One would expect that the answer to my riddle would be TWO Barbara Steeles, but I have great news today, horror fans—in the new Severin Blu-ray disc of Nightmare Castle, the answer is FOUR Barbara Steeles. Allow me to explain.
I consider this new disc the “Blu-ray Bargain of the Year,” and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. First, we get the main feature in a gorgeous new 4K transfer, looking as if it were filmed yesterday. This film has been a perennial public domain eyesore, but no more. Not content with simply wowing us all with the transfer, the fine folks at Severin go above and beyond… and then go above and beyond their initial “above and beyond” to reach new heights of aboveness and beyonditude.
Three movies should add up to three Barbara Steeles, right? One would expect a single Barbara Steele in each of the three films on the disc. A-ha! In Nightmare Castle, the main feature, Steele plays two different roles; that’s more Barbara Steele to love. That makes a grand total of the FOUR Barbara Steeles I promised. Never doubt me again, babies.
The Plot In Brief: Aware that his lovely wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) and his gardener are having a torrid affair, crazy scientist Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) catches them in the act. He chains them in a dungeon, he whips them repeatedly, he drips acid on them, and then he electrocutes them. Clearly, he is angry.
SOMETHING I HAVE NOTICED ABOUT 1960s ITALIAN HORROR: Maybe you have noticed this as well, babies. Italian horror films from the 1960s have terrific openings (Think the “mask and fire” sequence from Black Sunday) and impressive endings, but their second acts often try the patience and quickly wear out their “dream-like state” welcomes. Is this just me? It is as if the true maestros of Italian horror only care about the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes and leave the problematic “middles” to less-skilled underlings. Truthfully, I think that, when viewing these movie terror-trains, the majesty of the “engines and cabooses” more than make up for their patience-trying “boxcars”—but still, wouldn’t it be great if the whole train lived up to the promise of its beginning and ending? Maybe the middles lag for me because I am so anxious to get to the good parts (and by “good parts” I mean creepy ghosts and more Barbara Steele.)
AN ANNOYING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PAUSE: How do I know this film qualifies as “overlooked”? I read a LOT about movies, but I first became aware of this film through, of all things, its poster. I purchased a big 30” X 60” Nightmare Castle poster just because I liked the artwork. I hung it in my garage, which I now call “my little nightmare castle.” I am a believer in hanging posters where their titles will have some meaning or import. Patrick has a poster for Phantom of the Paradise in his home theater. Besides being one of his favorite films, Patrick IS the phantom of the paradise because he likes to invite us down to his movie-watching paradise then lurk in the crawl space, banging on a haunted church organ. Behind the desk in my office, I display a framed half-sheet for the film Soul of a Monster. This is because I am a monster… and I have no soul.
The disc also features a career-spanning interview with Steele, in which the segment producers frame her nicely, turn on the camera, and ask her to talk about her career. She tells amusing movie stories for almost a half hour; she is a marvelous raconteur. David Del Valle also leads Steele through a scene-specific commentary track that is not to be missed. At the end of the film, Steele notices that her name is misspelled in the credits and asks if anything can be done about it.