Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spaghetti Gothic 101: Nightmare Castle

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 Nightmare Castle 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.

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.

Greedy Dr. Arroway thought he was going to inherit his wife’s money, but before her death, Muriel left her fortune to her half-sister Jenny, a blonde dead-ringer for Muriel incarcerated at the local insane asylum. But wait – it gets better.

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. 

1 comment:

  1. Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre and disturbing modern gothic noir called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.


    ***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
    before..." Film Threat
    "A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
    "Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. " IFC News
    "Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
    "Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque