Review Date: May 29, 2009
Released by: Severin
Release date: 5/19/2009
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
There are very few stars in the horror universe. Horror is the rare genre where the subject matter supersedes any performers. There are many famous horror directors, production houses or sub-genres, because again it’s the style or subject that has always captivated in the genre. Of course, there are some major horror icons in the acting world. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and…hey, where are the women? Despite the predominance of the “Final Girl” trope, it seems it’s always the men, or the monsters, that rise to fame. That said, there are a few females fitting for fright fame. In Italy, there’s Edwige Fenech, in America there’s Linnea Quigley and in England, Barbara Steele. Despite being England’s most famous female horror export, Steele actually made her career in the genre in Italy collaborating with Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci and Antonio Margheriti. Another Italian she’d pair with on a number of occasions is Mario Caiano. Their most famous film together is likely Nightmare Castle
, another gothic-inspired star vehicle for the big-eyed, skeletal-faced Steele. Here it is, now, from Severin, let’s steel a peak, shall we?
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Guy marries rich heiress for her money, kills her off with an air tight alibi, only to realize he’s not part of the will and that her spirit will haunt the castle until she gets her revenge. Complete, of course, with dark reveals of her sinister portrait in the castle foyer. It’s standard gothic horror all the way, although this offers a few slight flourishes. The guy, Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller
), quickly marries again after the death of Muriel (Barbara Steele
). Not surprisingly, he marries her step-sister, who just happens to have inherited Muriel’s entire estate. Jenny also happens to look identical to Muriel as well (no surprise, given it’s Barbara Steele
once more). Jenny enters the manor with ease, but quickly Stephen plots to have her out of the picture.
At first Stephen plans to drug Jenny in order to get her looking crazy enough that the estate would need to be turned over to him, her benefactor. When Jenny starts having hallucinating dreams of murder and her step-sister, though, Stephen realizes he might not need drugs at all to get her crazy. Unfortunately, it’s not just Jenny who seems to be possessed by Muriel’s spirit. Crazy things are going on in the castle, and this is only the beginning.
Now, had Stephen played it straight by just killing off Muriel and the man he framed her infidelity with (Rik Battaglia
), then there’d probably be no problem. But like any greedy villain, he had to take things one step further by taking out her beating heart and putting it in an aquarium. Far from sleeping with the fishes, though, Muriel’s back from the grave, facial scarring and all, to pay Stephen with more than just the deed to the estate…the price is his life!
is a film that plays out exactly like you’d expect it would. The scenario is as textbook as they come, and with the robust 104 minute runtime, Caiano makes sure to never skip a beat. The film starts with force, with Barbara Steele first caught in undress, then shackled to a cellar wall and then burned with a fire poker. Horror fans can’t complain about that. They can complain about the next hour and a bit, though, where it’s just tepid Dracula
-era pomp, with walks through the castle gardens or up the spiraling stairs. Jenny has not one, not two, but three nightmares to really emphasize just how evil that castle truly is, and we get several more dialogue scenes of Stephen mulling about just what to do to get his estate. Just when you think it can’t get any more drawn out, the film thankfully kicks into its final act.
Once the black haired Muriel comes back to wreak havoc on Stephen and the blonde haired Jenny, that’s when the film gets fun once more. Seeing two Steele’s on screen is certainly a delight, and as proven in Black Sunday
, Steele can play the walking dead like no other! The effects work on her and the resurrected adulterer are pretty noteworthy for 1965, and the finale delivers even more as Steele “heats” things up with her murderous husband. Like with the beginning, though, once the film starts to stride, it gets tripped up in those pandering genre clichés.
ends on probably the most open ended, ludicrous and completely tacked on endings the genre has ever seen. Barbara Steele is out, on the attack and big-eyed crazy, Jenny is running for her life. It’s storming outside, thunder rolls through the castle. Jenny steps outside, the music swells and then…“Don’t worry Jenny, now all your nightmares are over and done with forever.” FINE.
They aren’t even out of the fucking castle perimeter yet! There’s still an evil zombie running around Jenny’s castle, and, well, I don’t see those nightmares going away anytime soon since nobody has done anything at all to appease or destroy the cursed Muriel. It’s sort of like when your parents read you a bedtime story, and when they sense you starting to nod off, they quickly wrap it up with “and they all lived happily ever after” without ever really concluding the story. Only Nightmare Castle
does it right at the most exciting part. Where was this prologue during that beefy midsection where nothing really happened? Curses to this tease of a movie – sorry Babs, but I’m recommending And Now the Screaming Starts!
Severin presents the film in a lush 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with black bars on the sides. Contrast is quite good, and the image is very detailed. Grain is kept to a minimum and the source material looks in fine shape. There are a few instances where the print has some holes and projection defects, but it for the most part holds its contrast and looks sharp and steady. When Severin said “Restored” and “Remastered” on the cover, they weren’t lying. The film had previously been part of several public domain multi-packs using a shorter and shoddier US print source. Severin went right to the Italian vaults for this (evident from the Italian titling the feature receives) and it certainly paid off. It’s uncut and looking just about as fine as its leading actress.
The film comes in English mono only, and while not quite as solid as the video, it holds up well. There is a bit of hiss to the track, but it’s all audible without drop out. It should be noted that this is one of Ennio Morricone’s first film scores, and while the choice to record the organ pieces in an echoey church certainly adds ambience, this is still a far way from the prime he’d hit with Sergio Leone and beyond. Similarly, this track isn’t anything to boast about, but it certainly isn’t bad.
Not quite as busting at the seams as Barbara Steele’s brassiere, Nightmare Castle
never the less has a few worthwhile extras. The main attraction, naturally, is a 30-minute interview with Barbara Steele. Older, but still looking good, Steele reflects on her career, from her failed stint in Hollywood with Elvis Presley to all the work she did in Rome with the Italians. She talks about all the big horror directors she worked with there, and then also spends time on Fellini and her participation in 8 ½
. Most interesting of all is that she was apparently going to make a horror movie with Michelangelo Antonioni of all people before it was axed at the last minute. That would have been something! She ends talking about “Dark Shadows” and Cronenberg, and overall this artist who became an actress paints a fine portrait of her career as a scream queen.
Next up we get 14 minutes with the director, Mario Caiano. He talks about how he originally wanted the film to be shot in red to emphasize all the deathly effects, but ultimately had to compromise with black and white, which he notes was one of the last commercial movies to be shot in that way. He also talks about additional compromises he had to undergo just to get the film in the can. There’s also a brief bit on Morricone. It would have been nicer to hear about the rest of his career, considering he’s a director who gets little press compared to his sixties and seventies contemporaries.
US and UK trailers are also included, the UK trailer looking sharp and titled “The Night of the Doomed”, the US version mastered from a tape source and in mediocre condition. Both are a fun watch with those campy narrations that just recite tagline after tagline hoping one will stick.
is for the most part passable gothic horror, with violent beginnings and endings and a whole lot of talking in between. And then there’s that ending. That painful, uninspired and maddening one sentence refrain. Grrr! Severin’s done a fine job on the disc, as usual, with a very appealing visual transfer, acceptable sound, and a few nice interviews with Barbara and the director. Worth checking out for Steele fans, but if you’re looking for good gothic horror pay the boys at Amicus or Hammer a visit.
Movie - C
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 46 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Inteview with Barbara Steele
- Interview with Director Mario Caiano