Nightmare Castle

Director: Mario Caiano

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Nightmare Castle (Amanti d'Oltretomba, 1965) has also been known as The Faceless Monster, Lovers from Beyond the Tomb, & Night of the Doomed. It's a dubbed cheapie with only one thing going for it, & that would be the huge-eyed weirdly beautiful Barbara Steele.

The vaguely Edwardian period setting & black & white photography permits moments of atmosphere, but only moments. The sadistic Doctor Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) discovers he is being cuckolded, catching his wife & her lover in flagrante in the greenhouse. He binds up his wife & her lover (Giuseppe Addobbati, though credited as John McDouglas) dangling from the wall in the castle dungeon & tortures them in a way that borrows from classic s/m imagery.

Before his wife dies, she lets him know that the power of her hatred for him will become her vengeance. Even if you hate such misogynist film imagery, you gotta admit that going out of this world glowering with hatred & a promise to get revenge is a hell of a lot cooler than just being a victimized scream-queen. There's nothing too tawdry that Barbara Steele fails to transcend the context at least a little.

Nightmare CastleHe then removes & pickles the lovers' hearts, burns their bodies, & mixes their ashes together with some planting soil for a houseplant. There is later mention of how weird the houseplant is, but we never actually see anything about that. But a box containing the pierced pickled hearts will be a focal point of a terrible haunting.

The evil doctor marries his slain wife's step-sister who despite being only a step-sister also happens to look exactly like Barbara Steele, only with blonde rather than black hair. She becomes partially possessed by the spirit of her slain stepsister, often falling into a demented trance to the sound of two beating hearts.

The murdered wife is attempting to avenge herself against the cruel physician, who has a live-in mistress (Helga Lines) posing as a housekeeper or secretary. They plan to get rid of the physician's second wife, whom he married only so that he could retain the castle estate, which had passed improbably from sister to stepsister bypassing the husband.

Young Doctor Joyce (Laurence Clift) has probably been in love with Jenny (blonde version of Steele) since they were children, but she innocently believes they have always only been friends. As doom descends upon her, this fellow sets out to save her. He finds the pierced pair of hearts & having already established that Dr. Arrowsmith's late wife's crypt has no body in it, begins to put together what happened.

When he removes the arrow from through the hearts, the spirits are able to manifest in the flesh by the power of the dead wife's hatred. The half-faced black-haired Muriel & her buff lover rage about the castle eager to kill everyone. Jenny is saved at the last possible moment when the pickled hearts are thrown into the fire & Muriel & her lover disappear.

This commonplace plot is just an excuse upon which to hang lots of scenes featuring Steele as the seductive then tortured first wife, then as possessed damsel in distress, & finally as the horrifically disfigured ghost, this last acted out with particular relish. Steele's acting is appropriately over the top & she is purely a delight to watch, by turns evoking sensuality & innocence & savage vengeful evil.

Actors alleged to be much more skilled when attempting to play two roles in one film rarely overcome the viewer's sense that if the story required twins they should've hired twins for the part, as this is totally unbelievable. Though Steele is not often praised for her acting per se, in fact she makes her two characters distinct & believable rather than merely color-coded by hair.

When she's on screen as the savage ghost, her hair combed Veronica Lake style to cover the torture scars, it's like there's nobody else in the film, she just dominates the screen not merely for her strange beauty, but with something extra more related to what makes a Boris Karloff or a Peter Lorre so capable of shimmering even in a cheezy role.

Steele may have had a limited talent, but it was talent nonetheless, for she threw herself into performances without restraint. She had a perfect presence for seedy horror & is justifiably a cult favorite. She was apparently quite the prima donna & very difficult to work with, or she might have escaped B-horror productions & become a more widely appreciated international star.

But horror directors were willing to put up with her antics because she could transform a piece of crap into an unforgettable flim. Had anyone else starred in Nightmare Castle, it would not be worth watching.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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