Nightmare Castle Review

Barbara Steele in both blonde and raven haired versions in Mario Caino’s piece of Italian Gothic. John takes a quick peek at the Severin disc

Set in the 1870s, Mario Caiano’s film offers the delicious choice of not one but two Barbara Steeles. Provided in blonde and raven-haired versions, Steele plays the sisters and successive wives of evil experimenter Stephen Hampton. Early on in proceedings, Hampton finds Muriel, Steele#1, under the geranium bushes with the household gardener and little in the way of a believable explanation for their location. Our jealous hubby is soon torturing both to death when Muriel tells him that she’s changed her will and that their lovely gothic homestead will go to her sister, not him. Hampton finishes the job however with a joint electrocution and steals his beloved’s blood in order to beautify prematurely haggard housekeeper, Solange. In no time at all he has romanced Muriel’s slightly loopy sister, Steele #2, and he sets on his project of driving her out of wits so he can have her lovely loot.

Caiano’s movie is a valiant attempt to measure up to the gothic splendor of Steele’s work with Mario Bava in Black Sunday/Mask of Satan. It is suitably ghoulish with dodgy experiments, foul torture, and very nasty villains in the almost vampiric Solange and her mad master who make you fear for the film’s star in both of her roles. The movie drags in the middle and the story is a little overcooked what with vampism, zombies, voices from the grave and a mad doctor all thrown in to the pot. Yet it is undeniably well shot with a great feel for shadow and it exploits well the looks of the iconic Steele, Morricone contributes his first horror movie score and the effects are good if not, again, in the league of the magician Bava.

A fine attempt at Italian Gothic but not the equal of the genre’s maestro. Nightmare Castle is a must see for fans of Bava or Italian horror.

The Disc – Severin present the fully uncut film restored from the original negative with some damage obvious from the source print. This does look very nice with strong contrast and good detail, yet there is quite a bit of aliasing and some strobing from objects like door frames to pin striped suits. The sound carries some rumbling and hiss and is offered in a sole English dub. As extras there is a fantastic interview with Steele which acts much like a biography as she talks about letting Elvis down, working with Fellini, Cronenberg, Freda and Demme, and is remarkably honest about why Hollywood was never for her. The director is also interviewed and frankly explains that he fell out of love with gothic and wanted to make comedies instead. His memories of Steele are of a very personal actor and he talks about his collaborations with Morricone. Two trailers complete a good package and this is clearly the version of this film to buy for an English speaker.

John White

Updated: Sep 06, 2009

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