Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nightmare Castle: Brunette Beauty Barbara Steele... Also Available in Blonde Bombshell!

Caution: Spoilers Galore

Horror Queen Barbara Steele takes on a double roll in Mario Caiano's atmospheric 1965 classic Castle of Blood. Steele first appeared as a ghostly-pale, raven-haired femme fatale in Mario Bava's Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) in 1960. In that role, the stunning actress became as well known for her powerful on-screen performances as for her haunting beauty.

Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) has just discovered that his wife, Muriel (Barbara Steele) is having an affair. When he catches the two lovers in the amorous act, they find themselves chained to a dungeon wall. Unfortunately for Muriel and her companion, David (Rik Battaglia), Dr. Arrowsmith has something much more awful in store!

"I will kill you, you tart! You and your filthy friend!
But death, my dear, must come to you only after I've torn from your bodies all the suffering and pain a human being can stand!
And you don't know how long it takes to die of pain."

You see, Dr. Arrowsmith is a clearly-mad scientist, who is working on human rejuvenation, by means of subjecting human blood cells to electrical impulses* and he uses poor Muriel as a subject in a bizarre experiment which claims her life. He also has a plan in store for Muriel's stepsister, Jenny (Barbara Steele), who Muriel named as the sole beneficiary of her sizable fortune shortly before she died.

Somehow, Arrowsmith is able to convince Jenny to become his wife, and come to live with him in the castle (gross!). What the flaxon-haired, doe-eyed young woman does not know is that Arrowsmith and his faithful servant, Solange (Helga Lin
é), intend to push her already-fragile mental state over the very brink of madness in order to gain control over Muriel's fortune.

"You will end up a prisoner of your madness
and obsessions forever."

Dr. Arrowsmith enlists the help of a dashing, young psychiatrist, Dr. Derek Joyce (Laurence Clift), to attend to his new bride. Jenny is ill at ease while inside the castle, and seems to need very little encouragement toward insanity. She is begins to have disturbing visions and bizarre nightmares, gradually becoming more aware of the presence of her dead stepsister, Muriel, who seems to have the power to possess her very soul.

"There are ghosts in this casle, Dr. Arrowsmith."

Extremely concerned for the mental and physical safety of his beautiful, young patient, Derek undertakes his own explorations of the castle after Dr. Arrowsmith refuses to entertain the notion that the place could be haunted. He makes his way to the castle's crypt, and discovers that Muriel's tomb is empty. In making this discovery, Derek has unwittingly uncovered an important component of Arrowsmith's experiment and overall scheme.

Beyond simply being Dr. Arrowsmith's servant, Solange was also the recipient of blood that had been taken from Muriel in the excruciating moments leading up to her death death in order to restore the housekeeper's appearance and vitality to that of a woman in her twenties. After Derek begins poking around, they decide that they must get rid of him at once. The stolen blood flowing through Solange's veins is weakening her, and they must expediate Jenny's descent into madness so that they can gain access to her sweet, red essence.

"You will sleep now; a sleep that will be
without any more dreams."

Despite the best efforts of Dr. Arrowsmith and Solange, his dead wife has other plans. After Derek uncovers the hearts of the murdered lovers, the ghosts of Muriel and David materialize to wreak havoc upon the inhabitants of the castle. Solange is denied the blood transfusion she requires, and she is left to rot (quite literally). When Arrowsmith beholds the apparition of his wife, he is aghast. Had he not killed her, in punishment for her betrayal?

"You gave me extreme pleasure.
You taught me the pleasure of the torment of the flesh,
which turns to exstasy. Now, I'm going to reward you with
that same pleasure... Come, darling."

"Now I've got your body and soul,
if there was any such thing in your damned being!
It's my moment now!"

Derek and Jenny are only able to escape their undead tormentors by destroying their hearts, which Derek accomplishes by throwing the meaty organs into the fire. From this powerful scene comes the iconic image of Ms. Steele done up paler-than-pale, with half of her famous face covered by her hair. The stark, frightening imagery is accentuated by the bone-chilling musical score, masterfully composed by Ennio Morricone.

While the picture and sound quality leave much to be desired at times, Nightmare Castle is a must-see for those who enjoy watching an artfully-filmed supernatural thriller.

* Madacy Pictures

5/5 Kitty Skulls = Pick of the litter!


The Headless Werewolf said...

Prepare to come again, because Severin's apparently found the negative to this film and will release it in an authorized DVD release! Tim Lucas blogged about it here (you'll have to scroll down):

Kitty LeClaw said...

Yes, isn't that great?! Karswell posted about it last week, and I was very pleased to read the news.

I am most excited about the restoration of the musical score, which was suffering horribly (at least in the copy I have).