Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hercules In The Haunted World

Although it was not unusual for Italian sword-and-sandal adventures to pit their musclebound heroes against monsters or strange creatures, this atmospheric fantasy from acclaimed director Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY) careens way over past other pepla into the horror genre.

Back as the titular Greek god is Reg Park, who had just played Hercules for director Vittorio Cottafavi in HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN. Not only is HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD a marvelously sumptuous treat for the eyes with its fascinating color schemes and imaginative visual effects, but it also provides Hercules with a strong opposite—not physically, of course, but no less dangerous than if he were beefed up to Parkian proportions—in Christopher Lee, then well known for playing Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster in Hammer productions.

Unfortunately, Lee’s distinctive baritone is dubbed by another actor, which dilutes his performance to some degree. Lee uses his stern countenance to good avail as the evil Lico, the uncle of Hercules’ betrothed, the beautiful Princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo). Hercules (Park) returns home from his latest adventure to learn from Lico that Deianira has taken ill and is unable to rule, leaving her uncle in charge. Actually, Lico has hypnotized her into a zombie state in order to seize the throne.

To cure his special lady and restore her to her rightful place as ruler of Ecalia, Hercules teams up with his best friend Theseus (Giorgio Ardisson) and Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) to first retrieve a golden apple from a creepy tree, and then use it to gain entrance to Hell, where a magic stone that can restore Deianira’s soul rests. But, hey, that’s all child’s play next to the zombie army Lico keeps in his catacombs to ward off intruders while he sacrifices his niece to the gods.

Less exciting than the earlier CAPTIVE WOMEN, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD makes up for its relative lack of action by washing everything in cool green and red and blue colors or drenching its strange worlds in shadows. Bava does deliver some rousing heroics, of course, and Park is more than up to the task—for instance, the opening, in which he tosses a huge wagon at a band of invaders. Bava’s use of glass paintings, gels, and miniatures are sublime. HAUNTED WORLD is one of the best pepla.


Grant said...

I get the feeling that Christopher Lee has missed doing his own dubbing more times than any other English-speaking actor in Italian films (I can only think of one of them offhand where I know for sure it was his own voice). About the only time it doesn't bother me is in the comedy UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE, and that's partly because the "echo chamber" (or whatever it is) makes the voice sound at least a little like his.
One of the nice things about this movie is how much of a "buddy movie" it is when it comes to Hercules and Theseus. Somehow I never completely go for the "teenage" Ulysses in the first two Steve Reeves movies, or even Hercules' own son in CAPTIVE WOMEN. It gives those movies sort of a "Batman and Robin" quality, which I like when it's played for laughs by people Adam West and Burt Ward, but not in too many other places.
Another great peplum film with a horror movie feeling is GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, but you might have done that one already (I'm not sure).

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Marty McKee said...

Hi, Grant, always great to read your thoughts. I don't remember if I ever blogged about GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, but I have seen it, and it is also a pretty good pepla.