Hercules In The Haunted
World (or Center Of The
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
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