NIGHTMARE CASTLE
Italy | 1965
Directed by Mario Caiano
Starring
Barbara Steele
Paul Muller
Helga Liné
B&W
| 104 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Severin Films
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Movie Rating  
7
  DVD Rating   8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
Demented Lord Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) tortures and murders his faithless wife (Barbara Steele) and plans to cash in on her inheritance, but things become complicated when her unbalanced twin sister (Steele again) enters the picture...
   
After a rocky start working for Rank in England and Fox in America, eerily beautiful English actress Barbara Steele found her footing in Italy. Granted she had grander ideas of stardom working in the more 'serious' side of the Italian film industry, but her casting in Mario Bava's classic directorial debut Black Sunday (1960) changed all that. She became the new "Queen of Horror" virtually overnight, a mantle she wore with some trepidation, and it wasn't long before other Italian filmmakers sought to exploit her talents in other Gothic chillers. 1965's Gli amanti d'oltretomba (literally "Lovers Beyond the Tomb") is one of the best of these later efforts, and from an acting standpoint it offers Steele one of her best showcases.
    The admittedly clichéd setup comes courtesy of director/co-writer Mario Caiano, who never really fulfilled the promise of this early effort; he would spend the rest of his career helming various spaghetti westerns, action films and historical adventures of varying quality. Truthfully, his staging comes off as a little staid and ordinary compared to the Gothic films of Bava and Riccardo Freda of the same period, but what he lacks in elegance he more than makes up for in sheer audacity. There's a surprising amount of blood and explicit kinkiness for the period, though it all looks a bit quaint and old hat these days. Even so, the stylish art direction, as well as some superb black and white cinematography by Enzo Barboni (Hercules and the Princess of Troy), gives the film ample mood and atmosphere. Also adding to the appeal is the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. This was one of the great composer's earliest credits, and it also marks his debut in the horror genre. The score may not be so quirky and individual as his best known efforts, but it does add immeasurably to the film's impact.
    The cast includes a nice array of familiar Euro cult faces. Inevitably, Barbara Steele steals the show with her dual performances as the faithless Muriel and the naive and unbalanced Jenny. The unearthly beauty and persona of Steele leant her to being cast in dual roles such as this, a trend established by Bava in Black Sunday, but this is one of the few Italian horror films that really allowed her to do some real acting. She's smolderingly sexy as Muriel and believably bewildered as Jenny, and the latter performance deserves note as marking the first time in an Italian horror film that she dubbed her performance into English. If Steele lingers in mind the most, that's not to say that Paul Muller (Eugenie de Sade) is far behind as the despicable Lord Arrowsmith (and yes, I'm sure rock fans will have a nice chuckle at the sound of the name). Muller, a Swiss actor who found ample work in the Italian film scene, clearly relishes the opportunity of playing a leading role. A fine actor often squandered in minor supporting roles, Muller makes the most of every scene he is in, and he manages to play the role without lapsing into absurd histrionics. Beautiful Helga Liné, soon to become something of a counterpart to Steele on the Spanish film scene (she can be seen in some of the Paul Naschy horrors, but is likely best remembered for playing the silky Russian spy in Horror Express, 1972), is also in good form as Muller's lover/housekeeper, Solange. Liné would later show no qualms about doffing her clothes in horror films of varying quality, but here she manages to hold her own against Steele while remaining dressed in a severe outfit throughout. "Lawrence Clift" (actually Italian actor Marino Mase of Lady Frankenstein thanks to Robert Seletsky for the tip!) plays the young hero with sincerity, while Rik Battaglia (Duck, You Sucker) and Giuseppe Addobbati (Kill, Baby... Kill!) perform capably in smaller roles.
    Contemporary viewers may find it all to be a bit too slow and suggestive (and admittedly, there are a few too many scenes of people wandering about aimlessly) but for fans of the so-called golden age of Italian horror, Nightmare Castle is essential late night viewing.

Severin's release of Nightmare Castle marks the film's first truly acceptable appearance on R1 DVD. There's been some controversy over the use of the title Nightmare Castle, as this is the title of the cut American version, but it is most likely the title it is best known by in the U.S., so it really does make sense on that level. The film has been sourced from the original Italian negative elements, so the actual on screen title is Gli amanti d'oltretomba — but the array of Anglicized names (a typical ruse in Italian genre films of the period, in an attempt to fool audiences around the world into thinking that these were English pictures), as well as Steele's misspelled credit (as "Steel"), remain as usual. The film is fully uncut, restoring almost 15 minutes of material excised from the U.S. edit, though it also should be noted that previous bargain basement releases bearing the U.K. title The Faceless Monster were also fully uncut — they simply ran short due to the PAL conversion process. Even so, this is the best the film has ever looked on DVD. The blacks are deep, whites are clean, and the gray scale has plenty of texture. There is some edge enhancement evident here and there, as well as some very sporadic vertical scratching and other print damage, but on the whole the 1.66/16x9 transfer looks terrific. The mono English soundtrack sounds about as good as one could reasonably expect, but one regrets that the Italian track was not also included. While it's nice to have Steele's vocal performance preserved for her performance as Jenny, the other vocal performances tend to be of the campy variety, thus undercutting the mood Caiano works so hard to sustain.
    Extras include a half hour interview with Steele (again showing selective memory as she perpetuates the myth that Bava forbade any primary colors from the set of Black Sunday), a shorter interview with Caiano and the U.S. and U.K. theatrical trailers. As far as the trailers are concerned, the more serious U.K. trailer looks and sounds pretty good, while the familiar hokey U.S. trailer is in rough shape. The Steele interview allows the actress to talk about her background in the cinema, and while she still shows some ambivalence about her reputation for these types of films, it's great that she's now willing to embrace it somewhat and discuss it on camera. Caiano's interview is equally interesting, and he explains everything from his choice of an American pseudonym (Allan Grunewald) to his relationship with the cast and crew
. 6/03/09
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