Saturday, April 29, 2006

Vamp or not? Nightmare Castle

Directed by Mario Caiano and released in 1965, Nightmare castle is a hard one to pin down. It is certainly an atmospheric gothic chiller, but is it a vampire movie?

The film begins with Dr Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) conducting his experiments. He is baited by his wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) much to the disgust of their wizened maid Solange (Helga Liné). Stephen goes away to a conference and we quickly see that Muriel is having an affair with the gardener, David (Rik Battaglia). Stephen, however, has not gone away. He catches the two together, captures them and chains them in his dungeon.

He tortures them and discovers that Muriel has changed her will and left the castle and monies to her sister Jenny (also played by Barbara Steele). This does not sit well with Solange, who has been helping Stephen for a share of the inheritance. Stephen resolves to kill his wife and her lover anyway and tells Solange that his experiments will continue and he will give her a reward beyond money. He electrocutes the lovers, drains Muriel’s blood and then removes their hearts.

Cut forward. Stephen returns to the castle with Jenny – his new wife. Solange has become young again and we later discover this is through treated blood. It seems that Stephen intends to send Jenny mad and become executor of the estate.

Supernatural events are afoot, however, and the ghost of her dead sister haunts Jenny. She sees visions of Muriel and begins to take on her personality. The film here veers into a possession/revenge type ghost story.

The interesting twist comes at the end when Stephen, to preserve Solange’s youth, decides to be rid of Jenny and transfuse her blood to Solange. The spirits of Muriel and David become corporeal when Jenny’s doctor (Laurence Clift) finds their hearts and removes a dagger from them. Muriel tackles Stephen, telling him that she felt her torture to be a gift as it took her through pain to pleasure and ‘offers’ him the same. At this point she says that she will be with him until her flesh is destroyed by destroying her heart. Meanwhile David finds Solange and slits her wrist, the maid ages and then decays.

Barbara Steele plays a dual role, much as she did in “Le Masque du Demon’ and Muller is excellent as Stephen. The film itself is a very atmospheric gothic tale, but is it vampire? Well Solange is very like a vampire, though the use of blood to become young comes from a scientific basis. The fact that she needs fresh infusions of blood to remain young and, on dying, rapidly ages and then decays is out of the ‘how to do vampires’ text book. Interestingly, the removal of the dagger from their hearts making the ghosts corporeal and the fact that the hearts need to be destroyed to destroy them is very strongly vampire myth in nature.

The film is clearly a hybrid of genres, with very strong vampire myth elements and should appeal to fans of the genre and fans of gothic horror movies alike. It must also be said that Solange is certainly a type of vampire. It is available for free download from the archive and the imdb page is here.

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