786, and in England a battle is raging when the Viking King Harald (Folco Lulli) is besieged on all sides by the English forces who resent his people's invasion tactics and mean to put a stop to him once and for all. Harald fights valiantly, but the enemy, led by Sir Rutford (Andrea Checchi), are too strong and he is overpowered, the deadly blow landed by a well-placed arrow to his chest from Rutford's right hand man. His barely alive body is then dragged by a horse to the shoreline, where his two young sons, Eron and Erik, are in a state of despair at seeing their father so overwhelmed before their eyes, and to make matters worse in the melee they are split up, one going to the English Queen Alice (Françoise Christophe) and the other staying with the Vikings...
Mario Bava had fairly recently made the transition from cinematographer to director when he made his first Viking movie, known as Gli invasori in his native Italy, though also known as Fury of the Vikings elsewhere; in North America it was titled Erik the Conqueror (not to be confused with the Terry Jones comedy Erik the Viking, though you have to wonder if it was an intentional influence). Although he would be better known as a horror director, Bava made films in other genres as well, and this was one of his historical adventures where, as was traditional, they were topped and tailed with sequences of mass violence and had a lot of internal politics between the race of choice in the middle.
The Vikings were those "barbarians" we were intended to concentrate upon, though there was a decent amount of space given over to the English as well, thanks to the enforced split between the brothers. Top billed Cameron Mitchell did not play the titular Erik, however, he played Eron, as presumably Eron the Conqueror wasn't a moniker its distributors at A.I.P. liked very much and Erik sounded more Scandinavian. He was the bad guy, as you might have anticipated, with the more noble sibling (played by George Ardisson) taking care of the more romantic duties: the Tony Curtis to Mitchell's Kirk Douglas, if you liked, and this film certainly did, lifting much of its act from the popular fifties epic out of Hollywood.
Both our leading men sported dyed blonde hair to make them look more Nordic, though it did not look natural on either; it was better on the twin sisters Alice Kessler and Ellen Kessler, who played the objects of their affections though there was a spot of mistaken identity to spice things up when the four of them eventually crossed paths. With Bava at the helm, a relatively low budget movie could be assured to looking pretty impressive, and he almost managed to fool the eyes into believing, say, that Viking longboat really was cutting through the North Sea like a hot knife through butter, purely thanks to the director's way with the camera and lighting. Examples such as that livened up the material, which although he had a hand in the script, was, sad to say, some stodgy stuff.
If your favourite episodes of the Star Trek series in all its forms concerned the Klingons, you would be in your element with these macho savages, all posturing and threats and attempts at attaining the alpha male status all the men longed for. For everyone else who found that sort of affair taxing on their focus and levels of interest, work like Erik the Conqueror was not going to appeal very much, and God bless him but Mitchell was not a Kirk Douglas - he wasn't even an Ernest Borgnine. You could amuse yourself observing the commitment the cast put into what was rather tiresome to watch, and there was no doubting the conviction of the production, but aside from the occasional setpiece where the story briefly sprang to life, you did find yourself admiring the grand, if not quite lavish, imagery and letting the character conflicts wash over you. This was a big hit in Italy in its day, tapping into a national culture that was indeed macho, but if you had no time for that, there was purely historical interest here, no pun intended. Music by Roberto Nicolosi.
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.