Erik the Conqueror

If you have any interest at all in the art of the cinema you probably recognise that behind the craft of making a film there is a business. Though not being that business savvy myself,  it seems to be more like a gambling rather than a thought out, planned strategy. You see it with a lot of trends, with each studio gambling money to produce a film and then, if that formula is successful, they milk that until it runs dry. Other studios jump on that bandwagon as well, producing films in similar genres and even similar visual styles. That is why we always have sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and reimagining, because they are sure fire hits. Under the surface of these remakes and reboots is a practice in film that totally rips off stories from other films, American films mainly for other countries. We have Bollywood versions of Silence of the Lambs, Turkish Star Wars and Italian “Spaghetti” westerns. One such film, loosely based on a Hollywood Kirk Douglas vehicle, from Italian director Mario Bava – Erik the Conqueror – makes its way to Blu-ray thanks to Arrow Video.

Set during the 8th century, Vikings have invaded England and establishments settlements. One of the chiefs, Harald, seeks peace and makes a deal with King Loter of England. However, the king’s ambassador betrays both men and raids the settlement killing Harald and forcing one of the Viking’s deputies to flee with Harald’s children. The children are separated in the chaos and one makes it back to Norway while the other is found by the queen and raised as her own son. The two brothers now find themselves on opposite sides of a war bigger than them.

If you have seen the 1958 film The Vikings, you will recognise the story. It is remarkably similar and both feature characters called Erik/Eric. However, this is where the similarities end. While The Vikings is a serious prestige picture filled with big name Hollywood stars and with a budget to match, Erik the Conqueror is a low budget Italian remake. The most obvious difference in the two films is the visual style; I think that the most obvious point of comparison is the presentation of the Vikings’ home. One feels historically accurate, pastoral and rugged. The other, this one, is a purple tinted nightmare, something akin to a hammer horror film or something made by Roger Corman starring Vincent Price as a mad sorcerer.

Erik the Conqueror verges on camp and I kind of like it. The film itself looks and sounds great. Presented in 1080p on blu ray taken from a 2k restoration of the original negative. The film picks up all of that, glorious, if slightly out of place colour. While in HD you can see some of the fakery of the films sets, I personally think it adds to the charm of the film and the slightly campy visuals.

This camp aesthetic extends to the acting, which is made up of American and Italian actors. Andrea Checchi is so Machiavellian you can see him twirling his moustache as Sir Rutford, while Cameron Mitchell as Eron, the Viking brother, is suitably loud and boisterous, compared to the more sensitive and down to earth Erik, portrayed as a moral Christian knight by George Ardisson. Backing them up are the Kessler twins, Alice and Ellen, as twin priestesses of Odin Rama and Daya, who are thrown into the proceedings as a source of eye candy. This may be considered to be a little skeevy and sexist nowadays, but they play their parts well, what little there is of them. What is quite cool here is the ability to listen to two different language tracks and still hear some of the original actors’ voices. We have a mono audio which is uncompressed for the Blu-ray in both English and Italian, with subtitles for those who are hard of hearing or can’t speak Italian.

Erik the Conqueror is an interesting beast. It is a campy reimagining of a Hollywood prestige picture that somehow becomes its own thing, a glorious melodrama that is at times laughable in its silliness, but it is always endearing. Most will be turned off by the cardboard set look, but I guarantee that if you stick with it there is something more beyond its cheap exterior.

But is there anything more to the disc than just a cheesy Viking movie? Well yes, Arrow as always have produced great discs with technically sound menus and errorless play back. This is backed with tons of extra features. In fact, one of the extras, Gil imitatori, a video essay goes into more detail about the nature of Erik the Conqueror as an adaptation of The Vikings. It presents it in historical terms allowing for a truly nuanced argument rather than a throwaway review. There is also commentary tracks from Tim Lucas, Mario Bava’s biographer who provides some great historical stories about the cast crew and the film.

Erik the Conqueror struck me, at first, as a bit of cheap entertainment. However, once you get past the purple lighting and the skulls, you find something more than just a dodgy remake of a Kirk Douglas vehicle. The extras ground the film in a historical context that makes it both a unique look into the film industry and the differences between film cultures. It is a fascinating movie for both a film historian and those who are fans of cheesy sword and sandal flicks.


Updated: Sep 04, 2017

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