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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Erik the Conqueror" (1961)

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In the 9th Century, two Viking children, separated since their early childhood with one raised by the British and the other by Vikings, meet after nearly 20 years as rivals as war breaks out between Britain and the Vikings for control of England.

The film is a loose remake of the American film "The Vikings" (1958), starring Kirk Douglas. Credit was not given at the time, which really is not out of the ordinary for Italian productions. Just look at the endless string of "Jaws" ripoffs. Bava's film borrows the estranged twins idea, the duel alongside the castle, and the showing of a viking funeral. Interestingly, to get around his lack of budget, the biggest change is setting much of "Erik" underground because on-location (Norwegian) settings were just not possible. "Erik" also has a similar plot to Sergio Corbucci's "Duel of the Titans" (1961), though that setting was Rome rather than northern Europe. Most likely, Corbucci was ripping off the same source.

As far as casting goes, Cameron Mitchell is the definitive American "star" of Italian films. During the 1960s, Mitchell starred in numerous Italian sword and sandal, horror, fantasy and thriller films, several of which were directed by Mario Bava, including "Blood and Black Lace" (1964) and "Knives of the Avenger" (1966). He also participated in Spaghetti Westerns, like Corbucci's "Minnesota Clay". (In Hollywood lore, Mitchell's claim to fame was introducing Marilyn Monroe to Arthur Miller.)

Then we have the German-born Kessler Twins, who were big hits in Europe at the time. In the States, the Kessler Twins were not as popular as they were in Europe but soon appeared in Robert Aldrich's "Sodom and Gomorrah" (1962, while Aldrich was in exile) as dancers and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in that year. Did "Erik" help get them the part in the Aldrich film?

Anyway, "Erik the Conqueror" is a fine film in its own right, even if we acknowledge its lack of originality. There is an epic ship battle that rivals anything in the more contemporary Disney "Pirates" franchise, for example, and the various techniques to create a big-looking film are admirable. Bava knew how to push the limits of budget, and this paid off. The film made back two or three times its production cost. Oddly, though we know Bava for his horror work, in Italy the horror genre was not terribly popular and the "sword and sandal" theme was a bigger draw. (Mitchell claims that Bava never had an unprofitable film. Whether this is true or not I don't know, but none come immediately to mind.)

The Arrow Video Blu-ray offers a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative. Viewers are given the choice between the original Italian and dubbed English mono audio. There is a new audio commentary by Bava expert Tim Lucas, who reveals some of the interesting matte techniques used and declares this Bava's "most underrated film". Heck, we even get "Gli imitatori", a comparison between "Erik the Conqueror" and "The Vikings", as well as the film's original ending. This release is bursting with love.

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