Release Date(s)1961 (September 12, 2017)
Studio(s)Galatea Film/Lyre Films/Criterion Film/AIP (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Gli imitatori, known by many different titles over the years with the most prominent being Erik the Conqueror, was Mario Bava’s third credited solo directorial effort, following Black Sunday and Hercules in the Haunted World. The film came at the beginning of a trend in Italy at that time, which was a string of Viking films that lasted throughout the 1960s. Although much of the film’s story contains pretty standard swords and sandals type iconography and plot mechanics, Bava’s approach to the material, giving it a wonderfully colorful and well-staged look, allows it to stand out from many of the same types of films from the same era.
Erik the Conqueror begins its story in 786 AD, telling of a group of Vikings who are almost completely wiped out by a sinister underling to the King of Britain. Within the wreckage are two toddlers, Eron and Erik, who were separated from each other during the battle. Erik is later found and taken in by the Queen as her own after the sudden death of her husband. Twenty years later, Erik is appointed the Duke of Helford by the Queen, and after his ship is attacked by Eron, he washes up on the shores of the Vikings. There he must face his brother and save the imprisoned Queen from certain doom.
Erik the Conqueror, which is a non-admittedly remake of The Vikings, takes full advantage of Bava’s stylistic approach. One of the most important aspects about Bava was that he was never pigeonholed into one particularly genre, despite being primarily known as a horror film director later on. Given the opportunity, he could also tackle westerns, science fiction, action, or even satire. In the case of Erik the Conqueror, what could have been a meager-looking historical epic was instead transformed into scenes awash in bold primaries, all of it in service of an old-fashioned tale of love, redemption, and familial discovery, but presented in beautifully-rendered detail. His color and lighting schemes to his use of dollies and crane shots revealing elaborately staged sequences are all hallmarks of one of Italy’s finest filmmakers, and Erik the Conqueror is a fine example of that.
Arrow Video’s presentation of the film is sourced from a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative. The results are gorgeous, to say the least. This is a vibrant presentation with well-handled grain management and immense detail. Close-ups of actors, landscapes, costumes – even the strings on the ends of fired arrows, are all stunningly clear. It should go without saying, but the film does make use of a few opticals, which causes the quality of the material to dip slightly, but being that it’s a limit of the technology at the time, I’ve never been one to take points away from a transfer because of it. Color reproduction is spectacular as well, giving Mario Bava’s reds, greens, oranges, blues, and purples a much-needed richness. Black levels are astonishingly deep, with a bit of crush in certain shots, which is inherent in the original photography. Contrast levels are virtually perfect as well. Due to the age of the material, it’s unsurprising that it contains some uncorrectable damage, such as thin lines running through the frame and mild scratching. Some shots are heavier with it than others, but the overall clarity, color, and amount of detail on display outweighs any of the original film element’s limitations. Everything that could be done to clean it up has been done. Rest-assured, this is the finest presentation of the film to date. The audio is presented in the original Italian, as well as the A.I.P. English track, both mono LPCM presentations. Both have distinctive qualities to them. The English dub is extremely narrow with definite limitations including hiss and distortion, particular with words ending in S. The Italian track, by comparison, is wider with a little more dimension and clarity to it, not to mention cleaner. Performance-wise, both tracks have their pros and cons, but the quality of each might lead you to one or the other, even if you have a particular language preference. Subtitles are also provided in English for the Italian audio and English SDH for the English audio.
For the extras, there’s a terrific new audio commentary with Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas, which also contains interstitial portions of his Cameron Mitchell audio interview; the entire 63-minute Cameron Mitchell audio interview, conducted by Tim Lucas in 1989; the 12-minute Gli imitatori (The Imitators), a video essay by Michael Mackenzie, who makes compares the film to Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings; the original ending, which was not found on the camera negative for the new transfer, but is presented separately via a UK VHS tape; a DVD copy of the film; and a 24-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Kat Ellinger, as well as restoration details. Not carried over from Anchor Bay’s 2007 DVD release is Tim Lucas’ previous audio commentary for the film, the U.S. and German theatrical trailers, and a poster & still gallery.
I may be a bit biased when recommending this release because I’m such a big fan of what Arrow Video has managed to do with Mario Bava’s catalogue over the years. Their releases of Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, and Blood and Black Lace are some of the best packages they’ve ever produced. Along with the Tim Lucas audio commentaries, they’re always enjoyable, and dare I say, essential. So my recommendation comes from a place of enthusiasm for another Bava title hitting the catalogue, and with such beautiful picture quality, Erik the Conqueror is a dynamite release.
- Tim Salmons