Review: Hercules in the Center of the Earth (1961, Mario Bava)

In order to cure his lover's insanity, Hercules goes on a mission into the underworld. There he must retrieve a magic stone, and face King Lico, who has teamed up with the dark forces...

"Hercules in the Center of the Earth" (or "...in the Haunted World") is fantasy horror movie with a lot of swords and sandals, and some comic relief. It's a bit of a mash up of Greek mythology, default fantasy material, and vampire horror. There are no actual vampires here, but some obvious references to that kind of movie culture, and with Christopher Lee as the main antagonist it has an extra bit of Hammer horror feel. There's not much character study to be found here. "Hercules in the..." is a low budget production depicting mythology - the dialog is a bit harsh, the humor is a bit wooden, as is the acting, the sets are cheap, and the muscles are shiny. 

To some, this may sound like "Hercules..." is a boring film, but unless you expect something very different, that is certainly not the case. With tons of styrofoam (or papier mache), paint, a handful of practical and camera effects, and loads of colored light, Mario Bava creates quite a spectacular picture of the underworld. His use of light is one of his trademarks - it's Technicolor on steroids, near-psychedelic, moody, and beautiful.

There are some bold shots of the scenery and architecture, Hercules meets some impressive adversaries, the women are (almost literally) goddesses - overall, "Hercules in the Center of the Earth" is very much a fantasy comic strip come alive, with a little bit of Dracula thrown in. It's cheap, but very bold, and for what it is, it works quite well. The story is of epic proportions, it moves forward steadily, has lots of action, some reasonably spooky horror elements, and great settings. What certainly stands out is the art direction: Decors, costumes, and most of all the fantastic use of light and color, together with some great cinematography, create a truckload of thick, dreamy atmosphere, the kind that can only be found in a Mario Bava movie. That's a lot of stuff to keep you captivated.

Verdict: Not too much substance, but highly watchable. 6/10


Trailer video:

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