Nightmare Castle (1965)

a.k.a. - Amanti d'oltretomba (ITA)

Mario Caiano directs Paul Muller and Barbara Steele in a particularly effective gothic horror. Severin US R1 DVD.

The Film

Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) departs for a conference in Edinburgh, leaving his wife Muriel Arrowsmith (Barbara Steele) at home for a few days. But the departure is a ruse and he quickly returns to find her in the arms of the gardener David. He thrashes them both and ties them up, promising not to kill them, but to torture them both until they die in unimagined pain. He is shocked to find however that Muriel has changed her will to leave the estate to her sister Jenny. Stephen begs her to change it and offers the lovers their freedom, but they do not trust him and go to their graves with the will unchanged. So Stephen decides to bring Jenny (also played by Barbara Steele) to the house and drive her insane so he can finally inherit the house - but something else seems to be trying to possess Jenny...

Largely written by the director, Mario Caiano, based on his love of Poe, Nightmare Castle is an archetypal Gothic Horror film with all of the requisite elements from the mad scientist to the setting in the late 19th Century castle. Fortunately, although it does not boast anything that has not been done before, the script comes together particularly well, giving us plenty of well written storyline and witholding the horror sequences, which although perhaps disappointing thrill-a-minute audiences, does make the scenes particularly potent when they do appear. One amazing sequence as Stephen tries to electrocute someone is almost unbearably tense. The pacing is usually on the slow side but the film never drags and it builds up to a very effective (if slightly unexplainable) conclusion.

More important than the script for a Gothic Horror film is the direction - director Caiano works with cinematographer Enzo Barboni and with both being better known for their Spaghetti Westerns it does not seem to bode too well - but the film looks absolutely magnificiant throughout. A real highlight is the surrealist dream sequence but there are many other fine touches as cameraman and director use the dimly lit castle and the monochrome photography to emphasise the shadows and darkness in a way that brings to mind many of the genre's better known efforts. The soundtrack is an early effort from Ennio Morricone and as well as the typical gothic organ themes, he includes some effective vocals, however a rather sappy romantic theme is overused including in one scene that should be scary.

Barbara Steele takes top billing in another duel role and was by this point a horror veteran and she plays the part particularly well. Paul Muller, best known now for his small parts in several Jess Franco films, gets a very rare leading role here and his performance is certainly worthy of more. Euro-cult regular Helga Liné (Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)) has a curious role, initially as an aged house-maid before being rejuvinated and she too gives a fine performance as do the rest of the cast which includes future Spaghetti Western star Rik Battaglia (Giù la testa (1971)) as the doomed David.

Although not offering anything new to the genre, Nightmare Castle is exquisitely directed, well acted and with a solid script making it a must-see film for gothic horror fans. Recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Barbara Steele - a British actress who became a popular horror star after the lead role in Black Sunday (1960)
Paul Muller - a Swiss actor, best known now for brief roles in many Franco films including Venus in Furs (1969)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Caiano - a Roman director who worked in a variety of Italian exploitation genres, most notably the Spaghetti Western, working on films like Los cuatro salvajes (1967) and Il mio nome è Shangai Joe (1972)
Any gore or violence ? A few scenes with blood and some gore, but all in black and white.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for?
A must-see for all Gothic Horror fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Black and White
The print is very strong with good detail and contrast and only light grain. There are a few frames affected by quite bad print damage, but these are very infrequent and brief.
Audio English mono, sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras The disc includes:
  • Interview with Barabara Steele - it covers her entire film career with some very interesting stories. 29 minutes
  • Interview with Mario Caiano - he discusses the film, why it was made, the inspirations, details about the casting and discusses how it was originally to have been filmed with red tinted 'blood' scenes. In Italian with English subtitles - 14 minutes.
  • UK and US theatrical trailers
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Widely available in very low quality public domain prints in the US, some of which are also shorter versions of the film.

Comparison between Severin disc (left) and public domain US print (right)

Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is Italian language.
The film was released in the US as 'Nightmare Castle' with some cuts - the film here is fully uncut with the onscreen title 'Amanti d'oltretomba'.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 4th July 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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