Combustible Celluloid
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With: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardisson, Marisa Belli, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini, Mino Doro, Rosalba Neri, Ely Drago (a.k.a Ely Dracò), Gaia Germani, Raf Baldassarre, Elisabetta Pavan, Aldo Podinotti (a.k.a. Aldo Padinotti)
Written by: Mario Bava, Sandro Continenza, Franco Prosperi, Duccio Tessari
Directed by: Mario Bava
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English/Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 81
Date: 11/15/1961

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mario Bava was primarily known for his horror films, but he was still an up-and-coming talent, working on various and assorted Italian sword-and-sandal flicks, when he was hired to direct this, his first color film. It may not be very scary, but it's loads of fun.

Reg Park stars as the legendary strongman, who must journey into Hell itself to retrieve a magical crystal that will revive his ailing wife, who labors under the influence of dark forces. (The great Christopher Lee is behind them.) Among the obstacles Hercules must overcome are a rock monster, a partially naked evil seductress, and the fires of Hell.

Bava's innovative color cinematography sparkles in its own right, but becomes even more impressive when you realize what a limited budget the director had. According the liner notes, when Bava needed an extra roman column in a shot, he stuck a matchstick with a piece of gum on the edge of the camera lens so that it looked like a giant column in the shot.

Fantoma's 2002 DVD brings the fully-restored version of this film, and not the edited version shown in the U.S. for the past few decades. They also allow the viewer to choose between the English-dubbed and Italian-language versions, which provide subtly different versions of the same story. The liner notes by Bava biographer Tim Lucas are incredibly detailed and informative. The disc also comes with a trailer and a collection of still photos.

I loved Fantoma's DVD, but Kino Lorber's 2019 Blu-ray release beats it down handily. It includes three complete cuts of the film, a U.S. cut (84 minutes), an Italian cut (86 minutes), and a U.K. cut (81 minutes). Tim Lucas provides a commentary track for the longest cut (it's too bad his liner notes weren't also included here). There's also an interview with actor George Ardisson and trailers from the U.S. and the U.K.

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