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Mario Bava Triple Feature

Erik the Conqueror

(Italian: Gli Invasori; aka: The Invaders and Fury of the Vikings); Arrow Video BD release date: August 29th, 2017

In 786 AD, the invading Viking forces are repelled from the shores of England, leaving behind a young boy – Erik, son of the slain Viking king. Years later, Erik (George Ardisson), raised by the English queen as her own, becomes Duke of Helford, while, across the sea, his brother Eron (Cameron Mitchell) assumes leadership of the Viking horde and sets his sights on conquering England once again, setting the two estranged brothers on a collision course that will determine the fates of their respective kingdoms… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Following their April release of the Riccardo Freda co-directed blobby monster movie Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959), Arrow is touching upon one of the Mario Bava’s most underseen films, Erik the Conqueror. Released towards the middle of the peplum (or sword & sandal) cycle, when Italian filmmakers were aping big-budget Hollywood Biblical epics and period adventures (often of Greek or Roman origin – hence the name), Erik the Conqueror was a riff on Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (released in 1958, setting the stage for Kirk Douglas’ superstar break-out in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus in 1960). Most of Bava’s fanbase, myself included, have neglected the epic era of his career, at least putting aside his magnificent, horror-themed entry in the long-running Hercules series, Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole al centro della terra, 1961). Beginning with photography work on both of Pietro Francisci’s franchise-instigating features, Hercules (1958) and Hercules: Unchained (1959), Bava actually directed, co-directed, photographed, or designed special effects for a great number of these films with Erik the Conqueror acting as a near-perfect example of his unique capabilities when working with the genre.

Only slightly less outrageous than Hercules: Unchained, Erik the Conqueror is a slick entry in Bava’s adventure canon. He and co-writers Oreste Biancoli & Piero Pierotti struggle to cram Fleischer’s movie (and quite a few pieces of the Moses story) into less than 90 minutes and stumble through exposition, but what it lacks in structural sense and good pacing, it makes up for with outstanding visuals and full-bore performances. Much of the film is devoted to cultural rituals (made up ones, I assume) and impressionistic battles, rather than plot and characters, which plays into Bava’s strength decorating/shooting elaborate (usually smoke-filled) sets and staging special effects on a shoestring (the final battle is easily on-par with the spectacle of The Vikings). The sheer baroque quality of the sets helps to inform the stage-quality performances. Co-lead Cameron Mitchell steals the show, along with Françoise Christophe, who excels in the comparatively minor role of Queen Alice. Erik the Conqueror was Bava’s first work with the American actor as lead director. The two first met on The Last of the Vikings (co-directed by Giacomo Gentilomo, 1961) and worked together again on Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964), Sergio Corbucci’s Minnesota Clay (1964), and Knives of the Avenger (Italian: I coltelli del vendicatore, 1966).

Erik the Conqueror was available on US VHS from Panther Entertainment under the alternate title, The Invaders, and was released on anamorphic DVD via Anchor Bay in 2007, but you’d be hard-pressed to find either at the time (speaking from experience, Netflix once had only a single, mail-order DVD that was broken or stolen, dashing any hopes to see it). As a result, I won’t be comparing that disc to Arrow’s new Blu-ray debut. It’s probably safe to assume that this new 2K scan of the original camera negative, presented in 1080p and its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is superior, anyway. The first thing most viewers will notice is the glorious colour quality. This isn’t rare for a Bava film, of course, but what is unusual is the stark hue separation and consistency. While some may argue that skin tones appear a bit too orange, it seems to me that this is not the result of overzealous digital tampering, but the natural appearance of the Technicolor format. This supersaturated look is exactly as eye-popping as it was meant to be, especially where Bava’s trademark greens and purples are concerned. Artefacts have certainly been scrubbed to a certain extent, but vertical lines (most prevalent during the opening scene), white spots, and clumpy/snowy grain are a problem during some sequences. Print damage and crushy blacks are the most obvious in cases where Bava was shooting on location, where he had less control over the lighting.

Erik the Conqueror includes the original Italian and English dubs, both in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 sound. As per usual, the film was shot without on-set sound and the international cast is speaking a number of native languages. There is no ‘original language’ version, though AIP’s North American release was shorter than Bava’s complete Italian cut, so some scenes were not dubbed into English. In addition, each dub has its own score. This was typical for AIP, who often re-scored foreign acquisitions, but it is strange to note how similar Les Baxter’s re-score is to Roberto Nicolosi’s original Italian music (in the few cases where it was actually replaced, that is). Usually, I’d recommend the English track, since so many cast members were speaking English on set (Cameron seems to be dubbing himself, too), but the Italian dub has better sound quality all around. The English dialogue is mixed too high, as to push out some of the effects, and features quite a bit of hissy distortion.

Extras include:
  • Audio commentary with Bava biographer Tim Lucas – This is a new Arrow exclusive commentary from the author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, rather than the one Lucas recorded for the older Anchor Bay DVD. It meets the well-researched high standards of Lucas’ other fact-filled Bava tracks, including screen-specific descriptions and discussion of the director’s work on the whole.
  • Audio Interview with actor Cameron Mitchell (63:19) – An interview conducted by Lucas in 1989 and used for his book (parts of which are edited into the commentary), presented here in its entirety.
  • Gli imitatori (12:06, HD stills) – Michael Mackenzie narrates this comparison between the events and characters of Erik the Conqueror and The Vikings (including HD comparison footage).
  • Original ending (1:24, HD) – The final several seconds of film were missing from negative and are presented separate from the movie because the VHS source used is so degraded.


 Erik the Conqueror

 Erik the Conqueror

 Erik the Conqueror

 Erik the Conqueror

 Erik the Conqueror

 Erik the Conqueror


Mario Bava Triple Feature

Kill, Baby, Kill

(Italian: Operazione paura; aka: Operation Fear, 1966); Kino Classics BD release date: October 10th, 2017

A doctor (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) arrives at a remote village to perform an autopsy on a young woman, but his efforts are frustrated by the superstitious townspeople, who live in fear of the murderous spirit of a ghastly child. Dr. Eswai exposes the barbaric rituals of the frightened villagers, only to discover something even more horrifying within the crumbling remains of the notorious Villa Graps. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

It’s a fool’s errand to weigh the influential qualities of Bava’s films against one another, but, setting aside his giallo thrillers and his proto-slasher, Bay of Blood (Italian:  Ecologia del delitto; aka: Twitch of the Death Nerve and Blood Bath, 1971), few of his movies have garnered more clout with mainstream Hollywood and prized arthouse filmmakers than Kill, Baby, Kill!. This strangely named (neither its English or Italian titles really do it any justice), dread-soaked supernatural thriller has been directly referenced by such famed filmmakers as Martin Scorsese ( The Last Temptation of Christ’s visual representation of Satan is based in part on Kill, Baby, Kill’s ghostly little girl), Tim Burton (who borrowed images and plot elements for his 1999 Sleepy Hollow adaptation), Federico Fellini (specifically his segment in the 1968 anthology Spirits of the Dead), and Guillermo del Toro (visual themes are recycled throughout all of his supernatural horror films). And those ghostly bouncing ball, creepy broken doll, and laughing child motifs you’ve since seen in several dozen cinematic thrillers? Those all have distinctive roots right here.

Kill, Baby, Kill! pushes the concept of dream-logic horror further than any other Italian horror film up to that point. Bava had dabbled in irrational image-driven scares several times before (the Wurdalak section of Black Sabbath, 1963, is a good example), but this return to supernatural horror has an especially hallucinatory, nebulous nature that directly influenced other Italian filmmakers, chiefly Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Bava’s son, Lamberto. The dreamy quality extends beyond obvious things, like untoward plotting, lack of logic, and spooky camera work, into the film’s odd chronological setting. Similar to Bava’s next two supernatural horror films, Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972) and Lisa and the Devil (Italian: Lisa e il diavolo, 1973), Kill, Baby, Kill! doesn’t really seem to coexists on a tangible timeline. Modern motifs sit side by side with classical genre tropes. One suspects that Romano Migliorini and Roberto Natale’s original screenplay might have fit the Roger Corman costume drama mould (the bones of the typical AIP and Hammer story are all present, but ignored quickly), before the director sunk his claws into it, cut it to pieces, and reassembled it into a fever dream (the fact that the producers ran out of money before shooting was finished probably played its part in this too). I personally wouldn’t recommend novices begin an excursion into Bava wth Kill, Baby, Kill! ( Black Sunday and Blood and Black Lace strike me as the obvious access points), but also agree that it belongs high on any list of his best work.

Kill, Baby, Kill! is one of the most widely available Mario Bava films on home video, because of its dicey copyright status. This led to VHS quality transfers on multi-film DVD sets, alongside an official, non-anamorphic disc from VCI. Eventually, Anchor Bay released an anamorphic version as part of their first Mario Bava Collection, which I own and will be comparing to this US Blu-ray debut from Kino Lorber (a special edition DVD was set to be released by Dark Sky Films, but it was canceled shortly after review copies were sent to a couple of outlets). Kino’s 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer has been taken from a new 2K restoration of the original 35mm elements (I assume it is the same restoration used by Koch and Arrow for their recent released DE and UK Blu-rays). The source version is slightly longer than AB’s DVD and, though I didn’t take the time to compare the differences back-to-back (Kino BD top, AB DVD bottom), I certainly had trouble matching screencaps based on timestamps (as you can see, the title card sits over a completely different shot).

First things first, the clarity and total detail upgrade is huge, but not at the risk of Bava’s purposefully foggy and diffused compositions (the credits list Antonio Rinaldi as cinematographer, but this was most certainly one of Bava’s many aliases). More importantly, the DVD transfer is quite noisy and littered with compression artefacts (mostly edge haloes and blocky chunks). Those issues have been more or less replaced with natural looking grain and subtler gradations, which, again, fit the film’s dreamy photography much better than over-sharpened highlights. One realistic concern is the yellow quality of skin tones and other neutral/brown/tan hues, since a number of recent Italian restorations have been stained way to yellow and teal ( The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly being the most prevalent example). However, as you see from the comparison caps, the palette hasn’t changed very much between releases. I’m more concerned that the cool hues – though richer in HD – don’t have as much lavender tint to them. Based on other Bava movies, I suspect that the lavender is closer to the intended look. Otherwise, this 2K restoration is well worth the double-dip.

Kill, Baby, Kill! is presented with uncompressed LPCM audio mono English and Italian dubs. If I understand the wording correctly, the 2K restoration was derived from an English language version of the film, which would mean that the Italian audio was taken from a non-film source. That said, the differences between the dubs are typical and mostly revolve around the volume levels/clarity of dialogue. The English track has a slight edge in terms of warmth and the total loudness of the performances and incidental effects, while the Italian track is flatter, despite also being a little bit cleaner. The music is credited to Carlo Rustichelli, but, according to Tim Lucas’ notes in All the Colors of the Dark, the attribution is tied to the fact that Rustichelli had written cues that the production borrowed from the CAM Music Library in Italy (the mix-and-match music also included bits from Roman Vlad’s I Vampiri score, among others). This song library status may explain why the dubs feature basically identical distortion effects, namely the crackles and pops that crop up at the beginning of each track.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Tim Lucas – I believe Lucas recorded this track for Dark Sky’s unreleased 2007 special edition DVD. It is another full-bodied, info-packed affair that acts as a companion piece to the film and his book.[* Kill, Bava, Kill! (25:05, SD) – This retrospective featurette, directed by David Gregory, was also set to be released with the Dark Sky DVD. In it, the director follows Lamberto Bava, as he talks about his father and revisits the film’s main location.
  • Interview with Erika Blanc (10:35, HD) – Another previously unreleased interview (originally conducted by Uwe Huber in 2014), this time with the lead actress, who fondly recalls working on the film, shares her collection of production stills, and explains why older Italian horror films endure.
  • German release alternate title sequence (3:33, HD) – This is actually the version of the title sequence that appears on the AB DVD, minus the German text.
  • International trailer and three American TV spots


 Kill Baby Kill Kino BD
 Kill Baby Kill Anchor Bay DVD

 Kill Baby Kill Kino BD
 Kill Baby Kill Anchor Bay DVD

 Kill Baby Kill Kino BD
 Kill Baby Kill Anchor Bay DVD

 Kill Baby Kill Kino BD
 Kill Baby Kill Anchor Bay DVD

 Kill Baby Kill Kino BD
 Kill Baby Kill Anchor Bay DVD


Mario Bava Triple Feature

Roy Colt and Winchester Jack

(1970); Kino Classics BD release date: October 10th, 2017

Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (Brett Halsey and Charles Southwood) are two brawling buddies in search of a cache of gold coins. Along the way, they compete for the affection of a Native American woman (Marilù Tolo) and join forces when confronted by a common enemy: a maniacal reverend-turned-gang-leader (Teodoro Corrà). (From Kino’s official synopsis)

The spaghetti western was too prevalent and popular for a director-for-hire like Mario Bava to ignore and he did make a number of forays into the subgenre, beginning with The Road to Fort Alamo (Italian: La strada per Forte Alamo, 1966) and including the aforementioned Minnesota Clay (though his specific job on that film remains a mystery), A Gunman Called Nebraska (Italian: Ringo del Nebraska; co-directed by Antonio Román, 1966), and the subject of this final review, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack. This final western was released towards the end of the spaghettis’ reign and, as such, is a satire of the genre’s greatest hits, complete with call-backs to everyone’s favourite Sergio Leone films. With a few exceptions, it doesn’t match the goofball antics of Enzo Barboni's mega-popular, genre-re-defining They Call Me Trinity, which was released mere months after Bava’s film. Still, the jokes are quite apparent, which leads me to the problem that, like the Trinity movies and their dopey rip-offs, they simply aren’t very funny. Or, at least, its comedy requires very dated and very Italian sensibilities. It seems that Bava’s personal sense of humour lends itself better to dark and ironic comedy – the kind seen in Bay of Blood and Five Dolls for an August Moon (Italian: 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto, 1970).

Lack of laughs aside, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack is possibly Bava’s best western, perhaps only by default (full disclosure: I have not seen The Road to Fort Alamo), because he never seemed particularly invested in any of them. His work is palpably hobbled by the genre and its expectations, due in large part to the numerous outdoor locations and pre-made sets that characterize ‘budget’ spaghettis (only Sergio Leone could really afford to build anything substantial and often with the help of Hollywood studios). With the exception of a lively (but incredibly unfunny) whorehouse sequence, he wasn’t able to use a lot of ostentatious lighting and his special effects knowledge is limited to a few rather obvious, but no less impressive glass painted composite shots. Even with one hand tied behind his back, so to speak, Bava’s talent for striking visuals are apparent and the performances are above average across the board.

It appears that Roy Colt and Winchester Jack was never released in North American theaters or VHS/Beta tape. The Image Entertainment’s 2003 anamorphic DVD was, thus, the movie’s default premiere. This was followed by a similar disc from Anchor Bay as part of their second Mario Bava Collection. Like Kill, Baby, Kill!, this new Blu-ray transfer was sourced from a brand new 2K restoration of the original 35mm negative and utilizes a slightly longer version of the film than the Image and AB DVDs. Again, I didn’t catalogue the differences, but had enough difficulty matching time stamps that I noticed the difference while culling caps. The comparison results are basically the same (Kino BD top, AB DVD bottom), because the AB transfer is every bit as noisy and fuzzy as the Kill, Baby, Kill! one. The upgrade might actually be more substantial, because the increase in detail and clarity finally reveals that Bava was using fog, mist, and dust for atmospheric texture. On DVD, these effects look like more noise and are lost in overcranked contrast levels. Of course, the colours are still desaturated and mostly neutral, but richer in HD, especially the blue skies. The Blu-ray exhibits minor compression along the softer edges, while the softness itself is probably inherent in the original material. Other artefacts are limited mostly to vertical lines at the beginnings and ends of some reels and occasional dips in the strength of the black levels.

According to Lucas, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack was probably never released in America, but it was dubbed into English. Unfortunately, that dub was lost, not only because the leads actors are performing in English, but, as Lucas notes, a number of the jokes were “linguistic in nature,” meaning that they aren’t as funny in subtitle form. Bava producer Alfredo Leone (no relation) recently found some of those tracks and Kino was able to cobble together a partial English-language version, which are included alongside the complete Italian dub. Both are presented in uncompressed LPCM mono. Understandably, the English dialogue doesn’t begin until around the 37:00 point (marked as chapter five), but, for some reason, Kino left the track completely blank up until that point, instead of piping in the Italian dialogue. This means viewers have to manually switch between the sound options at a certain point with no real warning, unless they have the ability to watch a chapter count on their display. It’s a weird choice that hampers an otherwise worthwhile effort, as the sound quality is solid throughout both tracks, save the usual issues with overused effects and occasionally tinny vocals (the English dub features a bit more crack and pop). Composer Piero Umiliani’s score occasionally references Ennio Morricone’s more popular genre music, but is generally jazzier to match its sillier tone. Even if they’re underutilized, the themes are memorable and well represented, despite the single channel treatment.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Tim Lucas – Given the general lack of information about Roy Colt and Winchester Jack outside of the commentator’s own book – not to mention the lack of additional extras on this disc – this is another vital contribution from Lucas. The most informative section occurs towards the middle of the discussion, when the author describes the long, sad “death” of the Italian western during the ‘70s.
  • Intermission cards (00:35, HD)


 Roy Colt Kino BD
 Roy Colt Anchor Bay DVD

 Roy Colt Kino BD
 Roy Colt Anchor Bay DVD

 Roy Colt Kino BD
 Roy Colt Anchor Bay DVD

 Roy Colt Kino BD
 Roy Colt Anchor Bay DVD

 Roy Colt Kino BD
 Roy Colt Anchor Bay DVD

 Roy Colt Kino BD
 Roy Colt Anchor Bay DVD

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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