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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bava, Bitumen and Bronzed Muscles, 3 Aug 2010
G. Meldrum (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hercules in the Haunted World [DVD] [1962] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
A sumptuous and visually stunning piece of cinema, `Hercules in the Haunted World' is a real feast for the eyes, not to mention a deeply enjoyable adventure. It concerns, of course, the exploits of everyone's favourite classically mythological muscleman, in this case journeying into Hades itself to fetch the "living stone" that will free his beloved Deianira (Leonora Ruffo) from the morbid, zombie-like trance imposed upon her by her wicked uncle Lyco (Christopher Lee). But in the process, Hercules must contend not only with the terrors of the underworld, but also the more mortal problems of a best friend whose lust for the daughter of a god brings a curse upon the land of the living...

`Hercules in the Haunted World' is the second film to be directed by the now-legendary (and rightly so) Mario Bava (after `Black Sunday'), but more importantly, it is Bava's first ever film in colour, and the master truly goes to town with this new addition to his repertoire, rapidly establishing himself as a pioneer of the visual arts. Bava uses bold primary colours to give his vision of Hades a genuinely unearthly atmosphere, and as such the film demonstrates a brilliant balance between vigor and atmosphere, energetic, heroic exploits juxtaposed with grim, hallucinogenic vistas. Shots are framed and composed exquisitely (just take a look at the first shot of Hercules in Lyco's throne-room), and whilst the film was comparatively inexpensive, the effects and mis-en-scene are relentlessly inventive. Just read Tim Lucas's excellent liner notes, for instance, for a great example of how Bava improvised a compositionally-necessary pillar when he found himself lacking. The overall ambience is definitely dream-like: in fact, there's something awfully reminiscent of Jean Cocteau in several of the film's scenes.

The actors all impress, Reg Park in particular making his mark as an impressively built but also rather thoughtful Hercules, a likeable, moral representation of the demi-god which works as a nice contrast to Hercules's frequent portrayal in pop culture as an irresponsible boor. Lee is, even at this stage, typecast as the would-be-vampiric villain of the piece, but though he's in the film for around a third of its duration, acquits himself well. Also of note are George Ardisson as smug, athletic ladies man Theseus, and Franco Giacobini as the comical and hard-done by Telemachus, who is used sparingly enough to stay on the right side of that age-old amusing / irritating divide.

Highlights? Well, aside from the depiction of Hades itself, the final fifteen minutes of the film gift us the memorable sight of Hercules fighting the living dead, in a `rising from their graves' scene that won't be surpassed until `Tombs of the Blind Dead' a good decade or so later. What's more, the dead can even glide (at least to start with), and have the audacity to assault Herc as he's trying to negotiate a passageway whose walls close in on him! If nothing else, this really adds to our sympathy for the embattled hero: not only must he deal with mortal betrayal and supernatural assailants, but even the landscape itself is his foe, an appropriate culmination of this theme for a film in which Park takes the negotiating of treacherous terrain to an art form.

In short then, this is a wonderful, vital piece of cinema, ostensibly part of the peplum `swords and sandals' genre, but capable of appealing to a much broader audience. The DVD transfer itself is absolutely superb, all the contrasting colours and light-levels lovingly represented. Seek out and be overwhelmed.
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Hercules in the Haunted World [DVD] [1962] [US Import] [NTSC]
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