Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie is Hercules in the Haunted World, also sometimes known as Hercules in the Center of the Earth. This 1961 film, shot in Italy, is perhaps the most psychedelic Hercules movie ever made. That’s not surprising, considering it was directed by Mario Bava, Italy’s most accomplished horror filmmaker. Here, he places as much emphasis on sorcery as swordplay, mixing a healthy dosage of the macabre with the expected muscle-bound action.
Hercules’ mission: To journey to the underworld, Hades to be exact, to retrieve the Stone of Forgetfulness, so a curse can be lifted from the fair Princess Deianira. The diabolical sorcerer Lyco stands in Hercules’ way. He has placed the princess in a trance, so he could grab power and the throne. In a rarity for one of Bava’s low-budget features, he snared an A-list acting talent, Christopher Lee, to play the menacing villain. True, Lee’s voice is dubbed and he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but when’s he on, he’s snarlingly good.
Otherwise, there are several exciting episodes associated with Hercules’ quest. He consults with oracles, battles a sadistic rock creature and braves hellish lakes of fire, as he descends deeper into Pluto’s lair. Reg Park, the British bodybuilder and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s closest mentor, plays the hero. Park only appeared in five movies, four times as Hercules. He’s no match for Steve Reeves, but he’s not entirely wooden, either.
In the end, what distinguishes this film are Bava’s haunting visuals. Besides directing, he also served as cinematographer and special effects maven, so the look of the picture is entirely his doing. Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.