Mario Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Somehow I missed this one when I was a kid. Apparently I didn’t see every sword and sandal epic that came down the pike at the theater my dad managed on weekends.
Bava admittedly is an acquired taste. I still think that Bava’s later Planet of the Vampires is a minor classic. Hercules in the Haunted World displays some of the same dramatic and visual flair though it's clear its budget was smaller.
No matter. We get feats of strength (muscle-bound Reg Park as Hercules), clever special-effects, a classic man-versus-gods story, beautiful but mysterious women, and a terrific villain in Christopher Lee. Seeing the whole film in Italian with English subtitles actually adds to the fun.
I’ll overlook the limp swordplay, dopey humor, and overly formal dialogue. We have a clear and understandable story built around Hercules’ struggles to retrieve a magic stone from Hades to cure his lover from a mind-clouding curse. Mythologically we have recognizable themes, events, and characters that culminate in Hercules fighting off an onslaught of grave-emerged wraiths.
Despite the silliness we are treated to examples of color and staging that occasionally stun the eyes. Perhaps most notable is the appearance of the Sybil as she explains to Hercules the reasons for his dilemmas. What Bava accomplishes with her in terms of color, lighting, dramatic movement, reflections, and minimal set design is extraordinary.
It's a fun movie and not to be taken seriously but to be enjoyed as a relic of a bygone time when story, characters, and creativity were pushed to their limits when the right talent was involved.
Review copyright © 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald