AKA FURY OF THE VIKINGS, GLI INVASORI [THE INVADERS]
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 28th August, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 89 mins/ 81 mins [UK cinema release/ 79 mins [US cinema release]
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 786 AD, the Vikings are invading Britain. Against the wishes of King Loter of Scotland, Sir Rutford leads an attack on the settlement of King Harald, the only Viking chieftain interested in maintaining peace, and Harald is slain. His two young sons Erik and Eron are seperated, Eron escaping to Denmark while Erik is left behind. King Loter threatens to strip Rutford of his title, but Rutford retaliates by having his assassin Blak kill Loter. Loter’s wife, Queen Alice, finds Erik hiding on the beach and decides to raise him as her own son. 20 years later, Eron defeats Garian to become the Viking Chief for a new raid on Britain….
One of Mario Bava’s rarest pictures though I have no idea why, his third effort Erik The Conqueror, which is not at all to be confused with Erik The Viking ,was the one movie by this under appreciated director that I hadn’t seen when I put Arrow’s disc into my player. If you’re a longtime reader of this website then you’ll probably recall my series of Bava reviews several years ago and know my love and admiration for his work, be it his gorgeous visuals, his ability to create something from virtuallly nothing, or his expertise at scaring. While known primarily as a horror director, his non-horror work [well, aside from Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs, the reviewing of which I found a painful experience when 101 Films brought it out on Blu-ray a couple of years ago], containing as it does many of the same themes as his chillers, is all worthwhile too, and Erik The Conqueror is certainly worth your time, a lively, action-filled costume romp full of vivid imagery and staging that has the Bava touch, while also containing quite a strong storyline, though I must say right now that if you’re a history buff you may very well be biting your tongue at the countless inaccuracies, so it’s best to try not to take the movie too seriously!
As you may well have realised already if you know your old movies, 1958’s The Vikings was the clear inspiration for this one, the Italian craze for imitating popular American pictures which reached a peak some time later already underway. Saying that, the story that Bava, and his co-screenwriters Oreste Biancoli and Piero Pierotti came up with does have some major differences and even when scenes from the earlier film are rehashed they’re usually tweaked. Bava had just finished photographing The Last Of The Vikings, also with Cameron Mitchell and George Ardisson. Erik The Conqueror was shot partly on sets and using props from Bava’s previous film Hercules In The Haunted World, and made much use of that beach near Anzio which he used so often throughout his career. The model ships were made from buitoni pasta! Bava left the shooting of the naval battle till the end as the fake fog was making him feel ill, and collapsed just as he finished it, though that was also down to exhaustion as he’ d been working nonstop for a great many years. He took six month off, a very long time for him to be not working. As usual for a Bava film released in the US by American International Pictures, Erik The Viking was cut [by 10 minutes], removing the opening scroll and narration, nd trimming some violence and ‘comic’relief, though they didn’t get Les Baxter to redo the music this time. The UK version, entitled Fury Of The Vikings, was only 8 minutes shorter than the original, it being closer to the Italian cut [though of course dubbed] but with the BBFC making their own edits so the film could get a ‘U’ certificate.
The Bava fan in me all but cheered during the opening credits that take place over that beach during sunset. I’m not sure why we needed both scrolling text on screen and a narrator [well, unless of course you watch the English dubbed version], but anyway it leads us into a neat reversal of the opening of The Vikings which had the Vikings attacking the English, leaving us in no doubt of their raping and pillaging nature, something that provided some intriguing discomfort throughout the whole film. Here, we have the Scots massacring the Vikings who are portayed as being rather nicer throughout. Likewise, Eron is quickly established as a much more pleasant character than the brute that Kirk Douglas played. It’s a much longer scene too, though Bava, as usual struggling with limited resources, does something quite clever: he avoids showing much blood or violent detail except for one really brutal moment of a spear impaling both a child and the woman carrying it, and it has great impact even though it’s quickly cut away from. The Viking King Harard is killed and his two sons seperated. Cut to 20 years later and we get a stunning Bava tableau, with lots of that wonderful Bava phosphorescent green light, where a crane shot rises up past some skulls to reveal a pair of unlucky lovers chained back-to-back to a post and wrapped in barbed wire. The woman is a vestal virgin, which I didn’t think existed in Viking culture, but then Bava’s not interested in realism and this was probably a good decision as the meagre budget would have made that difficult to achieve anyway. The shot continues up to reveal a chorus of dancing beauties fanning out behind them, to entertain at their trial, plus the base of a huge twisted tree in this grotto.
Eron wants to return to Britain to wreck vengeance, while Erik actually is in Britain, having been adopted by Queen Alice. She’s called the queen of Britain though I thought we were supposed to be Scotland? And I didn’t think that her reigning as monarch after the death of her husband, the King, would happened under the British royal system. O well, it’s best not to think about things like that. Anyway, she’s constantly being pestered by the wicked Sir Rutford, who killed her husband king and who is intent on taking over the throne from Queen Alice, even if he has to turn traitor to do it. A naval battle results in Erik’s ship being sunk and he narrowly surviving to wash up on Scandiavian shores while Eron and his Vikings kidnap Alice. Eron falls for a pretty Viking lass called Daya while his lost brother is already secretly involved with someone named Rama – who happens to be Daya’s twin sister! Bava’s recurring theme of duality results in some amusing complications and is used at the end to add a typically ironic Bava touch to perhaps the most moving scene he ever filmed, even if seems to take forever for someone to die. On the other hand the Eron/Rama romance seems absurdly rushed – they meet on a beach, exchange some dialogue highly reminiscent of a similar scene in Helen Of Troy, then meet again and he plants a smacker on there after which the camera moves away to the water suggesting You Know What. Considering Rama’s supposed to be a vestal virgin, it’s none too believable, but Bava seems to be aware of this as he lingers on the waves for rather longer than necessary. In fact some other parts of the story seem rushed too, as if they just ran out of money.
Anyway, Erik The Conqueror is mostly more concerned with action, and especially considering the tiny budget he had to work with, Bava provides some fairly good battle scenes utilising well chosen angles and edits to give the impression that there are far more people than there actually are [though I think I noticed the same extras dying several times]. They easily compare with the equivalent scenes in its bigger budgeted predecessor, and Erik’s climb up a castle wall by using arrow-hilts as hand-holds may be even cooler than Kirk Douglas’s Einar doing the same thing with thrown axes. Even the one-on-one naval battle looked far better than I expected – yes, you only get a couple of shots of the actual ships but they certainly look they have people in them even if they don’t, while the editing is extremely clever the way it gets around the restrictions. Also well put together is a ravine pursuit and rescue – you won’t believe how it was achieved [you find out in the special features], as it looks so damn good. One villain gets a great Rashomon-style death in a film which isn’t gratuitiously bloody but perhaps slightly more so than most similar films of the time -though I must say I’m surprised at the ’15’ certificate it’s now got from the BBFC. I would have thought a ’12’ would have been fine for a film that’s certainly pacey and colourful enough to be enjoyed by younger teenagers with their fathers.
Bava, as usual acting as his own cinematographer, gives us lots of lovely shots that belong in a museum, like two women bathed in red during a sunset, and glorious compositions of blue, green and red light are prevalent through. While some of his fakery is hard to spot even for modern eyes, sometimes he just revels in it, such as a beautifully composed love scene on what is obviously a revolving platform. Mitchell, who later played a similar though darker role in another Viking film for Bava Knives Of The Avenger, broods nicely though I could have done with him turning it up a notch. Mitchell does have a strong screen presence though. In some ways George Ardisson does a better job with a harder role, and the Kessler sisters aren’t bad considering they’d never acted before. Sadly Franco Giacobini, who’d been so annoying in Bava’s previous film Hercules In The Haunted World, returns as a similar comic relief’ character here, but thankfully his screen time is limited this time round. Composer Roberto Nicolosi composed quite an exciting, large-scale score for this film, though I was distracted when a love scene had what sounded like his love theme for Black Sunday played over it. In fact it’s a different piece and is later heard in a different form, but remains exceedingly similar in that first incarnation. I didn’t expect Bava’s cheap and cheerful costume actioner to be a major work from him, and therefore wasn’t disappointed in that respect, but it did turn out to be a much lusher, more expansive-looking film than the decidedly minimalist Knives Of The Avenger, the director really working wonders with what he had. Of course in Hi-Definition, our modern eyes can’t help but spot some of the joins more than matinee audiences would have done in 1963, but Erik The Conqueror is still exciting, great looking and eventually even quite moving.
Erik The Conqueror comes to Blu-ray in an exemplary restoration by Arrow Video, showcasing Bava’s gorgeous lighting schemes to their best advantage. A faint line appears on the screen for a few minutes about a quarter of the way in, but it looks like something that was on the original negative and therefore virtually impossible to remove. Otherwise I can’t fault the picture quality whatsoever. I watched it in Italian but occasionally switched over to the English language version. The dubbing isn’t bad, as far as these things go, and many cast members do appear to be speaking English even though they were all dubbed, including Mitchell. The English subtitles appear to be dub-titles though, copying exactly the words of the dubbed script.
Tim Lucas did an audio commentary for this film on its Region 1 DVD release from Anchor Bay, but he does a new one here and even uses the opportunity to correct a major mistake concerning an actor he made previously. Though rather unnecessarily filling you in on what’s occurring onscreen every now and again, he’s still on great form, full of information and observations but never too dry or technical. Some excerpts from an audio interview with Mitchell are heard, Mitchell praising Bava to the skies, caling him “the most underrated director of all”, and putting him up with the likes of John Ford, Ingmar Bergman [who almost made a film about Buddha with Mitchell] and Orson Welles. I agree wholeheartedly. Then the whole half hour interview from 1989, which was on the US DVD, forms the next special feature, which isn’t listed on most websites but it’s there I promise you. It’s an absolute joy for a Bava fan, the actor going into great detail about his two Bava Viking pictures, what Bava was like as a director,and passionately defending him. Perhaps my favourite moment was when he described a miracle he performed in two minutes on the set of Knives Of The Avenger. Sheer genius. Gli imitatori is an excellent nearly-15 minute comparison of Erik The Conqueror with The Vikings, Michael McKenzie also giving his opinions on what works best in each of the two films. And then we have what was originally the film’s final shot which was oddly no longer attached to the film when Arrow came to restore it. Taken from a video, its poor quality meant that Arrow chose not to put it back into the film.
All fans of this director should rejoice that Arrow have brought out one of his lesser know flicks in such a terrific edition, and probably need no further encouragement to buy. For newcomers, this may not be the best film to start with, but ought to provide plenty of entertainment nonetheless.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
*Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original Italian and English mono audio (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
*Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
*New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava All the Colors of the Dark
*Gli imitatori, a comparison between Erik the Conqueror and its unacknowledged source, The Vikings
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
*FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Kat Ellinger