FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 16, 2006

Ghost Week Day 7: Nightmare Castle

Horror icon Barbara Steele stars in Nightmare Castle, a gothic tale of revenge from beyond the grave. The 1965 film (also known as Lovers From Beyond the Tomb, Night of the Doomed, The Faceless Monster, and...uh...Orgasmo), directed by Mario Caiano (credited as Allan Grunewald) oozes sexuality and blood in about equal doses.

Barbara Steele plays Muriel Arrowsmith, a wealthy vixen who can't wait for her mad scientist husband Stephen (Paul Muller) to leave so she can get it on with David (Rik Battaglia), her lover and gardener. What the pair don't know is that Stephen has a spy in the house: the old, decrepit maid Solange (Helga Line), whose face looks not so much wrinkled as it looks like it's covered in dried Elmer's Glue. No sooner are Muriel and David gettin' down to some hanky panky in the greenhouse then Stephen returns to catch them in flagrante. He chains them up in his laboratory and sadisically tortures them, promising that the release of death won't come for a long time: "You don't know how long it takes to die from pain!". Muriel, unafraid, hisses in return, "You can kill my body, but I'll never leave you in peace! Never! NEVER!"

Finally, Stephen sets about electrocuting the lovers...but before they die, Muriel has the last laugh. She assures Stephen that he won't see a penny of her riches- she's left her cast wealth and the castle to her 'barely sane' stepsister Jenny. In your face, crazy husband!

After he's killed them, Stephen gets his mad scientist on- he cuts up their bodies, preserving their hearts in a tank full of liquid. He cremates the remains and uses the ashes as a home-made Miracle Gro on his houseplants. He also gives his faithful helper Solange a transfusion with Muriel's blood. Somehow this restores Solange's youthful appearance, and she and Stephen are at long last able to be lovers. Eww.

Because he's a greedy bastard, Stephen ends up marrying Muriel's stepsister Jenny (also played by Barbara Steele- this time in a blonde wig!) with the hopes that he can push her over the edge into raging insanity. He can then have her locked up, take control of all her money, and live happily with Solange.

After he brings her home, Jenny immediately begins having freaky experiences. She hears heartbeats, laughter, and sees blood dripping from the weird houseplants. She has trippy, creepy nightmares about the murder in which she assumes the role of Muriel. Is she going crazy?

Because he needs a doctor to stamp "INSANE" on her hand before he can ship her off, Stephen calls in Jenny's psychiatrist, Dr. Joyce (Laurence Clift) to make a diagnosis. This is where Nightmare Castle loses some steam. The spooky dreams are no longer shown, but rather just talked about. Solange and Stephen have alot of arguments and spend their time plotting their next steps. Stephen tries to kill Dr. Joyce with an electrified bathtub, but only succeeds in accidentally killing the poor butler.

Things pick up again for a fast and furious finale, however. Solange's original transfusion is starting to wear off and it's making her sick...she says her blood is cold and heavy and painful, like mercury. Stephen hooks both her and Jenny up to the Tranfuse-O-Meter (unfortunately, that's just my name for it), killing two birds with one stone: keeping Solange young and getting rid of Jenny at the same time.

Meanwhile, Dr. Joyce finds the tank containing the hearts of David and Muriel. As he sets the tank on a table the lovers return, all grossified and ready for action in a sequence that reminded me of the "Something to Tide You Over" sequence from Creepshow.

Muriel, now half-lovely and half-grody, seeks her vengeance on Stephen. She states her intention to treat him to what she calls the "torment to ecstacy", which apparently just means she's gonna set him on fire. Bye bye, mad scientist!

It's up to David to finish off Solange, which he does quite easily: he unhooks her from the Tranfuse-O-Meter, which...somehow...speeds up the aging process, turning her in to a skeleton right there on the table!

Dr. Joyce rushes into the lab, grabs Jenny, and chucks the disembodied hearts into the burning fireplace. The ghosts of David and Muriel disappear, and all is well in Nightmare Castle.

The first and last 15 minutes of this flick were great- there was some startling imagery, some creepy sequences, some interesting notions about the nature of life and death, and enough gore to be intriguing without being explicit or gross. The film really suffers in the middle hour or so when the pace slows to a crawl. It's unfortunate, because it keeps Nightmare Castle from being the great old gothic horror movie it could have been. What we have here, folks, is a Tiiffany. I give it 5 out of 10 hearts afire.


Anonymous said...

Well as you may know, I'm extremely biased about Babsie so I love this flick like crazy. It does tend to creep in the middle though... alot. I think Heidi called this film "unwatchable"... LOL. I'd love to see the rare full length uncut European version someday.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you, Stacie.

I saw this movie a month or so back, and was quite impressed with the storyline and the movie's general effectiveness. Sure, the beginning and the end are the strong points of the film, but the middle holds up nicely as well. I enjoyed watching as Stephen tries to drive his new wife Jenny crazy by making her think her sister (who is also his former wife, Muriel) is haunting her, just to inherit all the money. It sure doesn't help that Jenny was just released from a mental institution, which causes her (and the audience) to doubt her sanity.

Barbara Steele is the real star of this film, playing both Muriel and Jenny wonderfully! I also enjoyed the rest of the cast that rounded out this neat movie. I do think the title is misleading though. "Nightmare Castle" just doesn't seem to fit with the action. All in all, this was a surprisingly effective old-school haunting movie!

Sorry, Stac, but I loved this movie! I would have given it at least a 7.5 (up to an 8.5) out of 10, and I usually don't even like older horror movies.

Stacie Ponder said...

I did like Nightmare Castle for sure- I certainly wouldn't call it 'unwatchable' by any stretch. I've read that the American version is hacked up to bits. An uncut version would be sweet!

I thought the middle section, the "trying to drive Jenny crazy", just wasn't enough. They didn't really do too much to convince her, other than the Earring Incident. I would've liked more scenarios to convince her (and the doctor) that she was going mad- I saw the same idea carried out further a week ago in Dominique. I wanted more noises and creepy dreams and whatnot.

Good flick, though, and yeah- Barbara Steele was great. She really made each character different.

Rochester Swift said...

The main problem with Nightmare Castle is the young doctor... he's tedious beyond belief. Being a very red blooded middle aged goth type, though, I have to clean up a bucket of drool whenever I watch a young Barbara Steele. The latest Bluray releases make this a film for shutter bugs to study more than goths to enjoy, since the atmosphere is Castle of Otranto on steroids, although one would assume there's a fair bit of overlap in those two demographics, nudge nudge wink wink.

Joe said...

You have awful taste. NIGHTMARE CASTLE is a slow-burning Gothic horror classic. Not to mention the quadruple combo cast: the great Barbara Steele, the alluring Helga Liné, the seething Paul Muller and the incandescent Barbara steele once again!

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks Joe, that's the kind of comment I live for <3