• Nightmare Castle

    Nightmare Castle
    Released by: Severin Films
    Relesaed on: August 18th, 2015.
    Director: Maria Caiano
    Cast: Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Line
    Year: 1965
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Long the recipient of a bunch of crappy ‘public domain’ DVD releases, Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (alternately known as The Faceless Monster and Night Of The Doomed - the later being how it is titled on the source used for this Blu-ray) finally got some respect years back thanks a special edition release from Severin Films. They were good enough to have gone back to Italian vault materials to perform an excellent restoration on the title similar to what Synapse did with Castle Of Blood a few years back. The results were excellent and now the movie gets its first ever Blu-ray release, the top billed title on this release, a triple feature of gothic horror films starring Barbara Steele.

    This period film follows one Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Franco regular Paul Muller of Vampyros Lesbos among others) who marries a hot rich chick named Muriel (Barbara Steele) for her money. When he finds out he’s not getting any of it, he murders her in cold blood and moves on but before she passes she tells him she’ll make him pay. Cut ahead a bit and Muriel’s portrait hangs on the wall of the castle that Stephen shares with his brand new blonde wife, Jennifer (Barbara Steele again), Muriel’s step-sister.

    Things seem to be going quite well for the couple at first, and Jennifer seems happy enough but soon we realize that Stephen has other ideas – he’s trying to drive her insane so that all of her worldly goods will be his and his alone. Stephen, who is in cahoots with the maid (Helga Line) who has had her youth restored by some sort of supernatural blood transfusion, soon realizes that Jennifer might not need his help, she might already be a bit off her rocker. She’s having horrible nightmarish dreams about her late step-sister and is certain that the castle is haunted…

    Considerably more bizarre than your traditional Italian gothic horror film of the 1960’s, Nightmare Castle benefits from a few truly memorable set pieces. When Stephen murder Muriel he doesn’t just stab her or kill her quietly, no, he gets her and the man he’s falsely accused her of boinking behind his back with a hot poker. On top of that, Jennifer’s first nightmare features a strange man whose face is obscured behind a white cloth mask and all manner of odd sporadic violence. The film has a few slow spots and hits cliché after cliché after cliché along the way, but it all builds up to a completely fantastic and otherworldly conclusion that doesn’t really tie things up particularly well but at least entertains. The big finish is surprisingly effects heavy and plenty horrific and it’s strong enough to actually still surprise us, even if it might leave you scratching your head.

    There are pacing problems in the middle part of the film, but the movie is, like many others of its kind, beautifully shot with loads of atmosphere. The castle is a dark, shadowy and ominous place – the perfect spot, really, for the horrors to play out and the cinematography accentuates this to nice effect. On top of that, Ennio Morricone provides his first ever horror movie score. While it doesn’t hit the emotional notes that some of his better compositions do, this organ heavy piece fits the movie’s gothic atmosphere very well and does a fine job of playing up the melodrama and providing a few fun stings to help the more macabre moments hit home.

    The film also benefits from a strong cast. Barbara Steele, of course, steals the show using her crazed eyes to play her dual role quite well. She’s as ominous as she is intriguing and Caiano ensures that the camera plays up to her interesting features and accentuates her unusual sex appeal. Paul Muller does a fine job playing the slime ball husband who holds a strange memento of his late wife in a jar, while a fine supporting effort from the lovely Helga Line rounds things out nicely.


    Nightmare Castle looks pretty spiffy here in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. Minor print damage does appear but for the most part the source used for this transfer is in very good shape. Detail is strong and despite the fact that there’s a LOT of stuff crammed onto this disc (it is at least a 50GB disc), there are surprisingly few compression artifacts. Grain is present and not washed out, there’s no noise reduction of any serious degree here while contrast is pretty solid. Detail is considerably more impressive here than it was on the DVD version that came out some years back while black levels are pretty strong too.

    The only audio option for Nightmare Castle is an English language LPCM Mono track, there are no alternate language options or subtitles here. The single channel mix is understandably limited in range but you’ll have no trouble following the dialogue. Everything comes through clean, clear and nicely balanced and the track is free of any major hiss or distortion. The score has good presence and weight behind it too, especially the organ music that plays over the opening credits.

    So yeah, this is technically a triple feature release because Severin have included, in HD, the US versions of Castle Of Blood and Terror Creatures From The Grave, but to avoid jumping around too much, let’s break down the extras as they relate to each movie.

    Nightmare Castle:

    New to this release is an audio commentary with Barbara Steele and film historian David Del Valle that is definitely worth a listen. Del Valle notes that Steele played a lot of similar roles during this part of her career. He also notes that there’s a lot more sexuality and violence in this picture than in a lot of the other gothic horror pictures that were coming out in the sixties. Steele talks about the violence in her films, noting that ‘I don’t feel that they whipped or chained me enough!’ She’s got a good sense of humor here as she talks about the freedom that was in Italy during the years she spent there. She also talks about some of the other gothic horror films she appeared in, her reappearance in The Butterfly Room and how it compares to her vintage films, what it was like working with the different actors and directors that she worked with over the years including those she cooperated with for this film, appearing as a blonde versus a brunette, the fan base that has grown up around her work over the years and how it continues to surprise her, and loads more. Del Valle gets Steele talking here, bringing her out of her shell and obviously making her feel quite comfortable and the end result is a genuinely warm, affectionate and interesting track that documents not only this picture but Steele’s career as a whole.

    Carried over from the DVD release is the excellent Barbara Steele In Conversation, a half hour interview with Barbara Steele, who is quite refreshingly blunt about her career as she starts at the beginning and talks about how she got into acting after being found by an Italian talent scout while trying to finish school. She discusses her early roles and then talks about her work in the Italian gothic films she’s best known for, particularly Bava’s Black Sunday. She also talks at some length about her work in Fellini’s 8 ½ and in Cronenberg’s Shivers. Steele has a sense of humor about herself in this interview, discussing things quite candidly and telling some interesting stories about her work in front of the camera.

    From there, check out Black, White And Red the fourteen minute interview with Mario Caiano (with cameos from his pets!) who talks about how this project came together and what it was like working with Steele, the reason she was cast in the film, and why the film was shot in black and white. He talks about how Morricone came on board to provide the film’s excellent score and about some of the difficulties he had to deal with while making this picture. Like the first featurette, this is a pretty interesting bit and well worth watching for fans of Italian horror.

    Rounding out the extras are the UK trailer (in anamorphic widescreen) under the alternate Night Of The Doomed title, and the shorter (fullframe) North American trailer, both of which are worth watching as they’re interesting in how they differ.

    Castle Of Blood:

    The first bonus feature was directed by Antonio Margheriti (Cannibal Apocalypse) and co-written by Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence), you'd think that Castle of Blood would be an action packed thrill ride of a film. In reality, it's a slow and dreamlike trip highlighted by the amazing screen presence of Barbara Steele, the leading lady who is obviously the focus of this release.

    The story revolves around Alan Foster, a not so famous journalist who, after interviewing Edgar Allan Poe, makes a wager with his friend, Sir Thomas Blackwood, that he cannot spend one night in his family's haunted castle. Foster accepts, and it's off to Castle Blackwood for him, where over the course of the night he encounters the ghostly inhabitants of the old building, and eventually falls head over heels in love with Elisabeth, the lovely and unfortunately, dead sister of Sir Thomas.

    Less about plot and more about atmosphere, the movie moves at a slow and dreamlike pace, with a lot of long and lingering camera movements full of creepy and creaky old set pieces and populated with melodramatic characters. The most obvious comparison for the movie is Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, and while there are certainly a few similarities, Castle of Blood isn’t really that close in any other regard than the fact that the two films have Ms. Steele in a lead role.

    While not really a good film as a Poe adaptation, Castle of Blood is still a great gothic horror film with a wonderful cast and some of the best atmospheric camera work to come out of 1960s Italy. Not recommended for those who need countless amounts of gore or action to keep a movie interesting, but for those who appreciate atmospheric chills and nightmarish visuals, there is more than enough to appreciate. The film is presented on this Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. This is the US theatrical version and the print it was taken from has some print damage but despite the scratches and blemishes it’s perfectly watchable. The audio is handled by an English language Dolby Digital Mono track.

    Extras for Castle Of Blood include a new featurette called A Dance Of Ghosts. Clocking in at just under seventeen minutes, this piece is made up of interviews with Italian film historian Fabio Melelli and archival audio interviews with the film’s director. We learn here not just about Castle Of Blood but about quite a few of the other films that the director made in his career. Lots of great archival clips and images are used to illustrate the piece and it’s quite interesting. A theatrical trailer for the movie is also included.

    Terror Creatures From The Grave:

    Also known as Five Graves For A Medium and Cemetery Of The Living Dead, this public domain staple was directed by Massimo Pupillo (as Ralph Zucker) in 1965. It opens with a scene in which a man flees his house in the middle of the night. He tries to get on his horse but it gets spooked and as such, it kicks him in the head and he dies.

    From there, a lawyer named Albert Kovac (Walter Brandi) has arrived in the same small town where the opening scene took place. He arrives at an estate and is greeted by Corinne Hauff (Mirella Maravidi), explaining to her that he’s arrived because he received a letter from the owner of the house who asked that his partner, Joseph Morgan (Ricardo Garrone) come to attend to his will. As Joseph was away, Albert has arrived in his place. Corinne and her mother Cleo (Barbara Steele) are surprised by all of this as the man who sent the letter, Jeronimus Hauff, has been dead for years.

    As it turns out, Jeronimus was a spiritualist and before he passed he frequently made contact with the dead, many of whom lay buried under the family home which was built atop a hospital used to house those who contracted the black plague. Now that Jeronimus has passed on himself, his spirit haunts the grounds. Some believe he is appearing to warn them, others believe he has cursed the town and its inhabitants – but either way, someone or something is going around killing people and Albert would eventually like to figure out who sent the letter in the first place.

    The lesser of the three films on this disc, Terror Creatures From The Grave is, like the other films, an atmospheric picture that moves at a fairly languid pace. There are some really impressive shots in here, lots of spooky imagery and of course, the presence of the inimitable Ms. Steele all working in the film’s favor, and those are all very good things indeed. The story itself is a bit clunky but once things are set up and the backstory is established, we get some decent pacing in the last half of the film. The film is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen with English audio in Dolby Digital Mono. Image quality is about on par with Castle Of Blood, in that there’s minor print damage evident throughout but it’s still quite a nice presentation overall.

    Extras for this movie start off with a featurettes called Vengeance From Beyond, a twenty-six minute long piece with Italian film historian Fabio Melelli and actor Riccardo Garrone that discuses how Garrone got into acting, the Italian gothic horror pictures that were popular at the time, what sets this particular film apart from a lot of similar films including those made by Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti and of course, the importance of Barbara Steele to this film and the other gothic pictures that she is so often associated with. We also get a few Terror Creatures From The Grave deleted scenes (in French with optional English subs). There’s fourteen minutes of material here and we get some alternate opening credits, some alternate dramatic takes, a bit more background on the letter and more. Some of this stuff is pretty neat to see and this is a nice addition to the disc to be sure. A theatrical trailer for Terror Creatures From The Grave is also included.

    The Final Word:

    Severin offer up Nightmare Castle in very nice shape and with two bonus presentations of Castle Of Blood and Terror Creatures From The Grave (in their US theatrical versions) also in HD, though unrestored. Throw in a few other interesting supplements of note and this turns out to be a really well rounded package for fans of Barbara Steele and classic Italian gothic horror.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      Castle Of Blood is the major reason I'm getting this. I love the old US cut and it will be nice to have it on bd. While I do wish COB had a bd to itself this will do for now. Nightmare Castle is fun and hopefully Creatures will be easier to sit through if the print is a little better than the crappy ones previously viewed.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      That link doesn't take me to the amazon page for this release, just thought you should know.
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      Available under $17 @ Family Video
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Fixed the link, thanks.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I wish Family Video delivered to Canadia.