Color, 1961, 90 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Cameron Mitchell, Alice Kessler, Ellen Kessler, Giorgio Ardisson, Andrea Checchi
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/B/1/2 HD/NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Despite Erik the Conquerorhis reputation Erik the Conqueroras a horror director, Mario Bava dabbled in numerous genres over the course of his career. In fact, one of his earliest credited feature films as director after the smash success of Black Sunday is this colorful, visually creative Viking adventure that proved to be a calling card for the phantasmagoric visions Bava could conjure up when shooting in color. This was also his first collaboration with star Cameron Mitchell, with whom he would reunite for the masterful Blood and Black Lace and another Viking epic, Knives of the Avenger.

Near the end of the 8th Century, the conniving Sir Rutford (Checchi) is instrumental in starting a push by the English people against Viking settlers in the British isles. The ensuing violent seaside clash leaves behind two twin brothers bearing royal brands on their chests, who grow up twenty years later to be Erik (Ardisson), an adopted member of English royalty and a declared duke, and Eron (Mitchell), a Viking leader who fights and governs his way to the top of the ladder. A nocturnal naval battle proves pivotal in bringing Erik the Conquerorthe two brothers back together during a planned invasion of England, and when they realize their blood connection, they must Erik the Conquerordecide how to join forces against a common foe from their youth.

As most viewers noticed at the time, this film is heavily inspired by Richard Fleischer's The Vikings and is virtually useless from any kind of historical accuracy standpoint. Fortunately none of that really matters when you're plunged into Bava land, a world of swirling colors and fantastic touches clearly akin to his work the same year on another of his rare scope outings, Hercules in the Haunted World. As usual for a peplum film of the era you get some anachronistic glamour, in this case the German blonde bombshell twins, Alice and Ellen Kessler, as a pair of vestal virgin love interests. As with most other early Bavas, the film also sports a functional score by Roberto Nicolosi that occasionally rises to the level of the inspired, most notably the action sequences. While this genre doesn't usually require much from its actors in the emoting department, Mitchell is actually terrific here with a multi-faceted portrayal that proves once and for all he really could excel in his European cash-making period if he put his mind to it.

As with many other Bava films, Erik the ConquerorErik the Conqueror was released in the U.S. by AIP (significantly edited) and later popped up in some really rough-looking VHS editions, including one Erik the Conquerorfrom Sinister Cinema, sometimes under the title The Invaders (a translation of the Italian title, Gli invasori). The first really respectable, correctly framed edition on DVD came from Anchor Bay in 2007, featuring a transfer from the Italian negative with English or Italian audio tracks (with optional English subtitles). A concluding shot of a burning funeral ship was tagged at the end of the film from a significantly dupier VHS source, as it does not exist as part of the film's negative or any usable film prints. Extras included another thorough scholarly commentary by Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark author Tim Lucas, an audio interview with Cameron Mitchell (29m20s) conducted by Lucas in 1989, U.S. and German trailers, a poster and stills gallery, and a Bava bio.

In 2017, Arrow Video added the film to its sterling roster of Bava releases as a dual-format release in both the U.S. and U.K. The new 2K-sourced presentation is a Erik the Conquerorradical improvement over the yellow-leaning, sharpened, and overly bright DVD, which was fine at the time but looks harsh now by comparison. The new transfer adds a significant amount of image information on the sides and looks better composed with more breathing room, and it's quite a Erik the Conquerorbit darker now with the color palette showing much more range including some vibrant hues of purple, blue, and green that was suppressed or absent entirely on the DVD. In short, it looks a lot more like a Bava film now. The LPCM Italian or English mono tracks sound perfectly healthy, with updated optional English subtitles provided. As with the prior DVD, the transfer bears the Italian credits (as Gli invasori), though weirdly, it switches to English for some other intertitles.

Tim Lucas returns for an updated version of his prior commentary, reiterating some production info while revising some pivotal facts such as his sketch of Aridsson's life and career. He also injects a few relevant snippets of his Mitchell interview where appropriate and Erik the Conquerormakes a case for this as both a standout in the actor's "alimony" period of European productions and an underrated Bava production; as usual the highlights are when he points out some of Bava's apparently endless practical magic with the camera, such as inserting a little waving flag into his Erik the Conquerormatte paintings to create a more believable hilltop castle. The UK VHS-sourced closing shot is segregated here as an extra rather than grafted onto the transfer, a wise choice given the massive quality drop. Lucas's Mitchell interview (or two, actually) is carried over here in greatly expanded form (63m23s), packed full of career stories and warm Bava anecdotes. Finally, "Gli Imitatori" (12m6s) features Michael Mackenzie dissecting the film's narrative debts to The Vikings while placing it in context in the larger Italian trend of cashing in on the success of prior international productions. The set comes packaged with reversible packaging (including a new cover design by Graham Humphreys) and, in the first pressing, a liner notes booklet featuring a new liner notes essay by Kat Ellinger. Though Bava completists may want to hang on to their old DVDs for the earlier commentary and the trailers, this is definitely the edition to beat.

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Reviewed on August 25, 2017.