Saturday, October 12, 2013
DVR Diary: HORROR CASTLE (La vergine di Norimberga, 1963)
The "virgin of Nuremberg" in the Italian title of Antonio "Anthony M. Dawson" Margheriti's Eastmancolor gothic is an iron maiden, an ancient torture device preserved in the title edifice of the American edition. We're introduced to the "virgin" as new bride Mary Hunter (Rosanna Podesta) inspects the creepier corners of her new home. She has quite a fright when she sees a dead body inside, but her husband Max (Georges Riviere) is all calm reassurance. He has the era's reliable remedy for female hysteria: pills -- but Mary quickly has grown suspicious enough not to take them. The torture paraphernalia commemorates an earlier occupant of the castle: "the Punisher." But don't get the wrong idea; the title of this picture is Horror Castle, not Frank Castle. And in the end, our menace -- for the Punisher is not merely a relic, but a real living threat -- is less a Punisher than a Red Skull. I'd split the difference and call him a Crimson Executioner, but that name is taken -- though it wasn't when Margheriti/Dawson made this picture about a madman identifying with an infamous torturer. A tragic backstory elevates the material: Max Hunter has good reason to cover up the goings on in the torture chambers, while an FBI man makes an ironic yet understandable mistake in his belief that the castle harbors a Nazi war criminal. Add Christopher Lee (mostly dubbed in the American edition, though I think it's his own voice when he speaks German) as a scarred servant and there's enough going on to keep a viewer guessing for a while. All told, this is an atmospheric scare-show in the Mario Bava manner, distinguished by its locations and the cinematography Riccardo Pallotini. Margheriti pulls off one impressively Bava-esque bit of business when a panicked Podesta runs out of the castle into the night. Long takes of the leading lady running and running are intercut with expressionistic shots of tree branches looming into the camera like clawed hands grasping at the heroine. Riz Ortolani contributes an often-jazzy score, a musical commentary on the juxtaposition of the past and present in 20th century gothic. Overall, Horror Castle is a pretty standard Italian horror film from the pre-giallo era, not too demanding but just efficient and imaginative enough for 90 minutes entertainment when October puts you in the mood for mild and comfortable chills.