Thursday, August 20, 2015

Steele Crazy After All These Years

Barbara Steele and Rik Battaglia in Mario Caiano's NIGHTMARE CASTLE.
A Barbara Steele bonanza, Severin's triple-feature NIGHTMARE CASTLE Blu-ray ($29.98) is a splendid-looking, must-have disc. In the audio commentary he shares with the film's star, David Del Valle opines that the main feature is somewhat burdened by a tedious plot and could have used a few more delirium sequences - but if you're fishing for delirium, look no further than the extras allotted to this disc. Beginning with said commentary, which repeatedly describes the film as a valentine to its star Barbara Steele - whose name is actually misspelled onscreen. The track ends with an aghast Steele asking if something can't be done to change this. (You mean, like actually monkey with Severin's beautiful 2K restoration?)

Two bonus Steele films are also included - and frankly, they're the better ones. TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE's direction is credited to Ralph Zucker, someone who was real but who didn't direct it. The real director (Massimo Pupillo), or so claims one of the film's stars (Riccardo Garrone), was known among the cast and crew as "The Wanker." Garrone can't stop laughing at the fact that someone has taken this film seriously enough to want to interview him - about Pupillo, of all people! - and his sides really split when the suggestion is made that the film possibly had some additional US financing. When we hear an excerpt from an audio interview with Pupillo, he comes across as the first completely informed person on topic - and to make the circumstances more surreal, we are told that the interview was conducted at a time he was widely presumed to be dead! 

Then there is CASTLE OF BLOOD, the real gem of this set, whose featurette informs us that director Antonio Margheriti's original screen name Anthony Daisies was changed because someone told him that "Anthony is picking daisies" was a popular American expression to point out someone who is gay. Over the course of its 16 minutes, the CASTLE OF BLOOD featurette somehow fails to mention the vital presence in the film of Steele's BLACK SUNDAY co-star Arturo Dominici, or that Silvano Tranquilli (who plays Edgar Allan Poe) was also her romantic lead in THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK, or that it was the first Italian Gothic to imitate Italian horror rather than the popular English and American varieties of that period. Perhaps Dominici's alias prevented his identifcation. Nearly all of the credits on all three films are aliases, except for that of Barbara Steele - who alone stands exposed, with or without the final E. Defiant. Unquestionably iconic. The Queen of all this auteur-directed misdirection.

People have asked me how the two bonus features look. Well, they look gorgeous too - but in that splicey way that a friend's 35mm print might look gorgeous if you were treated to a private screening. They are presented in high definition, but they have not been restored. Somehow, their flaws are forgivable. Interestingly, at the same time, in its 2K restoration, NIGHTMARE CASTLE somehow becomes a little less forgivable. Which is interesting because NIGHTMARE CASTLE (presented here in its significantly longer, original English export version titled THE NIGHT OF THE DOOMED) may now look a little too real, a little too perfect. The more filmic, dupey element sampled in the accompanying featurette somehow looks more like the film's intended ambiance. Granted, any opposing arguments - for example, that it deserves restoration because it is an early film scored by Ennio Morricone (make that "Ennio Morigone") and shot by Enzo Barboni (who, as "E.B. Clucher," later directed the Trinity westerns) - would be at least as valid. 

But I feel that something important about these films could be lost if we were to do away with all the scratches and splices that heralded our first acquaintance with them - some evidence of prior use and wear which connects us to the place of otherness and mystery where these imitation Gothics have always worked their strongest magic - inferring, at 3:00am on a distant broadcast signal, that they have come to us from a great distance and that we are not alone in our love for them.