Hercules (Reg Park) and Theseus (George Ardisson) are returning from battle when they are set upon by assassins. Hercules and Theseus manage to beat them back. Once back in Icaria Hercules finds that his fiancée Princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo) is ill and the city is being run by her uncle King Lico (Christopher Lee). Lico has no intentions of giving up his power but he pretends he is concerned for Deianira and advised Hercules to consult the oracle Medea (Gaia Germani).
The oracle tells Hercules that he must go to Hades and retrieve the stone of forgetfulness. To get into the underworld he first must go to the land of the Hesperides to acquire a golden apple. Without it he will not be able to leave Hades. Hercules rounds up Theseus to take with him on his journey. He ends up also acquiring annoying comic relief in the form of Telemachus (Franco Giacobini).
For the first leg of their trip they board a magical boat and head for Hesperides. They fall asleep on the boat and wake up at their destination. The apple is high in a huge and ancient tree. It takes Hercules a couple tries to get the apple. Meanwhile Theseus and Telemachus are attacked by a rock creature called Procrustes. Hercules makes it back in time to save them from being killed.
While Telemachus guards the apple Hercules and Theseus go through more ordeals in Hades on their quest for the stone of forgetfulness. They eventually return to Icaria and Hercules restores Deianira’s mind but there are other forces at work that prove to be more dangerous to Hercules, Deianira and everyone in Icaria.
“Hercules in the Haunted World” AKA “Hercules In the Center of the Earth” was released in 1961 and was directed by Mario Bava. The American release was in 1964. It is an Italian sword and sandals film with horror aspects. Christopher Lee's voice was dubbed by another actor for the English-language version of the film. In the Italian version, Lee dubs his own voice.
The film is a colorful trip through the realm of quasi-mythology. As with many sword and sandal films the script doesn’t necessarily coincide with the original mythological tales. The story is still an interesting one because the sets and the cinematography enhance the plot. The depiction of Hades is a little spooky and the visuals are bathed in blood red lighting thereby increasing the eeriness of the overall atmosphere.
The horror aspects of the movie are actually kinda cool. For a short time there was a sub-genre of films that combined sword and sandal films with horror elements. There aren’t a lot of sword fights in this film but there’s more than enough boulder throwing to make up for it.
What makes the film memorable and also quite enjoyable is Mario Bava’s directing style. He is not only a director but he is also a cinematographer and a special effects artist. His eye catching visuals make up for any short comings in the dialogue, acting and dubbing. It is a fun movie to watch and a great addition to the genre.
Hercules is Roy “Reg” Park. He was a British body builder born in Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1928. He earned the title of Mr. Britain in 1949. He was Mr. Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965. He was the second man to bench press 500 pounds. The first being Doug Hepburn. Reg made five films, all Italian sword and sandal, and all in the early 60’s. Reg’s appearance in “Hercules in the Haunted World” inspired Arnold Schwarzenegger's to take up bodybuilding. Arnold trained with Reg in the sixties. It was Reg that urged Arnold to take the role of Hercules in “Hercules in New York” 1970. I'm not sure if Arnold ever forgave him for that.