Hercules (Reg Park) arrives in the city of Icalia to find the populace under the shadow of a mysterious plague, which induces a trance-like state. His beloved, Deianira (Leonora Ruffo), the supposed ruler of the city, has been afflicted, and Lyco (Christopher Lee) is overseeing the land in her place. What Hercules doesn't know is that the band who attacked him and his friend Theseus (George Ardisson) earlier was sent by Lyco, and when Hercules sets off to Hades, the land of the dead, to lift the plague, Lyco sees his chance to get rid of all obstacles to his absolute power...
Definitely one of the better Italian muscleman epics, Hercules at the Centre of the Earth was written by Mario Bava, Sandro Continenza, Franco Prosperi and Duccio Tessari, and is notable as being the first Bava film in colour. After the success of his directorial debut Black Sunday, Bava had been hired to once again work his wonders on a tiny budget, and this kaleidoscopic fantasy was the result. British former Mr Universe Park was a solid Hercules, and more than able in the all-important "lifting of boulders" department, while new, international star Christopher Lee was enlisted as the villain - typecast already.
The dreamlike film mixes up a host of Classical myths for its plotline, making it a combination of Orpheus and the Labours of Hercules, for the first half at least. Pausing briefly to take on a comedy sidekick, Hercules and Theseus voyage to the Hespiredes, so they can secure a golden apple to ensure their passage into Hades. But nothing's ever easy - the tree that the apple grows on is absolutely huge, and while Hercules scales it, his friends are put into jeopardy from a rock monster with some funny ideas.
Their is a strong element of the grotesque here, and it threatens to transform into a horror movie quite frequently, as can be seen when the rock monster decides to make Theseus and the comic relief fit their makeshift beds by stretching one and shortening the other. And that's just the start of the horrific moments: when the heroes finally reach Hades, they come up against visions and thick roots, which bleed and cry out when cut, due to being fashioned of the souls of the dead. But of course, the real connection with horror movies is the scowling Christopher Lee, who, dressed in black, is even called upon to drink the blood of the heroine to gain immortality.
It's a strange, striking world the characters inhabit, where everything is subject to the whims of the Gods. Despite being half God himself, Hercules sides with the humans, and proves to be a noble champion, loyal, stouthearted and ready for action. However, everything, even those Gods, is in the thrall of the strongest force around: love. It tests friendships to the limit, forces people to violence and murder, and is the most important thing in everyone's life. As long as you have someone to love, your life is complete, as can be seen when the loveless Lyco tries to become all powerful, and the tragic Persephone, who has been saved from Hades, is made to give up her love for the sake of Icalia. All you need is love and you can beat the zombies and whatnot. Music by Armando Trovajoli.
Aka: Ercole al Centro della Terra, Hercules in the Haunted World, Hercules vs the Vampires
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.