It’s only been about thirty years since I’ve seen this effective creeper when it played City TV out of Toronto on a late night airing. It scared the hell out of me back then and I had no idea at the time that it was my introduction to Euro horrors. It’s stayed with me after all these years and though I recalled very little of the actual film let alone it’s perverted subject material, it’s the impression that it had upon me that has remained to this day. I suspect a lot of the films we see and thrill us in our younger years do the same.
Fog, eerie music, a grave digger and a mysterious figure appear in the opening scene followed by the credits that proudly display the Queen of Horror’s name, Barbara Steele. It’s during that opening clip that 1962’s viewers were about to see the depravities of necrophilia that this Ricardo Fredda directed feature under his pseudonym, Robert Hampton hinted at. It’s London of 1885 and noted Doctor Hichcock played by Robert Flemyng has a beautiful wife that allows him to engage in some risqué sexual escapades for any era. She freely allows him to administer a drug that puts her in a deathlike state which leads to a warped sexual fantasy of necrophilia that is hinted at before the film cuts to the next scene. Upon the next sexual go around, things go deathly wrong and his beloved Margareta dies of an overdose. Distraught after the funeral, Flemyng leaves his estate not returning for a dozen years with a new wife in tow, Miss Barbara Steele.
From the onset of Steele’s arrival this becomes a spooky haunted house thriller. She’ll arrive on a stormy night that will see doors blown open by gale force winds, creaking door knobs turning ever so slowly, a hag of a housekeeper and a mysterious woman in white walking about in the thundering storm. Those wonderful eyes of Miss Steele will be all aglow with terror as the camera focuses in on her wonderfully contoured facial features.
Returning to the old homestead has brought back those hidden sexual urges of hubby Flemyng with his overwhelming taste for the deceased. It’s brought to stark realism when he loses a young patient on the operating table and can’t stay out of the morgue where her body has been placed in cold storage. His young assistant, Silvano Tranquilli is beginning to suspect the good doctor has more on his mind than saving lives. His role is a very Mark Damon styled one and reminiscent of the role Damon played in The House of Usher. Could he become the protector/saviour of the fair damsel, Steele who is herself soon to be in life threatening peril?
Not only is Steele going to be seeing the ghostlike woman in white but when Flemyng does as well, the thrills are going to escalate in Fredda’s outstanding tale of terror and a level of sexual perversity not seen in many films I can recall looking back to this era though I guess each decade had it’s boundaries being put to the limit. After all, Lugosi hoped to mate his gorilla Erik with that of the fair lady, Sidney Fox in Murders in the Rue Morgue. An idea that I’m sure had audiences of 1932 aghast in horror.
At a running time of 77 minutes, this version released at long last on blu ray by Olive Films appears to be the shorter of two versions that terrorized theater goers in vivid color at the time. The shorter, trimmed version for the North American market and it shows with some obvious quick cuts and a few scenes that don’t quite come together. I’d love to see the longer version turn up but that didn’t stop me from eating this thriller up. It’s in color and Steele looks dynamic with candelabra in hand, deep in the bowels of the estate’s subterranean passages with creaky iron gates to push her way through. It’s all going to culminate in a squeamishly blood filled finale featuring the main characters of our story.
Not only is the film wonderfully photographed but the score from Roman Vlad is very Hammer like and works fine as it compliments the on screen thrills that continue to come at the viewers and Miss Steele. Steele would reteam with her director Fredda for another go around in the horror genre the following year starring in The Ghost (Lo spettro). As for this Horrible tale, I found it to be very representative of the horror films that were being produced at the time in Italy and one I wholeheartedly enjoyed. Even without the scenes that had been trimmed for us folks who couldn’t possibly bare to see the depraved practices of the good Doctor Hichcock.
While I may not have seen this lurid shocker in more years than I care to admit, I did indeed secure an original one sheet years ago that I’ve unearthed here in the vault at Mike’s Take. A nice addition to the collection here at home and notice it also advertises an early Jess Franco thriller across the bottom as an added feature. Now that’s a BONUS!