Not my favorite Barbara Steele movie (that would be The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, coming to The Midnight Room next week), but any way you slice it Nightmare Castle packs an awful lot of bang for your buck. This is another one I originally purchased on VHS from Sinister Cinema years ago. The censored version as originally released in the
US is in public domain, so there
are numerous DVD editions floating around at various price ranges.
In 2009, Severin Films acquired the rights from the European copyright holder and presented
in as near to a perfect print as we will probably ever see, restoring close to fourteen
minutes of footage along with the rest of the original music score by Ennio
Morricone. Morricone is well known to Spaghetti Western fans as the composer of
the scores for For a Few Dollars More
and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Sad to say his idea of a Gothic soundtrack is mostly overblown organ music and
ridiculously over-the-top romantic themes that swell at inappropriate moments. Nightmare Castle
The story itself is a garish mishmash of Gothic tropes beginning with mad scientist Dr. Steven Arroway’s discovery that his wife is having an affair with the hunky gardener. Arroway systematically tortures the young lovers with whips and chains before dousing them with acid and electrocuting them. I guess if you’re going to dispatch adulterers you may as well do it in style.
After coaxing Jenny into leaving her money to him in her will, Arroway breaks her out of the asylum only to attempt to drive her mad all over again. What he doesn’t count on are Jenny’s psychic dreams in which she learns that someone murdered her sister in the greenhouse. There’s some other weird stuff about the mad scientist’s experiments – he restores the wrinkly housekeeper’s youth and raises plants that drip blood, and there’s a handsome love interest for Jenny in the form of her former psychiatrist who makes house calls.
The plot is lurid and as Grand Guignol as the soundtrack. The star of the show is, of course, Barbara Steele, demonstrating her acting chops as both Muriel and Jenny. (She plays duel roles in Black Sunday and An Angel for Satan as well). Many reviewers of her films around the internet have commented that she is put to best use when the camera makes a fetish of her face and body. Ultimately, she is as pure a 1960s sex symbol as Bridget Bardot and Raquel Welch.
As I mentioned earlier there are numerous DVD versions to choose from, but the Severin release is the only one worth purchasing, not only for presenting the most complete version for American audiences, but also for the outstanding thirty minute interview with the dark goddess herself.
I’m not much of a film critic, just a lifelong fan of these creaky old horror shows. If you’d like to know just how revered some of these Spaghetti Gothics are among collectors and horror fans, check out what some of the experts have to say at the links below.