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Director: Mario Caiano
Cast: Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné, Marino Masé, Giuseppe Addobbati, Rik Battaglia
Length: 104 min
Label: Severin Films
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
- Audio commentary with star Barbara Steele and horror historian David Del Valle
- Barbara Steele in Conversation (29:50 min, SD) – Featurette with Barbara Steele
- Black White and Red (14 min, SD) – Interview with director Mario Caiano
- Vengeance from Beyond (26:19 min, HD) – Featurette on the making of Terror Creatures From the Grave
- A Dance of Ghosts (16:52 min, HD) – Featurette on the making of Castle of Blood
- Terror Creatures deleted scenes (14:17 min, HD)
- US and UK Trailers for Nightmare Castle (HD)
- Castle of Blood (1964) – Full feature film
- Terror Creatures From the Grave (1965) – Full feature film
The folks at Severin Films seem to be on a roll. A few months back, they released Jess Franco’s long-awaited Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy, in mostly excellent HD restorations. Now, they turn to Nightmare Castle, one of Barbara Steele’s quintessential 60’s Italian Gothics, and the results—along with the Franco films—add up to one of the most important genre BD releases of 2015!
Nightmare Castle unfolds as an over-the-top Italian melodrama that makes great use of its star Barbara Steele’s hauntingly beautiful features, as well as authentic Gothic settings shot in atmospheric black & white by cinematographer Enzo Barboni (Django). The plot concerns a mad scientist named Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (I kid you not) — played with sinister glee by genre regular, Paul Muller — who is married to a wealthy but unfaithful woman (Steele). While the good doctor busies himself with discovering the secrets of life, his raven-haired wife indulges in clandestine rendezvous with their hunky manservant (Rik Battaglia). When Dr. Arrowsmith catches the lovers in the act, he tortures them both to death in horrific ways.
Before dying, however, Lady Arrowsmith informs her depraved husband that she has bequeathed all her wealth to her mentally unstable sister Jenny. Being accustomed to the rich lifestyle and not wanting to end his scientific experiments, the Doctor marries Jenny (also Steele, in a blonde wig) with the plan of driving her insane, so that he can finally inherit his wife’s considerable wealth. Unfortunately, as so often happens in horror films, Jenny is driven insane, not by her new husband, but by the spirit of her dead sister who wants to avenge her murder.
Helmer Mario Caiano doesn’t quite have the directorial panache of Barbara Steele’s other Italian collaborators (Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti, and Riccardo Freda), but he delivers the goods in allowing Barbara her dramatic moments and in giving us some well-staged Grand Guignol. The scenes of Steele and her lover being tortured while chained to a dungeon wall are iconic in the annals of Italian horror, even though the fact that the well-built Battaglia doesn’t even try to fight back against the genteel-looking Muller is thoroughly unconvincing.
In addition to Muller as the mad Dr. Arrowsmith, Spanish genre beauty Helga Liné makes a welcome appearance as the Doctor’s confidante and the subject of his experiments and Marino Masé (Lady Frankenstein) makes for a potent young hero. But, the whole film revolves around the starkly erotic visage of its star, Barbara Steele. Her operatic intensity shines through even the somewhat unconvincing English language dub which robs the film of some of its atmosphere.
Of special note is the early Ennio Morricone score, which adds enormously to the mise-en-scène; although this is not a music-driven film in the way that his work with Sergio Leone would be.
Severin’s new restoration of The Night of the Doomed — the English language UK version of Nightmare Castle — is in every way outstanding. Unlike the recent BD release of The Long Hair of Death from Raro Video, Severin does not try to scrub every last ounce of film texture from the image. So, natural grain is left intact but is very fine and isn’t distracting. There are also no signs of excessive DNR filtering or edge enhancement. Close-up, full, and long shots all boast phenomenal detail without looking “enhanced.” Occasionally, one sees a few white specs and other small elements of print damage but this is inconsequential. Some scenes show some black crush but this looks to be inherited from the film print itself, rather than being a side effect of the restoration. It’s safe to say that genre fans have never seen Nightmare Castle look this good on home video before.
The mono English language track has marvelous presence, and is free of hiss, pops, and/or other age-related anomalies. Ennio Morricone’s organ comes over with fine clarity and with just enough body for comfort. The dialogue is clear and easy to follow. Personally, I did not like the English dub. Even though it’s good to hear Barbara Steele’s real voice — and she does a splendid job with the dubbing — I think the Italian track would have sounded more authentic but unfortunately it’s not included here.
Severin gives us quite a bounty of special features with this release. Not only do we get the expected commentary and interviews for the main feature, but we are also given two additional feature-length Italian Barbara Steele films in 1080p!
For the main feature, we are given a newly recorded commentary track, featuring Barbara Steele and her friend, film historian David Del Valle. Barbara’s Italianate sense of drama remains undiminished as she describes her love of Italy and of working in Italian cinema. David Del Valle demonstrates once again why he is such a treasure in the genre world. He asks Barbara the right questions and sets everything in detailed historical context.
Barbara Steele in Conversation (29:50 min, SD) – A featurette revolving around an extended interview with Barbara Steele, in which she recounts the many facets of her career. Includes archival images.
Black White and Red (14 min, SD) – A video interview with director Mario Caiano, discussing the making of Nightmare Castle and working with Barbara Steele. (In Italian, with English subtitles).
Vengeance from Beyond (26:19 min, HD) – A featurette on the making of Terror Creatures From the Grave, consisting of interviews with director Massimo Pupillo, actor Riccardo Garrone, and film historian Fabio Melelli. (In Italian with optional English subtitles).
A Dance of Ghosts (16:52 min, HD) – A featurette on the making of Castle of Blood, consisting of interviews with film historian Fabio Melelli and the voice of director Antonio Margheriti.
Terror Creatures deleted scenes (14:17 min, HD, in French with optional English subtitles).
US and UK Trailers for Nightmare Castle (HD)
As an extra bonus, we are also given two complete feature films:
Castle of Blood (1964) – This is taken from a new 2k scan of a rare US 35mm release print. The print itself is in so-so condition and is presented “as is,” without restoration. There are swarms of white specs, debris, and vertical scratches throughout, but particularly around reel changes. Contrast is unstable, shifting from good to poor, and there are frequent stability issues. While it’s good to have this film in HD—and as an extra feature it is very generous—I would have been happier if the film had been released on its own, with a proper restoration. Perhaps that will happen soon.
Terror Creatures From the Grave (1965) – Like Castle of Blood, this too is taken from a 2k scan of a rare US 35mm release print, and the exact same criticism applies to this bonus feature as with Castle of Blood.
Anyone who cares about Italian horror cinema needs to get this Blu-ray from Severin. Nightmare Castle is an over-the-top melodrama with elements of Grand Guignol and boasts an atmospheric early score by the great Ennio Morricone, not to mention the mesmerizing presence of the equally great Barbara Steele. To top it off, we are given a huge amount of extra features which will occupy the viewer for hours. In an era when major studios tend to release bare-bones BD’s of genre films, smaller companies like Severin Films prove their importance by doing just the opposite. Highly recommended!