Nightmare Castle (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is spooked and chilled by Gothic photography and Barbara Steele...
A sadistic yet brilliant scientist named Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) catches his wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) in bed with another man. Arrowsmith tortures and murders the pair, then removes their hearts. Arrowsmith was, in the end, relatively disinterested in his wife as a person, but was looking forward to inheriting her fortune, and is bummed when he discovers she drew up a new will giving her fortune to her institutionalized sister Jenny. Not too easily deterred Arrowsmith marries Jenny instead. Soon however, Jenny starts experiencing nightmares and hauntings, seemingly straight from the ghost of her dead sister.
Try though I might, it’s just not possible to keep up with everything in the realms of classic European horror cinema. Nightmare Castle fell through my usually tightly held cracks (ha) due to rampant unavailability, and my idiotically confusing it with Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood, which also starred Barbara Steele, and went by too many names to keep track of (including The Castle of Terror). Released several times on DVD in various cut forms, and under various titles like The Faceless Monster (spoiler alert) and Night of the Doomed, Nightmare Castle remains a Italian horror favourite due largely to its lack of copyright protection.
Nightmare Castle features all the melodramatic plotting, stilted dialogue and scenery chewing fans have come to expect from Gothic inspired ‘50s and ‘60s horror, but mostly runs on a Mario Bava and James Whale inspired visual elegance. It never touches the tangible black and white bliss of Black Sunday or Bride of Frankenstein, but director Mario Caiano (an Italian du jour type director that worked in Hercules rip-offs and Spaghetti Westerns around the same time) manages some rich nightmare beauty. The film is pretty damn violent for the time, though not by modern standards. The ideas behind the violence are much more perverse and alarming than what actually makes it on screen, but I still give Bava and Hammer the edge in the on-screen ick department. Though I suppose elements of the film’s climax revels in more overtly sexual acts of violence than anything else I can recall from the era, so perhaps that counts for something.
Presented in its original and gorgeous 1.85:1 framed black and whiteness, Nightmare Castle has been lovingly restored by the fine folks at Severin, but is not without its minor faults. The image is slightly warmed rather than a true black and white, but this is a minor quibble when the depths of the highly gothic blacks are taken into account. The contrast of the overall print is even, and sharp enough to both perpetuate the deep blacks, and allow for relatively fine details. There’s no mistaking these detail levels with a high definition transfer, but there’s only a general lack of crispness in the presentation, not a definitive lack of detail. The print is relatively clean given the film’s age and legacy, with fine grain peppered throughout, and a few minor cases of briefly popping print damage artefacts. The most pronounced problem with the entire transfer is the occasional dancing blocks on harsh white edges.
Severin has included only the film’s English dub, which is fine considering most of the major players were pretty obviously speaking English on set. The lip-sync is hit and miss, but not disturbingly so, and the dialogue melds better into the relatively silent track more naturally than other such tracks. The track is Mono and flat, as flat as much older film (1965 wasn’t that long ago), and features some tinny and unrealistic sound effects, but Severin has done what they can with the material. The track is lacking warmth and depth, but doesn’t feature any major distortion, save some fuzzy musical cues, and a few crackly screams. One of the film’s most enduring aspects is its minimal score, which was crafted by the one and only Ennio Morricone, who’d recycle many of the best ideas into his latter horror and thriller scores, including his work with Dario Argento.
‘Barbara Steele—In Conversation’ is, as the title suggests, an interview with the headline star of Nightmare Castle. Babs gives us a brief description of her career genesis set to some great photos of her in the era. She’s a great speaker, and tells an interesting story. And the pictures remind us how sexy she was (though why would anyone ever want her to dye her beautiful black locks blonde is way beyond my comprehension). Steele’s one of those icons that genuinely remembers her B-movie career, and can speak about it with a sense of class. Usually horror icons can only achieve one or the other.
‘Black, White and Red’ is an interview with director Mario Caiano, who waxes about his career, his tastes, and his ambitions, but mostly about Nightmare Castle specifically. Steele and the other actors are covered in relative detail, as is Morricone, and the crew, some of which went on to major Hollywood success. Caiano speaks in Italian with English subtitles, and his orange cat makes a few appearances looking to play. The extras are completed with the US and UK trailers.
Nightmare Castle is a bit overlong, and I personally wouldn’t consider it in the same class as the best Gothic horror films, but it’s better than many of the later Hammer films, and a large section of Paul Naschy’s output, and a must see for Barbara Steele’s fans. I don’t have firsthand knowledge concerning the disc’s improvements over previous releases, but assume the box art isn’t lying considering the overall clean look, and clearly longer runtime.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 19th May 2009
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: Barbara Steele in Conversation, Black, White and Red, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mario Caiano
Cast: Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné, Lawrence Clift
Length: 104 minutes