I love old Italian cinema (if you couldn’t tell by my recent writings), probably a bit more than I should. It’s cheesy, it’s passionate and most importantly it’s almost always a treat to look at design and color scheme wise. Mario Bava’s Erik the Conqueror is no different, with a color pallet and design work (especially on the vikings, but more on that later) that is both wholly inaccurate but astounding to look at. Released in 1961, Eric the Conqueror has been dubbed “the best viking movie made in Italy” an accolade that surely still stands because how many viking movies made on Italian shores are you aware of?
Erik the Conqueror tells the story of two Viking brothers who are separated at a young age, thanks to an attack on their village by the English. One brother, Eron, remains with his people while Erik ends up being found by the English Queen post battle and is adopted into the royal family. The movie then moves ahead twenty years and both brothers are now both adults and warriors, though for opposing sides. We join the vikings in their cave, which for artistic reasons (?) was painted bright purple and occasionally has glitter rain down from the ceiling. It’s like Bava and crew saw one picture of a viking and then refused to find out anything more, instead prefering to make it up as they went along. Either that or Bava is a time-travelling Dungeons and Dragons player because this cave looks ripped right out of an RA Salvatore Drow novel. I’m not complaining because it makes for some great visuals (it is Bava after all!) but anyone who takes their viking too seriously is probably gonna get their shit twisted up by this.
The king of the vikings has made pacts with Norway, Iceland and Sweden to invade England, and due to his advanced age Eron is chosen to lead the army. Obviously another warrior takes offense to this and things are determined by a good old fashioned forge-your-own-weapon duel. It’s really bizarre for a lot of reasons but it’s fun to watch so who cares about historical (or physical) inaccuracies.
Of course Eron wins, he’s a lead character after all, and the Viking set off for England only to be met along the way by the english fleet, led by Erik. The resulting seas battle was probably pretty imporessive back in the day, and it still holds a lot of camp value now, but this is one scene in particular that the movie really shows its age. Tight shots of the two boats and a heavy dose of smoke are used to not show the audience too much of what lies beyond the boats ,likely because what lay beyond was a soundstage wall!. It almost feels like a stage production during this scene, something i was ok with because I love me some theatre but I could see this being the breaking point of someone else.
During the battle Erik is tossed overboard, only to wash ashore on the viking island, where he poses as a fisherman. Obviously this doesn’t last very long and he is outed as a member of the English side and then, shortly afterwards as Eron’s brother. It’s a real roller coaster of emotions for all involved.
I feel pretty confident in saying I don’t think they were really going for a wholly historical movie here, and as long as you are down with that and are aware going in you should have a good time. It definitely shows its age in places and I’d wager 100% of the armor in this movie was made from cloth and knit sweaters, but it’s worth watching if you need a fix of viking action.
Erik the Conqueror is available now from Arrow Home Video, and it’s also available on Amazon and other third party sellers.
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