THE VIKING QUEEN was originally released in 1967. During that time, Hammer Films was at it’s creative peak with the continual production of Dracula, Mummy, and Frankenstein (and other horror and monster) films. But in the 1970’s, Hammer studios would see a downward spiral in film budgets and quality projects that would eventually lead to the studio closing shop. But who can forget how great the studios output during the 1960s. Besides their franchise horror films, Hammer explored other genres including Greek mythology (THE GORGON), prehistoric tales (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.), and ancient civilizations (THE LOST CONTINENT), among others. During that time they produced the mini-epic THE VIKING QUEEN. Although I do not know why the sexy lead character is called a Viking Queen; the movie has nothing to do with Vikings and doesn’t even touch upon Norse mythology whatsoever. But it does make for a dramatic title. Anchor Bay does the home video world a favor by bringing this underrated Hammer film to the starved DVD masses.
The movie is directed by Don Chaffey who fantasy film fans will remember as the director of two classic films of fantastic cinema, namely JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and the awesome ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. With those credits alone on the man’s resume you know he’s a filmmaker to be reckoned with. He cast European make-up artist/model turned actress Carita (no last name, kind of like Madonna I guess) in the title roll as Queen Salina. Her love interest/enemy is Don (THE PLAINSMAN) Murray as Roman commander Justinian. Donald (CLASH OF THE TITANS) Houston plays Maelgan, a Druid high priest. Andrew (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) Keir is the evil Octavian, who is Justinian’s second in command. Patrick (SCARS OF DRACULA) Troughton plays wise man Tristram.
The movie is set centuries ago, after the death of Julius Caesar and when England was made up of remote kingdoms. The Romans were on their way to conquering all of Europe and dispatched their armies to see that no one opposed them. One of these kingdoms was Iceni, whose king had signed a treaty of surrender with Rome to save the lives of his people. But the king is on his deathbed, and of his three daughters, selected Salina (the one whom he believed to be the most conscientious) to be the new queen. She didn’t want the prestigious position but she had to trust her fathers judgment. Since her fathers death she has attempted to keep peace as her father had envisioned, but this is difficult because of an ancient Druid clan led by Maelgan which has a powerful grip on her people.
A Roman envoy led by Justinian takes a liking to the beautiful new queen, and during some chariot races, it turns out that Salina has feelings for him as well. They quickly have a whirlwind romance and talk of marriage. Meanwhile Octavian, Justinian’s second in command makes no bones that he wants to conquer the people of Iceni by force, and notices his leaders relationship with Salina. The Druid priest Maelgan refuses to marry Salina and Justinian and predicts bloodshed for the people of Iceni. Sure enough, Octavian hatches a plan to that will send Justinian away from the kingdom, upon which Octavian and his troops rape and pillage the people of Iceni.
After the devastation, the Roman troops depart, leaving the kingdom a shambles. Salina survives though brutally beaten. She goes to visit the Druid priests for advice, and Maelgan presents her with a sacred sword and proclaims her "The Viking Queen" who must fight for her people’s freedom. She gathers an army from the survivors and prepares them for battle. Meanwhile, her lover Justinian returns knowing he has been duped, and he wants the fighting mad Viking Queen to surrender to the superior Roman troops. But the people of Iceni choose not to live as slaves for the Roman Empire. And so the war begins. And war is hell.
There is a lot of action in the film and a lot of cheesecake which was pretty risqué for the sixties. Carita gives a good performance as Queen Salina, and she manages to hold her own with the other professionally trained actors. And the fact that she is gorgeous as well can’t hurt. Too bad she never went on to another film besides this one. The other actors all give credible performances and the dialog is very authentic and true to the time period (unlike most Hollywood productions that take place in the past). The costuming and set design all contribute to the authenticity level.
There is some tremendous action set pieces in the film (for the time), including chariot races, battle scenes, and Druid ceremonies. Director Chaffey utilizes some great camerawork to capture this action on film. The war scenes consist of a the Roman troops battling the Viking Queen’s army who use swords, rocks, and sticks as weapons. Salina drives a chariot with large blades protruding from the sides which take down the fleeing Roman troops. In a sacrificial Druid ceremony, the Druids throw Roman soldiers into a cage and roast them alive. There is a lot of brutality and death in the film, although none of it is too graphic, so gore hounds may want to look elsewhere. The film does not have a happy ending and realistically depicts the cost of senseless war.
THE VIKING QUEEN is presented in a 1.85.1 widescreen transfer. This transfer faithfully restores the incredible cinematography. The action scenes are beautifully rendered and depicted Much of the movie takes place in the hills, mountains, and woods and the transfer depicts these panoramic vistas with breathtaking clarity. Exterior scenes are excellent with perfectly balanced coloring. Interiors, though darker, are visually astounding due to the lighting of the film using multi-colored back lighting and gives the interiors sets sharp detail and clarity. The entire look of the film is pleasing. The image is very sharp with excellent detail. Colors are genuinely bright and appear accurate. Contrast and brightness are excellent with good shadow detail. The detail level is remarkable. The exteriors are full of detail and natural colors with lots of greens, blues, browns to contrast the bright colors like reds and oranges. From the leaves on the wind blown trees, and the authentic designs on the chariots, to the climatic battle scenes consisting of hundreds of extras, the detail level is phenomenal. Despite the typical Hammer medium budget, the filmmakers managed to provide superior visuals including authentic sets, vehicles, and costumes, all believably rendered, and they look great on this transfer.
Anchor Bay serves up a nice Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 soundtrack. This mono track has a good range and clarity. The highs are crisp and clear, and the lows are stronger than expected. There is no hiss, dropouts, or distortion. This is as good as a mono soundtrack gets. The chariot racing and war scenes sound convincing in the mix, but you can’t help but wonder what a 5.1 remix would have sounded like. The highlight of the soundtrack with out a doubt is Gary Hugh’s emotional symphonic score. The score soars during the battle scenes and becomes full of emotion and excitement when the narrative calls for it. The score also reverberates with authentic period sounding music, kind of like what you would hear at King Arthur’s Faire.
Trailer fans rejoice. The excellent trailer here is in as good shape as the feature itself. The trailer is letterboxed at 1.85.1, is in 2 channel mono, and runs 2:18. The video quality is immaculate and full of detail. The other extra is an exclusive documentary from The World of Hammer called LANDS BEFORE TIME. The documentary is full frame, 2 channel mono, and runs 24:58 and is narrated by the late Oliver Reed. The documentary is very interesting as it is made up of scenes from numerous Hammer movies, but most notably their films that depict other periods in time like ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., THE VIKING QUEEN, PREHISTORIC WOMEN, CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT, THE LOST CONTINENT, et al.
A forgotten Hammer film finally gets it’s due on DVD. This is one of those films that I was going to rate a 3.5. but the video presentation is so pleasing I’m upping it to 4.0. People into Hammer Films and prehistory should check this out as it is one of the better sword and sandal films I’ve seen. Not just because of the authentic action set pieces and beautiful women, but because of the great performances by the proven cast. Anchor Bay presents the film in a crisp, uncut widescreen version. Also you gotta love the cover artwork for this DVD.
Images: Marcus Brooks