Nightmare Castle

Discussion in 'High Def' started by rkellner, Oct 2, 2016.

  1. rkellner

    rkellner Active Member

    Nov 23, 2015
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    [​IMG] Reviewer: rkellner
    Review Date: October 2, 2016

    Released by: Severin Films
    Release date: 08/15/2015
    MSRP: $29.98
    Region A
    Progressive Scan
    Codec: AVC, 1080p
    Widescreen 1.66:1

    “I’m not afraid of the dead. Corpses are destined to rot and fertilize the earth”

    Nightmare Castle goes by many names. The onscreen title of this Severin blu ray is “Night of the Doomed”, but it has also popped up on DVD under the title of “The Faceless Monster,” but is also known as “Lovers from Beyond the Grave,” its Italian translation. At first glance, this movie seems to check all the boxes for lovers of black and white gothic Italian horror movies. Creepy old castle? Check. Barbara Steele looking seductive in her signature black hair, as well as a blonde twin? Check and Double Check. A classic Italian composer doing the atmospheric score? Check. However, do the sum of the parts make a quality genre flick? Let’s find out…

    The Story

    inline Image As soon as her scientist husband Stephen leaves for a work excursion, Murial, played by the always excellent Barbara Steele, and her muscular young lover get down to business in the castle greenhouse. However, the maid and Stephen are aware of the ongoing affair, and he interrupts their love making episode by beating them and locking the two of them up in the castle dungeon (an obvious must-have feature when designing castles of this period). He continues to torture them in an attempt to obtain the newest version of her will which she has since changed to cut him out of any of her massive family wealth. In fact, she has altered it bequeath all possessions to the to be her stepsister Jenny…also played by Barbara Steele but with blonde hair this time…who everyone says is certifiably insane. Given this new information, Stephen murders both of them, cremates the ashes, mixes them in with the potted plant soil in the house, and turns his eyes toward seducing the mentally unstable Jenny.

    inline Image With Jenny inheriting the wealth, she is promptly married by Stephen who begins to scheme on ways of driving Jenny insane to take over her estate again. However, this is a gothic horror movie after all and the spirits of the two lovers still linger in the castle, which actually helps to push Jenny’s sanity to the edge as she finds herself feeling the pull of the Muriel’s legacy and growing presence. In fact, the longer she stays in the castle, she starts to inherit the memories of Muriel’s death and some of her peculiar habits as well. To complicate matters, Stephen has invited a second doctor to help build the credibility of Jenny’s madness, but he himself is starting to suspect supernatural forces are at play while starting to fall in love with Jenny at the same time. Of course all of this is going to come crashing headfirst into one another as the living and the dead will come to terms to one another in a grand guignol style horror finale.

    inline Image This is one of those genre films that is easy and hard to critique at the same time. On one end of the spectrum, these classic Italian gothic black and white horror movies could just as easily function as silent films with the striking visual composition and the haunting Morricone score. Plot elements thus become secondary to the visuals and the mood of the picture. However, if you want to tear it apart, there are five films worth of plots in this movie and the result is somewhat less than the sum of its parts: Mad Scientist, Spiritual Possession, Murder Mystery, Psychological Thriller, Torture and S&M film, all rolled into one. Would a more focused story have helped this film, or is part of the charm of it the “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks” attitude? Heck I didn’t even talk about the fact that the maid is apparently 100 years old and is kept young by mysterious blood transfusions, and the mysterious box containing the hearts of the dead lovers! To me, I like the bonkers plot and it gives this a really unique go-for-broke attitude. One thing you can say about this film is that it is never boring.

    inline Image Another point in favor of the film is that it really pushes the envelope for the time with its level of graphic violence, torture, and sexuality. Some of this still has some power to be shocking, even 50 years after its release. A strong case could be made that the film was testing the newfound cinematic freedoms and the erosion of censorship that were being afforded Italian genre films at the time. Italian filmmakers like Pasolini would continue this trend, but for a film that gets lumped in with the safe PG black and white horror movies of the time, this one really tries to be something more sordid that the usual “dark castle with ghosts” type of tale.

    inline Image What is better than having Barbara Steele play in your movie? Having her play two characters! The casting is here is really solid with two nice pieces of eye candy, Barbara Steele and Helga Line (who genre fans may recognize in various Paul Naschy films and Horror Express). Barbara Steele is the obvious focus of the picture and plays another dual role here, much like in Black Sunday, as a strong, sexually alluring woman who is more than meets the eye. If you wanted to look at it in historical context, she can almost be seen as the lone female counterpart to Vincent Price or Christopher Lee who starred in many Amicus/Hammer/Corman AIP films at the time. Much like her male counterparts, she typically plays the owner of a huge old castle, but what makes her stand out is that none of them ever had the raw gothic sexuality that Barbara Steele has here. This film seems to be a summary of Barbara Steele’s career of horror roles: Barbara Steele chained to a castle wall, Barbara Steele in lingerie, Barbara Steele tortured, Barbara Steele in bondage, Barbara Steele comes back from beyond the grave, Barbara Steele has surreal dreams, Barbara Steele goes crazy…all good stuff even if it is a bit odd to see her in the majority of the runtime with bleach blonde hair.

    inline Image The movie is very well shot given the budget and the speed of filming (18 days!). The film was directed by “Allan Grunewald”, a pseudonym for Italian director Mario Caiano, as tribute to Edgar Alan Poe and gothic horror painter Matthias Grunewald. Even though it was a relatively inexpensive shoot, the production values of the castle where this film was shot is one of its best assets. It has an interesting combination of beauty and dread (and you know, the torture dungeon), and it should come as no surprise that it was also used for numerous other European gothic horror movies such as Riccardo Freda’s Horrible Doctor Hitchcock. The movie is very well lit and takes advantage of the sets and great shadows to evoke an otherworldly atmosphere.

    The musical score for this was surprisingly done by the always excellent Ennio Morricone, who also put out THIRTEEN other film scores that year including For a Few Dollars More and Fists in the Pocket, with this film being notable as one of his first horror scores, prior to him doing many of the great Italian giallo film scores in the 70’s. Honestly, the guy composes awesome Italian genre work in his sleep with over 500 film scores to his credit, including the recent Tarantino film, The Hateful Eight, for which he just won an Oscar.

    Outside of the crazy plot mashups, if I had to give one critique to this film it is that the movie starts to drag a bit in this uncut version with a lot of talking in the second act. While I usually always champion the “fully uncut” version of a film, sometimes there was some method to the madness of chopping out 15 minutes of a film. Most of the existing prints of this film in the digital domain are 90 minutes. This version on the Severin Blu runs 104 minutes. As this was the first time I had seen this film, I can’t really comment on which one is a better viewing experience. However, a full rundown of the cuts can be found here:

    Image Quality

    The 1.66:1 print looks really great. Nice grain present in a very lifelike black and white presentation. The image looks close to perfect for much of the run time. There is some occasional dirt and hair and some lines close to a reel change, but these are minor quibbles when you look at this HD presentation compared with the public domain dreck and fuzzy DVD’s that came before it. Once again, we live in a great time when these 50 YEAR OLD low budget foreign horror genre films likely look better now than when they first premiered.


    The 2.0 audio here is very pleasing. This is presented on this disk as a dubbed English soundtrack. The Morricone score comes across well with its gothic organ score and the atmosphere. Barbara Steele actually dubs herself here (which is a real rarity!), but all the other voices come across well, even if they came from post production.

    Supplemental Material

    There is an indispensable commentary on this disk with horror aficionado, historian, and journalist David Del Valle and macabre mistress Barbara Steele herself. They discuss not only the film itself, but life in Italy, her career from her early 20’s onto today, her relationship with Mario Bava, Tim Burton stealing aspects of Barbara Steele movies for his own (he has gone on record saying that Black Sunday is his favorite film), living next door to Pier Passolini... It is a great history lesson on the genre itself outside of just talking about the film itself.

    Barbara Steele in Conversation – This is a really solid 30 minute one on one conversation with Barbara where she walks the audience through her entire career from being discovered to working with Elvis, falling in love with Rome, and her Italian gothic horror movie cycle, working with Roger Corman, Fellini, her non-horror films, filming with Cronenburg, working for Dan Curtis as a producer, and her continued fanbase. She has no problem being brutally honest when looking back, but speaks fondly about most her life. This is well worth a watch even for the casual fan.

    Black, White, and Red – This is a 15 minute interview with the director Mario Caiano. Here he talks about his early love of Edgar Allan Poe, horror, and wanting to do a horror movie, which later became Nightmare Castle. He goes into the motivations for the cast in front of and behind the camera as well as certain artistic inspirations when writing the script. The part with working with Morricone is always of interest to anyone curious in his early career.

    Rounding out the extras is the UK and US trailers for the picture. The Night of the Doomed version of the trailer looks really solid in HD. If it weren’t for the extra print damage, I say that they just recut it themselves and overlayed the audio. The Nightmare Castle trailer looks like a 5th generation tape dupe.

    Final Thoughts

    All told, this is a solid recommendation for anyone who wants to see an excellent example of a Barbara Steele film. The gothic settings, great direction, great score, and the really wild plot make it a great and entertaining watch. In the small genre of black and white gothic horrors, this one sits near the top.


    [​IMG] Movie - A-

    Image Quality - A-

    Sound - B

    Supplements - A- (however if you consider the other two films on here as extras and not as a triple feature, it is an A++)

    Technical Info.
    • B&W
    • Unrated
    • 1 Disc
    • LPCM 2.0
    • Subtitles
    • Commentary
    • Barbara Steele in Conversation
    • Interview with the director Mario Caiano
    • Trailers
    indrid13, rxfiend, Mok and 5 others like this.
  2. Workshed

    Workshed A Barge Person

    Jun 8, 2004
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    Nice review for a title I'd never heard of!
  3. Steel76

    Steel76 Well-Known Member

    Mar 13, 2010
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    Thanks for the review!
    Gonna pick it up later this month :)
  4. rxfiend

    rxfiend Joe Six-Pack

    May 1, 2001
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    Southern IN
    Been on my "to buy" list for awhile. Great review.
  5. loutoad23

    loutoad23 Active Member

    Oct 24, 2015
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    Been dying to see this, one of my halloween watchathon picks. Great review.

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