Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) – Mario Bava

Reg Park stars as Hercules in the next film about the Devil’s Work in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies. Arriving home after his previous adventure, he learns that his beloved princess, Deianira (Lenora Ruffo) is in a supenatural coma, and that he, and his friends Theseus (George Ardisson) and Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) must venture into the underworld to retrieve a magical stone that will restore her.

What they don’t suspect is that the evil king, Lico (Christopher Lee) is in league with the forces of the underworld, and plans to marry Deianira himself when she is restored, and then sacrificed to Darkness.

Directed by Mario Bava (!) this film nicely combines the sword and sandal epic with horror, as Hercules finds himself confronting the shades of Hades as well as besting zombies that are protecting Lico at the film’s climax.

An Italilan made film, the English release had Christopher Lee dubbed by another English actor. Let’s just take that in for a moment, as that is more absurd than some of the things in the film – who would have the audacity to think that someone should dub over Lee’s performance?! Let the man do his own ADR!

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Filled with dreamlike imagery, and some comic relief, provided by Telemachus, the film is a fun look at the underworld, even if it is one where the good guys always win against Darkness, and everyone gets a happy ending.

For a film that barely runs an hour and twenty four minutes, there is an actual epic feel to it, with lots of changes in locales, scuffles, and pretty clever in camera effects as well as makeup, that bring it all to life.

This is definitely the stuff of the Saturday matinee, but you can see that it would be a precursor and influencer to the film adaptations of Conan in the 80s. In fact Arnold Schwarzenegger claims that Reg Park’s appearance in this film was part of the inspiration to follow his own dreams.

And Park, because of his bulk, had to do his own stunts as there were no stuntmen built up like him at the time. So while the action sequences and such are fairly ho-hum by today’s standards it’s cool to know that he had to do all of these things himself. He really threw himself into the role.

Bava’s work is solid, and entertaining, you can see his love of darkness and Gothic and horror images at play in this film, even with all the heroics going on. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and while Telemachus grated after awhile, I realise he was there to be a safety release for the younger viewers, and to give them a laugh.

I am so digging this chapter in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies, so why don’t you pick up a copy and find something monstrous to watch tonight?

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