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Erik the Conqueror Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)

In 786 AD, the invading Viking forces are repelled from the shores of England, leaving behind a young boy – Erik, son of the slain Viking king. Years later, Erik (George Ardisson), raised by the English queen as her own, becomes Duke of Helford, while, across the sea, his brother Eron (Cameron Mitchell) assumes leadership of the Viking horde and sets his sights on conquering England once again, setting the two estranged brothers on a collision course that will determine the fates of their respective kingdoms… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)



Following their release of the Riccardo Freda co-directed blobby monster movie Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959, Arrow is touching upon one of the Mario Bava’s most underseen films, Erik the Conqueror (Italian: Gli Invasori; aka: The Invaders and Fury of the Vikings). Released towards the middle of the peplum (or sword & sandal) cycle, when Italian filmmakers were aping big-budget Hollywood Biblical epics and period adventures (often of Greek or Roman origin – hence the name), Erik the Conqueror was a riff on Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (released in 1958, setting the stage for Kirk Douglas’ superstar break-out in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus in 1960). Most of Bava’s fanbase, myself included, have neglected the epic era of his career, at least putting aside his magnificent, horror-themed entry in the long-running Hercules series, Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole al centro della terra, 1961). Beginning with photography work on both of Pietro Francisci’s franchise-instigating features, Hercules (1958) and Hercules: Unchained (1959), Bava actually directed, co-directed, photographed, or designed special effects for a great number of these films with Erik the Conqueror acting as a near-perfect example of his unique capabilities when working with the genre.


Bava and co-writers Oreste Biancoli & Piero Pierotti struggle to cram Fleischer’s movie (and quite a few pieces of the Moses myth) into less than 90 minutes and stumble through exposition, but what it lacks in structural sense and good pacing, it makes up for with outstanding visuals and full-bore performances. Much of the film is devoted to cultural rituals (made up ones, I assume) and impressionistic battles, rather than plot and characters, which plays into Bava’s strength decorating/shooting elaborate (usually smoke-filled) sets and staging special effects on a shoestring (the final battle is easily on-par with the spectacle of The Vikings). The sheer baroque quality of the sets helps to inform the stage-quality performances. Co-lead Cameron Mitchell steals the show, along with Françoise Christophe, who excels in the comparatively minor role of Queen Alice. Erik the Conqueror was Bava’s first work with the American actor as lead director. The two first met on The Last of the Vikings (co-directed by Giacomo Gentilomo, 1961) and worked together again on Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964), Sergio Corbucci’s Minnesota Clay (1964), and Knives of the Avenger (Italian: I coltelli del vendicatore, 1966).



Video

Erik the Conqueror was available on US VHS from Panther Entertainment under the alternate title, The Invaders, and was released on anamorphic DVD via Anchor Bay in 2007, but you’d be hard-pressed to find either at the time (speaking from experience, Netflix once had only a single, mail-order DVD that was broken or stolen, dashing any hopes to see it). As a result, I won’t be comparing that disc to Arrow’s new Blu-ray debut. It’s probably safe to assume that this new 2K scan of the original camera negative, presented in 1080p and its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is superior, anyway. The first thing most viewers will notice is the glorious color quality. This isn’t rare for a Bava film, of course, but what is unusual is the stark hue separation and consistency. While some may argue that skin tones appear a bit too orange, it seems to me that this is not the result of overzealous digital tampering, but the natural appearance of the Technicolor format. This supersaturated look is exactly as eye-popping as it was meant to be, especially where Bava’s trademark greens and purples are concerned. Artifacts have certainly been scrubbed to a certain extent, but vertical lines (most prevalent during the opening scene), white spots, and clumpy/snowy grain are a problem during some sequences. Print damage and crushy blacks are the most obvious in cases where Bava was shooting on location, where he had less control over the lighting.


Audio

Erik the Conqueror includes the original Italian and English dubs, both in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 sound. As per usual, the film was shot without on-set sound and the international cast is speaking a number of native languages. There is no ‘original language’ version, though AIP’s North American release was shorter than Bava’s complete Italian cut, so some scenes were not dubbed into English. In addition, each dub has its own score. This was typical for AIP, who often re-scored foreign acquisitions, but it is strange to note how similar Les Baxter’s re-score is to Roberto Nicolosi’s original Italian music (in the few cases where it was actually replaced, that is). Usually, I’d recommend the English track, since so many cast members were speaking English on set (Cameron seems to be dubbing himself, too), but the Italian dub has better sound quality all around. The English dialogue is mixed too high, as to push out some of the effects, and features quite a bit of hissy distortion.



Extras

  • Commentary with Bava biographer Tim Lucas – This is a new Arrow exclusive commentary from the author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (Video Watchdog, 2007), rather than the one Lucas recorded for the older Anchor Bay DVD. It meets the well-researched high standards of Lucas’ other fact-filled Bava tracks, including screen-specific descriptions and discussion of the director’s work on the whole.

  • Audio Interview with actor Cameron Mitchell (63:19) – An interview conducted by Lucas in 1989 and used for his book (parts of which are edited into the commentary), presented here in its entirety.

  • Gli imitatori (12:06, HD stills) – Michael Mackenzie narrates this comparison between the events and characters of Erik the Conqueror and The Vikings (including HD comparison footage).

  • Original ending (1:24, HD) – The final several seconds of film were missing from negative and are presented separate from the movie because the VHS source used is so degraded.




The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.

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