Sunday, 30 August 2015

Blu-ray Review: Videodrome (Arrow Video)

"Better on TV than on the street"

Viewing "Videodrome" at the cinema in 1983 was an overwhelming experience, and David Cronenberg's visionary film has lost none of its power some three decades later.
James Woods plays Max Renn; a cable TV hustler with an eye for tougher programming. His bosses feel anything with "too much class is bad for sex", and a presentation of a series titled "Samurai Dreams" is deemed to be too soft as far as unshakeable Max is concerned. Enter Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) - 'pirate of the high frequencies' who has worked with Max for "ten wonderful years". Harlan plays Max a 53 second feed of a TV series called "Videodrome" which consists of women being tortured in front of an electrified clay wall. Harlan declares the footage probably originates from Malaysia, and promises Max he'll secure additional footage very soon.
Max meets Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) on a TV talk show and begins a relationship that is charged with Nicki's sadomasochistic tendencies. They watch a Videodrome tape recorded by Harlan, and Nicki is turned on by very extreme clips which is now identified as coming from Pittsburgh. To Max's horror, Nicki decides to audition for a show where no-one gets to come back next week, leaving her lover to track down the origins of what is essentially snuff TV.
Media prophet Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley), his daughter Bianca (Sonya Smit) and the shadowy Cathode Ray mission plunge Max into a terrifying world driven by extreme hallucinations which lead to Barry Convex (Les Carlson) whose 'Spectacular Optical' company harbours a dangerous philosophy.

David Cronenberg's exploration of the mind/body split has realised some challenging and disquieting films, with "Videodrome" a prime example of a director at the top of his game.Of course, the director's rich vein of form was splendidly supported by a regular group of technicians: Ronald Sanders, Carol Spier, Mark Irwin and Howard Shore amongst the people who contributed so much to the look and sound of his films. Cronenberg's direction of actors greatly added to the texture of his work, and Woods and Harry in particular are excellent;the former being onscreen for practically the entire film, as his character experiences mind-bending hallucinations, courtesy of a programme that creates a new part of the brain. Perhaps one of the scariest implications of Videodrome is the hallucinations are perhaps triggered by their victims own depraved fantasies. This really is visionary filmmaking, with several aspects now reality (and some that soon will be), although "Videodrome" was not well received by many of its audience back in 1983.
It was simply too far ahead of its time for many people, but has taken the status of cult movie on the home video circuit.
Like many Cronenberg films, it's not for the squeamish, but paid-up members of the cinema of unease have been amply rewarded by a film that defies the law of diminishing returns. Mark Irwin's inventive photography and lighting; Rick Baker's superb special effects and Howard Shore's doom-laden score combine to form a visual and aural landscape for Cronenberg's small-screen nightmares to work their wholly unsettling magic.

Arrow Video's limited edition Blu-ray numbering 3,000 units sold out within days of release, though there will likely be a re-issue in the near future including the extensive supplementary features but excluding the "Stereo" and "Crimes Of The Future" films and a 100 page hardback book which contains writing from Brad Stevens (on the alternate versions of this film) and Justin Humphreys who looks at the film in a modern context.
Image quality here is a revelation, especially for those of us who have been privy to Universal's cut UK Blu-ray release. The difference is considerable with an increase in sharpness, detail and colour composition.
My first port of call with regard to bonus material was Tim Lucas' audio commentary. Tim was the only journalist onset for the shoot (working for Cinefantastique magazine) and this track (re-recorded when additional material came to light) contains valuable information, observations and anecdotes covering the production. As usual, Tim provides background information on the cast, and is in a position to tell us what was shot on a particular date as well as scenes that were in the script but were never shot. He draws parallels between today's social media and O'Blivion's prediction that everyone will have their own number; talks about the locations used; discusses the actors on and off-screen and tells of a telephone interview with Harry who he'd first seen fronting Blondie on an Iggy Pop tour. Tim also suggests "Tales Of Ordinary Madness" would make for an interesting double-bill with "Videodrome". Another excellent commentary track that begs to be listened to more than once.

'Cinema Of The Extreme' (21m 4s)
Broadcast by the BBC in 1997, this Nick Freand documentary features Cronenberg, George A Romero and Alex Cox. Cronenberg talks about censors; the character of Brian O'Blivion and imagery in his films. Cox chats about Cronenberg's films and recalls the first time he saw "Shivers", while Romero confesses to being worried by some of the images he puts out and talks about his biggest problem with Horror cinema.

'Forging The New Flesh' (27m 44s)
A documentary by the late Michael Lennick who explores Videodrome's video and prosthetic effects. Rick Baker, Frank Carere (physical effects supervisor), Bill Sturgeon (makeup effects crew) and David Coatsworth (location manager) all contribute, as the documentary explores the creation of prosthetics and the race to the Xmas deadline which involved working horrendously long days.

'Fear On Film' (25m 40s)
Shot in 1982, this round table discussion is hosted by Mick Garris, and features Cronenberg, John Landis and John Carpenter. The trio discuss the use of special effects; the classification system; why Horror is so popular and audience reaction at test screenings.

'Samurai Dreams' (4m47s)
The complete and uncensored cut, with commentary from Michael Lennick.
We learn about the source which inspired this footage and get to see two gatecrashes to this extended private party.

Helmet Camera Test (4m45s)
A look at Max's headset which served the purpose of recording his hallucinations.
Here, Cronenberg experiments with different levels of murkiness, and there's reaction shots which include the divine Ms Harry clowning around.

Why Betamax (1m 11s)
The defeated champion of the video age, and exactly the right size for certain scenes in the film

Promotional Featurette (7m 5s)
Interviews with Rick Baker, Deborah Harry and James Woods who explains how Cronenberg sold the film to him.

Mark Irwin (26m 27s). Recorded earlier this year, Irwin talks about how he began work as a projectionist; the first couple of features he worked on; the art of lighting a set and Cronenberg's feelings towards storyboards.
Pierre David (producer) 10m 20s
David talks about Deborah Harry; the challenges posed by how to sell the movie; a disasterous test screening and how "Videodrome" was way ahead of its time.
Dennis Etchison (16m 45s)
Here, the author discusses his novelisation and his observations on the script. He explains why he finds Horror a more forgiving and welcoming branch of literature and talks about metting Cronenberg for the first time.

"Camera" (6m 42s)
Made in 2000 to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Toronto International Film Festival. This marked Les Carlson's 4th collaboration with Cronenberg, and another instantly memorable one.
Here, he appears on a camera operated by children who capture him reflecting that his best days are behind him. A dream in which he caught a virus from a movie and thoughts on ageing and death and the acting process make this an ingenious and immensely moving short.

'Pirate Signals: The Last Broadcast' (25m47s)
This comprises of 16 deleted scenes from the TV broadcast, which have been digitised from the best available copy.
These segments make for fascinating viewing, and include Max being offered a choice of meals at the Cathode Ray mission and asking to watch Channel 83; a video love letter from Nicki and a limo pick-up; Max catching a very different relection of himself in a store window and a memorable TV epilogue.
Two trailers for the film (4m35s) round off a immensely satisfying package that stands out in a year of rich UK home video releases.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Next Up On Wonderland

Blu-ray Review: Around The World With Orson Welles (BFI)

In 1955, Orson Welles was approached to write and direct a series of programmes to be filmed in various European countries. Welles was invited to present the series which would number six episodes and mark his first television production.
The opening episode - Pays Basque 1 -(26m 7s) is set in the Basque region, close to the Spanish border, populated by locals who are "not quite civilised" according to Welles. The Basques have lived in their territory longer than anyone else in Europe, but haven't done an awful lot, declares Welles. He talks to a villager who spent 23 years in America, and thwen returned to marry a local woman. While he loved many aspects of American life, the pull of home turf was way too strong to resist. Welles talks about the richness of living in more than one country, and interviews an American author who settled in the Basque region and loves the independence and the fact that everyone knows everyone else. This region contains much to impress our presenter who acknowledges the softening of life by machinery is a danger in many places in the world, but certainly doesn't apply here.

The second episode - Pays Basque II La Pelete Basque (26m 38s) - captures the Basque people at play, focusing on the energetic game of Pelete which has spawned great tennis champions: think Squash played with hands rather than rackets.
It's a tough sport to be sure, with badly bruised hands the norm and quite enjoyable to watch.
We also learn more about the community, where men and women sit separately in church and accept and integrate foreigners into their flock. As fireworks light up the night sky, we are left to reflect on a way of life which is uncomplicated and rather appealing in many ways.

Revisiting Vienna (27m 32s)was long thought to be lost, and begins with that wonderful music from "The Third Man". Here, Welles goes back to several locations from the aforementioned classic such as the Cafe Mozart, and finds the whole pace of life has changed. Expresso shops had elbowed coffee houses, but the wonderful pastry shops and their eternal customers and staff have thankfully remained. The elegance and overwhelming air of romance in this great city are amplified by Welles' interviews and roving camera. This is worth the admission price alone.

Saint-Germain-Des-Pres (26m 35s) takes a look at a colourful character in one of the oldest parts of Paris.
Raymond Duncan is an American and one of the oldest inhabitants here. His philosophy is simple: "Make everything you need for yourself and not need what you cannot make". Raymond believes paying money for something is a polite way of stealing, and attempts to carve out a living by sculptures, printing books and making clothes. "Never do what everybody does" was his Grandmother's advice and it certainly seems to have stood him in good stead.
Letterism, Jean Cocteau, Eddie Constantine and Juliette Greco all crop up during this stimulating episode.

London - The Queen's Pensioners (27m 40s) shifts the camera to our capital city, beginning with an interview that turns the spotlight on a group of widows who live in Alms Houses that were built in 1666.
These sprightly ladies are very comfortable in each others company, but don't feel the need to share a meal table: personal space is very important to them. Welles talks movingly about the dark side of old age, but it's pleasing to see that none of the ladies adopt a glass half empty approach to their final years. One is a relative of the Warner Brothers and , like the others, lights up the camera with her thoughts and outlook.
The final 11 minutes of this episode are given over to the Chelsea Pensioners: heroes who discuss their uniforms; the fact that their pensions are given over for their keep, and the horrors of war. They all live together and yet manage to enjoy privacy at the same time We could all learn a lot from everyone involved in this episode.

Spain - The Bullfight (27m 40s) is presented by Mr & Mrs Kenneth Tyson, with a cigar-smoking Welles enthusing about the excitement generated by this 'sport'. We see the training of matadors; the manufacture of costumes; the infirmary for matadors who get too close to the bull and, of course, the main event which Welles declares is the only thing in Spain that's punctual. It's a spectacle to some and a barbaric pursuit to others: those in the latter camp will doubtless gain pleasure at the sight of a matador falling foul of the business end of an enraged bull.

The extras begin with "The Dominici Affair By Orson Welles" (53m 59s).
In 1954, an English couple and their 10-year old daughter were murdered while camping on the outskirts of the French village of Lors in August 1955. This is a documentary and partial reconstruction of Welles' unfinished episode, "The Tragedy Of Lors".
Local farmer Gaston Dominici was convicted of the murders in 1957 and sentenced to death, but was this a miscarriage of justice? Christophe Cognet's documentary is a completed version of this episode, containing interviews with key local figures, and technicians who worked with Welles on this project.
The original script was used to assist this documentary (Welles commentary being lost), which is an absorbing investigation into a dreadful crime.
An alternative theory as to the murderer's identity is suggested, and an event that caused Gaston cinsiderable stress is also taken into account.
It's a remarkable document, shot just after Dominici's trial, and a case that will now invite further speculation some six decades on.

The Levin Interview With Orson Welles (27m 52s)
Bernard Levin's 1967 interview with Welles begins with the great man declaring his radio work gave him the most satisfaction, and goes on to admit he didn't care too much for screen acting.
He talks about the problems faced by the British film industry - which frustratingly remain today - and how much he regretted not going into politics. "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons" also crop up, along with his belief that actors should be "out of their time".
This interview is a nice way to end a series of travelogues and documentaries that capture moments in time in some interesting places and allow us to get to know Welles that little bit better.

Image quality varies on this Blu-ray, with some episodes being sharper than others. Overall, it's fairly easy on the eye, with decent contrast.
The BFI have included a booklet with this dual format release, containing an essay by Ben Walters.
Highly recommended for Welles buffs.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Saragossa Manuscript (Mr Bongo)

"Evil spirits take on so many forms. It's really confusing."

Wojciech Has' 1965 film was based on a book written by Jan Potocki, titled "The Manuscript Found In Saragossa". This labyrinthine book was written in 1815. Running for over 600 pages, it covers a 65 day period of very strange events, and was set during Napoleon's invasion of Spain. Has' film condenses the stories into 5 days, and runs for just over 3 hours.
The likes of David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have all lavished praise on this film: indeed, Scorsese and Coppola took up the baton from The Greatful Dead's Jerry Garcia who sadly passed away before he could see it restored.
The film begins in Saragossa during the Napoleonic wars, when a retreating Captain seeks refuge in a bomb-damaged house. There, he encounters a rival soldier and together they begin to read a book written in Spanish. The hefty tome contains weird illustrations - two men hanging from gallows and two women in bed - and contains many stories. The central character is Alphonso Van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski from "Ashes And Diamonds") who is the grandfather of one of the men. Van Worden begins a journey to Madrid with two companions; a voyage of discovery destined to be interrupted by a series of bewildering events. After witnessing the sight of two hanging brothers, Van Worden arrives at an inn where he is invited to "a modest supper" by two sisters from Grenada. The women claim to be Moorish princesses and tell Van Worden he's their cousin, and is also last in the line of the Gonzalez clan.
Van Worden is asked to drink from a skull chalice and apparently falls asleep, waking up surrounded by skulls under the gallows.
"The Saragossa Manuscript" is a Chinese puzzle box, coming over as a Polish 'Arabian Nights', introducing new characters with stories to tell which reference previous names, faces and images.
It's very funny in places, with the humour fitting in beautifully. There's a long running gag about sword duels flaring up at the drop of a hat; an absolute nuisance of a hanger-on who always turns up at meal time and a priceless line that's extremely appropriate: "Do you think there should be a ladder under every window?"
There's also a group of weird and wonderful characters characters who seduce, inform and terrify Van Worden, including a hermit, a possessed man (who loses an eye in a stomach-churning incident), sexy succubi and a gypsy who plunges into a story that turns out to be four-layered.
There's more than a fair share of chills, too, with vanishing figures, ghostly tales and the preponderance of skulls reminding us the line between the living and the dead is wafer thin.

The 3 hour running time doesn't have an ounce of fat and actually flies by, such is the richness of its many tales. There are times when one wonders where the reality ends and fantasy begins, and that is the central theme of this compelling film. Of course, the myriad twists and turns mean there's an awful lot to take in on a single viewing, so repeat screenings are necessary in order to fully appreciate the depth of this work.
I did wonder, on a few occasions, whether additional scenes were shot but not included in the final cut: the sight of Van Worden appearing at a window with head injuries and no indication of how he received them is one such instance. We'll probably never know, but it certainly adds to the film's air of mystery.

Mr Bongo's Blu-ray presentation - it was previously available on DVD - marked my first viewing of this film, and most certainly not my last. Mreczyslaw Jahoda's stunning camerawork reveals rich monochrome imagery: the streets bathed in sunlight, and reverting to a shadowy domain when darkness falls; the mountains of Sierra Morena sometimes resembling human (?) faces carved in stone; a four poster bed in a flooded cave where tricks of the light make one's imagination run riot... these challenging, changing images all look splendid in a restoration that is crisp and detailed in high definition.
The score by Krzysztof Penderecki comes over beautifully via the mono soundtrack. Many of you will have heard excerpts from Penderecki's work via "The Shining", "The Exorcist" and "Inland Empire", and his style suits this film so very well.

"The Saragossaa Manuscript" will be available to purchase in the UK on 7th September. It's an all-region disc with English subtitles.
Those of you who enjoy challenging cinema with no easy answers are directed to indulge in its many delights.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

DVD Review/ dual format: Eyes Without A Face (BFI)

Georges Franju's second feature was released in 1960, and adapted from the novel by Jean Redon.
The film begins with a car journey that culminates with a lifeless body dumped in the River Seine. The driver of the vehicle is Louise (Alida Valli) who is acting on the instructions of Professor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur). His daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) suffered horrendous facial burns as a result of a car crash, with her drunken father at the wheel.
The Professor is called to the morgue, and misleads the authorities by identifying the corpse as his daughter. In fact, Genessier has been trying to restore his daughter's face by Heterograft: a surgical technique which involves the transplanting of living tissues from one human being to another. The Professor had already performed the same operation on Louise's face, and now she is charged with supplying young, beautiful women who are sedated for this stomach-churning procedure, while Stephane - her face covered by a skin-tight white mask - prowls her father's chateau like a phantom.
One such victim is Edna Gruber (Juliette Mayniel); a gorgeous Swiss lady who is picked up by Louise in a theatre queue, and offered a room in "a lovely neighbourhood". As the car stops at a railway crossing, Louise remarks Paris is less than
20 minutes away as a train flashes past, though for Edna, it may as well reside in another country.
With her unease steadily growing, Edna is chloroformed, and becomes the latest skin donor.
Franju's film may not have received the acclaim it deserved initially, but the passage of time has seen its reputation grow to become a classic.
Indeed, there are many directors who acknowledged Franju's work including Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Clive Barker, John Woo, Pedro Almodovar and - more recently - Leo Carax with the brilliant "Holy Motors" which also cast Edith Scob; this time as a chauffeur.
Scob is excellent here, delivering a physical performance from the confines of her mask, and displaying angelic beauty during the brief period when her skin is as it once was.
Brasseur is also on fine form, giving the mad scientist a wide berth, instead coming over as a grief-stricken father whose guilt compels him to makes amends for the accident and its grievous results.As for Valli... well, she's Valli. Impossibly gorgeous and drawing on her vast experience to play a woman who is in debt to such an extent that she'll do anything asked of her. Essentially, it's another agent of evil role for the actress, anticipating her work for Dario Argento in the next decade.

During a screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival, seven people fainted and the surgical procedure - with scalpel, pliers and a pencil used to graphic effect - is undoubtedly upsetting for those of a nervous disposition.
It may be grim subject matter, but "Eyes Without A Face" has moments of great poetic beauty and, some 55 years on, is still gaining new admirers to a truly fantastique landmark production.

This BFI release came to me in the form of a DVD. Here, "Eyes Without A Face" looks quite beautiful, faithfully relaying DOP Eugen Shufftan's luminous monochrome photography. Everything here looks crisp and clean with an abundance of fine detail.
The first item in the extras is a commentary track from Tim Lucas. Tim tells us the late, great Mario Bava admired Franju's film and identifies a scene which inspired a set-piece in "Blood And Black Lace". Tim also mentions two episodes of "The Twilight Zone" ("Eye Of The Beholder" and "The Afterhours") and talks about Jess Franco's "The Awful Dr. Orlof", later moving onto Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In"; another film influenced by Franju.
DOP Eugen Shufftan is also covered as Tim mentions "Metropolis", "Port Of Shadows" and "The Hustler".
We learn a great deal about Edith Scob; the novel and comic strip; Franju's short films and an amazing amount of background on several cast members. It's a stimulating experience from - in my opinion - the best in the business.

"Monsieur et Madame Curie" (13m 36s) is a 1953 short on the life and work of the Curie's, told through the words of Marie's book.
Nicole Stephane takes the role of Marie who was born in Warsaw and came to Paris to study science. There, she met Pierre Curie (Lucien Hubert) in 1895, and their experiments discovered a new phenomenon - radioactivity.
Working through tiring, challenging conditions, the pair eventually found the first proof of atomic weight, winning the Nobel Prize for physics. It's an interesting short, and an example of Franju's fine work outside of feature films.

"La Premiere Nuit" (18m 52s) is a 1958 short, in which a 10-year old boy spends a night in the Paris Metro.
The presence of a little girl is drawn to our attention early on, and we see her ascending the Metro steps as darkness falls. The hustle and bustle below ground makes this a fascinating place, with groups of people scurrying to get the last train that will take them to the comfort of home. When the throngs depart, however, The Metro takes on a different persona, with imagination running riot. We see, on several occasions, that same little girl who appears on slowly moving trains, looking straight at our central character, and evaporating into thin air at one point. Is she the deceased sister of the young boy, or perhaps a class mate who simply went home from school one day and didn't return? Whatever, it's a wholly unsettling experience, which perhaps places her in the group of ghostly children: a theme that would surface brilliantly in the work of Bava and Fellini further down the line. There's also a dream sequence to consider, which may well overturn any theories one may have initially formed.
"La Premiere Nuit" reminds me, in places, of Jean Rollin's "La Rose de fer", and is a work you may well return to on several occasions.

"Le Fleurs maldives de Georges Franju" (46m 21s) is an overview of the director's career, by Pierre-Henri Gilbert and shot in 2009.
Edith Scob sets the ball rolling, labelling "Eyes" as "a key film", and she's joined by Kate Ince who is the author of a book on Franju. Kate talks about Feuillade's films; the Edinburgh screening and Franju's career and methods. Cineaste Jean-Pierre Mocky and Franju's assistant Bernard Queysanne also appear, together with Claude Chabrol. The participants cover Franju's approach to actors; his methods of working and focus on "Eyes Without A Face". Edith Scob - looking so beautiful - makes some particularly valuable contributions, helping us to draw a picture of her director, and this lady returns for the final disc extra.

"For Your Eyes Only - an interview with Edith Scob" runs for 16m 40s and was shot in 2014.
Edith recalls her first meeting with Franju; talks about acting in a mask and explains why her isolation on the set helped with her role ; a point Tim Lucas makes in his commentary track.
She also acknowledges the help she received from Pierre Brasseur; talks about Alida Valli, and expresses her pleasure at being asked to appear in "Holy Motors". She also comments on the longevity of "Eyes Without A Face".
It's a great addition to an already impressive batch of extras, and a reminder of the great value of physical media. You don't get this added value with streaming films, and I'd like to think we'll all continue to support all those who take the time and incur expense to really take us inside a film and into the minds of those who helped create them.

The BFI have also included a booklet containing writing from Kate Ince, Isobel Stevens, Roberto Cueto Llera, Raymond Durgnat, Kevin Jackson and Michael Brooke.
The contributions include a look at Maurice Jarre's soundtrack; the handicaps faced by the director with regard to various restrictions and essays on the accompanying shorts. Highly recommended reading.

"Eyes Without A Face" is released by the BFI on 24th August in dual format.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Continental Review: New Blog In Town

My good friend Nigel Maskell has just unveiled "Continental Review". Many of you will know of Nigel's work from the mighty "Italian Film Review", and his new blog looks at the sweet and perverse world of European Cult Cinema.

You can keep abreast of updates to both blogs by checking out my blog list, but better still, put them both on your favourites list and check them out regularly.

So Far, Nigel has covered such delights as "Hunchback Of The Morgue", "Come Play With Me", "Sword And The Dragon", "The Sinful Dwarf" and "Seven Men And One Brain".

Just click HERE

Looking Back At Castle Of Blood

A smoky tavern somewhere in London plays host to a conversation between Edgar Allan Poe (Tranquili) and his friend Sir Thomas Blackwood (Raho). Poe's claim that his stories are all based on fact is overheard and challenged by English journalist Alan Foster (Riviere), who will soon accept a bet that he cannot survive an entire night at Blackwood's haunted castle. Each year, on 2nd November, Sir Thomas makes the same wager, with the same end results: those who accept the challenge are never seen again.

Thanks to the advent of home video, we are now able to study the works of a number of influential directors with a heightened awareness of that wafer-thin barrier between the living and the dead. While the name of Mario Bava springs to mind as the prime mover in these haunted worlds of unquiet spirits, Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti both merit at least a chapter each in any self-respecting book of the dead.Of course, this trio of Italian directors had more in common than a talent for creating some of the most unsettling imagery in horror cinema; they also shared the services of some wonderful actresses, with the likes of Barbara Steele, Harriet Medin and Michelle Mercier gracing a number of their individual productions, including The Ghost, Black Sabbath and The Horrible Dr. Hichcock. Steele worked for all three directors, appearing here as Elisabeth; one of a quartet of ghosts who must replay their tragic deaths on the fateful anniversary. Once again, Steele's extraordinary features dominate the camera lens as she attempts to lure Foster to the other side, though fellow apparition Julia (Robsahn) almost steals the show as a spook with a score to settle. Regretably, Robsahm's acting career ended with this film, due to her embarrassment over a lesbian love scene with Steele. A similar red-faced reaction may also have been felt by one dithering G. Riviere, whose initial actions and reflexes seem governed by a 5 second time delay. Happily, Georgie boy eventually turns into a more than capable performer, complimenting a fine cast and Margheriti's atmospheric direction. By the time this film reaches a thoroughly downbeat conclusion, it's clear that Blackwood Castle has joined such undesirable residencies as The Villa Graps, Hill House and Lisa Reiner's mansion; part of a select group of properties that invite us through their doors for one night only.

Synapse's splendid DVD release gave us the welcome opportunity of viewing the uncut Castle Of Blood, which includes "lost" footage of a topless Silvia Sorrente - one half of a honeymoon couple who accepted a Blackwood wager - together with the aforementioned love scene (which plays more like a rape, with Robsahn on top!). This particular incarnation was created from four different audio and video sources, in order to present the longest version possible. As a result, image quality is variable but, overall, gives a top-notch representation of Marheriti's macabre compositions, with bags of detail in darker scenes and crisp depictions of decaying corpses, haunted portraits and those gorgeous flesh and blood spectres. This DVD release was subject to a delay of several months, due to soundtrack-related problems. While it's true that Synapse have been unable to deliver a flawless soundtrack, any remaining glitches, while occasionally obtrusive, can easily be forgiven in the light of the reverential treatment afforded to this classic.

Severin Films are about to release a Blu-ray which contains "Nightmare Castle" (which has been restored from the original negative), "Castle Of Blood" and "Terror Creatures From The Grave" - both presented in 2K scans of rare U.S. 35mm release prints. A great Barbara Steele triple bill, from a golden age.