4 July 2007 | Bunuel1976
ERIK THE CONQUEROR (Mario Bava, 1961) ***
The first peplum to be officially directed by Bava (and his first collaboration with Hollywood actor Cameron Mitchell) is, as can be expected, a virtual clone of the classic spectacle THE VIKINGS (1958) – if, obviously, done on a much smaller budget. That said, unlike the later KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966), the film does feature a few sweeping action sequences (many of them replicated practically wholesale in the following year's ATTACK OF THE NORMANS ; see above).
The plot concerns a couple of Viking brothers separated at birth during a vicious attack: one of them is raised by the British Queen and, therefore, becomes his sibling's sworn enemy. Also involved are a couple of identical vestal virgins – played by the then-popular singing duo, the Kessler Twins – who, obviously, both go against their vows (and thus risking death if caught) by falling for the brothers. The Viking community, largely confined to living as cave-dwellers, provides plenty of opportunity for Bava's trademark atmospherics and flair for composition and, as was the norm for him at this stage in his career, he officially acted as his own cinematographer!
The typically jovial, uncouth and heavy-set Viking leader is played here by Folco Lulli (though he is killed in the very opening sequence!), while Andrea Checchi – from Bava's own BLACK Sunday  – fills in for the role of chief villain (his death via a succession of arrows may well have been inspired by the unforgettable demise of the "Macbeth" character in Akira Kurosawa's superb Shakespearean adaptation THRONE OF BLOOD ). Though a decent actor, Mitchell comes across as a generally glum presence in these type of pictures; here, he ends up by sacrificing himself for his brother and, consequently, receives the requisite fiery viking burial (even if the film's budget apparently didn't afford this spectacular effect – since it cuts abruptly to a two-shot of the lifeless Mitchell and his grieving intended for the fade-out)! Curiously enough, while Mitchell is the nominal male lead, the English title of the film makes it sound like the younger brother is the conquering hero of the piece!
While I already owned the film, taped off Italian TV, this second viewing came via a rental of the bare-bones Italian DVD; given the picture's lack of exposure in R1 land, I wonder whether it will eventually be included in Anchor Bay's hopefully-not-long-in-coming "The Mario Bava Collection Vol. 2"...