Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Vamp or Not? Hercules in the Haunted World

DVD

This was a joint vehicle by Mario Bava and Franco Prosperi and was Bava’s first foray into colour. Boy, you can tell it is Bava, despite being atypical Italian sword and sandal fare, with some ridiculous dubbing, the thing that stands out is the excellent use of lighting and colour that pumps the film full of atmosphere. But is it vamp?

Well it is on vampire filmographies and had the alternative title of Hercules vs the Vampires, so surely it must be… In fairness, as I watched this, I felt it warranted a thorough investigation.

It begins with Hercules (Reg Park) calling out for Theseus (George Ardisson). Theseus is ignoring old Hercules however, as he is busy having a role in the hay with a young maiden. Sounds fair enough, hang out with a muscle bound, bearded guy wearing sandals or role in the hay with a maiden – I’d always choose the latter.

We see some bad guys approaching; they have noted that our two heroes are not together. throwing cartsThey are unaware of who they are attacking, just that they are being paid by the King to do so. They go for Theseus first. He is holding his own when Hercules comes along and lobs a cart at them, ending the fight abruptly. When Theseus thanks Hercules for his intervention the battered bad guys realise who it is and leg it. It appears that Hercules and Theseus have returned to the kingdom so that Hercules can marry Deianira (Leonora Ruffo).

Christopher Lee as LicoThe bad guy’s leader returns to King Lico (Christopher Lee who, like Parks, was dubbed through the film) and reports the failure. Lico is not best pleased but says he will pay him for his services anyway. The bad guy goes to a chest, Lico pulls a leaver and the bad guy is speared. Lico then retreats further into his secret villain’s lair, to an altar area, and calls to Deianira. A coffin opens and she rises from it and seems to float to Lico.

Okay that was vampish, but there is nothing to indicate she is a vampire, indeed we discover later that she is not.

Dieanira and HerculesHercules goes to the castle and discovers that Deianira has not become queen, as she was meant to. Lico, her uncle, has locked her away and assumed the throne. He tells Hercules it is because she is ill. When Hercules meets her she seems in a trance and doesn’t recognise him. To save her he embarks on a quest… it always involves a quest.

the stone monsterHe has to get a special stone from the kingdom of Hades, to get in there he has to steal a golden apple and kill a rock monster and to get to the apple he has to acquire a magic ship – nothing is ever easy. This does mean he gets to throw big boulders around, which is nice!

Franco Giacobini as TelemachusHe and Theseus are joined on their quest by Telemachus (Franco Giacobini), who is the comic relief and rather annoying. Now you might think that Hercules fights vampires in Hades but there is nary a one to be seen. No, the vampire-like moments come after he has saved Deianira.

Having been foiled, but still thought of as a friend, Lico goes to his altar and is told by a disembodied voice that on the night when the moon is eaten by the dragon (a lunar eclipse) he must drink the blood of Deianira, this will grant him immortality and make him king for eternity. So we have blood drinking and immortality. Indeed it is slightly more than that as Persephone (Ida Galli), the daughter of Pluto (don’t ask, the myths are severely screwed up at this point), tells Hercules, “He will drink her blood, the evil one, and she will become a creature of the damned.”

was it a slit throat?When Lico goes to kidnap Deianira he first kills her handmaiden. She is found bleeding from the throat but it is as likely that he simply slit her throat as attacked her in a vampire like way. Deianira manages to hold him off for a while using the magic stone that Hercules got from Hades. It emits a bright light that causes Lico to cover his face in a Dracula like way (well it is Lee).

Carrying Drac styleOnce he manages to get her, carrying her along in another Dracula like way (again I repeat, it is Lee), he takes her to be sacrificed but Hercules is on his tail. To buy himself some time he summons up the dead. Now they emerge from both the earth and from coffins and they are dead but they do not exhibit any traits that would make us believe they are vampires and are as likely any old form of the reanimated dead.

the dead awakenHercules manages to crush Lico with a stone pillar, but it does not kill him. Indeed Lico states that Hercules cannot slay the dead and seems to be referring as much to himself as to his summoned corpses. When the moon emerges from the eclipse the light of it causes Lico to burst into flames – or at least it appears that way, perhaps the evil Gods were angry that he failed, it isn’t explained.

on the verge of sacrificeIt seems, therefore, that Lico is a vampire or at least vampire like. He has no fangs – he was going to use a dagger made from bones to open Deianira’s veins. However blood drinking will give him eternal life, his victim will share his fate and be damned for eternity, and it appears that sunlight (reflected from the moon) might have killed him.

It seems certain to my way of thinking that, with this being made just a few short years after Horror of Dracula, the filmmakers really did play on Lee’s previous role. However, Bava was very good at mixing his genres and this certainly has elements that could be deemed as vampiric. I think there are just enough to class it as vamp.

The imdb page is here.

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