Cinema Sunday: Nightmare Castle (1965)

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Title: Nightmare Castle

Distributor: Allied Artists Pictures (U.S.)

Writers: Mario Caiano, Fabio De Agostini,

Director: Mario Caiano

Producer: Carlo Caiano

Starring: Barbara Steele, Lawrence Clift, Paul Miller, Helga Line

Released: July 1965 (Italy)

MPAA: UR

 

Taking a break from the Boris Karloff addiction, and roaming across the seas for a look at one of my favorite scream queens of all time, Barbara Steele! A while ago I reviewed Black Sunday, another film starring Miss Steele, and that one was a product of the late, great Mario Bava. This film didn’t have his legendary vision, but I’ll bet it will surprise you! Alright, let’s get down to business!

 

The film starts with a mad scientist guy experimenting on frogs. A beautiful woman approaches, and we find out then that Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) is on the precipice of a break through. His wife, Muriel (Barbara Steele), taunts him, as he’s about to leave on a trip to a science conference. The maid interrupts their little spat, and then later, Stephen leaves in a carriage. Before he leaves, he leaves instructions with the gardener, David (Rik Battaglia), that he needs to take care of a few things while he’s gone.

 

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After he leaves, David comes into the house and at this time we find out that he and Muriel have had an affair. As they run to the greenhouse to make whoopie, they’re both seen by the maid, and she has a sinister look on her face. The two begin making out in the greenhouse, but before things can get to crazy, they’re surprised by Stephen. Apparently he knew something was up and faked his departure earlier. He smashes the gardener over the head with a poker, then the next time we see the trio, Stephen has the two adulterers chained up in the basement, and is whipping the beejeesus out of them.

 

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As the torture is continuing, Muriel tells him that she knew that he was a beast, so she tore up the old will she had made that bequeathed everything to him, and made a new one that leaves every penny to her sister (who’s apparently mentally unstable).  Stephen then tries to get Muriel to tell him where the will is, and that if she does, he’ll not kill her and things can go back to normal. She refuses of course, and then we see him and the maid, Solange (Helga Liné), trying to formulate a plan. They resolve that they’ll kill the two in the basement, and then set their sights on the sister.

 

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He concocts a plan, and then executes it. He ties Muriel to the bed, then drops some acid on her! He then releases her boyfriend, who lunges to her side. At that moment, he electrocutes the two of them! Time passes, and we see Stephen continuing his experiments. He uses the blood from his dead wife and her lover to reverse the aging process on the maid, Solange (who’s now beautiful, and not old and decrepit).

 

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The scene changes again (some time passes I believe), and the carriage approaches the home. We now see Solange, as she comes outside to greet Muriel’s sister, Jenny (Steele again, but now blond, instead of her trademarked jet-black hair). Solange is startled at the uncanny resemblance of the girl, but also the fact that Stephen is with her, and announces that the two were married just this morning. The two then set out to drive Jenny insane, and then they’ll have the family fortune all to themselves. Stephen and Solange think they have Jenny trapped like a fly in the web of a spider…but what they don’t realize is that sometimes the spider becomes the fly, and can become the victim as well!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one that fits into the category of being better than it gets credit for. Of course you’ll have those that will say it’s cheesy, or cheap, or that it lacks quality in certain areas. While that may be true at times, you cannot deny the foundation of the film, which is the actors. Barbara Steele does a great job in her dual role (actually triple role, but I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself). She really has a knack for playing someone who is truly sinister. Between this film and Black Sunday, she should be mentioned in the same breath as the other female horror greats that have graced the screen.

The film is also slightly esoteric, but this is part of its charm (and all movies of this type). Some get put-off by dubbing, but this film does a decent job compared to some atrocities that are out there. The home where the film largely takes place, is atmospheric enough to lend some weight to help things along. A mediocre sound track also helps in a couple of spots as well. The two leading ladies are nothing short of gorgeous (images below), and that is something this era is spectacularly known for, and is expected by fans. Murder, betrayal, possession, ghosts, torture, you name it, you get it all in this must see film for any Barbara Steele fan!

 

Click here for the trailer (even though I believe the film is public domain)!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Macabre (1958)

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Title: Macbre

Distributor: Allied Artists

Writer: Robb White

Director: William Castle

Producer: William Castle

Starring: William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White, Jacqueline Scott, Susan Morrow

Released: March 1958

MPAA: Approved

 

As I march thru the holiday season, there are a couple more flicks I want to get out of the way. This one by William Castle and company is at the top of my list. For those who haven’t seen this film, you’re in for a treat. Imagine if you got home one day, and your child was missing. You frantically run through your entire house, but the child is nowhere to be found. A sinister voice over a phone tells you something nightmarish, and voilà, you have an incredible thriller! Oh, and when you see a familiar face as one of the main characters, try not to laugh! OK, here we go…

 

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The film begins with a funeral parlor director giving a statement to the sheriff (Jim Backus, yes, from Gilligan’s Island!) about how his establishment was broken into. He tells the sheriff that it was a child’s coffin, but the sheriff seems to think the man is probably trying to pull an insurance scam to pay off gambling debts. He then sees a man get out of a car across the street, and you can tell he’s got bad intentions towards the man. We are then introduced to Dr.Rod Barrett (William Prince), as he’s verbally accosted by the sheriff, who seems to have it in for him. Why? Because apparently the Doc won the affections of a woman who the  sheriff also loved (Alice, the Doc’s wife who died). The sheriff advises him to get out of town, but the Doc tells him to get lost, then heads inside to his office.

 

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Inside the office, we meet the Doc’s secretary, Polly Baron (Jacqueline Scott). She’s prettying herself up for the Doc, as she seems to be smitten with him. He enters the office and she lights up like a Christmas tree. They talk briefly about the sheriff, but the Doc (with Polly in-tow) eventually heads out and to his home. Once there, he looks for his daughter, who was with his girlfriend all afternoon, but returned home safely. The nanny, Miss Kushins (Ellen Corby), informs him that his daughter is probably just hiding, and that’s why he can’t find her. He frantically searches for her, but to no avail. He thinks maybe she’s gone back to his girlfriend’s house, so he heads over to her place. He arrives but she’s not there either, and he has a brief conversation with Sylvia Stevenson (Susan Morrow), but returns home quickly.

 

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Just before he reaches his home though, the telephone rings. Polly answers, rushing in front of the nanny. She gets a horrified look on her face, and then begins screaming at the caller. The Doc rushes in, and asks her what’s going on. She tells him that the unidentified caller told her that the Doc’s three-year old daughter has been kidnapped, and buried alive. They only have a few hours before she runs out of air, and dies. Polly, the Nanny, and the Doc are trying to piece together this insane assault on his family, but cannot figure it out. The Doc thinks she must be buried in the graveyard, so he and Polly head over there to try to find her. Meanwhile, the nanny goes to the grandfather (the Doc’s father-in-law), to inform him of the incident, even after the Doc requested she not tell him due to a bad heart condition he has recently acquired. She tells him what’s going on, and you can tell by his demeanor that he’s not going to take this lying down.

 

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Over at the graveyard, Polly and the Doc are still trying to piece this together while searching the area. They seem to feel like they’re being watched, and Polly tells him numerous times that she heard and saw something in the brush nearby. They see a fresh grave, so they begin digging. A few minutes in, and the Doc realizes it’s a ruse. They then head over to a crypt of the family’s but it’s so full of cobwebs, you know it hasn’t been disturbed in years. They get surprised by the grave keeper, but explain to him they’re not grave robbers. Jode Wetherby (the grandfather, real name Philip Tonge), surprises the grave keeper, and accidentally kills him. Polly rushes him back to the Doc’s house, where he accuses the nanny of possibly being the abductor.

 

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Is it the nanny, the sheriff, or another enemy of the Doc or Wetherby family? Find this movie and get the answers to this riddle!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one film for the time that was pretty morbid and outlandish. Think about it, the year is 1958, and most of us weren’t even in a dream in momma’s head yet. William Castle can be called nothing less than a revolutionary in the film industry. Yes, most will remember him for the gimmicks (this film had one- an insurance policy because you might die of fright! – image below), and rightly so, but dig deeper, and watch these films, and you’ll see the substance is there.

 

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Believe it or not, Jim Backus plays an incredible heel in this film. Most will remember him as Thurston Howell III, from Gilligan’s Island, of course, but put that role out of your head, because this is nothing like that show. William Prince does a good job portraying a tortured soul, and the frantic father. The supporting cast is above average, and we get a great mystery with a few red herrings to throw you off the scent. A couple of beautiful starlets are a treat as well (images below)!

Get out there and find this flick, you wont regret the time spent watching this thriller!

 

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Click here for the trailer!