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Fantoma Films presents
Hercules in the Haunted World (Hercules in the Center of the Earth) (1961)

"O great Zeus, guide my hand for my cause is just!"
- Hercules (Reg Park)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 09, 2002

Stars: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardison
Other Stars: Mino Doro, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini
Director: Mario Bava

Manufacturer: American Zoetrope
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, weird imagery)
Run Time: 01h:21m:28s
Release Date: August 06, 2002
UPC: 014381184822
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-BC+ C+

DVD Review

How often does Mario Bava's name come up when discussing Italian cinema? It sounds like the set-up for some obscure joke, but the answer seems to be: quite a lot. Indeed, it seems that playing "Six Degrees Of Mario Bava" would potentially lead to infinite madness. That said, Bava's involvement in the classic Italian Hercules films is truly a mark made on cinema. When compared to previous films of the mythic hero, Hercules in the Haunted World is positively bizarre. Suddenly, the relatively drab and period-accurate tone was changed radically into something much more dreamy and fantasy-like, by a filmmaker who, for his first color movie, decided to go extremely visual. Haunted World also marks a rather dark turn for the character of Hercules, with its theme involving more Gothic sensibilities and even the appearance of horror-film noteworthy, Christopher Lee. Ironically, Haunted World was a much lower budget affair than previous Hercules films, yet arguably demanded the most in terms of effects, sets, and overall direction.

In the story, Hercules (Reg Park) finds that his love, Dianira (Leonora Ruffo), is trapped in some kind of cursed trance of unknown origin. The mysterious and evil Lyco (Christopher Lee) seems to be behind this, but Hercules is unsure of exactly who is the true villain. He discovers that the only way to save Dianira is to travel into the realm of Hades to obtain the secrets to free her soul. Along the way, he'll have to deal with various bad guys from the pantheon of Greek mythology, but at least he has help from his trusted friend, Theseus. As it turns out, Lyco is indeed one nasty fellow, intent on drinking Dianara's blood so that he can become an immortal ruler. Hercules has his hands full, and it looks like the gods aren't helping out much.

Loaded with surreal imagery and elaborate, colorful lighting, Haunted World is a neat, visual fantasy that makes an impressive change of pace from older and drearier entries in the series like Hercules Unchained and Hercules and the Captive Women. It also avoids the agonizing problems of pace many of the films do, and once it gets started, it never lets up. Obviously, these old Hercules films are a bit on the silly side, with their weak dubbing and often awkward acting, but they're certainly entertaining and showcase a desire to tell creative stories. In this case, director Mario Bava shows his ability to immerse the characters in a very believable world of darkness, especially with his talent at photographic trickery, which is extremely impressive given the time of the film's making. Haunted World is, in my opinion, the only classic Hercules project that really feels like it's interpreting the Greek myths rather than just making a more expensive swords-and-sandals epic. I liked the strange sets and amazing artistry setting up almost every scene.

Here is a film that is well composed, shot, and obviously given some loving attention by Bava, and because of this, it proudly stands in his lengthy career as one of his best. Largely known for his horror films, Bava really touched many genres, and here is an example where he mixes his talent for the creepy (this IS, after all, the realm of Hades), with skill as a fantasy filmmaker. The only scene that I think is weak is the inclusion of a clumsy battle between Theseus and Procrustes (who is portrayed as a giant walking block of rock), but then bad rubbery costumes are the plague of these older movies. While Reg Park is no acting master, he gets the job done painlessly, and makes a decent hero against Christopher Lee's Lyco, whose performance is properly subtle. Overall, you have the makings of fabulous, widescreen experiment in hallucinatory visions of a master director and his crew.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There's few things worse than a great Technicolor widescreen film looking like crap on video. Haunted World finally gets its due with this outstanding restoration from the original European cut. While the age has taken its toll with scratches and various other obvious flaws, the color is sumptuous and the clarity is well above previous incarnations. A few compressions issues show up in some of the smokier scenes (most of Hades is seething in mist), but they are limited and obviously kept to a minimum. The negative has a few spots where damage remains on the screen for sometime, but it isn't terribly distracting. In general, it would seem great care was taken in livening the color to its original standards and certainly lessening the grain and any effect it would have.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian, Englishyes
DS 2.0English, Italianyes

Audio Transfer Review: The original English and Italian dubs are provided in unaltered mono. For single-channel mixes dating back so far, they sound pretty good and I have no significant complaints. While obviously there are major limitations to what the track can do, it's incredibly well-balanced for a mono track and manages to be loud and often bombastic without sounding harsh or distorted.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: Scanavo variant
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Provided supplements include the original trailer (in greatly eroded condition) and liner notes by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, who also was Mario Bava's biographer. There is also a gallery of production materials and rare stills from the studio. The overall presentation is nice, though, with some animated menus and a redesigned cover using stills from the film. The keepcase booklet has a reproduction of the original American poster for the film but, interestingly, does not have the original European art, where the film was known by its original title, Hercules in the Center of the Earth. Of course, most importantly, while the disc is entitled Haunted World, it is NOT the U.S. cut, which removed quite a bit of footage, re-dubbed major script points, and had a confusing opening sequence. That version, which is arguably the most-seen version, is not represented here, which is actually a good thing.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The old Italian Hercules films have yet to truly see decent release on DVD, so it's nice to see arguably the best of those epics so smartly dressed up on DVD and make yet another worthy purchase for those following the career of Mario Bava on disc.


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