Nightmare Castle – DVD Review


It’s near impossible to scare today’s audience with anything over 40 years old.  Heck, it’s near impossible to scare today’s audience, period.  So to walk away from Mario Caiano’s 1965 film Nightmare Castle (Amanti D’Oltretomba) without a case of shakes is understandable.  The make-up is hokey, the pacing is slow and the audio dub is Italiano-ridiculous.  Still, this mash-up of Gothic romance and horror has its antiquated charms.

The story opens with Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) preparing to leave for a conference in Edinburgh.  Once he is gone, his rich wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) strips down into an über-flowy nightgown and awaits the advances of David (Rik Battaglia), the groundskeeper / horse wrangler.  They waste no time heading straight to the greenhouses to make sweet love.

Little do they know, this has all been a trap lain by Stephen and his servant Solange (Helga Liné in old age make-up, setting up the strongest suspense of movie why is she supposed to be old and when will she be young?)  Stephen finds the lovers on the greenhouse floor and proceeds to beat them.

Next thing you know, the two are his captives, chained to a wall in the castle dungeon.  Stephen proceeds to torture them in what was probably a pretty shocking sequence back in 1965 whipping, electrocution, burning with pokers and acid but now is something you could watch while eating dinner.  Theres nothing realistic about it, though that doesnt mean its uninteresting.  The acid / electrocution bit that finishes off the adulterers is particularly great for its low-budget moxy.

Before she dies, however, Muriel tells Stephen that he wont be getting her castle or her money once shes gone.  Shes changed her will and left everything to her crazy sister, Jenny (also Barbara Steele), locked up in the loony bin.  Well, Stephen is even greedier than he is vengeful, so after dispatching Muriel and her beau, he marries the loonish Jenny and schemes to drive her nuts so that he can lay claim to her fortune.

Unfortunately for Stephen, he cut out Muriel and Davids hearts and kept them skewered on a spike (Why not?  Hes basically a mad scientist.) and those hearts they still beat with hatred.

What follows cant be called action-packed.  The pace becomes absolutely glacial.  Jenny has nightmares about a murder in the greenhouse, Stephen and Solange bicker, Dr. Joyce (Laurence Clift) tries to slowly ever so slowly get to the bottom of a mystery that is obvious to anyone watching.  Except for a bit with an electrified bathtub, theres nothing necessarily twisted or twisty about any of this.

Finally things move at the speed of light for the last ten minutes when the films original Italian title, translating to Lovers from Beyond the Grave, finally makes sense.  The ending is a return to the inspired opening 20 minutes of the movie and sends you out with a bang.  Had the second act been as lively, it probably wouldnt have taken so long to get a decent copy of the film on DVD.

Though “decent copy” doesnt do this transfer justice.  This is a beautiful copy, something that you should buy to enjoy Enzo Barbonis lensing alone.  Even when things are at their somnambulant worst, theres always something to look at.  And Ennio Morricone adds driving shock organ and a lilting piano piece that plays directly into the plot.

And who knows – if you can get yourself properly zoned out, this movie might just get under your skin.

The restoration work on this disc is fantastic and really the star of the show.  Compare the feature to the US trailer in the extras to get an idea of just how much of a favor Severin has done you.  The audio is likewise crisp with those awesome over-modulated screams that mono sound is famous for.

Barbara Steele in Conversation – A half-hour sit down with the lady herself. Quite a bit of background for anyone interested and more than a few great anecdotes, like the fact that the castle they used as a location had been haunted by a murdered spirit since the 7th century. (29:34)

Black, White and Red – Exclusive New Featurette With Director Mario Caiano – Caiano dishes on the cast and crew and the making of the film in general, about Barboni’s tendency to light a scene with one big open faced light, and about the budget, which was low even for its time. (14:03)

US Theatrical Trailer

UK Theatrical Trailer

For any fans of gothic horror and/or Barbara Steele, youll find plenty to love here.  Even those who fall outside that demographic, youd be well advised to check this movie out for its rich Gothic atmosphere and well-done climax.


Severin Films presents Nightmare Castle. Directed by: Mario Caiano (as Allen Grünewald). Starring: Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné. Written by: Mario Caiano and Fabio De Agostini. Running time: 104min. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: May 19, 2009. Available at

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