DVD SAVANT


Nightmare Castle
(L’Amante d’oltretomba)
+ Castle of Blood &
Terror Creatures from the Grave

Savant Blu-ray Review



Nightmare Castle
Blu-ray
Severin Films
1965 / B&W / 1:78 widescreen / 104 min. / L’Amanti d’oltretomba, The Faceless Monster, Lovers from Beyond the Tomb, Night of the Doomed, Orgasmo / Street Date August 18, 2015 / 29.98
Starring Barbara Steele, Paul Müller, Helga Liné, Rik Battaglia, Laurence Clift, Giuseppe Addobbati.
Cinematography
Enzo Barboni
Production Designer Massimo Tavazzi
Film Editor Renato Cinquini
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Mario Caiano and Fabio De Agostini
Produced by Carlo Caiano
Directed by Allan Grünewald (Mario Caiano)

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

I’ve reviewed this Barbara Steele horror thriller twice before, once in 2003 as a rough DVD presentation with the title The Faceless Monster, and again in 2009 as a quality DVD with extras from Severin Films. It was promoted as Nightmare Castle but actually bore the original Italian title L’Amante d’oltretomba. For the jump to Blu-ray, Severin has gone to the original negative of Nightmare Castle — which bears yet another variant title, Night of the Doomed. We long ago concluded that an Italo horror ain’t a genuine Italo horror without six alternate titles hovering around it. If Jésus Franco made 250 movies, and each of them had eight variant titles, does that mean he’s the auteur of 2,000 separate releases?

Accessing decent copies of Euro genre films is always a problem. As was shown with earlier releases of The Long Hair of Death and An Angel for Satan, vintage Euro-horror is in a peculiar bind, distribution-wise. Instead of paying proper licensing fees to get access to original film materials, smaller disc companies often just recycle whatever copies can be found. With an inferior version already on the market, a quality release can become financially unrealistic. This new Blu-ray is a collector-worthy disc of one of Barbara Steele’s more obsessive horror mini-epics. The good extras include two more Barbara Steele pictures, in HD, Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood and Massimo Pupillo’s Terror Creatures from Beyond the Grave.

Nightmare Castle’s original title is the more accurate L’Amanti d’oltretomba, which translates as Lovers from Beyond the Grave. The greedy Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Miller, aka Paul Müller) surprises his unfaithful wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) in the greenhouse and finds her ardently pursuing her illicit affair with the gardener David (Rik Battaglia). Eager to inherit Muriel’s property, Stephen

tortures both of them to death, removes their hearts and cremates what’s left. But his plan stumbles when Muriel’s will leaves her estate to her identical half-sister Jenny (Steele again). Stephen must start from scratch, wooing and marrying a blonde, virtuous version of his first wife. Jenny has already been diagnosed with mental illness, so with the help of some drugs, it should be no problem for Arrowsmith and his housemaid Solange (Helga Liné) to send her over the edge. During a weird nightmare, Jenny dreams of the previous murder in the greenhouse. The plan works fine until the schemers discover that Jenny hasn’t been taking her hallucinogens. She isn’t tripping out, she’s haunted.

Classic corridor-wandering Italo horrors were never as popular as sword ‘n’ sandal epics, or the new Italo westerns. By 1965 they were nearing their end. Barbara Steele had been a solid genre icon for four years, with top English critics adding their praise to that of the continental worshippers in the French magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique. But although Steele’s horror films for Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti and Riccardo Freda made her famous, they failed to develop her career. It’s no wonder that she dismissed these movies, and sought to define herself by clinging to her one Federico Fellini outing. Amanti d’oltretomba’s script proves Steele to be a horror sub-genre unto herself, being a bald borrowing of ideas from Black Sunday (the good and evil Barbaras), Castle of Blood (a haunted house that replays murders from the past), and especially The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (a new bride tormented by her husband and housemaid). The Arrowsmith estate is the same Roman villa seen in Dr. Hichcock, albeit much less effectively filmed.

Nightmare Castle has been singled out as the Barbara Steele movie almost completely focused on its leading lady’s star appeal. The story is weighed down with dialogue and the visuals don’t begin to approach the crepuscular delirium of Hichcock or Black Sunday, yet the show is a key film for Steele fanatics. Director Caiano keeps Steele on camera for almost every scene. Everything is staged for the privilege of filming Steele’s face in various states

of distress. Muriel’s torture in the castle’s dungeon is as close as 1965 Euro-horror could get to bondage fantasy, and Jenny’s hallucinations provide ample opportunities to film Steele in erotic-murderous situations. Steele fans that never saw Nightmare Castle know it well from a selection of salacious stills given full-page spreads in old issues of Midi-Minuit.

Barbara Steele is really less of an actress in this film than she is a fetish object.  1  It is said that she uses her own voice in the dubbed track. Co-star Helga Liné begins the show in old-age makeup and is then rejuvenated by Stephen’s experimental serums. Frequent Euro-horror star Paul Müller does reasonably well with an evil husband character who can’t decide if his motivation is jealousy or ordinary greed. If Stephen is so brilliant that he can restore his housemaid’s youthful appearance, what need has he for his wife’s money? I doubt that any of the film’s creators worried about such things. Nightmare Castle exists only to satisfy rapt Barbara Steele gazers.

Severin’s Blu-ray of Nightmare Castle is a picture-perfect encoding of what appears to be the version prepared for English-language export, Night of the Doomed. Every scene is as clear as a bell, which shows us that most of the film was flat-lit. The ‘keeper’ images are all in the dream sequences and horror finale, with Steele’s ghoulish face makeup. Hidden behind a Veronica Lake comb-down, the right side of ‘ghost Muriel’s’ kisser is a horrid mess. The dubbed English track is an appropriate choice, as the actors are definitely speaking English on the set. The moody music score, played on piano and a massive church organ, is an early effort by Ennio Morricone, yet is not all that memorable.

Severin’s extras are always interesting, and thorough. Repeated from the 2009 DVD is producer David Gregory’s excellent interview with the film’s star, Barbara Steele in Conversation. The actress tells the entire story of her career from her school days

onward, explaining her brief unhappy period as a Rank / Fox starlet and her abrupt abandonment of Hollywood, smack in the middle of an Elvis Presley movie, Flaming Star. The interview is illustrated with dozens of unfamiliar photographs.

Ms. Steele is relaxed and engaged as she explains that she was too much of a young hedonist to really apply herself to the full demands of a career aimed at stardom. She never auditioned for parts and simply took offers as they came. In that regard she has a lot in common with the legendary Louise Brooks, the silent star who turned her back on the Hollywood studios. Barbara states that she wishes she’d never left her beloved Italy … even though she might weigh 3,000 pounds by now, from eating all the rich food.

Director Mario Caiano appears in an Italian interview, talking about his films while various household pets wander in and out of the frame. He emphasizes that Amanti d’oltretomba was filmed very quickly and that he didn’t get to know his star very well. Other extras include a feature commentary with Steele interviewed by David Del Valle, who elicits plenty of conversation about other movies and facets of the actress’s career.

An English trailer is included. In perfect shape, it bears the title Night of the Doomed, the title probably chosen for export. A video remnant of the American Nightmare Castle trailer uses the same footage, adding text and a different voiceover.

The clincher for purchasers of this disc is bound to be the two extra features, encoded in HD. 1964′s Castle of Blood has a reputation as the best of Antonio Margheriti’s few forays into horror. Let me refer readers to an earlier (2002) DVD from Synapse for more detail. Severin’s transfer comes from a good-quality Woolner Bros. print, into which some truly awful English-language title cards have been inserted. Being an American release copy, a brief nude scene with actress Sylvia Sorrente is not present. But for us glamour hounds, Steele’s low-cut gown in a ballroom scene remains, and it’s plenty daring on its own.

1965′s Terror Creatures from the Grave by Massimo Pupillo is for most of its length a talky and somewhat trying murder mystery. A lawyer arrives at a mansion to straighten out some paperwork, only to find the usual assortment of odd and uncooperative relatives. The expected sequence of murders begins, until it’s revealed that the deceased owner was a medium able to bring forth the dead. There’s a lot of talk about plague victims, while the pot bogs downs in comings
and goings, ineffective investigations, and finally a ‘showdown of the living dead.’ If Mario Caiano’s direction seems perfunctory, Pupillo’s is almost nonexistent — he seems intent on showing off his handsome locations while we watch slow coverage of entrances and exits for almost every scene. All Steele pictures are worth seeing but this is one of the most haphazard. Walter Brandi (L’amante del vampiro, L’ultima preda del vampiro) is a professional presence, and Luciano Pigozzi, the ‘Euro-horror Peter Lorre,’ makes a positive impression.

All three films are English language versions, which for me deadens their exoticism. The fairly good dubbing is still klunky, whereas performances have more flavor in the original Italian. I realize that some of the pictures were performed in English, but Barbara Steele rarely dubbed her Italo pictures into English. David Del Valle tells us that when he first heard Ms. Steele on the telephone, he couldn’t relate her voice to the movies he’d seen.

Severin has provided new featurettes for each of the extra features, Vengeance from Beyond and A Dance of Ghosts. An audio interview with Barbara is used for one of them. Trailers appear for each of the extra features as well. For fans of the English language version of these films, this a great buy — the extra transfers are very good, and the one for Nightmare Castle is prime quality

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Nightmare Castle Blu-ray
rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent (English language version)
Supplements: New HD transfers of rare U.S. prints: Terror Creatures From The Grave and Castle of Blood; audio commentary with Barbara Steele and David Del Valle; interview featurettes Barbara Steele In Conversation and Black, White And Red (Mario Caiano); extra featurettes Vengeance From Beyond and A A Dance of Ghosts; deleted scenes from Terror Creatures From The Grave, plus trailers for Nightmare Castle (2), Terror Creatures From The Grave and Castle Of Blood.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly?
N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 15, 2015

Footnotes:

1. English critic Raymond Durgnat frequently mentioned fellow film critics who “worshipped” at the altars of stars like Kim Novak, as if drinking in a glamorous star’s performances was the same as sleeping with them. Now that’s being rather optimistic, but I guess critics need whatever happiness they can find. Several reserved special praise for the dangerous, hungry-eyed Barbara Steele, fixating on her as a perverse sex object: “She’s a corpse — but is she any less desirable?”

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Text © Copyright 2015 Glenn Erickson

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