Italian film poster for Nightmare Castle
|Directed by||Mario Caiano|
|Produced by||Carlo Caiano|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Edited by||Renato Cinquini|
|Box office||₤154 million|
Nightmare Castle (Italian: Amanti d’oltretomba) is a 1965 Italian horror film directed by Mario Caiano. The film stars Paul Muller, Helga Liné and Barbara Steele in a dual role. The film is set in a castle where Stephen Arrowsmith does experiments involving the regeneration of blood. After finding his wife with the gardener, he kills them both and uses their blood to rejuvenate his loyal assistant Solange. After this, Arrowsmith realizes his wife's sister Jenny is actually inheriting the castle and marries her with the idea to drive her mad. Jenny meanwhile begins having nightmares where her sister tells her to murder Arrowsmith.
Mario Caiano shot the film in Rome and declared it his tribute to the Gothic genre and to actress Barbara Steele. Among reviews of the film, critics and historians note Steele's dual performance.
Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller), a scientist studying the regeneration of blood through application of electricity, has his home and laboratory in the castle owned by his wife Muriel (Barbara Steele). Arrowsmith finds her having sex with a gardener, David. He disfigures David with a hot poker and burns Muriel's face with acid before electrocuting both of them. Arrowsmith removes their hearts and hides them in an urn. He uses their blood to rejuvenate the aged servant, Solange (Helga Liné).
Later, Arrowsmith is told that he is not Muriel's heir, but that the estate has been willed to her sister, Jenny (Barbara Steele), who is mentally unstable. Arrowsmith marries her, planning to have Solange drive her insane. Jenny begins having nightmares, which include the sound of beating hearts and Muriel's voice urging her to murder Stephen. Arrowsmith brings Jenny to Doctor Derek Joyce (Marino Masé), who becomes convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Joyce discovers the hidden hearts of Muriel and David. The murdered dead return as ghosts. Muriel burns Stephen alive while David reduces Solange to a skeleton by draining her blood. Joyce and Jenny leave the castle and burn the disembodied hearts.
Director Mario Caiano stated that Nightmare Castle was born out of his passion for actress Barbara Steele and the Gothic genre, a style which he began to love between 1943 and '44 when he first read Edgar Allan Poe's work. Caiano said that he was not influenced by director Mario Bava, and did not remember seeing his films at the time with the possible exception of Black Sunday (1960). The initial script treatment for the film was titled Orgasmo and re-uses ideas from Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart".
Caiano's father Carlo was the producer of the film and was given a low budget to work with. With his friend art director Bruno Cesari, Caiano found a villa to use as a shooting location. The film was shot at Villa Parisi in Frascati and at Incir-De-Paolis Studios in Rome over 18 days. The film was released in black-and-white, shot by director of photography Enzo Barboni, but it was originally planned for some scenes to be given a red tint in post production.
Nightmare Castle has been released on DVD by several companies including Severin, Alpha Video and Retro Media in the United States. A blu-ray of the film has was released by Severin Films for release on August 11, 2015. The release includes two extra films starring Steele: Castle of Blood and Terror-Creatures from the Grave
In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that "this period horror gets bogged down in mundane melodrama" and that the direction was "pedestrian". The review did praise Barbara Steele, stating she was "on good form as Muriel [...] and just as good as the blonde, doe-eyed, raving Jenny."
From later reviews, TV Guide awarded the film a score of two out of four rating, stating that the film was not as strong as Bava's Black Sunday it was still a "worthwhile effort" and that "its greatest success in showing the beautiful horror icon [Steele] in as many extreme situations and personas as possible." In his book A History of Italian Cinema, Peter Bondanella stated that "Caiano's cinematography cannot match that of either [Riccardo] Freda or [Mario] Bava, he may well have captured Barbara Steele in even more compelling shots in Nightmare Castle than either of them did in their own, much better films." Louis Paul, author of Italian Horror Film Directors noted that Caiano was "obviously infatuated" with Barbara Steele, while opining that Caiano's films in fantasy, sword-and-sandal peplums and Eurospy genres "worked much better" than his Gothic horror efforts. IGN felt the plot dated, noting that it included "false starts, drawn-out dialogue and a rushed ending" The did praise the acting and direction, noting " the performances and absolutely phenomenal direction and atmosphere are unparalleled. This is the definition of a lost classic in those regards."
- Curti 2015, p. 143.
- Curti 2015, p. 145.
- "Faceless Monster, The "(Amanti d'Oltretomba)"". Monthly Film Bulletin (London: British Film Institute) 37 (432): 10–12. 1970. ISSN 0027-0407.
- Curti 2015, p. 146.
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- Bondanella 2009, p. 321.
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