Mario Bava Tackles Vikings and Forbidden Romance
Italian cinema over the years has had its fads, from giallo thrillers to spaghetti westerns. Beginning sometime in 1961, Italian audiences went crazy over Viking films. Most cinemaphiles don’t normally associate master director Mario Bava with the genre but one of his early films is a first-rate swashbuckler. Taking a strong cue from Kirk Douglas’ The Vikings, a popular 1958 Hollywood production from Richard Fleischer, Bava directed Erik the Conqueror in 1961. Starring Cameron Mitchell and introducing the sizzling Kessler twins to the screen, the sword-and-shield b-picture is a stylish entry into the genre worthy of Mario Bava’s talent.
In 786 AD, invading Viking forces are repelled from the shores of England by the scheming Rutford, leaving behind a young boy that survives the epic battle. That boy is the son of the deceased Viking king. He’s taken in by the English Queen and raised as her own. Twenty years later, Erik (George Ardisson, Juliet of the Spirits) becomes Duke of Helford, commander of the English naval forces.
Across the sea, his brother Eron (Cameron Mitchell, Blood and Black Lace) is a rising leader of the Viking horde and sets his sights on conquering England once again. The two brothers are on a collision course that will alter the fates of their respective kingdoms forever when they clash on the open seas. Will Erik learn of his Viking heritage before it’s too late?
Erik the Conqueror is more entertaining than it has any right being
Erik the Conqueror is more entertaining than it has any right being
For a movie about Vikings invading England, forbidden romance plays a key role in Erik the Conqueror’s narrative. Eron is in a secret relationship with one of Odin’s vestal virgins, Daya. Daya and her twin sister are played by the Kessler twins, statuesque German blondes who perfectly fill their roles as the film’s romantic female leads. Vestal virgins are to remain pure and chaste their entire lives. The penalty for breaking their purity is death. The only hope for their secret romance is Eron becoming king, freeing Daya of her oath. In what can only be considered a classic b-movie plot development, Erik ends up falling in love with Daya’s twin sister with one glance.
The narrative moves fluidly with an assured storytelling shorthand perfect for this tale of heroism, forbidden romance and adventure. Bava’s Erik the Conqueror is more entertaining than it has any right being as a cheaply-made Italian production. Only Bava’s third credited film as director, it hints at his extraordinary filmmaking talent with a strong cast led by Cameron Mitchell. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bava rips off Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings in stylish fashion. Several elements are taken wholesale from that earlier film, though Bava re-works significant plot points for his movie. The similarities between the two movies make for an interesting double bill if you are in the mood for non-stop Viking action.
A colorful Viking tale that hits all the right notes and delivers romance, action and compelling action, Erik the Conqueror is a fun Italian b-movie from the genre’s golden age.
Arrow Video’s new 2K restoration from the original camera negative is an unqualified winner. Erik the Conqueror receives new life in this magnificent film transfer. The following included note from Arrow Video details their production process:
The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin- registered Arriscan and was graded on Digital vision’s Nucoda Film Master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, picture instability and other instances of film wear were repaired or removed through a combination of digital restoration tools and techniques.
The 90-minute main feature is encoded in AVC at incredibly high bitrates, transparently rendering every nuance of the film’s grain structure. The roughest picture quality in the movie is the opening English strike on the Vikings. This is 1080P video that mostly sings with crisp picture fidelity and palpable definition once you get past the scenes loaded with optical effects. It’s one of the better 2K restorations in recent memory considering the movie was made in 1961 on the cheap in Italy.
Bava’s stylish cinematography and keen sense of visual composition looks lovely on Blu-ray. The striking imagery offers rich colors and decent black levels. The film elements are in stable condition without significant wear beyond running gate scratches in the opening reel. Some softness is to be expected, though close-ups reveal an unprocessed transfer with substantial detail.
Arrow Video includes this note in the booklet about the audio:
The English language track was sourced from the best master elements available. There are times in which audio synchronisation will appear loose against the picture, due to the fact that audio was fully recorded in post-production.
Italian film productions of this era were almost always dubbed, including the Italian soundtracks. Erik the Conqueror is no exception. Arrow Video includes both the English and Italian audio in fine 1.0 PCM soundtracks.
The monaural mixes are fairly well-recorded for vintage audio. There are differences between the two recordings. Roberto Nicolisi’s melodramatic score sounds a touch smoother in Italian, though I found the English dialogue had stronger clarity and vocal focus. Having heard both soundtracks, the English soundtrack will be the preferred choice for most listeners.
Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font for the English soundtrack, inside the scope presentation at all times. Newly translated English subtitles are included for the Italian soundtrack.
Erik the Conqueror receives a nice selection of special features for an underrated Mario Bava film. The Blu-ray and DVD combo pack includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys. First pressings include new critical writing on the film by critic Kat Ellinger in a collector’s booklet.
Audio Commentary – Author Tim Lucas, a Mario Bava biographer known for “Mario Bava – All the Colors of the Dark” handles this authoritative solo commentary. The new audio commentary is packed with a surprising amount of specific filmmaking details, from Bava’s optical tricks to his handling of the cast. He also plays audio recordings from Bava associates when appropriate. It’s an entertaining, informative listening experience.
Gli Imitatori (12:06 in HD) – A new “visual essay” from familiar Arrow Video hand Michael Mackenzie making the comparison between Erik the Conqueror and its unacknowledged inspiration, Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings from 1958. The similarities are striking, though Bava does throw in his own twists and changes some of the plot elements.
Original Ending (01:24 in SD) – The final shot of Erik the Conqueror is no longer attached to the camera negative and is missing. The aforementioned Tim Lucas provided Arrow Video with a copy of this missing shot, sourced from a UK VHS release. Due to its inferior visual quality, Arrow did not include it in the main feature presentation.
Cameron Mitchell Interview (63:23) – This audio-only recording has Tim Lucas interviewing the lead actor back in 1989. Mitchell discusses his career working with Bava on several different projects. It’s an interesting interview that provides some insight to Bava’s working process and Mitchell’s opinions. One problem is that there seems to be no way to fast-forward through the interview and there are no chapter stops, so you have to listen to the entire thing in one sitting.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a pre-production screener. For information on how we handle screeners, please visit DoBlu’s about us page to learn more about our editorial policy
Mario Bava hits gold in this smooth tale of Viking adventure and forbidden romance from the genre’s golden age.
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