Black and White film plays better when it’s grey outside. I don’t know what it is. Late night counts as well and I find myself often reaching for a Gothic classic around midnight. Last night was no exception since I was home and it seemed the right night for Nightmare Castle.
Barbara Steele plays Muriel, who taunts her Husband Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller), in his laboratory before he is set to leave town. He is apparently away often and she expresses her displeasure with the situation. As he walks out he entrusts his groundskeeper David (Rik Battaglia) to care for her and care for her he does. Since her husband is never home, Muriel has been making due with the super manly hired help. The elderly maid Solange sees them as they go out to the green house. Well her husband Stephen was waiting for this and returns to bash them in the head before chaining them up and torturing them.
It appears that this whole marriage is over money. Muriel has it and Stephen wants it. She attempts to buy time by telling him that he is no longer the beneficiary of her estate but that she has in fact signed everything over to her mentally unbalanced sister. This stops him momentarily but he’s not done yet. Hatching a plan with the maid, he ties Muriel to the bed and fondles her while her lover watches. Gaining some satisfaction in that, he precedes with the nights main attractions including acid torture, electrocution and cremation.
Sometime later he returns with a new wife, Muriel’s blonde sister Jenny (also Barbara Steele), much to the chagrin of Solange, who is now the young and super-hot Helga Line. The Dr. has been doing some blood experiments that reversed her age and keep her young. I’ll say this; “mad” scientists tend to get results. Dr. Stephen works his mojo and continues his life at the swingingest castle in Italy. Soon Jenny starts having dreams where she exchanges places with her dead sister, each day pushing her closer to the breaking point. Is she going crazy or is Muriel’s ghost taking over her body?
Nightmare Castle delivers on the atmosphere thanks to Director Mark Caiano and Cinematographer Enzo Barboni, who works the doom and gloom element with great skill. You can’t help but feel a little of what Jenny is feeling. By the way, if those feelings of creepiness seem familiar, it may be because the castle used for filming is the same location as Barbara’s taboo breaking: “The Horrible Dr. Hichcock”
Barbara Steele is excellent as usual in the duo roles of sisters Muriel and Jenny. This film showcases her unique beauty as both blonde and brunette, adding a new dimension to her famously captivating eyes. Helga Line, not being one to be shut out of the sex appeal category, conveys so with her eyes and body language, having to perform most of her scenes in a conservative black outfit.
Paul Muller is absolutely hate able as greedy scientist Stephen Arrowsmith. In fact, he reminds me of Dr. Hichcock. Barbara’s characters seem to always marry weasels don’t they?
Lawrence Clift as true love interest, Dr. Dereck Joyce is thwarted by Arrowsmith at every attempt but still manages to come off as a hero. That takes skill (or luck).
The film, like most of Barbara’s euro horror opuses, is more stage play than film, a small cast and limited sets that make the most of atmosphere and the promise of impending doom.
It may not be Mario Bava, but Nightmare Castle is worthy of its actors talents and one more reason that we love this kind of film.