Erik The Conqueror is a fairly unremarkable Mario Bava film, made during his swords and sandals phase. By 1961, Bava had already reinvented himself as a horror film director with the masterful Black Sunday. By default, it seems like a massive step backwards for the director, but he also made another swords and sandals film in 1961, Hercules in the Haunted World, which looks far more interesting and incorporates horror elements as well.
The film is very much an “homage” to the Richard Fleischer-directed Kirk Douglas vehicle The Vikings. The similarities are so overt that many critics have called Eric The Conqueror an unofficial remake, which of course wasn’t uncommon in Italy at that time. Fistful of Dollars was one after all (until they payed Kurosawa and Toho off,) but often Italian filmmakers and studios didn’t even pay for the rights. One of the most blazing examples of this is a little film known as Alien 2, which came out years before James Cameron’s.
It’s very much a typical story, featuring two estranged brothers: one is a still a Viking, and one grew up in Britain under the care of the queen. Their paths cross again 20 years later when the Viking brother, Eron, wants to conquer Britain again, but they are on opposite sides so sparks will fly. The title, of course, makes little sense since Eron is the conqueror—but Erik the Conqueror does sound better!
However, the characters are completely one-dimensional and uninteresting. The story is hackneyed, and of course the acting across the board is stiffer than the cardboard you use to send vinyl records in the post. The only thing the film has in its favour is the direction of Bava, who even in his worst films has imaginative photography and sets, and an extraordinary eye for detail, something that is rare in low budget genre cinema.
The disc does include a commentary from Tim Lucas, who wrote the biography of Bava, The Colors of the Dark, and it’s one of many commentary tracks he has recorded over the years on Bava films. The disc includes some interviews and the film in both English and Italian dubs, and also comes with a booklet with writing by Kat Ellinger in its first pressing.