NIGHTMARE CASTLE (Amanti d'oltretomba or Lovers from Beyond the Grave)
1965/Director: Mario Caiano (as Allen Grünewald)/Writers: Mario Caiano, Fabio De Agostini
Cast: Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné, Marino Masé, Rik Battaglia, Giuseppe Addobbati
Seems to be a lot of yammering about Nightmare Castle in terms of seeing the best print you can get your hands on in order to get the most of out it. I must have really lucked out when I got a hold of the Severin version that is uncut and runs about 142 minutes long from Cinemageddon during one of their heavenly free leech periods. It is the first time I have seen the film and dodged a bullet from what I have read in terms of some of the quality of some of the public domain DVD versions released before this one. While 142 minutes (though the Severin site says their release is only 104 minutes long, so I am confused, but my player definitely shows my version as 142 minutes long and it is advertised that way at CG) is a bit long for an Italian Gothic horror film from the mid-seventies I managed to take in the film over two settings and for the most part enjoyed it. The length and talkiness being my only real concerns but I have had movies half the length drag on much slower and painfully I assure you. I have read that the film was supposed to have originally been shot in English and dubbed into Italian later – and then, I guess, dubbed back into English?- and we are allegedly hearing Barbara Steele’s actual voice as Jenny Hampton. There is an Italian version with English subtitles out there but I am pretty sure this was originally shot in English. Maybe need an expert like Mario Bava authority Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog to clear this mystery up. But if you think you’re watching the original version simply because it is in Italian you may be mistaken. But I am not 100% sure on the details there and as far as I am concerned the English version I watched is fine and the dialog is passable and I do not know if the lines be spoken in Italian would make them many more profound. Fine b/w cinematography by Enzio Barboni and an early but effective score by Ennio Morricone make this film by Mario Caiano –more noted for his Italian westerns- one of the better of the genre and period.
Before going into a brief synopsis of the film (and in the future briefer perhaps with less spoilers, but some retaling of the basic story line is essential I think)I think I need to clear up an error that a few –though by no means all- blogs made in their reviews of the film. The action does NOT take place in Italy. The film was shot in Italy, but like other Gothic horror films out of Italy at the time (The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, The Ghost for example) the story unfolds in merry ol’ England. Of course none of the actors or sets look British in the least but there you go. And leading the film in one of her last and yet more memorable Gothic castle/mansion roles is Barbara Steele, playing, as she did in Bava’s Black Sunday, a dual role. I will not say that in Nightmare castle she plays a good and evil role since both characters, Muriel and Jenny, have issues and gray areas, but neither is really totally evil. Okay the Countess Muriel Arrowsmith appears to be the more evil of the two but her character can also be seen as simply reacting in a fashion common to women living in old Gothic mansions to the neglect and ill treatment by her husband Dr. Stepehn Arrowsmith (Paul Muller). Seems Dr. Arrowsmith is spending too much time in the laboratory conducting some sort of experiments that involve electricity and frog’s blood. Frog’s blood ain’t gonna cut it any longer and the brilliant but clinically insane Dr. Arrowsmith decides to feign a trip to Edinburgh (and that would be Edinburgh Scotland, not Edinburgh Italy) in order to catch lady Muriel in flagrante delicto with studly grounds keeper David (Rik Battaglia). By catching Muriel in the act this will somehow absolve of him of any guilt he may develop after torturing the two of them with hot irons and acid in his dungeon, and then later using Muriel’s electrified blood to restore crafty and conniving house keeper Solange (Helga Liné) to her former lusty looking youthful self. This is why the frog blood had to be replaced I guess. Solange and Arrowsmith are in for a shock after they find that all the money and property they hoped to get from murdering Muriel and her lover and then burying them in the greenhouse now all goes to Muriel’s twin sister Jenny Hampton. No major obstacle as Dr. Arrowsmith takes off in his carriage to pay sister in law Jenny –a now blonde Barbara Steele- a visit, and returns with her as his bride Jenny Arrowsmith.
Seems Jenny has a history of mental illness and has been institutionalized before. This makes the plan of driving her nuts and thus unworthy, I guess, of keeping the money and property legally willed to her by her sister, easier. Immediately Solange attempts to drug Jenny’s bedtime drink with some type of hallucinogen but things get really strange when it is realized that Solange mistakenly gives Jenny a harmless solution that was sitting in the medicine cabinet right next to the insanity producing hallucinogen (they didn’t really mark medicine that well back then) a yet dear Jenny is showing all the signs of a person losing their minds. This Barbara Steele doing what she does best really, slowly losing touch with reality in a big, dank spooky old mansion. If you like atmospheric ghost stories then the rest of the film will be a treat for you. I am not always the biggest fan in the world of ghost stories, but I give some of these 60’s and 70’s Euro-ghost films the benefit of the doubt, and usually it is simply because those castles and chateaus and mansions look so damned eerie anyway. Of course Muriel’s demented and mutilated ghost appears to Jenny and what seemed to be Jenny going insane was simply, more or less, Muriel taking control of her in order that she would become a tool of her vengeance against Arrowsmith and Solange. Steele really does seem to have that strange sexy presence that would attract necrophiles. Well, anyway I am attracted to her at least. In her roles here as both Muriel and Jenny she is able to show herself in top form as both the evil, laughing Countess and the vulnerable, slipping into madness victim. Paul Muller is excellent as the mad scientist and Helga Liné as Solange steals many a scene with her jealousy and manipulations and drop dead good looks. This is the only version of the film I have seen and I recommend it. I need to go back and see what is up with the 142 minute running time vs. the 104 that is mentioned on the Severin site but I have way too many movies burned to disk here to locate it right now. I am sure I have a couple thousand films and to find one in particular is just too hard. When and if I do I will make a little addendum here, but in any case this was a fine looking film and a well done one at that.Maybe not as well done as Bava would have shot the interior scenes and the story plods more than if Ricardo Freda was in charge of the direction but nonetheless the film moves along well enough and I enjoyed it overall.