Sunday, 2 August 2015

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.

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