THE FACELESS MONSTER; LOVERS FROM BEYOND THE TOMB; NIGHT OF THE DOOMED
Nightmare Castle often seems like a love poem to Barbara Steeles haunted otherworldly beauty. The early scenes of her dressing are shown in lingering detail, with director Mario Caianos camera moving into closeup on the images of her stripping to her lingerie, putting on a gown and then lying down in the conservatory with her lover Rik Battaglia. Caiano seems in awe of Steeles beauty and these scenes have an incredible sexiness. As part of the remarkable pathological sadism that runs through Italian horror films of the 1960s, these scenes are abruptly contrasted with Paul Muller bursting in to find them, whipping Rik Battaglia so brutally he gouges out his eye, chaining the two of them up in the dungeon and the sheer sadistic nastiness of Muller then tying Steele to a bed and throwing acid over her and then pushing Battaglia on top of her and flipping a switch to electrocute the bed. There is a remarkable sadomasochistic undertow to the film. Caiano gives a scene where Paul Muller injects Barbara Steele an undeniable sexual undercurrent, focusing on the faces and her sighing at the pain. None though is more remarkable than the ending. Here the ghost of Muriel returns and confronts murderous husband Muller. I punished you for your crime, he tells her. No, she replies, you gave me extreme pleasure. You taught the pleasure of the torment of the flesh, which turns into ecstasy.
Mario Caiano demonstrates remarkable visual style throughout. Especially haunting is a dream sequence where we see Paul Muller helping Barbara Steele up out of a coffin and then lying down in the conservatory before they are attacked by a man with a completely blank face wielding a riding crop. The sequence comes shot in gauzy soft focus and accompanied by an eerily atonal choral score, where Caiano succeeds in conjuring an amazingly haunted, dream-like mood. There is a marvellous climax with the reappearance of the ghostly Barbara Steele looking for all the world like Sadako out of Ring (1998) with her black hair draped down across her face, only one eye showing and then in a shock moment her hair being thrown back to show her half-scarred face who has come back to haunt husband Paul Muller, tie him up in the torture chair and set him alight.
The period surroundings are lavishly dressed the film appears to have shot on location in a real mansion. It is a beautifully photographed film. The dvd release restores this with an exquisite crispness that heightens the brooding mood until it almost overwhelms the principals faces in shadow. The score also creates a genuinely haunted atmosphere at times. On the minus side, the film is marred considerably by some terrible dubbing.
It is a genuine shame that Mario Caiano never got to direct much in the way of genre cinema again as he has a Gothic hand that rivals some of the other celebrated names that came out of this era such as Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda. Mario Caianos other films include peplum like Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules (1961), The Tyrant of Lydia Against the Son of Hercules (1963), The Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules (1964) and various Spaghetti Westerns. It was planned the Caiano return to genre material with Nosferatu in Venice/Vampires in Venice (1988) but he ended up being replaced by another director.
Full film available online here:-