Aka ….. Horror Castle.
In finely dubbed fashion, the iconic Christopher Lee, takes third billing below Rossana Podesta and Georges Riviere in this post world war two tale that plays like a gothic era creeper from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe. All with the co-operation of the prolific, Antonio Margheriti, behind the camera. Billed once again under his North American pseudonym, Anthony Dawson.
Filmed in color, the film looks fabulous on the DVD released a number of years ago by Shriek Show. It begins as many gothic horrors do. A thunderstorm, lighting flashing through the castle windows, dimly lit halls and a beautiful woman in her negligee holding a candelabra trying to find the source of the cries and screams she hears echoing in the long darkened castle hallways. She’ll find herself in a torture chamber that houses many medieval devices including an Iron Maiden with a pool of blood forming at its feet. Time for that first full on scare tactic when a woman’s body is found within. Bloody and missing her eyes thanks to the inner spikes on the closing doors. As brave as she is our leading lady screams and loses consciousness soon to awaken in her bed surrounded by her hubby, Riviere, and a local doctor who prescribes a sedative.
Riviere has returned to his ancestral home with his new bride, Podesta. An ancient castle with a history of it’s own. One of Riviere’s ancestors was known as The Punisher. A hooded figure who tortured many a nubile virgin within the castle walls. Now the castle serves as a museum hence the torture chamber that Miss Podesta believes is still in use. No one believes her yet her husband does seem to be hiding something. Just as he soothes her weary nerves, in walks the castle caretaker at 6 foot 4 clad in black and sporting a disfigured face, the awesomeness that is Christopher Lee. Her initial reaction is one of fright but under that stern cold expression might there beat a sympathetic heart?
I’ll point out at this time that the print I have has Lee dubbed by another voice but I will say that at least it’s a baritone and might fool the novice film fan. Lee’s caretaker was disfigured in the war and had been an aide to Riviere’s father who has now passed on. Lee has since stayed on at the castle and transferred his loyalties to the next in line. While Lee may or not be a red herring, someone is running through the castle halls dressed in the Phantom’s red velvet outfit with the black hood to match. Then again, Riviere, is playing it shifty with his wife as well so perhaps he’s the killer that no one wants to admit exists. That includes Laura Nucci as a creepy Den Mother amongst the castle servants.
Another night, another phantom sighting and still in her negligee, Podesta, fights back. When the gloved Phantom attempts to break into her room, she plunges a knife through the gloved hand eliciting a loud scream and a retreat by her would be attacker.
“It’s not a ghost if it bleeds.”
Podesta proves to be more than just a damsel in distress. She’s a fighter and a savior to an intended victim that the Phantom has made off with in the night. Following the screams once again, Podesta, discovers the catacombs beneath the castle and is witness to the hooded Phantom attempting to tie a cage to a woman’s face with a large hungry rat within. Not a pretty sight and like a 1960’s Sigourney Weaver, Podesta will come in ready to kill swinging a hammer. The Phantom runs off and our heroine saves a life though the poor young girl has suffered a bloody gash or two to the nose. Things are going to become further complicated when she sees Riviere and Lee carrying what appears to be a woman’s corpse into the caves below the castle.
While Podesta is trying to learn the truth about her husband’s nocturnal activities an elderly looking gent is closely watching the activities at the castle. He proves to be an F.B.I. agent which sends the film in a slightly different direction and even imports some black and white footage from WW2 featuring Adolf Hitler.
While I can’t say I wholeheartedly enjoyed the final twist down the stretch I must say this is a well made shocker and beautifully lit and photographed. Lovely Rossana Podesta never became a “name” on this side of the pond though she did make an appearance in the 1954 Kirk Douglas adventure, Ulysses, and scored the title role for Warner Bros. 1956 big budgeted epic, Helen of Troy. One more big time leading man was Alan Ladd in 56’s Santiago. The again maybe you’ll know her from Tab Hunter’s The Golden Arrow released in 1962. For the record, Podesta’s husband, Marco Vicario, served as the Producer on The Virgin of Nuremberg and would also feature her in some other titles of the sword and sandal variety among others.
Riviere would also turn up in Margheriti’s superior thriller, Castle of Blood, opposite the one and only Barbara Steele released in 1964. Then there’s Christopher Lee. A man who needs no introduction to fans of classic cinema, specifically horror cinema. He seemed to be in his “Italian Period” at this time. Crypt of the Vampire, Katsaris, Virgin of Nuremberg, Castle of the Living Dead and the unforgettable Mario Bava thriller, The Whip and the Body. All released in 1963/64.
Then there’s the director, Margheriti, who like Lee one could write an entire book about. The man specialized in cult favorites and genre pictures that are still enjoyed and sought out to this day. I’ll let you do the research yourselves but will mention he worked with the likes of Klaus Kinski, Yul Brynner, Lee Van Cleef and the previously mentioned Barbara Steele. His stock certainly went up to those of us who knew just who Brad Pitt was claiming to be when cornered by Christoph waltz in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
If you like these Italian thrillers in the Gothic vein or just need to see everything that Sir Christopher appeared in, be sure to catch this one.