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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Hercules in the Haunted World (Blu-ray)
Hercules in the Haunted World (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // October 8, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $27.82 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 22, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Directed by Mario Bava in 1961 and featuring a screenplay by Bava (and Sandro Continenza, Francesco Prosperi and Duccio Tessari), Hercules In The Haunted World (also known as Hercules At The Center Of The Earth and Hercules vs. The Vampires) finds Hercules (Reg Park) returning from battle only to learn that his beloved Princess Daianara (Leonora Ruffo) is not right. What he doesn't realize is that her guardian, King Lico (Christopher Lee), has put her under some sort of spell, hoping to have her all for himself! The oracle Medea (Gaia Germani) he is told that the only way to save her is to voyage into the very heart of Hades itself and return with magical ‘Stone Of Forgetfulness.'

Soon enough, Hercules has joined forces with friends Theseus (George Ardisson) and Telemachus (Franco Giacobini), to voyage straight on into the underworld to get the stone and save his lady-love. Of course, this can't be easy, and it isn't, as on their journey they'll have to deal with treacherous terrain aplenty, various monsters and beasties and even an army of the undead all before squaring off against Lico himself.

Even if you're not a fan of the peblum/sword and sandal movies that Italy was cranking out after the box office success of Pietro Francisci's 1958 film Hercules (starring Steve Reeves), if you've got any appreciation at all for fantastic cinema the odds are still quite good that you'll appreciate Bava's picture. Yes, this is very much a film about a musclebound man using his strength and courage to defeat mythical beasts, on that level it isn't that different than the other Hercules movies, but Bava's stamp is so all over the place that it's unfair to peg this picture in one specific genre. There are fantasy elements here, action elements, even comedy and romance, but the movie is at its best in the second half, once Hercules and company journey down the highway to Hell. It's here, for the rest of the film, that Bava's indisputable talent for creating gorgeous and macabre visuals on a modest budget really shines as the landscape becomes increasingly foreboding and its inhabitants ever more dangerous. Reds and greens and blues and purples bathe the landscape while Armando Trovajoli's excellent evocative score helps build mood and tension.

As to the performances? Park isn't a bad lead here. He certainly looks the part, the guy is insanely muscular and has about him a bit of charisma. Christopher Lee is great as the bad guy, though the fact that he (and everyone else in the film) is dubbed takes away a bit, especially if you're familiar with his instantly recognizable voice. The gorgeous Leonora Ruffo does a fine job of playing the damsel in distress but isn't given much more to do in the film than that, while Ardisson and Giacobini provide some comic relief in spots and give Hercules someone to hang out with on his trip. Gaia Germani steals a few scenes as the strange and mysterious oracle, you definitely pay attention any time she shows up.

Note that this two-disc set actually includes three different versions of the movie. On the first disc we get the US version entitled Hercules In The Haunted World, while the second disc contains the Italian version, Ercole A Centro Della Terra, and the UK version, Hercules At The Center Of The Earth. These all follow the same basic storyline but The Italian cut runs 1:25:23, the UK cut runs 1:21:31 and the US version runs 1:24:10. The opening credits are different for each version. The US version recycles some of the Medea footage and contains a different score. Having three different cuts of the film included here is definitely a plus for fans!

The Video:

The US version of Hercules In The Haunted World takes up 16GBs of space on its 25GB disc while Hercules At The Center Of The Earth takes up 16GBs and Ercole A Centro Della Terra gets 17GBs of space, those later two cuts sharing a 50GB disc. All three versions are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed in the film's original 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio. Ercole A Centro Della Terra is taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative and it looks excellent. Colors really pop here, those primary lighting gels that Bava is so well known for looks stunning, and there's a lot of great depth and detail here. Black levels are nice and strong, the image is very clean and shows very little damage, skin tones look great. Really, this is quite an impressive transfer.

The other two presentations appear to be taken from prints and they also look quite good, but show a little more damage and slightly less fine detail than the Italian cut of the film, which gets a higher bit rate than its UK counterpart.

The Audio:

The Italian cut of the film gets an Italian language LPCM Mono track with optional English subtitles. The other two versions get English language LPCM Mono tracks. The US cut of the film sounds noticeably thinner than the other two and, especially in the first few minutes, features some noticeable hiss here and there. Thankfully this cleans up as the movie progresses but it never quite sounds as good as the other two cuts. Again, the Italian version is presented in the best quality, the audio on this version is clean, clear and nicely balanced while the UK versions falls somewhere in the middle of the Italian cut and the US cut in terms of quality. English subtitles are also provided for the US version, but not for the UK cut.

The Extras:

Extras on the first disc are limited to a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

On the second disc, over the European cut of the movie, we can an audio commentary track from Bava biographer Tim Lucas, who delivers another of his typically detailed discussions of the director's work. He talks about how the film compares to some of the director's other films, the casting featured in the and including Lee and Park, the set design, the score, the effects work, the different versions of the film that exist and how they came to be, the sword and sandal genre and quite a bit more.

Also found on disc two is a twenty-six-minute interview with George Ardisson and film historian Fabio Melelli. Here Ardisson speaks about what it was like on set, his part in the film and working with Bava while Melelli talks about the alternate versions of the film, Bava's directing style and more. It's a good piece that is definitely worth checking out.

The second disc also includes two trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection.

Overall:

Even if you're not particularly enamored with sword and sandal pictures, Hercules In The Haunted World is definitely worth a look. It stands out from the other Hercules films thanks to the fantastic presence of Christopher Lee and Bava's flair for amazing visuals and set pieces. It's an atmospheric and, at times, mesmerizing film and Kino has done a great job bringing it to Blu-ray with a strong presentation and some nice extra features as well. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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