REVIEW: Ercole al centro della terra (Mario Bava, 1961)

As posted in The Corrierino's Alphabetically Binding Cinema thread.

After discovering his lover is being held captive, Hercules must face the trials of the underworld to topple a mysterious foe. Carting along his friend Theseus, he stirs up even more trouble than might be expected from the sinister sub-terrain. Mario Bava directs the muscle-bound Reg Park along with an over-dubbed Christopher Lee for this installment in Italy's series of romanticized Hercules films.

Although I had never taken in so much as a screencap of Ercole al centro della terra, I had a vivid image of what I was likely getting in to by popping the DVD in my player. These expectations were relatively high, telling of a dark yet colorful world with set pieces lavish in their decrepitness and actors whose most obvious features would be gratuitously exploited. The picture quality on the DVD may have been unfortunately pixelated, but much to my pleasure, the unfounded expectations were met and surpassed. From beginning to end Bava employs reds, blues and greens to dazzling effect as the on-screen talent hams it up.

Never boring for a moment, Ercole takes us from a seemingly idyllic land of oily muscles and otherworldly beauty to a dark and deadly pit of illusion and temptation. As opposed to a straight forward journey through this underworld, we are treated to compelling plot points that move the story in unpredictable directions. While much of the proceedings can be taken very seriously, they never let go of their somewhat playful nature as even some of the more treacherous trespasses yield well-woven notes of humor. The horror genre's inherent presence in the surroundings also sees success with a spattering of truly chilling moments.

Not to be missed by any fan of Italy's trademark entertainment from the 60s and 70s or anyone keen on swords, sandals and mythology, Ercole al centro della terra demands repeat viewings. It is indeed gorgeousness and gorgeosity made celluloid with a large helping of merry abandon.