Mario Bava is well known as a horror master of Italian cinema, but much like his fellow countryman Lucio Fulci, Bava moved across numerous genres including science fiction, thrillers, comedies and in examples like his Erik the Conquerer, historical action. Erik is at its core a loose remake of Richard Fleischer’s 1958 classic The Vikings, made just three years later in 1961.
It’s a similar tale of Viking brothers separated in youth, here during a battle between English and Viking forces, with one (Erik) being raised by the Queen of England and the other (Eron) becoming a Viking leader. Some two-plus decades later the men are destined to meet again when Erik becomes leader of his Queen’s navy and Eron becomes leader of a new raiding party. That events do not entirely go well for either is unlikely to come as a surprise.
Things start unpromisingly in a programmer-style action sequence, but that quickly changes when we go back to the Viking homeland. Unable to shoot on location Bava displays he was a master of invention and makes it a visual spectacle that harks back to his previous film Hercules in the Haunted World, full of grisly motifs and vivid colours. From then on the film competes with itself, the script and performances mostly never more than fine (except for Cameron Mitchell who is a force of charisma even when not trying), but the shot-framing, use of colour, design and scale very much Bava. It’s not a particularly outstanding film, but the touches Mario brings to it make it something more and whilst perhaps more appealing to Bava completists, still generally entertaining.
This new Arrow release has enough added in to make it worthwhile for those who follow the director’s work. First up is a new restoration scan of the print, which in releases like this is vital to showcase how Bava used his cinematographer’s eye to enrich his films. It’s in remarkable shape for a film that was almost meant to just be shown in theatres and then forgotten about, and does credit to Bava. There’s a very fine updated audio commentary by Tim Lucas, who knows a staggering amount about Bava and shares it here. For those interested, there’s a ‘visual essay’ on how Erik stacks up against its inspiration, and an audio-only interview with Cameron Mitchell from the late ‘80s which is a nice addition. For early purchasers there’s also a booklet with writing by Kat Ellinger on the film.
It’s an average but fun action epic enlivened by a great director. The Arrow release provides a fine print which compliments those important visuals along with some interesting extras to earn a recommendation.
ERIK THE CONQUEROR / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MARIO BAVA / SCREENPLAY: ORESTE BIANCOLI, PIERO PIEROTTI, MARIO BAVA / STARRING: GIORGIO ARDISSON, CAMERON MITCHELL, ANDREA CHECCHI / RELEASE DATE: 28TH AUGUST