HERCULES IN THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD; HERCULES VS THE VAMPIRES
(Ercole al Centro della Terra)
Hercules in the Center of the Earth is generally regarded as the best of the 1960s Italian muscleman films. It has a considerable (if maybe overrated) reputation. This is largely due to the presence of Italian director Mario Bava. Bava became a cult director on the basis of the extraordinarily stylish Black Sunday/The Mask of the Demon/The Revenge of the Vampire Woman (1960), made just the year before and would go onto a substantial body of other genre films. (See below for Mario Bavas other films).
Hercules in the Center of the Earth is the best of all the muscleman films due to the fact that Mario Bava transcends the stolid physicality of the genre to create a genuinely fantastique world. Bava creates a wonderful sense of the otherworldly with visions like the Oracle in a beaten-metal mask and flowing arms as she delivers portents; the journey to Hades on a sea below a sky of boiling red; the monster Procrustes (one of the few occasions where the peplum cycle took direct from Greek mythology) trying to stretch and shorten people upon its beds; vines of bleeding and screaming souls; a climactic battle with flying vampires. Bava, a former cinematographer, had a mastery of lighting schemes and the world is lit up in beautiful scarlet reds and indigo blues, while he also shoots the sets with an eye that transforms them into far more than they look.
On the other hand, Mario Bava fails to leave enough of the muscleman cycle behind to create a film that is as remarkably fantastic as say The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) or as otherworldly as his earlier Black Sunday. There are also the usual problems of these films. The dubbing is poor. Reg Park is laughably wooden as Hercules and the women are all pretty but vacant. Only an underused Christopher Lee adds a solid professionalism. The effects are poor. The stunt work falls flat for the most part and Bava lacks a good hand when it comes to choreographing action scenes. Despite itself though, Hercules in the Center of the Earth remains a triumph of atmosphere over the averageness of its production quality.
Despite the title, one might note that Hercules never does get to go to the centre of the earth. It seems merely a case of the filmmakers having decided to exploit the then recent success of 20th Century Foxs Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959).
Mario Bavas other genre films are:- uncredited co-direction of Riccardo Fredas I Vampiri (1957) and Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959); the Gothic classic Black Sunday/The Mask of the Demon/The Revenge of the Vampire Woman (1960); the giallo The Evil Eye (1962); the Gothic horror anthology Black Sabbath (1963); the Gothic horror Night is the Phantom/The Whip and the Body/What? (1963); the giallo Blood and Black Lace (1964) the Gothic Kill Baby ... Kill/Curse of the Dead/Curse of the Living Dead/Operation Fear (1965); the sf/horror film Planet of the Vampires (1965); the spy comedy Dr Goldfoot and the Girls Bombs (1966), Bavas worst film; the masked super-thief film Danger Diabolik (1967); the giallo Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970); the giallo Hatchet for a Honeymoon/Blood Brides (1971); the giallo Twitch of the Death Nerve/Bloodbath/A Bay of Blood/Carnage/Ecology for a Crime (1971); the Gothic Baron Blood (1972); the giallo/haunted house film Lisa and the Devil/House of Exorcism (1972); and the possession film Schock/Beyond the Door II (1977).
Full film available online here:-