Wednesday, November 08, 2006

ERIK Conquers DVD on Import

Thanks to the past efforts of Image Entertainment, VCI Home Entertainment, and Anchor Bay Entertainment, most Mario Bava films have been released at least once on DVD. But, of all his directorial works, one has always been conspicuous in its absence: ERIK THE CONQUEROR [GLI INVASORI, 1961].

Next week, in Germany, Colosseo Film will correct that oversight with the release of DIE RACHE DER WIKINGER, an eye-popping presentation of Bava's third directorial effort in all its original Technicolor and anamorphic Dyaliscope splendor. It's the first time this important title has been available for public viewing in its original ratio since the early 1960s, and for those of us who import this Region 2 PAL disc (which does include an English audio track, as well as German and Italian ones) to America, it will be the first time the complete version has ever been available for viewing in its original scope ratio. The title, which also includes the original German trailer in scope, is available now as a pre-order from and I assume it will be available domestically through Xploited Cinema in the coming weeks.

The box art for DIE RACHE DER WIKINGER subtitles the film ERIK THE CONQUEROR for clarity, but this is actually as misleading as it was for Image Entertainment to call THE MASK OF SATAN (the original English language export print of LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO) "BLACK SUNDAY." ERIK THE CONQUEROR was a re-edited and partly rescored reduction of GLI INVASORI's original English export print, which was called "THE INVADERS." That original version saw a surprise VHS release in the 1980s from Panther Entertainment as THE INVADERS; it was a cropped, pan&scanned transfer, but it ran about 10 minutes longer than the AIP cut and revolutionized one's perception of the film Bava had actually made. It is this longer original export version that is included on the DVD, needless to say.

In all fairness, the AIP reduction had one thing going for it: it got rid of the film's painfully static opening, which forces the viewer to consider a crudely drawn map as a narrator gives us a lot of long-winded historic background not entirely essential to the story. The story, to be brief about it, is a bare-faced remake of Richard Fleischer's THE VIKINGS (1958), with Cameron Mitchell starring in his first Bava film in the Kirk Douglas part and Giorgio Ardisson (Theseus in HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD) in the Tony Curtis role. The two sons of the Viking king are separated on a battlefield in the wake of a failed seaside attack on England, in which the kings of the two countries die -- the Viking king in battle, the English king through the ambition of his evil underling, Sir Rudfort (BLACK SUNDAY's Andrea Checchi). The younger of the Viking sons is found by the Queen of England, who raises him as her own son, poising him for unwitting conflict with his longlost brother when he reaches maturity. Their relationship is foreshadowed by the love they share for twin vestal virgins, played by the leggy German song-and-dance act, The Kessler Twins (Alice & Ellen Kessler).

You want frame grabs? Here, have some frame grabs:

I'm sorry these can't be click-enlarged; I had to downsize the images by 50% to fit them onto this page. Trust me, they look many times more ravishing on a big screen.

It's generally known that Anchor Bay Entertainment have secured ERIK THE CONQUEROR for release in America next year, but their release isn't expected to include this German import's ace-in-the-hole: a new 50-minute documentary called MARIO BAVA ENTH√úLLT DIE MAGIE SEINER WERKE ("Mario Bava Explains the Magic of His Works"), which is subtitled simply as "Mario Bava Speaks." Directed by Patrick O'Brien, the program is hosted by Luigi Cozzi, who occupies his behind-the-counter position at Rome's Profondo Rosso store and peruses a well-thumbed copy of Troy Howarth's THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA (for which he wrote the Foreword) while reminiscing about his own relationship as fan, friend, and collague of Bava. The value of this documentary comes from its many (subtitled) excerpts from Bava's only known television interviews, both broadcast on RAI-TV: one was recorded in 1970 as a talking head snippet for a program about horror cinema in general, and the other was a guest appearance with Carlo Rambaldi on a full hour talk show called L'OSPITE DALLE DUE ("The Guests at 2:00") that aired in July 1974, shortly after Bava's abandonment of THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM and one month before shooting commenced on his next production, RABID DOGS. Neither of these interviews are shown in their entirety, but they are generously excerpted and make this disc an essential purchase for Bava fans.

Speaking for myself, I have had these interviews on VHS for many years, as well as a translated transcript, but to see Bava speak in this archival footage -- in perfect quality, with English subtitles keeping the meaning of his words apace with his inflections and facial expressions -- made this material live for me as it never has before. Bava has been at the core of my creative life for many, many years, but watching this footage made me feel as though I was meeting Mario Bava for the first time, or coming as close to that pleasure as I ever will. O'Brien has cleverly upgraded the latter interview, with its many film clips, so that the original B&W footage segues into full color, widescreen clips as the soundtrack remains constant. Here Bava discusses the craft, the secrets, even the "madness" of special effects, and a sizeable sequence from his "Polyphemus" episode of THE ODYSSEY is also included, in full color, with English subtitles. (This superb miniseries, which is out in Italy on DVD without subtitles, represents the finest of Bava's special effects work yet it remains unavailable here in America.) We are also shown the exterior of one of Bava's former homes, his townhouse on Rome's Via di Rispetta (near the Spanish Steps he immortalized as a giallo mecca in THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH aka EVIL EYE), and Barbara Steele and GLI INVASORI supporting player Enzo Doria (Sir Bennett) are also interviewed.

Colosseo Film's DVD is a very exciting addition to the Bava shelf, and ample proof that there's nothing quite as exciting as being shown new dimensions of a film or a subject you thought you knew well. DIE RACHE DER WIKINGER peels decades of obfuscation away from a neglected picture that now stands fully revealed as one of the most dazzling visual works of one of the most visual of all film directors.

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