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Category:    Home > Reviews > Adventure > Horror > B-Movies > Italy > Hercules In The Haunted World (Fantoma)

Hercules In The Haunted World (or Center Of The Earth/1961)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Film: B-



Hercules is not thought of as a franchise, and since no one has a copyright on Greek, Roman or Norse Mythology, he never will be.  Still, this is a legendary character who has had huge pop culture success.  There are the recent successes of the Disney animated feature film and the insanely long-running Kevin Sorbo live-action TV series, which itself spawned a couple of spin-offs (Young Hercules and Xena, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and it own brief animated one-off.  There is the hit (and now cult) animated series of the 1960s, the Steve Reeves feature films that put the character on the map and even the “guest appearances” in Jason & The Argonauts (1963) and the SHAZAM! Captain Marvel adventures in both print and the famous 1970s TV series.  Then, there is 1961’s Hercules In The Haunted World.


This is one of only four features to have Reg Park as the world’s strongest man.  Park succeeded Steve Reeves as Hercules when Reeves had had enough.  This second of his four films has some interesting distinctions that make it one of the key moments in Hercules history.  For one, Christopher Lee plays the villain.  That alone is pop culture history, but the film is also blessed with the presence of Mario Bava.  Bava was moving up in the world of Italian filmmaking when he was given the opportunity to shoot this film.  He co-wrote, co-directed and did all the cinematography for it and it works.  Bava had done visual effects on the Reeves films (see our review of the Hercules VCI double feature elsewhere on this site) since his debut, so he likely had some ideas of his own building up on what to do with the character.


Lee is in the film almost enough, but it is even more interesting to put the title character into a situation atypical of the usual formula adventures.  The film was later issued as Hercules V. The Vampires to capitalize on Lee’s growing success in the Horror genre and Hammer features in particular, but that is pushing it a bit.  Still, it is an amusing moment in Hercules history and is worth a good look for many reasons we are covering here.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot in Totalscope, a switch from the Dyaliscope used on the Steve Reeves’ films.  This type of lens may have a bit less distortion than its French predecessor, but the producers kept to the idea that wide and big screen was best.  The color varies in this print, but at its best as in the underworld scenes, you can see the superior use of color.  The film was issued in three-strip Technicolor, though this print is not in that color format, it comes close to looking that good at its best.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is in an English dub and much better Italian soundtrack.  It is also better than Image Entertainment’s lesser Dolby 1.0 Mono in their version, so that is an improvement.  Extras include stills and a U.S. trailer on the DVD itself and a really good essay by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog that you should be able to find on the inside of the DVD case.  All that makes this the best Hercules feature film release on DVD to date.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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