Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith is a haughty scientist who sees himself above such petty concerns as ethics. He has married his wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) for her money, and when he catches her in the arms of one of the servants (Rik Battaglia), he tortures and kills them both, cuts out their hearts, and uses their blood to create an elixir of youth for the maid/co-conspirator Solange (Helga Liné). He then marries the psychologically fragile Jenny (Steele again, now blonde), Muriel’s heiress, planning to drive her insane and take control of the his dead wife’s fortune. Sure enough, Jenny starts seeing things, but the ghosts she is seeing are real.
Director Mario Caiano may not be Mario Bava or Riccardo Freda, but this is a damn fine slice of classic Italian Gothic all the same. The film boasts stunning black-and-white photography, with some very nice compositions, and some thoroughly screwed up sexuality, with Muriel’s ghost articulating a philosophy that would later be picked up by Clive Barker’s Cenobites in Hellraiser. Most enjoyable.
No small part of the joy of watching this film is the quality of the transfer. Long in the public domain, and available from numerous sources with varying levels of quality, this is, in the first place, the full-length version of the film (running 104 minutes instead of the more common 73). Secondly, though at the 50, 58 and 83 minute marks there are a few seconds of noticeable damage, otherwise the print is close to pristine. There is virtually no grain at all, making the film look far more recent than 1965. The blacks are deep, the image is extremely sharp, and all of the eye candy that accompanies the Gothic is finally visible. The layer transition is awkward, but in general, this is a sumptuous feast. The aspect ratio is the original 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The mono isn’t bad, serving Ennio Morricone’s score well, There is some hiss, though, and the dubbing (awkward, as is almost always the case) sounds a bit harsh. It may not be up to the beauty of the picture, but it gets the job done without too many obstacles thrown up in the way of the listener’s enjoyment.
Barbara Steele in Conversation: (30:00) Now here’s something we see all-too-rarely: Steele discussing her career at some length. The still-regal star covers most of her adult life and the all her career, and she’s a marvelous storyteller. A treat.
Black, White and Red: (14:00) Steele doesn’t talk very much about Nightmare Castle itself in her piece, so that duty falls to director Caiano here, and he covers most aspects of the production. Another very informative piece, then.
UK and US Trailers: The former looks good. The latter’s print quality is dreadful.
I never expected to see this film looking so good. A terrific release.