Monday, March 3, 2008

4th May 2007: Italian Gothic double!

Nightmare Castle

Italy 1965 b&w

aka The Faceless Monster, Night Of The Doomed, Orgasmo, Gli Amanti d'Oltretomba/”Lovers From Beyond The Tomb”

Director “Allan Grünewald”/Mario Caiano Writers Mario Caiano, Fabio De Agostini

Cast Barbara Steele (Muriel/Jenny Arrowsmith), Paul “Miller”/Muller (Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith), Helga Liné (Solange), Lawrence Clift (Dr. Dereck Joyce), “John McDouglas”/Giuseppe Addobbati (Jonathan), Rik Battaglia (David)

First up in our Italian gothic double is Nightmare Castle, a tale of terrible retribution from beyond the grave featuring the Scream Queen of Italian Horror, Barbara Steele.

A veteran of arthouse films like Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), British actress Barbara Steele had the fortune (or misfortune, if you’re Barbara) to star in not one but two groundbreaking Sixties horror films - Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) and Roger Corman’s The Pit And The Pendulum (1961). It was a combination of her striking looks, wide expressive eyes and her ability to contort her beautiful features into a mask of agony that made her face alone a horror icon. Unfortunately for her (but fortunately for us) she was typecast in a string of Continental shockers throughout the Sixties: The Terror Of Dr Hitchcock (1962), The Long Hair Of Death (1964), Terror Creatures From The Grave (1965), An Angel For Satan (1966).

Nightmare Castle, made in 1965 towards the end of the gothic cycle, is no Black Sunday but it’s an interesting film nonetheless. A pure generic exercise in Italian gothic, it begins with Muriel (Barbara Steele), the raven-haired mistress of the castle, caught with the gardener David in the “hothouse” by her sadistic scientist husband Dr Stephen Arrowsmith (played with icy disgust by Euro horror regular Paul Muller). He subjects the two to an elaborate, torturous death, uses Muriel’s heart in his twisted experiments keeping his aging mistress eternally young, and piles the two cuckolds’ ashes into a giant plant pot.

Enter Muriel’s pretty yet innocent, trusting and feeble-minded stepsister Jenny (also Steele in a blonde wig) who has inherited Muriel’s fortune. Dr Stephen has married her and intends on driving her insane; but it looks like the vengeful spirits of Muriel and David have got to her first. What follows are seemingly endless patches of stilted dialogue punctuated with Lynchian dream sequences of plants dripping blood, wonderfully overblown organ music by none other than Ennio Morricone, and a firey finale that ranks amongst the finest moments of Italian gothic.

Director Mario Caiano makes the most of his micro-budget with some intriguing sets and a compact and competent cast of battle-worn horror performers. Even the washed-out black and white print that looks like it has one foot in the grave adds to the weirdness of the proceedings. Ladies and gentlemen, the Italian horror micro-classic Nightmare Castle.

Lady Frankenstein

Italy 1971 colour

aka La Figlia di Frankenstein, Madame Frankenstein, Daughter Of Frankenstein

Directors Mel Welles, Aureliano Luppi Writers Umberto Borsato, Edward Di Lorenzo, Egidio Gelso, Aureliano Luppi, Dick Randall, Mel Welles

Cast Joseph Cotten (Baron Frankenstein), “Sara Bey”/Rosalba Neri (Tania Frankenstein), Paul Muller (Dr. Charles Marshall), Mickey Hargitay (Captain Harris)

And now to a novel and, thanks to relaxed censorship, increasingly perverse interpretation of the Frankenstein story, in which the Baron is replaced by his daughter, a liberated product of the Swinging Seventies. The 1870s, that is.

American character actor-turned-director Mel Welles was a Roger Corman regular (Attack Of The Crab Monsters, Little Shop Of Horrors) before leaving for Europe in the early 60s. As producer/director on Lady Frankenstein, he ropes in veteran Hollywood leading man Joseph Cotton (from Citizen Kane, no less!) to play the Baron. Ubiquitous Italian genre actress Rosalba Neri (here listed as the anglicized “Sara Bey”) plays his daughter Tania, fresh out of medical school and, like any decent scientist worth their weight in organs, with her father’s lust for knowledge and elastic morality.

She stumbles on her father’s first experiment in reviving the dead - a mangled creature with a bung eye and the brain of a hanged criminal (all that’s missing is a sign on the jar saying “Abby Normal”) who goes hogwild and crushes the Baron to death. Without batting a perfect eyelash, she starts work on a scond creature - transplanting the brain of her pitiful would-be suitor, the Baron’s devoted and spineless assistant Charles (Paul Muller from Nightmare Castle) into the powerful body of the well-hung moron Thomas. Meanwhile the local police Captain (played by Mickey Hargitay, bodybuilder and former Mr Jayne Mansfield) finds the trail of dead copulating couples killed by the original creature leads him to the Frankenstein boudoir.

Lady Frankenstein’s kinky redux was a huge hit in America thanks to a lurid advertising campaign that proclaimed “Only the monster she made could satisfy her strange desires!” And it’s strange alright - the combination of T&A and animal organs might prove too much for some of our more timid viewers. For those more adventurous types, enjoy, you sick, sick bastards. The Citizen Kane of necrophilia flicks? Only time will tell, as we uncover the tale of Lady Frankenstein.

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