boys Erik and Eron are separated with one escaping and the other being left behind only to be taken back to England and raised by the queen herself. Flash forward 25 years and we get George Ardisson (Erik) and Cameron Mitchell (Eron) at each other’s throats, a pair of gorgeous Vestal virgins (twins Ellen and Alice Kessler) who have a hell of a lot of trouble keeping their vows and more action than you can shake a stick at. Both actors are excellent given the material although they kind of don’t look much alike.
Well, the two brothers don’t meet up right away, but that doesn’t stop Bava from packing the film with some great imagery that carries the plot along. From the comic book-like colors and camera angles used in the underground Viking lair to bits of comic relief in spots, the movie works its magic for all of its 98 minutes. That opening battle is great stuff, as is the sea battle where Viking and English fleets battle it out and the two brothers unknowingly clash swords. For me, the best scene is when the Vikings need to choose who to represent them in battle and Eron has to fight fellow Viking Garian (Joe Robinson) with both men needing to make their own weapons using forges and hammers. Watching Mitchell and Robinson bang away at their weapons of choice is hilarious and over the top, but it works well enough thanks to both actors going at it full tilt.
Of course, paying too much attention to the plot will reveal a few amusing holes here and there. But overall, this is one of those fun films to watch on an otherwise dreary afternoon because it’ll make you feel almost as if you’re 40 or so years younger plopped down in front of the tube with some freshly made popcorn and a beverage of choice on a weekend without a care in the world. Well, that’s how I felt, folks.
As for the aforementioned special features, you get a solid commentary track from Tim Lucas, and Gli imitatori, a fun introduction to Italian cinema’s swiping of Hollywood epics for its own flicks using clips from this film and The Vikings for comparison. There’s also a brief bonus that has the original ending shot to the film which only exists as a few seconds on a blurry VHS tape. It’s a neat inclusion that adds closure to things as the film just goes to black with no credits. It’s too bad the footage couldn’t be restored, but hey – you can only work digital miracles when you have something better to start with.
This one’s a keeper and yep, double it up with The Vikings just because I think Bava would have wanted it that way.
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher